The dolls of Madame Alexander are extensive and diverse. Sometimes decades overlap in what is loved, cherished and desired. Occasionally it’s a dramatic and complete transition into something new. Dolls have always reflected the world they are created. Technology changes, culture evolves, trends come and go. Every so often, as with the Baby Boomers, an entire generation moves on and grows out of dolls and toys and into young adults. This golden age was a unique collaboration of events that fell into place to make this creativity possible and with an audience that could support this elaborate collaboration of the creative choices of the company with the factory. The unions play an important part on how production unfolds. Retailers were the backbone of it all, with their stores, their distribution and their patrons. These flat-footed dolls were part of an unusual chain of events that needed each part of this chain. The result was the ability to produce some of the finest dolls of the Madame Alexander Doll Company.
1964 was the last year for Elise in this more familiar mold and body design. She was about to graduate in 1965 into a more long neck and straight torso design. Elise had also grown to 18 inches, from her debut in 1957 of 16 1/2 inches. Now that the Alexander Doll Company was strongly moving from hard plastic to vinyl, this Elise head is vinyl. The popularity of ballet in America was still huge, and it was growing in its influence in fashion. Audrey Hepburn was one of many influences in this trend. A former ballerina herself, her iconic "Funny Face" dance sequence in black leotards and black ballet flats helped bring ballet in another form into mainstream fashion. The ballerina length for dresses was another popular inturpitation of the movement of ballet into fashion.
One of the many introductions in the 1950s fashion parade was the ballerina length dresses and gowns that Dior made famous. Dior specifically used the phrase " Demi-Longueur" to refer to this longer hem line. It was hugely popular, would be translated by any number of fashion designers, and would also be called Tea-Length, 3/4 Length and Ballerina Length. It would be used for evening, day and the newly introduced "Cocktail Dress." The Prom Dress, just gaining national popularity, was also another category that might be "Demi-Longueur." Some of the most iconic and desirable wardrobe by Madame Alexander for fashion diva "Cissy" were dressed à la mode in this 3/4 length dresses and gowns. Still a classic, it appears often in bridal fashion and on the Paris runway.
Elise of 1963 was in a unique position in the Madame Alexander doll line-up. With both 21 inch Cissy and Jacqueline taking their final bows in 1962, this years 18 inch Elise got star treatment. She received the attention of a portrait doll, and was presented in a number of stunning outfits. This particular doll featured above is a rare example is of Elise with a Marybel face. The No. 1740 Elise Scarlett also came in the more familiar Elise mold. 1963 would be the last year for the 10 inch fashion doll Cissette. Madame Alexander seemed to be in a flux of what direction to take herself with the overwhelming success of Barbie's 1959 debut. Alexander would give a go at this market with the short lived introduction of 12 inch Brenda Starr in 1964 - renamed Yolanda in 1965. Regaining leadership in the ever changing doll industry with the American fashion doll seemed an elusive effort. Into her 60s by now, Madame still had a few surprises up her sleeve, and would regroup with the success of the eight inch American and International dolls.
Madame Alexander did the gowns of the Princess Margaret Rose Bridesmaids in different colors — shades of pink and blue are more familiar. This is a lovely buttercup yellow organdy with pink taffeta underneath. The affect has an iridescent feature to it that's both romantic and unexpected. The soft pink roses in the dolls hair, dress and bouquet all reinforce this feature. This c. 1953 doll touches on both the perennial favorite theme of the wedding party, but also the British royal family. Princess Margaret herself would have been about 22, and becoming a huge celebrity on her own by now. Her early relationship with Peter Townsend (just divorced and older man) would just now becoming headline news, giving Margaret both the status of royal princess but a media celebrity. When her sister, now Queen Elizabeth, had to deny permission to marry Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret became an international icon for tragic young love.
United Federation of Doll Clubs - their Summer 2017 magazine DOLL NEWS has my newest article "Elise - Over Time". Elise is the quiet one. Never as high profile fashion doll like her bigger sister Cissy or the legacy of Barbie, Elise did have quite a long doll career. From 1957 through her final bow in 1992, her design morphed several times and again as several different personalities. Some of her most interesting years were her bell-bottoms and mod fashion years of the mid sixties to early seventies when she was featured in the annual truck sets featured by FAO Schwarz.
The Competition Dolls of the Madame Alexander Doll Convention is my favorite part of the convention. The mix of dolls entered is unique to each convention, never to be repeated exactly the same again. I entered the ten dolls this year — which proved to be an insane amount of work to handle, pack and then to repack to come back home. My pride and joy this year is a 1951 lavender Maggie that won the Conventions Favorite Doll ribbon this year. The layers of time, thought and effort are numerous in the overall process. Alas, my biggest goof was entering one of my all-time favorite dolls, a 17 inch hard plastic Wendy Ann in the wrong category — the 101 of basic mistakes. Oh well, she now has another chance at another time.
