Cissy - casually walking the runway, making and entrance or maybe on a mission... appearing effortless indeed. Well, maybe not. Practice makes perfect, but wires, hidden stands, a carefully placed prop to lean on and even the dolls natural balance certainly helps the illusion of a little magic. The mission is to capture a moment in time and play with the natural qualities and texture of the fabrics that the doll is wearing — may suggest the appearance of movement. Often it's the mantua of tweaking ever so slightly an arm, leg or tilt of the head. Cissy was so well designed, that almost 70 years later she's still got what it takes.... No super model, Victoria's Secret angel or queen of the red carpet, except maybe Queen Elizabeth, can claim that long of a run!
Cissy does her Easter shopping — this year she's in a very charming dropped waist cotton garland print day dress with puffed sleeves. A very becoming straw hat that coordinates perfectly helps with that Easter flare. Perhaps it was the directions she was given or a wrong turn... Mr. Bunny is as surprised to see Cissy as she is to see him. No matter — a little small talk and the two of them are fast friends, with more in common than you might think.
Madame Alexander got to pull out all the stops once or twice in a doll season. Usually, each year there is at least one show stopper that encapsulates all that we love about the magic of Alexander. Cissy in this No. 2282 certainly has that WOW factor in spades. Painted tulle was a fashion trend of mid-century fashion - and very popular for prom dresses, weddings and evening gowns. Not particularly practical, these would be the type of events that you would want something very special that most likely may never be worn again. Cissy, the 21" fashion doll that was always on-trend, came out in 1958 with this fantasy gown of amazing beauty.
1957 - what year for the Alexander Doll Company! Not only was Cissy's phenomenal popularity peaking, Cissette, Elise were introduced the same year. They would all be introduced in the newest technology of infused plastics, with Cissy making the switch over from her painted finish introduction to the latest and greatest development of infusing the color into the plastic vs the layers of painted finish over raw plastic.
This featured mint in box 1957 Lissy Bridesmaid is quite beautiful. "Beautiful" is perhaps a cliche when describing many of the dolls of this golden era, but in this case, what else can you say? Beatrice Alexander loved costuming and excelled in the colors, details and thoughtful, sometimes unexpected, touches. In this case, the beautiful touch of val lace against the sheer lilac nylon with touches of tiffany-blue/aqua flowers as an element of surprise. Lissy embraces the the tradition of the young ethereal bridesmaid of mid-century America.
You can see more of My Debutante at the Dropbox link:
My Debutante - coming soon to a Madame Alexander Convention (near you?). A tribute to my longtime friend, costume designer, Cissy collector extraordinaire and Alzheimer's patient. Richard did costumes for TV, stage and for the LA Opera. He started out doing children's clothes in New York City, which gave him a unique understanding of commercial sewing. As these things tend to happen, we crossed paths at a doll show in the late 1980s in Glendale, CA, both budding Cissy collectors, and stayed friends during the good, best and ugliest times. In hind site, our friendship was long distance because my design career tended to take me where the action was, which was for many years a confused place called Las Vegas.
One of the ways of communicating was helping Richard develop a project he called "Debutante". He liked to create clothes for Cissy that were timeless - vintage but they could be worn today. He often tried costume ideas on Cissy first - so Debutante could, for the most part, be translated for people too. Another part of staying in touch was attending the Madame Alexander Doll Club Conventions - usually if they were within driving distance. While sometimes getting there was an emotional and "will they or won't they" roller coaster ride, the MADC event itself was sublime. Getting away from life's ick factor was such a relief, and a chance to be, well somewhere from silly to stupid. Richard also used a couple of the conventions to test the waters of his Debutante concept, and to enjoy the company of others that came from hither and yon to participate in these virtual doll summer camps.
As Richard has coped with his Alzheimer's, he started sewing and creating for Cissy with an intense passion that I think only his own minds eye could completely understand. He wanted to recreate the scenario of the conventions, the elements of the unknown, new and rekindled friendships all around dolls, dolls and more dolls. For the past two conventions we attempted to make it happen, but Alzheimer's is not a patient condition. In mid-planning, the 2013 trip was canceled, and the idea was retired once and for all. With the help of Richards brother and wife, I've gathered some of the outfits Richard was working on and put them together as we would have done in years past for his Debutante. This wardrobe, along with a hardcover book of My Debutante will be donated in Richards name to the 2014 August 6-9 MADC Convention in Philadelphia to be auctioned off. Hopefully, this will add a little excitement and merriment for all - and leave a pleasant footnote to Richard's love of dolls, costuming, people and MADC.
Jacqueline, the doll, was the perfect complement for the Alexander Doll Company. Taking the concept of the adult fashion doll to the next level, Jacqueline had both the manufacturing technology and fashion working for her in this success story in the making. Calling the doll Jacqueline, just short of inferring that this is actually the First Lady of the United States, was not the same as acquiring a licensing agreement. As beautifully as the doll was conceived, introducing for the company their newly developed vinyl mold and rooted hair on a fashion doll – there would be a price to pay for rolling the dice and hoping the White House would not notice. The clothes for the Jacqueline were beautiful, capturing the essence of Oleg Cassini minimal design and line with beautiful fabrics and trims. Mid season 1962, the letter from the White House arrived and the Alexander Doll Company’s Jacqueline was retired to avoid legal proceedings. Many of these Jacqueline’s acquired a new name and were reassigned a new persona. Jacqueline is featured in my article for the June issue of the MADC the Review.
