The Parisian Poupée….French Fashion Dolls

The exact purpose of French Fashion dolls have caused much speculation. There are few if any unaware that Paris, France has a long history of defining what the current ideals of fashion and beauty are. I have read of records that show dolls sporting the latest styles were being sent to royalty for the Court tailor to reproduce thus ensuring they were always dressed in the latest stylish French clothing. It is believed by many that these dolls were life size but there are also those that think these dolls were of a much smaller size. There is also disagreement among both dealers and collectors as to the correct term when referring to these lovely dolls. Whether they are called “fashion type”, “fashion doll” or “lady doll” they are among the most beautiful dolls ever produced. My personal preference is simply French Fashion doll.

Production of French Fashion doll began about 1855 and ended in the 1890’s. These dolls are highly prized by doll collectors. Ranging in size from a petite 9 inches to over 30 inches. The bodies can vary greatly and those with jointed woodened bodies are the most prized. The most common of French Fashion body types is the all kid leather with a small waist, individual stitched fingers, gusseted joints at the elbow and knee that allowed for movement and a prominent derrière. Gesland bodies are either made of wood or stuffed stockinette which is the most common example found. Gesland bodies frequently have the Gesland stamp located either on the front or back of the body. The bodies were stuffed with either horsehair or sawdust. Due to sawdust being heavier it used in the majority of the bodies as it made them much firmer. Terrene bodies due to their structure are one of the most unique and rarely found of body types. They have a body made of wood with a covering of kid leather, the lower torso has what resembles pantaloons made of leather. Due to this many collectors refer to them as “baggy pants” or “baggy britches”. Terrene dolls bodies have either metal upper arms with Bisque lower arms and hands or metal upper and lower arms with Porcelain or Bisque hands. Regardless of the body type these beautiful dolls continue to be sought by collectors and when found they command high prices. The dolls were originally sold either dressed or undressed. Some of the dressed dolls were sold with a complete trousseau, some dressed as brides while others were dressed in regional clothing. Fashion dolls while expensive were very popular among the affluent Victorians and each was carefully selected by the mother. Every item necessary for the fashionable lady of the 19th century toilette was duplicated in miniature for these dolls. In Paris there where whole shops that sold nothing but items for these lovely ladies which included everything from gloves, furniture, stationery, wigs, shoes, dresses to silk parasols. It could be said that these dolls were as pampered then as they are prized today. The doll at the right is a marked Barrois on a rare Terrene body. She has metal upper and lower arms with Porcelain hands. She is 13 inches tall and is from my personal collection.

This type of doll generally has a separate head which is attached to a shoulder`plate then placed on the body. The majority of French Fashion dolls have a swivel head which allowed the head to be turned up, down or side to side and posed according to the child’s desire. One variation of the swivel head is the cup and saucer or flange neck which is made by the head and neck both having flat surfaces. This style allows only for a side to side movement of the head. There is also a fixed neck Fashion Doll, the head and shoulder plate being one piece like the majority of China Head dolls of the day. The fixed neck dolls are rarer but they are not as popular with collectors and tend to sell for less money. The head was made of either porcelain or bisque. The early doll heads were pressed into the mold rather than the slip being poured into the mold. The eyes are glass or painted and all examples that I have seen have pierced ears, even those that are occasionally seen dressed as a male. Makers markings if present are located generally on the back of the shoulder plate, however there are French Fashion dolls that carry the markings on the front. Some are marked only with either a letter or number, these type of markings usually represent the size. The doll at the right shows the Barrois markings E 0 B, the 0 indicates the size and E B is the makers mark for Barrois. The doll is part of my personal collection.

As with many toys in the 19th century French Fashion dolls were playthings but, were also used as a means to perfect the sewing techniques of their affluent little owners. Using remnants of left over fabric girls could make dresses that were identical to the latest styles being worn by their mother. The ability to sew was very important during this time and the need to perfect different kinds of stitches is evident in the samplers that were made by young girls at that time, many of these still exist and are also highly sought by collectors. Monthly magazines were devoted to dolls and contained patterns for clothing. The most popular of these was La Poupée Modélé and was printed until 1923. Fashion dolls also taught girls proper dress and provided them with a knowledge of fashion that would be very important later when she would be a aspiring bride. There were more women than men and when the young lady was of marriage age she would need all the charm, beauty and
skills that she could master to find the best suitable marriage situation. The photo at the right is of my Barrois French Fashion doll. She is dressed in antique clothing and has an antique stanhope hanging from her pin. She and her German Borzoi dog are off to a picnic.