1966 was a very interesting year for "Elise". She spent her first years as the more demure little sister for 20-inch "Cissy," who got a two year head start. "Elise" made her debut in 1957, and the two dolls tended to be a shadow of each other, and available in many of the same outfits and matching extra boxed clothes. "Cissy" was retired, with her last appearance in 1962. "Elise" however, was just getting started. She had a number of mold and body tweaks... and grew from her original 16.5-inches to 18-inches in 1964. In 1965, the new "long neck" 17-inch version appeared and "Elise" would stay in this format until 1992. For this one year, "Elise" was renamed "Polly" along with "Leslie," a black version of the same doll. "Elise" also started her use as "Maria" of the Sound of Music series in 1965.
"Elise" was about to get a huge career bump in 1966 by FAO Schwarz. The new 20-inch fashion doll "Coco" got all the headlines in the company 1966 catalog. Alas, "Coco" was a very problematic doll for the Alexander Doll Company. Production issues and the association of the dolls name with Coco Chanel, but without licensing, caused many problems. However, at FAO, "Elise" was given the first of a series of their exclusive trunk sets that sent her on tours dressed for the new decade. She was available in bell-bottoms, short skirts and the newly popular a-line "baby doll" dresses. The formals and prom dresses were still available, but "Elise" was now styling for her generation. In 1966, FAO also had an "Elise" exclusive as a Queen - with all the royal flourishes expected of a doll from Madame Alexander. Queen Elizabeth made a visit to the United States this same year. With a long doll career ahead of her, "Elise" was used for the now iconic FAO exclusive Elise trunk sets until the early 1970s.
"Jacqueline" by Madame Alexander arrived as a replacement for the extremely popular fashion doll "Cissy." Introduced in 1955 by Alexander, "Cissy" was a hard plastic doll with an intriguing group of sophisticated hairstyles translated as wigs. By 1957, the doll competitors were switching over to vinyl fashion dolls with rooted hair. This enhanced the very popular play activities of washing and setting your dolls hair. "Cissy," like most of the other wigged dolls by Alexander, were advertised as being able to "wash and set" your dolls hair. They often included rollers, a comb and inductions in the hat box that came with the larger dolls. This was a bit of a stretch. The "wash and set" capabilities were not the strong point of these beautiful dolls by Madame Alexander. Unlike Toni and the Revlon Doll, not only did they produce the better play doll, they also had a strong product tie-in with their dolls.
"Jacqueline," arriving in 1961, was a 21-inch doll with a hard plastic body, vinyl arms and head with rooted hair. Unfortunately, the beautifully executed and costumed doll was arriving just as "Barbie" was taking over the doll world with her own fashion revolution and lower price points. These price points were a big part of "Barbie's" attraction to both children and their parents. Even tied into the immensely popular first lady Jaqueline Kennedy, the doll was the right doll, just not at the right time. Regardless, "Jacquline" is beautifully costumed fashion doll using elegant fabrics to capture the change of direction fashion was taking in this new decade, Only available for a year and a half, "Jaqueline" marks an important mile stone in both design, technology and the development of the mid-century fashion dolls created by Madame Alexander for the baby boom generation.
Spring and June Brides are universal wedding tradition. The June wedding is a very romantic tradition and a huge industry that seems to never downsize. For Cissy, being a bride was hardly and option but a necessity to navigate twentieth century culture. Career options were still pretty limited, and a wife was one of the top five choices. For Madame Alexander, the annual Cissy bride was always an opportunity to design with a flourish and create something magical. The fun of collecting fashion dolls is the fashion they represent from the period they were produced. The wedding costumes done for Cissy are an intriguing look at the mid-century bridal trends that found their way to Cissy. Princesses got married, movie stars got married, prom queens got married... Cissy got married from 1955-1962. Perhaps it was cold feet or maybe she became the ultimate fashion victim - regardless, she is at her most beautiful each year in her bridal gowns, and the many wonderful variations of sleeve, veil, headpiece, and train details with, yards and yards of tulle, dozens, dozens of flowers with "pearls" and "diamonds" to finish it all off. Each year, under the gown, is the surprise element of a garter... the final flourish.
Cissy was hitting her peak of production and popularity in 1957. One of her biggest production changes also happened this year. The painted, bisque like finish she was introduced with in 1955 was changed over to a new infused finish. The skin tone of the doll now was added to the plastic rather than over the plastic as before. The lips, eyebrows and lower lashes were still added on in separate steps, but the infused plastic saved several steps and time in production of Cissy. The sealant coat at the end of the process still remained, and was probably the magic touch that gave Cissy that beautiful bisque-like quality that still survives in certain Cissy dolls today.
