Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Fashion Dolls

Jointed wooden doll, 17th-18th century
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fashion dolls were used by dressmakers as a way of illustrating the latest styles to their potential clients. Dolls dressed in the latest Parisian styles were on display in fashionable shops and also were sent regularly to London and to the courts of Europe. The dolls were considered precious and sometimes even had diplomatic immunity during times of war. Although the most fashionable dolls originated from Paris, dolls were also made up in England and sent to the American colonies, where England was the dominant cultural influence.

19th Century Fashion Doll by Simonne Paris c.1877-78
Although fashion dolls were largely supplanted by journals as a tool of disseminating fashion information, they have not disappeared. In 1945, a travelling exhibition of Parisian fashion dolls was conceived and presented called Theatre de la Mode in an effort to restore the haute couture industry after WWII. With outfits designed by Dior, Lucien Lelong, Piguet, Carven, Nina Ricci, Jean Patou, Schiaparelli, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture showcased the best of French fashion - in miniature. Milliners, shoemakers, glovemakers, and jewelers all contributed to the project to help fulfill the designer's vision.

Theatre de la Mode doll by Lucien Lelong photographed by David Seidner c.1990 
With blank faces, wire bodies and real hair, these small scale mannequins (27.5 inches in height) were clothed in miniature versions of the designer's clothing and accessories. Everything was replicated with precision: pockets opened, buttons could be unbuttoned and handbags unclasped. The effect was surreal and the audience, who had "been starved for beauty, for glamour, for amusement after four years of occupation" streamed in (Braun-Munk et al 46). An estimated 100,000 visitors saw the exhibition in Paris before it travelled to cities like London, Barcelona and New York. The dolls were packed away in a basement in San Francisco for several years before being sent to the Maryhill Museum of Fine Art in Washington. They have been redisplayed on occasion including an exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1990 and at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991.

Theatre de la Mode doll heads, Photograph by David Seidner c.1990
The photographs by David Seidner for the book Théâtre De La Mode seem to embody the essence of Freud's uncanny. Juxtaposed in contemporary contexts, with blurred backgrounds evoking decay, these photos of the dolls present them as objects posited on the boundary between animate and inanimate, life and death. This is fuel for the creative process....


Fox, Carl. Doll. Ed. Herman Landshoff. New York: Abrams, 1972.

Mac Neil, Sylvia. The Paris Collection. Grantsville, Md.: Hobby House Press, 1992.

Théâtre De La Mode. Ed. Eugene Clarence Braun-Munk, Edmonde Charles-Roux, and Susan Train. New York: Rizzoli in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.

Notice of copyright: 
All text and images on this blog are the copyright of Ingrid Mida, unless otherwise noted. The copying of posts, images and/or text without proper attribution is violation of copyright and legal action will be pursued.