Early life and career
Alice was born Alice Estes in Escalon, California. She was a talented artist in high school and received a scholarship from the Long Beach Art Association to study at the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute. Alice wanted to study animation at Chouinard Art Institute but due to the timing (World War II ending and the GI bill), there was a two-year waiting list to enter that field of study. So Chouinard, herself, got her in the school in the only opening they had for the next semester and that was in costume design.
She met Marc Davis, her future husband and fellow Disney Legend, while he was teaching a night class in animation. Though the class was full, Chouinard told her that she could attend the class if she "called the role" and brought the chalk to class. They did not start dating at this time but they did develop a respect for one another.
After graduation, Alice began her career designing women's lingerie for the Beverly Vogue & Lingerie House in Los Angeles. Because of her skill, she quickly rose through the ranks to head designer. She designed two lines of fashion lingerie herself. Alice earned a reputation within the fashion community for her pattern-making skills and her expertise with different types of exotic fabrics.
Early Disney efforts
In the mid-1950s, Alice received a call from Marc Davis. He needed a costume for dancer Helene Stanley to wear as she performed live-action reference footage for the animation of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty; Marc wanted to see how the skirt flowed and bunched as Stanley moved about in order to draft accurate animation. During this project, she and Marc grew closer and eventually married in June 1956.
Walt Disney saw the two newlyweds at a Los Angeles restaurant one night and immediately took a liking to Alice and her quality work. Walt hired her as a costume designer for the 1960 Disney film Toby Tyler. She also aided in the design of costumes for various other Disney films and television shows.
In 1963, Walt came to Alice with a rather novel assignment - assisting artist Mary Blair in designing the costumes for the Audio-Animatronic children of Walt's 1964/1965 New York World's Fair attraction "it's a small world". Alice researched the different cultures and regions being represented and translated the attire customs into over 150 different costumes.
During the "small world" project, Alice established an AA figure costume manufacturing area, quality control system and refurbishing techniques at WED Enterprises in Glendale, California. These systems and techniques are still used today by Imagineers and maintenance staff at the Disney theme parks worldwide.
In 1965, Alice says she "went from sweet little children to dirty old men overnight". Walt assigned her to create the costumes for the AA characters that would inhabit the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Alice created 47 different costumes - each one period-specific to the 17th and 18th centuries, but still had a "Disney flair" to them. Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1967 and remains a Disney theme park favorite to this day.
Because of her versatility, she also designed the costumes for the Mission Control AA figures in the revamped Flight to the Moon attraction the same year as Pirates.
Following Marc's lead, Alice retired from WED in 1978, but still consults on various projects for The Walt Disney Company, such as the Pixar film Up. In order to solve a central question of that film, "What are the most important things in life?", the "Up" film-making team turned to their oldest acquaintances and relatives, mining their memories for stories. The influences included Joe Grant (who died in 2005) and Alice Davis. She also makes appearances at Disney-related events and fan meet-and-greets.
Her marriage to Marc ended with his death in 2000.
On May 10, 2012, Alice was honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. The window, above the Disneyana store, next to her husband's window, reads: Small World Costume Co. - Alice Davis - Seamstress to the Stars