With two pristine mint dolls of the same production number to compare, it's a wonderful opportunity to look at the two finishes side by side. Within both the painted and infused types of finishes, there were any number of small tweaks happening as the company explored the production possibilities and to remain at the top of their industry. These are both No. 2114 of 1957. One is a blond and one is a brunette. The brunette has her box marked by the name of the doll, style number, and hair color. She also has the newer 1957 square hang tag that replaced the previous rectangular tags of 1955 - mid 1957. Alexander was also phasing out the use of both a coarser Saran fiber for wigs and a finer Saran. Only the finer Saran was used after 1958.
Cissy made quite a splash at her 1955 introduction. She probably got her best publicity from the controversial press regarding her adult figure as a child's play doll. A concept now used often by celebrities and politicians who generate controversy for sometimes world-wide free press that would be difficult to pay for but gets everyone talking. Cissy was the classic doll at the right place at the right time... so much fell into place to create the magic. World Wars would force the doll and toy industries to relocate to America to reinvent the industry. To this point, composition was the end product for the newest and greatest for dolls. The plastics available after WWII would help change everything, and the doll world was set for new renaissance that just happened to be based in New York. While the fashion world was still ruled by the Paris runways, those business were after the American market so they could survive in a world that had only about three thousand haute couture clientele left. And again, the American fashion industry was also based in New York... along with the home for a worldwide resurgence of ballet. In this ta-da moment, in Harlem was the former Studebaker auto factory, (210,000 square feet of floorspace), and now home to the Madame Alexander Doll Company - the rest is fit for a Broadway musical!
According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.
Cloth dolls were the first product of the Alexander Doll Company. Madame and her three sisters were the company - making the dolls themselves. Here is a whimsical cloth 1940 Bunny Belle character doll by Madame Alexander with oil painted mask face, pink hair in braids, bright blue right glancing eyes, blushed apple cheeks and slant mouth. She weasr a felt short suit with pink jacket, white collar & blue skirt.
Nautical was part of the 1960 FAO exclusive Royal Tour Trousseau. It was also available as an extra Madame Alexander boxed outfit. This, along with a handful of other extra boxed outfits in 1960, came at the end of the career of Cissy as a mid century fashion doll that featured extra clothing and accessories. In hind sight, this was the curtain call after seven years for this large fashion doll. Cissy set the fashion doll standard for the American doll market. To confuse things just a bit, there was also a 1958 Nautical for both Cissy and Elise with red pleated skirt and a white jacket.
The 1960 Nautical was also available as an extra boxed outfit for Elise. The halter top is a remarkable application created with lingerie elastic... the midriff detail shows how tuned in Cissy was to the fashion of her day! The 1950s delighted in whimsy, and sailor and nautical inspired designs fit well with this love of novelty and themes — its popularity remained consistent throughout the decade. The hugely popular 1958 movie South Pacific made these nautical and yachting themes more and more popular going right into the 60s.
The launch of Barbie in 1959, along with a tremendous boost with the help of her TV ads on the Mickey Mouse Club and other children's programing changed the manufacturing pecking order. The course the business side of the doll industry would take, along with the newly morphed image of the American fashion doll, was dramatically redefined.
For those that watched the movie The Kings Speech, there was some interesting insight into the home life of Princess Elizabeth. With a peek into the royal nursery, Elizabeth was quite fond of her dolls and equestrian toys — which would become a life long passion for horses. At the same time, Madame Alexander was making dolls for the American market celebrating the young princess who was just about to make a huge bump in rank by becoming a royal princess, and heir to the British throne, once her uncle abdicated in 1936 and her father became king.
Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret had their play dolls, which were well played with, and they had dolls presented to them in a ceremonial capacity. The Royal Collection Trust has maintained a fascinating reserve of both of these dolls and toys — providing a unique look into these unique lives. The princesses grow up right at the brink of WWII, and lived with the war in London. They had virtually no friends their own age, so their play world was even more important.
Part of the fascination is enhanced by the long tradition of beautiful dolls created by Madame Alexander celebrating Princess Elizabeth who would become Queen Elizabeth, and a mother with children of her own. This all composition jointed body, glassine sleep eyes, real upper lashes, painted lower lashes, open smiling mouth with teeth and felt tongue. Betty face mold, with a mohair wig, was part of the early composition dolls by Alexander that would develop with the newest technology of each decade.
Part of the collection that showcases the childhood dolls and toys of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret
Wearing green and leprechaun costumes on St. Patrick's Day are traditions that started in the 17th century, when people wore green ribbons and shamrocks on March 17 to honor Ireland's patron saint. The tradition was popularized by Irish immigrants in the United States, who believed that wearing green made them invisible to leprechauns, fairy creatures who would pinch anyone they could see. Pinching people who didn't wear green reminded them that leprechauns could sneak up on them at any time.
