Monday, December 28, 2020

Yves and Trapeze

At the 2017 Sandra Stillwell Eternal Style Convention in Richmond, I was able to see the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the VFMA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Called “The Perfection of Style,” it was my first real introduction to the famed designer’s work. This post focuses on the dress called "L'Eléphant Blanc," which he created in 1958.

Here is the description from the catalog when it was on exhibition at The Met in New York:

Creating the trapeze silhouette for Dior, Saint Laurent has a rigid understructure veiled under a fly-away cage. A boned corset anchors the dress but allows the delusion of a free swinging cone. Seeking a shape for independence, though still tethered, the “Eléphant Blanc” dress also employs a shimmering embroidery on net that requires a finishing flourish to the thread work on a transparent surface. Thus, in both surface decoration and in structure, Saint Laurent gained the effect of ethereal, bouyant freedom while retaining the structure of the couture. From the earliest works at the house of Dior through the designer's accomplishments in his own house, Saint Laurent has practiced and perfected this modernist wielding of couture construction and proficiency to seem wholly unfettered. Manufacturer: Rébè. Date: spring/summer 1958. Culture: French Medium: silk, metallic thread, glass, plastic.

In short, it was nothing short of an architectural masterpiece in addition to being a groundbreaking piece of fashion.

Sandra Stillwell took on the daunting challenge of recreating this piece in miniature, despite the many challenges, such as the intricate beading. Here’s the promotional photo I took for Sandra at the convention:

What she had her “elves” put together is definitely a miracle in miniature.

One of the most difficult things about creating miniature is getting the fashion to hang properly without looking too bulky. This one does as well as can be expected, considering the amount of layers (there is an undergarment) and of course the lining.

The wig that was sold to go with Trapeze (Sandra’s title for the dress) was the perfect choice, beautifully executed by the famed doll wigmaker Ilaria Mazzoni.

See more Sandra Stillwell doll fashion photos at my website.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Temple Tuesday: Little Miss Broadway

In the finale of the 1938 film, “Little Miss Broadway,” Shirley Temple dances in one of the most elaborate musical numbers of her childhood career. An art deco courtroom magically transforms into a backdrop of New York City ablaze in neon as she and George Murphy leap and tap their way across the screen. It is truly one of the most surreal (yet entertaining) Shirley scenes. I had the privilege of seeing her well preserved costume (designed by Gwen Wakeling) when it was on tour for the “Love, Shirley Temple” auction in 2015.

Shirley’s mother had saved the tiara, dress, bolero cape, and the shoes. The costume is deceptively simple; upon closer inspection you can see the very detailed beadwork that went into each piece. Besides how it looked, it also had to be designed for Shirley’s dancing, so that it would flow perfectly with every twirl.

In short, Gwen Wakeling knew what she was doing.

Next to the costume was an 11" composition doll that the studio created for Shirley using some of the same fabrics from the original costume. Fox did this for many of Shirley’s films. I remember when I saw this noble effort, I thought it missed the mark on many levels. The skirt was too short and called attention to the doll’s extra long legs. By using the same size rhinestones as Shirley’s costume, it made the doll-sized version look out of scale and more like a home crafting project.

I do have to give Fox credit for the attempt; this is not an easy costume to duplicate successfully, which is why (to my knowledge), no doll company has attempted it. A detail I’d never noticed shows up in this publicity still of Joan Crawford and Shirley on set: she’s wearing a little ribbon around her wrist. Kudos to Fox for including this on their doll.

I have seen a number of attempts to replicate this costume for the composition doll. While some are better than others, they all missed the mark of scaling down the many pieces of the costume AND making the correct decision to edit out the elements that could bog it down once they were “shrunk” for a doll.

Once I learned that a replica of Shirley’s tiara (and a darned good one at that!) was available for purchase, the wheels started spinning. I realized that it looked best on a 27" Shirley; originally I had wanted it on a spare 25" composition Shirley, but it just looked too big for the doll’s head. Next, I found myself ordering a pair of custom-made doll shoes to match the ones Shirley wore. Of course the silver silk wrist ribbon was easy. 

Here are the incredible custom-made shoes:

This photo of Shirley shows her waiting for someone to make the dress. The photo of the real actress covers the doll for the sake of modesty (thanks for the framed photo, Melissa!).

One doll-outfit-creating friend looked at the project and didn’t respond; that was not a good sign. The next one I contacted actually seemed piqued by the challenge. I told this person that if she would do the dress and the bolero, I would tackle the beading (what was I thinking?!?). She graciously agreed and before I knew it, Shirley was having her first fitting.

Based on my feedback and the photos I sent to my expert seamstress (who knew more than a thing or two about doll outfits as well as human-sized outfits), she created the second test outfit with a few samples of sequins and trim. I was already impressed with this version and knew she would do a great job. I sent her the video of the dance number so that she could study how the dress moved and view it from all angles. This was very helpful to her as far as deducing how the original was constructed. These are the behind-the-scenes things that most consumers never think about and why they question some of the pricing for custom couture work. There is much more going on in the construction of these gems than meets the eye!

Not only did my friend do an outstanding job of putting together the dress and bolero, she went above and beyond the scope of what I had requested by doing the beadwork on the bolero top, too. Did she imitate every swirl and bead from the original? No. Would that have been a hot mess if she had? Yes. In a case of less is much more, she perfectly captured the spirit of the original costume while making everything look appropriate for my 27" doll. Saying “thank you” was barely enough to show my gratitude.

I quickly ordered the matching sequins and glass beads I would need to hand-sew onto the skirt. Oh yes...and the thread, too. Once all my supplies arrived, the project sat…and sat…until I found the time (and the courage) to tackle the sewing part. This was nothing that could be done by machine or even with a hot glue gun. Thanks to a few youtube videos and expert advice from my friend, I finally got down to business and braved my first attempt at doing beadwork. I created a template looking at the original costume and scaling/spacing them out to appropriate doll size. I marked each panel of the skirt’s delicate fabric, realizing that this was not going to be something I could goof on. The material easily snagged and if not sewn properly, would bunch up and look like…well yes…a hot mess. Based on my template, I would end up sewing 252 sequin/bead combinations. Yikes! And here was the beginning:

In a few days of non-stop labor, I finally had the finished product!

While I won’t be changing professions any time soon, I was happy with the work I did on the skirt, and thought it looked great with the professionally-done bolero top.

And now Little Miss Broadway has a special place in my Shirley doll room! Laugh department: while my friend was more than anxious to hear comments from the Shirley doll community, she did request anonymity as this was not a project she wanted to duplicate! After 252 sequin/bead sewing combinations, I can totally sympathize!

See more Shirley Temple doll photos at my main website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

DeeAnna Denton: Plum Royale

Those with the collector gene (as in DNA/RNA and all that good stuff) understand the desire to have a particular doll in every different hair color, even if the sculpt is the same. Thus, my eventual acquisition of Miss DeeAnna Denton wearing Plum Royale with a gorgeous mane of raven hair.

The outfit seems like a lavender homage to Marilyn Monroe’s costume as she sang “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” Just not quite as memorable.

As with most Tonner dolls, the jewelry seems a bit cheap looking, like something put together from the sale bin at Michael’s Craft Store. Still, I was very happy to acquire this particular DeeAnna, even if her articulation (like the rest of the ones I own) is clunky at best.

Here’s a little teaser for my next DeeAnna post. No…this is not an outfit from Tonner.

Stay tuned for the full story.

See more DeeAnna Denton doll photos at my main website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Shirley Projects, Pt. 4

One of my very favorite Shirley Temple musical numbers is “Fifth Avenue” from the 1940 film “Young People.” Not surprisingly, I commissioned the talented Lolly Moran to recreate the tuxedo that Shirley wore in the film for one of my 18" Ideal composition dolls. Unfortunately, Lolly could not do the gloves, hat, or cane. She did however suggest Dollspart for the top hat, which I immediately ordered. Not sure which size to get, I bought the two sizes that I thought would be close. Sadly, it was a Goldilocks situation and I was missing the “just right” size. There was the too big one:

…and the too small version, which wasn’t even the right shape. It would have been better suited for an Abraham Lincoln doll.

I ended up putting a silk ribbon with bow around the larger one, as I figured at least it was the right shape, and by putting it on at an angle, I could (slightly) disguise the fact that it didn’t really fit. Fortunately, the 18" doll I had chosen to model the hat had a BIG head full of curls! The gloves were easy; I’d made many pairs before, so that went off the checklist immediately. The hardest part was the cane. Buying wooden dowels, I painted them first with black enamel, and then the tips in silver. Easy.

The glitter for the top of the cane came out messy and clumped. I had dipped the top in glue and then dipped it in the bottle of glitter. No control with that method and the glitter stuck haphazardly. Back to the drawing board.

After a few more unsuccessful tries, I finally hit paydirt. In putting the ensemble together, here’s how it came out:

The too-large hat still bothered me. No matter how jaunty the angle, it still didn’t look right. Then one day I tried the hat on a 20" Shirley. BINGO! Guess what happened next? Lolly was making a 20" version of the tux (this time with pockets to hold the miniature pocket chain, just like Shirley in the movie) and I was busy making a larger cane and gloves! To say I was pleased with the final result is an understatement. The outfit looked so much better in the larger size.

Still more Shirley craft project posts to come!

See more Shirley Temple doll photos at my main website.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Shirley Projects, Pt. 3

In “Curly Top” (1935) when little orphan Elizabeth Blair (Shirley) sashays up the walk with her sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson) to her new ritzy beach home has to be one of the cutest scenes Shirley ever filmed as a child. It’s no surprise that I think the original Ideal composition doll dressed in the same “Duck Dress” is one of the cutest, too. I was able to acquire one, and this is how she looked in the online auction where I found her.

Since I prefer my Shirleys to be as screen accurate as possible, I switched out her white oilcloth shoes for the black Mary Jane variety.

You’ll also note that I added gloves (yup, sewed them myself!) and a purse. Not just any old purse, either. I did my best to match the one Shirley carried in the film.

Zooming into this vintage shot from my collection, I had a very good idea of what that looked like!

A detailed shot of the purse that I made. Not too bad for a first try!

See more Shirley Temple doll photos at my main website.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Shirley Projects, Pt. 2

It’s common knowledge what Shirley wore to the Oscars in 1935, based on photographic evidence. It’s also well documented what coat and hat she wore when she planted her feet into the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre the same year.

Yup...put her feet AND hands right here. Note Jane Withers, Shirley’s arch nemesis from “Bright Eyes,” in the upper left corner. It took Jane another four years after Shirley to get her block at Grauman’s!

What we DON’T know is what dress she wore under her coat at Grauman’s. So far, no photos have surfaced that would tell us that information. What we DO know is that when Shirley herself worked with the Danbury Mint many years ago to release a porcelain doll that commemorated that historic moment…

she chose to have the dress she wore to the Oscars as the one that came with the Grauman’s coat.

When it came up for auction in 2015, we learned what color it was. From the Theriault’s catalog:

A sleeveless peach silk crepe dress has narrow pleats falling fron the high waist and self-covered buttons down the yoke. Atop the sleeveless bodice is a pink pique jacket with diamond-point edging and puffed sleeves with matching trim. The dress is tagged "4757".

Danbury chose to make the entire ensemble the same color. Ho hum.

Recently, the R. John Wright company, known for their high-end felt dolls, announced their second Shirley Temple doll, titled “Hollywood Star.”

The Grauman’s outfit was spot-on; top-quality fabrics and a real ermine fur capelet. The website said the dress underneath would be the Oscar dress; instead of showing the doll-sized dress, they posted a shot of the actual dress Shirley wore from the auction site. At a doll convention (before the doll had been released, but at a point they had already collected money for pre-orders), Wright showed their first Shirley release along with “Hollywood Star” in two different versions, with varying prices. One had the Oscar dress with no coat (but an Oscar), and the other with just the coat and who knows what underneath.

Then abruptly the price disappeared as did the miniature Oscar on the middle doll.

I noticed at the same time on the Wright website that although the Oscar dress was still being shown…

the ad copy had removed any mention of the Oscar dress and just stated this:

I contacted Wright, who told me that “the family” had forbidden them from using the Oscar dress so the substitution had been made. Very quietly. Because the coat is attached with the Wright pin and not easy to unbutton, most of the people who bought this doll would probably never know exactly what was underneath unless they attempted to struggle to remove the coat. I noticed that recently, Wright did put a shot of what the dress looks like. Nice pleated dress...but not as detailed or intricate as the Oscar dress.

At this point, I decided to “plus” my Danbury Mint doll. I preferred the porcelain face over the felt, so I was good on that. While the fur and coat weren’t of the same caliber as the Wright version, they were good enough for me. I did two little upgrades. One was to remove the Danbury synthetic wig and replace it with mohair. MUCH better!

…and I dyed the Danbury Oscar dress bolero top to match the real one. I was one happy customer...and saved a ton-o-money in the process!

The only thing I need now is a Claudette Colbert doll!

See more Shirley Temple doll photos at my main website.