I visited the newly opened Charles James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. Part of the experience, was the experience. I was there before the museum opened to be greeted by others more determined than myself to be head of the line - both lines. Charles James place in fashion history is unique, for better or worse, he did it his way. James was one of the rare ones of the Arts in that his skill and talents were so compelling that he would be the go-to designer other designers went for inspiration and ideas. Not the least adverse to some old fashion BS to throw into the mix, James had the kind of life and career that keeps you on the edge of your seat reading about... the highs are so high and the lows, well Google him for yourself.
The Charles James vision is clear and uncluttered unlike some others. Dior, god that he was, created design mania to stay front and center of the media. Controversy sells and sells very well. While sometimes the great French couture designers of the 1950s can get a little hazy as to who designed what, the work of Charles James looks like none other than his own. Some of his design is an acquired taste. James could get so esoteric, that there is nothing to compare it too. At his best, he is just simply the best of class. James viewed his design as art. His work, so magnificently displayed at the Metropolitan Museum could easily move some to tears. These gowns echo the intense frustration and pain those in the rare stratosphere of originality must sometimes travel through to get to the other side of a successful solution.
Life long friend and school mate Cecile Beaton captured James at his most iconic during the 1940s and 50s. The sumptuous baroque gowns, photographed and lit to perfection in equally important architectural settings, in unique color pallets that are just as masterful as the engineering of the gowns themselves. When he moved from Europe to New York, James hit his design and social stride. Fatefully turning a nurse and makeup shopgirl with the wrong accent into Elizabeth Arden, James was on his way. When Arden married a Russian prince, James designed her trousseau. This in turn helped him meet the creme de la creme, who would help subsidize his art. "Mathematical tailoring combined with the flow of drapery were his forte", noted Vogue in 1944. But finishing on time was a problem. He would borrow back a dress from one client, only to lend it to another. Worse still, he would lone it out for advertising. The Johnson & Johnson's famous "Modess Because" ad campaigns that ran from 1948 through the 1970s are full of gowns James borrowed back form clients only to appear in these high-fashion, couture-themed ads.
After I graduated from college, I lived in Philadelphia for a year. I occasionally visited a friend of mine from school who landed with the Metropolitan Opera. He lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He would always fill me in on the scoop de jour - who's painting was in the lobby in lue of rent. Just as interesting were those on their way up or on their way down and left, or moved in the middle of the night. While I certainly recognized the reverence of his words when speaking of neighbor Mr. James, I alas, at the time, did not make a connection. However, I do remember the stories of the maids refusing to clean his room after just too much of too much. Endearing were his stories of late night chats with the charming and endlessly sharing Mr. James that would help shape his own design career with those nocturnal words of wisdom.
This 14" Story Princess was an exclusive by the Alexander Doll Company for the ZCMI Department Stores based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Created around the character of the daily "KSL" Radio Show Princess, who would read stories for children from 5pm to 5:15pm daily. Both were owned by the LDS Church. The doll came in the stores classic gold box with the Alexander Doll Company label on the underside of the boxes lid. The doll also includes the special ZCMI hang tag, announcing that the Alexander Doll Company has made The Story Princess exclusively for the department store, with the radio station and time of the radio show included. Either included with the doll or kept by the original owner, there is a publicity photograph of the KSL Radio Station Show Princess in her costume, which includes her magic wand, which is also include with the doll.
This is a very rare example of the exclusives the Alexander Doll Company did for different stores across the story. While New York based FAO Schwarz is the best known, so many other stores worked with Alexander on their own exclusives. Sometimes this meant a variation of fabric colors or trims. In this case, the doll is unique to the retailer which in turn is unique to the community and state it served.
The doll appears to be a very early hard plastic doll right at the transition from composition to hard plastic around 1947 or 1948. This would correspond to the new format the station took. The station's owners made their initial foray into FM broadcasting in 1947 when they brought the original KSL-FM onto the then sparsely-populated FM dial at 100.3. With their then brand new beautiful music format, they were unique for the time in the radio industry. In 1948 ZCMI advertised "ZCMI Welcomes Back the Story Princess". Tying these events together, it could be very likely the doll was commissioned to take advantage of the different elements related to each other.
With vintage and antique dolls, it's not often you can say "mint in box - no excuses". This 1937 composition McGuffey Ana meets that rare standard. Mint dolls, in virtually undisturbed condition, offer a rare opportunity to study their intended vision by their creator and the company manufacturing the doll. The composition finish of this doll is clear, bright and a remarkable example of the composition standard Madame Alexander was striving for her still fledgling doll company. Not only the finishes, but the costuming is representative of this design vision - colors, textures and detail are all in play to help create a unique niche in a crowded market Alexander was competing in.
Another interesting detail is the condition of this dolls eyes. One of the features typical of these lovely old composition dolls is the deterioration of old glassine eyes. In this case, they are as clear and intact as the day the doll left the factory. How this doll survived in this condition is unknown to me. Whatever the history of this particular doll, she can now be enjoyed as part of the art of Alexander, almost as a moment in time revisited. Having it's original McGuffey Ana School House hang tag gives another interesting look at the dolls total concept from design to marketing by Madame Alexander. This kind of licensing and collaboration with books, film and the Arts would become a keystone of success for the Alexander Doll Company.