Mrs Miniver reminds Sundae that Queen Victoria made her own fashion dolls, by Mark Hughes.


Christian Berard’s illustration for Le Théâtre de la Mode. The exhibition opened before the end of WW2 in March 1945 at Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. 100,000 people visited the exhibition, which brought together some of the best fashion, art, theatre and dance talents in an epic collaboration to promote French culture and the couture.

Two exhibitions that have explored the time-worn idea of fashion in miniature have taken place this year;  Le Petit Théâtre Dior, in which some of the most famous looks by Christian Dior have been revisited on 1/3 scale mannequins and Superdoll’s Spellbound at the Fashion Institute of Design Museum in Los Angeles - 17” high ball-jointed fashion dolls dressed in haute couture of exquisite detail. In both cases we are talking objects of great beauty and finesse – the same high standard that would go into the professional dressing of commercial fashion dolls from the 15th to late 18th centuries. Dior, however, did not officially take part in the Théâtre de la Mode of March 1945; he was still working for Lucien Lelong. The glory boys then were Cristobal Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, and the just launched Pierre Balmain; and no exhibitions of fashion on mannequins or dolls have as yet surpassed the magic and flair of the 27 inches tall wire mannequins, dressed in the latest Paris couture. The Petit Théâtre Dior is an understandable desire to be associated with the original; but it must be stated, these are not fashion dolls, they are miniature dressmakers’ dummies. Good, but not the whole sartorial cigar. A doll requires a head and limbs in order to be able accommodate conventional fashion garments and a face allows for the spirit of personality to be breathed into the small figure.

One must never underestimate the French when it comes to Fashion; they have an unerring faith in their position on centre stage. Parisian dressmakers led the world in fashion dolls, sent out to the courts and then cities of the civilised world for over two centuries. Seventy years ago, newly liberated from German occupation by the Allies, many inhabitants of the capital city, wrote Cecil Beaton in his diary, still appeared stunned. ‘Their recent suffering taught them to close their eyes to reality, and they are not yet fully awake.’ He was discussing the hardness endured by many and the flourishing black market, enjoyed by the few that were able to indulge in couture, for in Paris ‘luxury trades are flourishing’. The Théâtre de la Mode exhibition, which opened at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs at the Louvre before WW2 ended in May 1945, was a release for the 100,000 visitors from deprivation, wire dolls with plaster face and immaculate hair were wearing styles from the Autumn collections of 53 couture houses, posing in sets designed by leading artists and designers. Today, it is a benchmark for the art of couture in miniature and a template for the creative possibilities of collaboration between fashion, art and design.

Not only was it a great marketing event – at the British version, subtitled ‘A Fantasy of Fashion’, visitors numbered 120,000 and a delighted Queen Elizabeth was given a private viewing. For the French Couture, it was I think a peace offering, an olive branch to the British, Scandinavians and Americans. Why? Rationing and clothes coupons – the ‘Make Do and Mend’ mantra in Britain with its CC41 and America’s L-85 programmes - and an inability on the part of the French couture to understand just how the spring 1945 collections, with their abundance of fabric were simply untenable for overseas buyers and consumers.  It was insulting to those who had liberated Paris. As Mad-Carpentier said a little too frankly in an historic broadcast with Edna Woolman Chase, Lucien Lelong and Michel de Brunhoff, ‘And now to our new models. You think they look extravagant. Of course they do! It is our cut, the way of placing the seams that purposely make them look so. It is the skill of our midinettes, inherited from generations of artisans, and their ability, which turn our designs into lovely creations. Without the midinettes, we designers could not exist.’  Gallic hubris, yes, but the jobs of 12,000 workers, all part of ‘the Creation and Made to Order Branch of the Fashion industry’ were saved by spending the war years outwitting the Germans’ desire to control the Couture.

