With the release of Lewis Caroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass screen adaptation set for this May, things have gone a bit Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter and March Hare-crazy here at Fenwick.
Through the looking glass: Why a giant white rabbit paid Fenwick a visit
Coinciding with the release of the much-anticipated film, Fenwick of Bond Street is hosting a carefully curated pop up shop of exclusive items from Alice Through The Looking Glass, Charbonnel et Walker and one-offs from rare book dealer Jake Fior. After stumbling upon an antique chessboard illustrated by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland original artist Sir John Tenniel back in 2011, Jake knew he had struck gold.
Fast-forward and you’ll find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole of Fior’s Alice Through The Looking Glass boutique in Cecil Court, bursting with curiosities that would be at home inside Carroll’s very own mind. You might think you’re going mad initially, but there really is a giant rabbit – Harley – living in the shop window, burrowing and hopping about.
Being a vintage book dealer used to be cool enough on its own. But when you add ‘used to be Pete Doherty’s producer’ into the mix, you’ve entered a whole different ball game.
Naturally, we had to track down this marvellous maverick and quiz him on all things Alice in Wonderland, rock ‘n’ roll and whether Harley has retired from his window-occupying duties. Read our Q&A with Fior below, then head into Fenwick of Bond Street to browse a selection of exclusive first edition books, stationary, bone china, t-shirts and limited edition prints designed by the finest British artisans and carefully handmade in England...
Have you always been interested in literature – did you grow up reading?
Yes. I felt quite isolated as a child, and reading offers you the keys to an imaginary world where you can be someone else.
What sparked your interest in rare books?
To be honest I wasn’t very interested in them initially; I was playing bass guitar and writing music, but I had a family friend who had retired from journalism to become a rare book dealer. At sixteen he gave me a chance assisting him and I learnt from there. It was like an old fashioned apprenticeship - hard work and not very well paid, but you learnt some invaluable skills.
How does it compare to the (sometimes) glamorous rock ‘n’ roll industry?
Well, Alice is actually quite rock n roll, all smoke and mirrors with fabulous creatures in a mythical landscape.
Tell us about your thought process when you first stumbled upon that antique John Tenniel chessboard...
I have always encouraged people who I think have a good eye to keep things for me before putting them out in their shops, and one day I got a call from one of them saying he had bought an antique chessboard with Alice illustrations on it. There was something familiar and yet different about it and in each corner was the monogram JT signed over the joint in the wood in a very authoritative manner.
It was then that I took an early edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland off the shelf and that was the moment! It was Tenniel's signature and definitely looked like Tenniel's work, but none of the illustrations were in the book.
What is it about Lewis Carroll that inspires you?
I’m not that interested in Lewis Carroll himself but (the Alice books), when you think about them in the context of their time, are truly revolutionary.
The prevalent attitude then was that children should be 'seen but not heard' and the common themes of children’s books pre-Alice were instructive moral stories. A child would disobey their parents through natural curiosity leading to disastrous consequences and the child being chastened by the experience. Carroll turned all that on its head. Here you have a book where the chief protagonist is a strong young female who is inquisitive and not phased by the weird characters and frightening situations she is confronted with.
Alice was first published in 1865; women didn't even get the vote for another 50 years and Hollywood struggles with casting strong female leads to this day.
For Carroll fans, can you recommend any other must-reads?
The best book to start with is Martin Gardner's annotated Alice. This contains both Alice books with footnotes in the page margins - a goldmine of background information and explanations of the text. For a book where Carroll's influence is discernible, try Norton Justers The Phantom Tollbooth and my own re-write of Through the Looking-Glass which will be out this autumn. For a classic English children's story, Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a nice choice.
We love that all the products for the brand are made in the U.K. Can you tell us more about the brand ethos?
So often you come across a brand with a classic British heritage, only to discover nothing they produce is made here any more. Everything we do is produced here in the U.K. We spent a lot of time searching for the best people we could find to help in creating the products. Our pop-ups are always a mixture of rare iconography and contemporary items, curated almost like a mini museum. A lot of the techniques and finishes we use have been developed with the best Fine Art screen printers in Shoreditch.
We’ve got to ask about Harley the white rabbit– we heard a rumour that he was getting too much attention and has been retired from his former shop duties. Is he still the resident window-occupier?
Harley is a superstar and of course I'm jealous of the attention. Now he's finished his modelling assignment for Fenwick he's going back in the window for the festival season, but the riders are getting out of hand!
You're due to publish your book in the autumn - can you give us any hints on the story?
The story is a re-imagining of Through The Looking-Glass but is a darker more esoteric version, partly set in modern day but with a dual narrative that interweaves real events of late Victorian England. It’s a sort of inter-dimensional adventure. I spent several years researching the darker elements with some extraordinary findings.
What are your future plans for Alice through the Looking Glass?
I’m currently in the process of organising a tour to coincide with the book launch. A sort of whistle stop travelling exhibition with a relaxed in conversation event during the daytime and music and film in the evening. We are also working with the charity Chess In Schools & Communities on a children’s Alice Through The Looking Glass chessboard based on the Tenniel original with all our proceeds donated to the charity. They do impressive work by offering tuition and equipment to schools that might not otherwise be able to provide them.
Charbonnel et Walker goes through the looking glass
What with a visit from the Easter bunny and the perfect timing of this pop-up, it would seem a shame to see Easter go by without some kind of exclusive chocolate offering.
Lucky for us, esteemed chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker has teamed up with Alice Through The Looking Glass to create their signature mouth-watering chocolate truffles housed in distinctly Alice-themed packaging, quite literally tipping their hat to Carroll’s very own Mad Hatter.
The limited edition pieces are all available on the ground floor at Fenwick of Bond Street and will be available until the end of Easter.
By Lizi Woolgar