Earlier last month I joined Disney and famed designer Colleen Atwood for tea and a chance to talk about her work on Alice Through the Looking Glass, which has recently been released to DVD and Blu-Ray! I’ve been a fan of her work for a while, she has such an inspiring story and has designed for some of my most favorite movies including Edward Scissorhands, Little Women, Planet of the Apes (2001 movie), Big Fish, Memoirs of a Geisha, Into the Woods, The Huntsman movies, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and of course both of the Alice in Wonderland films.
She’s so lovely in person, and I was so thrilled that I was able to, along with other bloggers and press, ask her a few questions.
Q: Are there any secret locations or places where you find inspiration?
Colleen Atwood: Well I find them everywhere, like fabric stores – sometimes I see a piece of fabric that’s great and I go “oh! That could be this!”. I get ideas from all over the place basically. There’s a great flea market in France, in Paris, that I go to in the north of Paris and it’s always great for inspiration for bits and pieces that are interesting. So many movies are made in London – this movie is made in London -and London has Portobello Road [flea market]. Which, sometimes I don’t really have a purpose in mind, I just get up early on Saturday morning and go there when it first opens, before it gets crowded and wander around and find like – he has a lot of weird buttons on his costume and most of those are sourced there and you know, old hat pins, just weird stuff people have in trays in front of their stalls and it’s fun to just discover things that way.
Q: Any favorite flea markets in New York?
CA: You know in New York I like the – and I meditated on going down there this morning – the one on 26th street, it’s like a garage you walk through and I love wandering around there. And there’s the emporium there that has some great stuff so I usually visit there. And there’s a great lingerie place there that’s beautiful, upstairs, it’s quite expensive but she has great stuff. There’s a few places, sort of warehouse wholesale, that I’ve gone to in Brooklyn but they’re not as accessible to people who are just walking around and shopping.
Q: Time has a really distinct costume, what was your inspiration or thought process behind that?
CA: I wanted him to be, kind of feel like he was something to do with a clock without literally being a clock. And I also loved the sort of graphic aspect of the clock kind of towering over little Alice, luckily Sacha’s [Baron Cohen, who plays Time] already about 6’3”-6’4” so that helped that I didn’t get a short guy for the part. But I put him in really high platform boots for part of it, and then he has those long thin legs so we did long skinny legs and a poufy pant and the big shoulders to get him wider, sort of like a grandfather clock. And then we came up with an idea to get him even taller with using a tall hat on him like the bishop’s sort of medieval hat that he has, sort of like a Greek Orthodox style from way early in time. And in his fitting for that we had brown paper and we just kept putting it in different hat shapes and trying them on him and figuring out which one was the best for him and for Time, and we came up with that one and it was sort of maximum height. We had some that were taller but it was too much, it almost made him look shorter. In the movie you see on his hand he has a thing that has all these rings and stuff – that was a piece of metal mesh that I found in a flea market and then I found all these watches with convex lenses on them that stuck out so that they were like cabochon jewels, so we took those and made them into his hand piece to make it a sort of element of time. And the rest was all kinds of stuff, different materials. We had a long cape on him and then most of the time he wore the short cape because it made him look funnier with his skinny legs.
Q: Movement is such a big part of this film, you chose to use very different textures in the fabric. Was that something that you just felt, touched it, and knew that this would be a great dynamic on the screen?
CA: I’ve done a lot of digital films at this point and know kind of what the camera sees, and especially when you go darker than a medium ground, it’s really important to have a texture and almost like a surface that has a little shine to it that kicks back some light. Otherwise all you get is sort of a black shape, you don’t really get much depth. So I’ve learned to paint into costumes, and add layers, add stuff to them to give it more dimension that way it’ll work in a lower light situation. So I use that trick a lot on this movie and I like texture, I think it tricks the camera in a way that’s interesting because sometimes you can’t even perceive what it is but it gives you a feeling that’s nice and a little bit more interesting than if you had just used a fabric as it comes off the peg.
Q: Obviously designing for a sequel is going to be a lot different than the first time, what was your approach when you were revisited these characters and kind of built of the way that you already had designed for them?
CA: I felt like it was nice, I felt like I knew them. I knew who they were as people so I felt like I could have a little more play with them. I had a couple more opportunities because we had the flashback for the girls, where they were there kind of their teenaged selves, and then each of them had been on a journey. My constant was, other than her flashback, was Mirana – the Anne Hathaway character – her costume sort of remained the same. But Alice, when we left Alice she was going off to see the world and she came back as a very rare thing, a sea captain as a woman, so I had the opportunity to take the beautiful uniforms of the period and make one for her. Then we had to create her Chinese look from her Chinese journey, and then re-visit something that perhaps the Hatter had made for her in her final costume with the balloon pants and the kind of whimsical blouse made out of strips of fabric. So I kind of took each character and sort of felt like I could go free with them, it was sort of like a totally new movie for me as a designer but with the people that I knew from before.
Q: Is there one character from the movie that stands out as being the most enjoyable to design?
CA: Well, when you get a movie like this they’re all fun! Because they’re all such different things. I mean I love Helena’s costume and her take on the character is so much fun, and it was great to get to do her armor which I really loved doing with the thorn heart chest piece, and the military braid hoop and the sort of deconstructed military madness that the Red Queen would come up with. Mia’s clothes were great; I mean they were like a really beautiful journey. I got to use embroidery and all sorts of techniques that I hadn’t used before on the Alice prequel.
Listen to the entire interview here!
Alice Through the Looking Glass released to DVD and Blu-Ray on October 18th, if you don’t own it yet then it would make a great gift this holiday season! Alice Through the Looking Glass is a spectacular adventure featuring the unforgettable characters from Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories in which Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter.
Enter to win your own copy of Alice Through the Looking Glass right now – just leave me a comment about your favorite outfit in the movie, or if you haven’t seen it, is there anything you found interesting that Colleen revealed in her interview? Personally, I loved when she spoke about creating Time’s outfit – the amount of detail is really incredible! Leave an extra comment/entry if you RT this!
*Giveaway ends 11/23/16. US, 18+.