Nevertheless, with Parisian couturiers not subject to rationing their collections that autumn were of an amplitude that offended the American and British fashion opinion makers; the pleading for Americans to send their clothing to France as part of the relief effort while said Allies all lived in a coupon currency was a step too far. ‘With enough material in every Paris frock to make two dresses people kept asking me why. Explanations were difficult’ wrote a flinty Mrs Chase in her autobiography Always in Vogue.  ‘I do not know whether the French realized it, but [it was] a blow in the solar plexus’ of the American press and public alike. An embargo on importing French styles was proposed.

In view of this stand off, how sensible of Paul Caldagues, an editor at Le Figaro and Robert Ricci, son of Nina Ricci and publicist at the Chambre Syndicale thought up a plan that would ameliorate the loyal friends of France while promoting French fashion and culture at the same time. They conceived fashion in miniature, returning to the traditional means of fashion communication – the fashion doll, a mannequin scaled to half or quarter size. If they were good enough for the eminent marchande des modes Rose Bertin they were good enough for her successors. Balenciaga, Lelong, Mad-Carpentier, Martial et Armand, Schiaparelli, Fath, Balmain, Patou all took part. Designed by an illustrator Elaine Bonabel and made in wire by sculptor Jean Saint Martin, they were displayed in sets created by some of the greatest talents in France, including Jean Cocteau, Boris Kochno and Christian Berard. Without looking obtrusively extravagant, scaled down, perfect in imaginative sets and jewellery by Van Cleef and Arpels and Cartier. Eventually it opened in New York, then went on to San Francisco and now resides in the Maryhill Museum ( in Washington State.

In 1949, more fashion dolls were sent from Paris dressed by couturiers and luxury outfitters an examples of over 200 years of French dress, a marker for civilisation and culture to say ‘Thank You’ to the USA for its support for Free France during the War. They were part of the ‘Gratitude Train’ and belong to the Brooklyn Museum Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. It was a much more pragmatic approach to promotion, and one cannot but ask why they did not work with the great American costume designers in a spectacular Transatlantic fashion-fest – would have been much cleverer to have costume designers such as Adrian and Edith Head giving their take on the Diane de Poitiers or Sarah Bernhardt and Christian Dior, Balmain and Balenciaga designing film costumes, life-size and quarter scale.

Now Dior has opened the door on the Theatre de la Mode again – note – 100,000 visitors in the tail end of the terrible winter of 1944 – 1945 in Paris, 120,000 in London – all cold, all hungry ....  escaping into the fantasy World of Fashion in Miniature. That people are entranced by exhibitions that demonstrate the fantastic (literally) in dress and fashion is demonstrated by the huge success of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum and the glorious Jean Paul Gaultier show at The Barbican in London. People are hungry for the craftsmanship and beauty of real clothes, seen up close and personal, not via a computer screen.  Portable, creative, enchanting – a new Theatre de la Mode would bring the magic of fashion back into the public arena; a perfect public relations exercise by an industry seriously in danger of prizing the commercial over the beautiful and the extraordinary.

1945, London. The British called it “A Fantasy of Fashion”. A private viewing was arranged for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and 120,000 visitors attended the event. It was a brilliant demonstration of how the French couture had survived the German Occupation and the outwitting by the Chambre de Syndical de la Couture under Lucien Lelong of the Nazis in their attempt to move the couture to Germany or Austria. It also reminded the British and later, the Americans, both of whom suffered strict rationing legislation, just who led fashion and how. The Watteau inspired image underlined the primacy of French couture as one of the most civilised of elements of culture and the arts.
Mad Carpentier, evening dress, silk, silver woven palmette design. Millinery by Albouy, 1945. The fashion doll is 27 inches high. Mad Carpentier was Mad Maltezos and Suzie Carpentier, both former employees of Mme Vionnet, who formed Mad Carpentier after Vionnet retired in 1939. Photograph by David Seidner, 1991.
Revival: Le Petite Théâtre Dior May – June 2014 exhibition at the IFS Mall in Chengdu, China. Dior couture gown, in miniature, a 1/3 scale version of the one the worn by Jennifer Lawrence for the Academy Awards in 2013. It is a flat-fronted crinoline style, originally invented by Charles Frederick Worth. Its magnificence came into play when Miss Lawrence took a tumble on the steps up to accept her Oscar for – the back detail and train looked like one of Winterhalter’s celebratory portraits of women in Worth.
Christopher Anstey and Daughter with a Grande Pandora or fashion doll, c. 1777. by William Hoare.