While it is hard to imagine today, in 1865 the magazine La Poupée Modélé listed a description of a complete trouseau for a French Fashion doll. This list coveres only the proper clothing needed for these most pampered ladies, it does not include all the paper items such as calling cards and stationery nor the furniture items such as desk, beds,tables or dressers to mention but a few.
2 festooned blouses
2 richly decorated blouses
4 pairs of trousers 2 simple and 2 rich
4 camisoles
2 night caps
2 hair nets
1 hoop skirt in coloured fabric,with train
1 netted hoop skirt
2 white petticoats,festoons and pleated
2 embroidered and lace trimmed petticoats
1 wool ruffles petticoat
1 corset
4 chemisettes; one high-necked in nansouk,one high-necked in silk chiffon,lace trimmed
2 open-necked chemisettes,one in embroidered nansouk,the other in richly decorated silk chiffon
4 hemmed handkerchiefs with numbers
2 stiff plain collars
2 embroidered collars
1 application collar (imitation England)
1 pair of sleeves to match the application collar
2 pair stiff solid colour sleeves
2 pairs of embroidered sleeves
4 pairs of stockings; 2 white,1,red and one with open work
1 dress hat with flowers and lace
2 simple hats
1 morning hat in embroidered nansouk,trimmed with lace and another in chiffon with ribbbons
2 head scarves one blond with ribbons, the other black lace
1 pair black velvet slippers for winter
1 pair of leather mules for summer
1 pair of dancing slippers
1 pair of ankle boots with elastics
1 pair of Russian boots
2 night dresses
1 elegant coloured cashmere jacket
1 striped or plain fabric pea jacket for cool weather
1 hooded cape
1 crocheted fichu
1 Foulard silk Russian blouse
2 cloaks, one richly decorated velvet and the other in black silk
1 large white or blue or red cloak with a hood decorated with point lace for car traveling or leaving a ball
2 pair of gloves, one white and one a dark shade
1 pair of mittens
1 round hat for traveling
1 cap either toque,police or ladies hunt cap for country use or simple dress occasions
1 velvet or felt hat for winter
1 closed hat in tulle or straw for fancy dress
2 hats-one for evening and one ball s-t-yle
7 dresses; dressing gown,house dress,travel dress,demi-toilette dress,silk dress for fancy dress,chiffon or rich light fabric for small evenings,ceremonial dinners,concerts or balls
1 hair net in soutache or or chenille for at-home use,
1 in any case all weather clothing
1 parasol
2 fur coats muff and tippet
2 aprons; one in black silk and one garden apron in off white fabric
2 veils; 1 large white tulle veil and 1 black lace small mask veil
1 set of jewelry in fine pearl or coral with matching earrings, pin, watch, bracelets

There were many makers of French Fashion dolls with many of the heads unmarked by the maker thus causing them to be labled as attributed to a certain maker. At auctions, on the internet or at doll shows it is not uncommon to see a French doll with the “attributed to” label which means that in every aspect other than size the doll is identical to a fully marked doll. Some known makers of these beautiful dolls are Bru, Barrois, Huret, Rohmer, Gaultier, Jumeau and Simonne.

The demise of the French Fashion doll’s popularity resulted from two factors. the first was the rising popularity of the French Bisque child doll which were made to represent children. These dolls know as Bébés started to gain popularity in the 1880’s. The second was Germany’s doll making industry began to come into favor due to their Bisque head dolls. Germany’s cheaper production cost meant they could sell their dolls for much less and they rapidly overtook the expensive French dolls. During the 1890’s France continued to see a decline in the sale of their dolls and by the late 1890’s the former glory of the French doll making industry was relegated to history.

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  1. french dolls 30″ tall rolling eyes human hair posable at shoulders and hips. Curious about these dolls.