Of course, green wasn't always the iconic color of the holiday. Originally, it was blue! Green was thought to have flourished as a tribute to the Emerald Isles and inspired the color change from blue (back in the 17th century) in order to better match the Irish flag.
But for a growing number of people, taking part in the holiday means wearing orange. According to this increasingly popular tradition, Protestants wear orange and leave green attire to Catholics. Thus, the color you wear actually depends on your religious affiliation. While this color tradition is not well known, it has deep roots in Irish history.
Cissy is looking every inch the fashion doll in this must-have of vintage fashion. The fuller the skirt the better in the 1950s! With the aid of multiple layers of petticoats, 1950s skirts were as voluminous as the wearer could make them. These 1950s skirts usually start with a 3 inch wide waistband at just above the natural waist using 4-5 yards of fabric. To be really in fashion, the skirt had to be made out of wool. Extremely heavy and difficult to keep full even with hoops and petticoats underneath, they were only for the bravest young ladies.
The full skirt was popular because it was flattering. The fullness hid big hips and made waists look smaller. The fuller the skirt the more magic it had on slimming waistlines. Adding a wide cinch belt over the skirt band created an even more “wasp waist” look. Leather and plastic belts were very popular, but they were prone to tearing and bunching up blouses. The elastic cinch belt was the best at both keeping blouses tucked and waists thin.
Full circle skirt available through Vogue Patterns.
Cissy in those big stripes — makes you want to smile! Madame Alexander provided for Cissy well. From 1955 through 1962, Cissy was dressed, gowned, accessorized, jeweled and hatted with extraordinary millinery. Part of the fascination with fashion dolls is, well — the fashion! This striped dress with the contrasting of directional stripes isn't just a polished cotton day dress. It is a direct reflection of one of the big trends of the fashion of this mid century time period. Paris gave the runway oversized stripes, American department stores have their customers oversized stripes and Madame Alexander, constantly reacting to what was happening around her, gave Cissy big oversized stripes. Dolls, like fashion, are a reflection of what's happening around them.
The featured 17" 1965 Polly No. 1751 is a wonderful representation of the American prom dress. The word prom is short for promenade, the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party. The prom can be traced back to the simple co-ed banquets that nineteenth century American universities held for each year's graduating class. What to wear to the prom would reflect the fashion trends and culture of the moment.
Formal 1950s prom dresses were layers of tulle and snug princess cut bodices. These dresses were floor length or tea length. Pink was the hottest prom color with other bright colors being popular too. Bodices were strapless, halter neck, or mesh top short sleeves with silver and gold embroidery or accented with bows
The 1960s prom dress preferred a short cocktail dress over longer ball gowns. Pink shared metallic gold and silver as favored colors. For these formal occasions, a sleeveless bodice or a sleeveless empire waist dress with long skirt became very popular and the new silhouette. The prom dresses worn during this era were influenced by Hollywood movies, politics, and even The Space Age. From funky to glamorous, there was a huge assortment of design choices for this increasingly popular event.
The era of the prom dress - Polly is every inch a Prom Princess.
The 1957 No. 2110 for Cissy is a great example of the concept of a street dress with several fashion flourishes that make it quintessential “Madame Alexander”. The red taffeta example is familiar to many collectors. The dress itself is a modified shirtwaist dress. The shirtwaist was hugely popular for everyday because it was easy and comfortable to wear. The polka dot cotton blouse reflects the enormous popularity of polka dots in its many applications this decade. Cissy wears the new and very popular cloche style hat in white straw. All the rage in the 1920s, the cloche hat was reinvented in the 1950s - this time instead of felt being the material of choice, straw was a new twist for summer hats.
The blue taffeta variation of this No. 2110 is much more rare. It also came in a green version. Taffeta itself was hugely popular during this mid century period. Silk taffeta had been around for some time. Synthetic taffeta was relatively new. Taffeta is a crisp, tight-woven plain weave fabric with very fine horizontal ribs. It often is lustrous, with a characteristic rustling sound when moved. Taffetas are used for dresses, gowns, women's suits, blouses and trimmings.
Taffeta is not without it’s challenges, and has a number of problem issues. Limpness will result from the loss of sizing and yarn slippage from tension. If garments are not hung up properly immediately when dry-cleaned, difficult wrinkles and breaks can occur. As many find out the hard way, shiny iron marks can be left if irons are too hot or too much pressure is used.
Taffeta was hugely popular with the Paris fashion houses in it’s many interpretations, and was immediately translated by the big American retailers. Cissy, one of the great fashion dolls of this era, also showed up in taffeta, a reflection of what was happening around her.