Writer and poet Anstey satirised the artifice and excesses of fashion in his satirical
New Bath Guide, 1766.

All pine at the injury done to your faces /Ye have eyes lips and nose but your heads are no more /Than a Doll that is placed /At a milliner's door’.

His daughter is holding a current fashion doll, her hair dressed in the towering style favoured by Queen Marie Antoinette and her ladies at Versailles.
A miniature mantua, yellow and silver woven brocaded silk , French, from the 1760s. Originally this would have been worn by a Grande Pandora, or fashion doll, dressed and dispatched as a means of communicating the latest in the Mode from Paris. Rear view showing train as befitted a formal gown. Bath Museum of Fashion.
Francois Boucher, Le Dejeuner, 1739. See fashion doll, a petite Pandora in informal dress beside the little girl wearing a ‘pudding’ to protect her head. Pandora, bottom right. These dolls were for the getting of and spending on fashion garments and accessories; there were also English dolls, the best examples of these in the work of artists in America when it was still a British colony. It is easy to see, looking at dolls from each fashion centre why Paris dominated. Its dressmakers and milliners understood that fashion was essentially frivolous.
Fashion Doll as miniature version or as avatar: Kate Moss with a replica, Alexander McQueen campaign 2014, photograph by Steven Meisel. The Marchesa Casati had Casati dolls made by sculptor Catherine Barjansky, miniatures more fantastic than the real thing which was no mean feat. McQueen here is playing with fetish and sexuality – just as Lee McQueen did with his Hans Bellmer inspirations for his ‘La Poupée’ collection SS 1997.
‘Don’t call me “Dolly.’” ‘Blak’, 2013. A contemporary fashion doll that reaches into history and into the future – the 17 inches high Sybarites by Superdoll. If fashion dolls should reflect the times in which they are created in order to be successful, Superdoll set the benchmark on the kind of ‘fierce’ best seen in the editorial in W magazine's September issue featuring Iman, Rihanna and Naomi Campbell summer 2014.
The master of the silhouette: Jacques Fath,‘Caran d’Ache’. Evening gown, millinery by M. Fath, Le Théâtre de la Mode 1945.
Artistic Director Christian Berard’s set that recreated and opera house, with proscenium arch and boxes, the coiffed and smartly dressed audience looking onto a fantasy of evening gowns.
Right, Louis Touchagues, designer of the set for the Place Vendome scene, with Jean St Martin, left, maker of the dolls, photograph by Robert Doisneau.
Balenciaga, framboise satin evening gown, embroidered with pearls and cabochon on bodice and full skirt, Le Théâtre de la Mode 1945 photograph by David Seidner 1991.
‘Rose de France’ with ermine evening cape, by Mendel, Le Théâtre de la Mode 1945.
Scraps of ermine were used to imitate fox in the fashion dolls of 1945. ‘Ivory’ in Guinevere-green strapless gown of sheared Saga mink and flouncing frothiness of Saga fox sculpted into a sweeping train, Superdoll AW 2014.
Jacques Fath, fashion doll, dressed in the style of 1867 with tailored wool coat trimmed with beaver fur over crinolined day dress. The Gratitude Train, 1949 Metropolitan Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection.
Fourrures Weil, one of the best know luxury fur labels in Paris. Here, an unspecified fur coat on a doll dressed in the style of 1863. Along with Jacques Heim, Weil was at the avantgarde of fur fashion; their coats and accessories memorable illustrated by Lepape and Eric in the Gazette du Bon Ton and Vogue respectively. In 1920, Marcel Weil launched Les Parfums Weil, the first called ,pragmatically, ‘Chinchilla’.
Quantra, swathed in a cool pink sheared Saga mink and clipped Saga fox coat, Superdoll AW 2014.
2014, fitting 1/3 scale Miss Dior short evening dress from the Trompe l’oeil collection 1949, part of the Le Petit Le Théâtre Dior.

