As the creator of memorable looks from Michael Jackson’s jacket in Thriller to the equally iconic outfit of Indiana Jones, Deborah Nadoolman Landis is responsible for some of the most recognisable get-ups in film and pop culture history. She is also the curator of the seminal Hollywood Costume exhibition, which enjoyed a successful run in London at the V&A. When Liberty asked Landis to create a print for The Pictures and Conversations Collection - a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to mark the novel’s 150th anniversary - it opened up a world of family history as well as literary inspiration. This is the story of Landis' Liberty print, Laura.
Coming from a matriarchal line of makers, Landis’ first thought on receiving the print brief was the tablecloths her grandmother, Sarah Rachel, would embroider by hand. These were passed down to Landis through her mother, the fabric’s namesake Laura. Something of a pioneer in the world of science, Sarah Rachel was one of a handful of women of her time to receive a university education and become a Chemist: “Her hands were never still...if she wasn’t at the pharmacy she was baking, cooking or doing needlework. All the time we spend on Facebook now, she was embroidering.”
As luck would have it, one of the intricately stitched tablecloths featured all the components of the perfect Alice tribute: “When I saw the roses I thought okay that’s Alice, tea table, that’s Alice, and then it was Alice blue.” With the original entirely embroidered by hand in cross-stitch, the challenge for Landis and the Liberty Art Fabrics team was to turn this legacy of handiwork into a print.
"Liberty prints work so well on camera, they create a likeability in any character."
The result is a fresh, intricate design, reminiscent of classic Liberty mini florals, yet also firmly anchored in today. “Alice is very much a contemporary girl, [she] has the kind of curiosity and imagination that makes a character endure through generations. I think we all want to be her because we all want to have the courage to drink it, eat it, go through the door and have the adventure.”
This relationship between past and present is something that has characterised Landis’ career: “One of my strengths is that my love for dress fabric, textiles, architecture and decorative art comes from a really strong connection with the past. I don’t think about myself as someone who works on surfaces, I’m really interested in what’s underneath the clothes.”
Finding this depth within a character is where her vision as a costume designer comes into play. Likening the process of creating a print from literature to creating a visual look from screenplay, the finished Laura design is a dynamic tribute to Alice’s character: “I can see her wearing it falling down the rabbit hole... under a tree drawing or wearing it every day.”