Ready To Wear: Fashion dolls

What to buy the woman who has everything? A limited-edition doll courtesy of the Lanvin designer and all-round fashion darling, Alber Elbaz, might make her very happy indeed. For autumn, the small but perfectly formed house that is currently giving the big brands a run for their money has collaborated with the Taiwanese craftsman Franz, and is offering up small but perfectly formed hand-painted porcelain figurines wearing signature looks from the current collection and tiny stilettos. True to the current vogue for all things collectable, each doll is limited to a series of 800 and costs 250. A bargain, one might not unreasonably argue, given that a full-size Lanvin frock might cost 10 times that, and then there are the dry-cleaning bills to consider.

As whimsical as it may seem, the role of the doll - or, more generally, the miniature - in fashion history has been largely pragmatic. Consider, for example, the Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf 's debut over 10 years ago, shown not on a catwalk but in an Amsterdam gallery, and mimicking the entire fashion-show process, from garment to photo shoot, in doll's-house dimensions. "Longing to realise our childhood fantasies of becoming fashion designers, we grew increasingly impatient," the designers said. "We wanted to fulfil our dreams at that very moment, in spite of restraints of time and lack of resources."

As part of the V&A's long-awaited exhibition, The Golden Age of Couture - Paris and London 1947-1957, which opens next month, sets from the post-war Theâtre de la Mode will be on display. On this occasion, some 200 quarter-lifesize dolls were dressed by the leading lights of French fashion, including Jeanne Lanvin, neatly enough, and placed in equally scaled-down sets designed by artists including Christian Berard and Jean Cocteau. The creation of these garments in miniature was a response to the acute fabric shortages and, specifically, rationing in France following the Second World War - even finding pins was difficult as steel was in short supply. "There were originally 12 theatrical sets," says the V&A's senior curator of 20th-century and contemporary fashion, Claire Wilcox. "The dolls are made to scale beautifully. The show toured to London, Leeds, New York, San Francisco, and to Denmark and Sweden. It united all the couturiers and spread the message abroad, particularly to American buyers, upon whom the houses depended, that couture hadn't died."

The Lanvin dolls are clearly more frivolous in origin, but they're no flash in the pan: the collaboration is set to continue, with six immaculately dressed dolls to be released with each new collection. It sure beats Barbie.

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