The Making of the Miss Dior short evening gown, SS 1949, in miniature,  Le Petit Theatre Dior, Chengdu IFS Mall.

Miss Dior short evening dress, SS 1949, Trompe l’oeil line, embroidery mille fleur design is by Barbier.
Miss Dior short evening dress, SS 1949, recreated in miniature, Le Petit Le Théâtre Dior, 2014.

Christian Dior’s gala evening dress from his Autumn 1951 Princesse collection, with its slightly raised waistline. The skirt is embroidered with a crescent moon pattern, decreasing in size as they reach the high bodice which is topped off with a bow. It was spectacularly developed by John Galliano for Dior’s AW couture 2009 collections. Vogue, photograph by Henry Clarke.

The gala evening dress revisited, Le Petit Théâtre Dior, 2014.
John Galliano’s version of the Princesse Moon dress, AW 2009 couture, photograph by Steven Meisel.
The wool skirt and houndstooth jacket and black wool dress by Christian Dior for the SS 1948 haute couture, recreated in miniature for Le Petit Théâtre Dior 2014.
The same ensemble, variant in the jacket’s fabric, drawing by Keogh in Vogue. Dior described his Envol, which means ‘winged’ or ‘flight’ as when the ‘silhouette achieved its peak of youth and flightiness.’ The long black gloves and furled umbrella, held as if it were a malacca cane are again very ‘retro’ . M. Dior’s whole oeuvre was based on fantasies on the past that were cleverly updated and made modern.
Dior’s Envol collection, Spring 1948. Following on from his first collection, called Corolle, dubbed the ‘New Look’ by Carmel Snow, he continued with soft sculpted shapes. Pencil slim black wool dress, topped by short jacket with flyaway back, high collar and giant cuffs. Playfully looking back to the Belle Epoque: shoes are worn with gaiters and there is a large pussycat bow at the neck which is pure Paul Helleu-Woman.
‘Xixax’ From the private collection of Desmond Lingard.

Fantasy Of Fashion (1945)

Dior's introduction and overview of Le Petit Theatre Dior, Chengdu,IFS Mall, May and June 2014.

02 March 2016

Fur Glamour: The Academy Award

23 February 2016


12 December 2015

Children in furs

03 November 2015

This seasons fur ads

06 October 2015

The Parka

27 August 2015

Red On The Rocks

25 July 2015

A New Garden of Earthly Delights: Christian Dior Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2015

22 July 2015


26 January 2015

Titfers, Tiles, Butter flaps and Bonnets

22 November 2014

Adonis in Furs

10 November 2014

Beasts of the Wild Frontier

30 October 2014

Wilde Thing

06 October 2014

‘HEAVEN’S BEAUTIFUL SERPENT’: The Marchesa Casati and the Museo Fortuny exhibition

15 September 2014

I never promised you a rose garden

27 August 2014


18 July 2014


18 July 2014

Elsa Schiaparelli in Cloud Cuckoo Land

16 July 2014

Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2014 by Marco Zanini

08 July 2014

Fashion : 1914 and Century On

01 July 2014

Of Unicorns and Wickermen – British Folk Art at Tate Britain

27 June 2014

Newsflash – auction results Kerry Taylor Auctions – sale results, Passion for Fashion 24 June 2014

24 June 2014

Passion for Fashion sale 24th June

23 June 2014

The Glamour of Italian Fashion’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

05 June 2014

Emerging Talent News...

10 June 2014

Gowns of Glory - ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion’