Cissy: The fashion doll craze begins

Cissy: The fashion doll craze begins

Mandeville, A Glenn

Madame Alexander’s daring doll came of acre in the 1950s.

Today we take many of our fashion dolls for granted. Given that fashion dolls have been a part of our lives for decades, it is easy to do. But there was a transition from the predominance of baby and toddler dolls to the popularity of full-figured dolls that we enjoy today; and that change was due to one extraordinary doll company and the ability of a legendary pioneer to take a chance.

The early 1950s were a perfect time for innovation in the doll world. With the economy flourishing, Baby Boomers were the beneficiaries of parents with more discretionary income.

A major innovation in the 1950s doll world was sparked by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Thanks to the advent of television, people were able to watch this historic event. One viewer in particular was especially fascinated, and that was Madame Alexander, the owner and head designer of The Alexander Doll Company.

In a daring move, Madame created dolls of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, Princess Margaret Rose, and Sir Winston and Lady Churchill. She used head molds and body molds that had been used on dolls representing children. To achieve the effect of an adult figure, Madame Alexander cleverly built the bodice up with cotton batting to resemble a full-grown adult. The fact that the dolls had flat feet was concealed with gold or silver lame shoes that appeared sophisticated. By adding more elaborate and mature-looking makeup and wigs, Madame successfully changed a child doll mold into that of an adult. One has to remember that the exactly same doll was used in 1947 to represent child star Margaret O’Brien. The seed for more adult-like dolls had been planted.

In 1954, after a stellar year of sales from her coronation dolls, Madame Alexander continued with the formula of creating adult dolls that had flat feet and bosoms sewn into the dresses. A series of dolls was developed called Me and My Shadow, in which a heavily gowned adult doll had an 8-inch “shadow”, or smaller doll, dressed just like the larger size. These dolls were a commercial success with the high-end customer, and Madame began to realize that the child of the mid-1 950s was interested in playing in the future as well as the present.

At Toy Fair in 1955, The Alexander Doll Company debuted Cissy. The changes were obvious. Gone were the flat feet, and substituted were permanently arched high– heel feet. The slope from the knee to the foot was a perfect, straight line; the arch to the foot was as high as the human instep could go.

But the big news was that instead of wearing a costume with a sewn-in bustline, Cissy herself had an adult figure. No other doll at the time had a molded, full-figure bustline, and this was the crucial innovation in fashion doll history.

In order to retain some aspect from the past in the doll, and also to soften the impact of the adult body mold, Madame Alexander gave Cissy the familiar dolly face that she had used on earlier Alexander dolls. Madame, in my opinion, was gambling on the fact that the juvenile face on the now grown-up body and high-heel molded feet would blunt the reaction to Cissy’s new figure. She would be partially correct.

The press came down hard on the new full-figured doll. Rarely one for public statements, Madame Alexander was interviewed by independent reporters and stated that America was changing, that growing up was a part of life, and that the children of today wanted some guidance for the future. Thus in 1955 was born the fashion doll concept of today.

Cissy would be advertised as a “debutante”, certainly a dream of some little girls; but in moving ahead, a certain innocence would be lost..no longer would little girls be playing solely in the present. It would be about being able to compete in the fast-paced world of the teen-ager. It was about preparing to be a teen-ager and not moving from childhood quickly to adulthood, a concept somewhat unique for the late 1950s.

Cissy was a smash hit, and she spawned an entire genre of look-alike dolls, a few (in the eyes of some) even better than Cissy herself, however, her beautiful, high-end fashions would always be an Alexander trademark. Although Cissy’s 1950s outfits had no official names, some collectors have adapted names for them from descriptive copy in the Alexander catalog.

Ideal’s Revlon doll, American Character’s Sweet Sue and Toni dolls and, eventually, Mattel’s Barbie doll all owe their success to Cissy, the first doll that would have, to quote The Alexander Doll Company catalog from 1955, “A long slim body, her delicately molded bosom, her beautifully shaped feet that wear only highheeled shoes”, the first fashion doll of modern times.

Ironically, the miniature fashion doll craze forced Cissy to retire in the early 1960s. Vintage models from the 1950s are almost priced out of the reach of many collectors. In yet another strange twist of fate, she became a shining star once again when reissued in 1996 with a vinyl head made from the original hard plastic doll molds.

Since then, Cissy has been gaining more and more attention as the matriarch of the fashion doll genre. Today, she is the jewel in the crown of the Alexander Doll Company lineup. As one of the preeminent collectible dolls, Cissy is issued in very low numbers (usually less than 500 pieces) and has a high price tag. Yet her relatively high price and her exclusive allure are what have made Cissy a success for more than 40 years. She makes no apologies that she is at the top (price-wise) of the fashion doll runway…and neither do those who collect her.

Madame Alexander would be thrilled to see that what started as a well-timed innovation has remained so popular. It is, indeed, a fashion doll world in the new millennium, and Cissy is the doll that started it all! oR

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Cissy is a registered trademark of The Alexander Doll Company. Me and My Shadow is a registered trademark of The Alexander Doll Company.

Revlon was used under license from Charles Revlon by the Ideal Toy Corporation.

Sweet Sue was a registered trademark of the American Character Doll and Toy Corporation.

Toni is a registered trademark of Gillette, Inc. and was used under license by the American Character Doll Corporation. Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Nov 2001

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