- Cynthia Rowley
Beyond serving as mere playthings for children, dolls have been an integral part of the fashion industry as far back as 1396—there is a record of the court tailor of Charles VI having created a doll wardrobe intended for the Queen of England. These fashion dolls were also referred to as Poupées de Mode and Queen Anne Dolls. Marie Antoinette is said to have had her milliner and dressmaker Rose Bertin dress dolls called 'Pandoras' in the styles of the day with the intent of giving them as gifts. The Bébé Jumeau dolls of the late 1800s were as well known for the beauty and craftsmanship of the actual dolls as for their amazing wardrobes that reflected the latest fashions. Dolls remained the prime marketing tool for promoting fashion until fashion magazines came along.
It wasn't until after WWII that fashion dolls reestablished their importance in the world of fashion. After the German occupation, the French fashion industry used 27-inch wire frame fashion dolls (created by by artist Jean Saint-Martin, with unpainted plaster heads by sculptor Jean Rebull), to reassert their position as consummate leaders in couture with Théâtre de la Mode. Each handcrafted figure was dressed in meticulously executed creations that included elements like linings and undergarments that would never actually be seen while they were on display.
An unexpected spin off of the Théâtre de la Mode came in 2008, when Chris Kelly's artisan fashion label by the same name launched the 'Willows' collection. The post-WWII inspired installation of miniature woodland creatures wearing the house's designs for that season, was a fascinating alternative to the traditional runway shows taking place during London Fashion Week that year.
"Barbie represents a confident and independent woman with an amazing ability to have fun while remaining glamorous." - Diane von Furstenberg
Perhaps it is a fundamental fascination with anything that has been miniaturized, or childhoods spent dressing dolls that captivate the imaginations of so many designers. An iconic photograph of Madeleine Vionnet features her working out an idea on a half scale dress form.
"I started dressing Barbie dolls with my own designs at an early age." - Anna Sui
Most contemporary designers credit Barbie with providing their first forays into fashion. Barbie's first job was as a teen model in 1959, moving on to the role of fashion editor in 1960. Barbie continued to evolve, always reflecting her times.
The original Barbie has become 'Vintage' (1959-66). She went on to be 'Mod' (1967-73), 'Malibu' (1971-77), 'Superstar' (1977-90's), 'Silkstones' (2000), and 'Basic Barbie' (2009). The first Black Barbie was introduced in 1980. Barbie has become a universal ambassador for fashion as well as a muse for a new generation of designers.
"It's been my honor to dress some of the most glamorous women in the world and Barbie is certainly among the ultimate 'It' girls!" - Patricia Field
Barbie dolls have been banned in many Islamic and Middle-Eastern countries creating a need for a fashion doll that also represented the values and customs of those parts of the world. Fulla is a doll that premiered in 2003. She wears a traditional hijab, but like Barbie has a great passion for fashion as well.
In 1995, a new kind of fashion doll debuted. The Gene® Marshall doll created by Mel Odom became the latest fashion plate to take the industry by storm. The key to her success with adult collectors could be attributed to a combination of Hollywood glamour, extensive wardrobes, and ensembles that told stories like the movies Gene starred in. The resemblance to glamour girl of the silver screen Gene Tierney is uncanny.
Paper dolls have also been an important part of capturing the style of an era, designers, and/or celebrities. Tom Tierney is one of the most recognizable and popular illustrators of paper doll books having rendered the best fashions of each decade, and almost every fashion icon imaginable.
Today, illustrator Kyle Hilton is also well known for his paper doll sets that featuring characters on popular television series. One of his most recent sets was based on the popular period drama Downton Abbey, a television program that is already influencing fashion aesthetics.
Although the rich and famous no longer use fashion dolls to follow trends, the charm of a small figure wearing couture has risen to an art form, literally. Kouklitas (koukla is the Greek word for doll) are 27-inch high fashion rag dolls created by Andrew Yang. They are made with many of the same couture techniques involved in creating the original fashions. The Spring/Summer 2012 collections of Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, and Gareth Pugh inspired some of Yang's most recognizable figures, not to mention immortalizing fashion heads of state Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington in cloth.