Wednesday 11 May 2016

Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes

It;s a delight to welcome longtime friend of the salon, Kim Cates, to share tea with me today. Kim is here to share a tale of Les Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes!


I’ve never been much of a fashionista. My style choices are based on what doesn’t itch.  But I’ve always been fascinated by dolls dressed in period costume.  While the neighbor kids played Barbie, I was raiding my grandma’s scrap bag and stitching bits of fabric into petticoats to turn my dolls into Queen Elizabeth I or Marie Antoinette.  (The habit drove my practical brother crazy.  After all, the doll’s name was stamped right there on her plastic neck.)  

Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes
Thus, when I began researching the Georgian era and discovered how the latest fashions traveled from France to England and eventually to the colonies, I was enchanted.  Before the technique of copperplate was perfected and fashion magazines became the rage, the stylish, wealthy woman planned her wardrobe with the help of exquisitely dressed dolls, perfect down to the tiniest detail.  These dolls were called by various names: fashion dolls, Pandora dolls, poupées de mode or Queen Anne Dolls, so labeled because she adored these dolls.

There is some disagreement among scholars as to where the dolls originated.  Some claim they are a product of seventeenth century France, others that they were first used in Renaissance Italy. But whoever came up with the idea was a genius!  Seeing a flat, somewhat crude image of a dress (and trying to recreate it!) is one thing. Being able to examine a three dimensional, albeit diminutive, version of the gown itself is another thing entirely! 

Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes
So, how were fashion dolls made?  The figure was constructed out of plaster or carved from wood then the face was painted on.  Some even had glass eyes!  (The better to twinkle up at a prospective customer!)  Hair made of flax or wool was teased and sewn into a hairstyle worthy of the fashion-conscious Georgian lady.

As to the dolls’ importance: even war was not allowed to hamper their travel from Paris, the fashion capital of the world, to England. Even when the two countries were at war and there was an embargo on other enemy imports, the dolls were given an “inviolable passport”.  Some even had a cavalry escort deliver them to fashion hungry English markets where the dolls were displayed in exclusive millinery shops.  

What happened to the exquisite dolls once the fashions they displayed became outdated?  They were delivered into the arms of lucky little girls to become cherished (and very stylish!)  toys.  

Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes
As a writer, I’ve always loved the way little sparks of information will suddenly catch fire and the next thing you know, full blown characters have snatched the idea and run away with it.  In my case, eight-year-old Lucy Blackheath was just such a character. Suddenly, there she was, standing in a millinery shop in Williamsburg, Virginia, a lonely little orphan who needed a doll to love.  Her uncle, the masked patriot raider Pendragon and notorious rogue, Ian Blackheath was willing to pay any price for the plaything just to get some peace.  But even tenderhearted Emily d’Autrecourt, the shop owner who was nursing her own heartache, couldn’t surrender the doll to Lucy, much as she wished she could.  Secret information was concealed inside this doll’s body, to be carried to the British by Emily, a most reluctant spy.   

When incorrigible Lucy steals the doll, Emily’s best chance of retrieving the information—and protecting Lucy from the dangerous men Emily works for—is to become the little girl’s governess.  Suddenly, in a country racing toward revolution, Ian, Emily and Lucy must decide whether to risk their hearts.  Despite the deadly secret the beautiful fashion doll conceals, it teaches a wounded child, a dedicated scoundrel and a woman on the run a most precious secret—how to love.

Buy link:

About the Author

Poupées de Mode - The Dolls That Defied Wartime Embargoes
When Kimberly Cates was in third grade she informed her teacher that she didn't need to learn multiplication tables.  She was going to be a writer when she grew up.  Kimberly filled countless spiral notebooks with stories until, at age twenty-five, she received a birthday gift that changed her life: an electric typewriter. Kimberly wrote her first historical romance, sold it to Berkley Jove, and embarked on a thirty-year career as an author. Called “a master of the genre” by Romantic Times, her thirty-three bestselling, award-winning novels are noted for their endearing characters, emotional impact and their ability to transport the reader to the mists and magic of the British Isles.

Kimberly has also penned historical romances as Kimberleigh Caitlin and contemporary romances under the pseudonyms Kimberly Cates and Kim Cates. 

She writes historical fiction as Ella March Chase. 

A graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, she spends her free time reading, hiking and continuing her quest to find a recipe for the perfect scone. Her favorite activity, however, is playing dragon with her grandchildren whose imaginations never fail to amaze her.  


Written content of this post copyright © Kim Cates, 2016.


Sarah said...

I just love it when a piece of research sparks a whole plot! sounds a most excellent read.

Alison said...

There was a resurgence of interest in figures dressed in period costume in the mid-20th century. I am currently researching an artist who produced a number of these.

Annette Blair said...

During World War II, there was a doll maker (spy), named Velvalee Dickinson, in New York who sent United States info to the Japanese inside her dolls. I used a doll of hers in one of my mysteries and filled it with diamonds.