by Dale Peers
While we might immediately think of dolls as a child’s plaything they have a firm place in fashion too. They have been used to educate, illustrate and inspire!
The fashion doll was used to disseminate the latest fashion styles to potential clients with both life sized and smaller fashion dolls created. These articulated creations were called “Pandoras.” The “big” Pandora wore more elaborate “evening and ceremonial fashions while the little Pandora wore styles that were considered more informal. (Batterberry) Some suggest the origin of these dolls as the precursor of fashion publications.
Louis XIV was determined to make France the arbiter of many things, including fashion which he did by wearing and requiring all members of court and the fashionable elite, to wear French fashions made from French fabrics. These Pandoras traveled not only through France but as far away as the United States showing not only the latest in fashionable attire but also in jewellery, makeup and hair styles.
Not even Napoleon’s war with England could curtail the travelling Pandoras. They were sent under diplomatic papers and allowed to publicize the latest fashion trends.
fig. 1 Pandora doll dressed in 18th century fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum
After the devastation wrought by the Nazi’s in the second World War, the rebuilding of Paris and France’s economy was aided with the help of many fashion houses. Lucien Lelong, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and members of the organization, as well as supporters of French art and culture conceived the Theatre de la Mode. This exhibition consisted of more than 200, one-third size Pandoras clothed in the latest styles by designers such as Lelong, Jacques Fath, Nina Ricci, Worth, Hermes, Lanvin, Balenciaga etc. The Pandoras were staged in a series of artist designed sets showing the fashionable dolls in various scenes throughout Paris.
The dolls were not only attired in the latest fashions of 1945 but were completely accessorized with hairstyles, millinery, jeweller, handbags and shoes. So complete were they, according to Lorraine McConaghy, that “the buttons did up, zippers zipped and tiny handbags came complete with miniature compacts and wallets (Museum).”
fig. 2 Set design with dolls from Théâtre de la Mode
fig. 3, 4, 5, from Théâtre de la Mode
The exhibition premiered at the Louvre and then travelled throughout Europe visiting London, Barcelona Stockholm and Copenhagen. It travelled to the United States in 1946 and following an exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco was eventually stored in San Francisco’s City of Paris department store. The collection has been at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Portland, Oregon ever since. Each year a small number of the dolls are displayed in rotation (Museum). This production re-opened the doors of Parisian couturiers and the world returned to haute couture fashions.
A new fashion icon in doll size debuted on March 9 1959. Barbara Millicent Roberts aka Barbie was introduced to the world by the Mattel toy company. Named after the daughter of Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler, Barbie was launched into her place in the fashion world. She was and has often been a topic of controversy because of her overtly feminized appearance. And yet, she has also been used to inspire young children to dream. Her occupations have ranged from astronaut to doctor to pilot and even presidential candidate. She has, independently amassed mansions, sports cars and a wardrobe second to none.
She has also been the inspiration for full size fashions. On the occasion of Barbie’s 50th anniversary in 2009 Toronto fashion designer and Seneca College professor David Dixon was approached to participate in the celebration.
I had the opportunity to interview David about this experience and he provided these insights to the collaboration:
Mattel wanted to do a fashion show, but I saw it being bigger. Alongside with my brother Glenn Dixon, we suggested that we partner with The Hudson’s Bay as an outlet for the collection and her furniture that my brother Glenn designed. We were able to set up a meeting with new President of The Hudson’s Bay, Ms. Bonnie Brooks, and all senior directors to present our initiative. I showed 7 initial looks to demonstrate that it could be a contemporary lifestyle brand and wearable.
It was successful. Barbie by David Dixon was to open Fashion Week and sold exclusively through The Hudson’s Bay. Glenn’s Furniture would also be sold by special order. We also suggested that we establish a Barbie pop-up shop that housed toys, accessories, home furnishings, t-shirts, etc… Glenn also designed the interior of the pop-up working with The Hudson’s Bay.
What was supposed to be a one-year, 2 season commitment turned into 2.5 years with multiple deliveries. It was successful, but she was not 50 anymore, so they asked me to introduce another line, The Little Black Dress, to replace the Barbie Brand.
The collections were always inspired by Barbie. However, the clothes were for women who had an affection for her. All the garments were lined in a signature Barbie lining, and for me a more playful side. We also would include her iconic zebra print bathing suit in prints that translate into soft dressing. The only request from Mattel was for me to use a particular pantone colour, PMS219 “Barbie Pink.”
It was an amazing experience, and I was honoured to take on the collaboration.”
We are also honoured at Seneca College, not only for our students to be mentored by Professor David Dixon but by his donation of some of the garments from this iconic collaboration.
In the past when I have asked students what caused them to enter a fashion program many said they had started by playing with fashion dolls like Barbie. For many of our inspiring, young fashion designers dolls, whether paper or 3D, provided endless opportunities for creative role playing. They may have imagined themselves as grown up versions of the dolls or day dreamed about becoming famous fashion designers. Their doll models often fostered a love of sketching fashions or may have been the impetus to learn to sew.
The role of dolls in fashion continues today. When retailers use mannequins to demonstrate the latest fall/winter/spring/summer fashions they are using the “Pandora” in much the same way as they were used historically. The vignettes in retail windows are there not only to advertise the product but in some instances educate the viewer about the intended or best use of that product. The accessories added as well as the backdrops and props may inspire the potential customer to assemble their fashion look in an original manner.
Next time you see a mannequin look for some of these hidden talents in the modern Pandora.
Batterberry, M., & Batterberry, A. (1982). Fashion: The Mirror of History. Greenwich House.
Before Anna Wintour? the pandora doll. THATMuse. (2020, April 2). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://thatmuse.com/2019/11/08/before-anna-wintour-the-pandora-doll/
Fine art in Southwest Washington. Maryhill Museum of Art. (2022, February 11). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/
Goodnow, C. (2011, March 19). Mohai fashion exhibit offers glimpse into the history of postwar Paris. seattlepi.com. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/article/MOHAI-fashion-exhibit-offers-glimpse-into-the-1198121.php
Hsu, Judy. “Mohai Exhibit Spotlights Tiny Fashion Treasures from War Torn Paris.” https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=20060316&slug=mohaifash16. Accessed 28 Feb. 2022.
Holland, Brynn, (March 9, 2019). Barbie Through the Ages. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from, https://www.history.com/news/barbie-through-the-ages
McMasters, L. (1970, January 1). The fashion doll. The Fashion Historian. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2010/02/fashion-doll.html
Museum. (2022, January 19). Théâtre de la Mode: Maryhill Museum of Art: Portland OR. Maryhill Museum of Art. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/inside/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/theatre-de-la-mode
Werlin, K. (1970, January 1). The fashion doll. The Fashion Historian. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2010/02/fashion-doll.html
Min, Chen, (2020, September 30). The Show Must Go On. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://read-a.com/theatre-de-la-mode-once-revived-french-couture-and-might-do-so-again/
fig. 1 Doll with dress and accessories. (2004). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O100708/doll-with-dress-unknown/.
fig. 2, 3, 4, 5, Maryhill Museum. (n.d.). https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Theatre-de-la-Mode-ONLINE-Dec-8-2020.pdf. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Theatre-de-la-Mode-ONLINE-Dec-8-2020.pdf.