By Laurence Haxaire

Carmen, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

I had a Barbie when I was a kid, not a fancy one, and I have to tell you that I hope my daughters will never have one, because I despise the image Barbie assigns to women. I don’t know if the same thing happens in the U.S., but if you hear a French saying that a woman “is like a Barbie,” it means she’s the product of aesthetic surgery.

Despite my qualms with Barbie, I remember the “Barbie train” that stopped in every big French city in the 1980’s. I visited it with my mom in Lyon, and I still remember the incredible collection that was created for the dolls by the biggest names of Haute-Couture. Nothing to do with the tons of vulgar Barbies (and her many imitations) that little girls’ rooms are overflowing with today.

The Barbie Train in France

The Barbie train was a real train on the actual line. It was an exhibition created by the expert collector and multi-talented artist, BillyBoy*: “le nouveau théâtre de la mode,” (New Theater of Fashion). It stopped in train stations all around France for hours and sometimes for days and people were able to visit it like a museum. Nothing was for sale, just for display. Christophe de Menil, Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent were the first to dress Barbie. Then the train went to the U.S.A. Andy Warhol even painted “Portrait of BillyBoy” for the event.

BillyBoy*: New Theater of Fashion

Between 1984 and 1990, BillyBoy* organized with MattelFrance the exhibition of the “New Theater of Fashion” featuring his collection of vintage Barbie dolls as well as a whole unique collection of Barbie dolls dressed by French, British, Italian and American couturiers and designers. This collection is now preserved by the Fondation Tanagra, created by BillyBoy* and Lala/JP Lestrade in Switzerland in 1998.

The exhibition encountered a huge success and toured the main cities of France in a “Train à Grande Vitesse,” a high-speed train baptized “Le Train magique des jouets Mattel.”

The exhibition was then exported to the U.S.A. by Mattel which also organized a big tour of all the main cities that culminated with a gigantic party in New York. There, Andy Warhol unveiled his portrait of Barbie, which was suggested to him by BillyBoy* and which was titled by Warhol himself “Portrait of BillyBoy*.”

In 1986, BillyBoy* published the first sociological book ever written on the Barbie doll, Barbie, Her Life and Times, by Crown Publishers, which instantly became a best seller, published in 14 languages. BillyBoy* designed two Barbie dolls for Mattel and was the first designer to have his name written on her box.

Yves Saint Laurent dresses the Barbie doll

The first clothing Yves Saint Laurent created was for his sister’s dolls. This is why he agreed when BillyBoy* asked him to dress Barbie. After YSL did it, of course all the Haute-Couture designers wanted to do it too!

The visit of the train in Lyon station is one of my most precise memories as a ten-year-old. I went there with my mom and I was fascinated to see Haute-Couture clothing up close. My mom had been a Haute-Couture lover forever, but we had a humble way of life and until this moment, Haute-Couture for me had just been photos in books. In the train, it was three-dimensional! The size and shape of the train cars made the exhibition very intimate. I had the feeling that I was visiting an Haute-Couture atelier and that I was touching the world of luxe and stars. After that visit I started to draw clothing and to sew for myself instead of sewing for my dolls.

Interestingly, this event was disconnected in my mind from my own Barbie doll. The train was more about Haute-Couture and I was much more impressed by the clothing than the plastic women who wore it.

Corolle doll

Corolle is my favorite brand. My daughters Jeanne and Charlotte both have “Les cheries.” I love their girls’ (not women’s) bodies and their 100% French fashion. As a kid I had a Tinnie and his brother Tinou. I started sewing clothing for them. I played with them until I was 14 and then began sewing my own clothing. My daughters are now doing the same with Les cheries!

Laurence Haxaire

Laurence Haxaire received her Master Degree in Science and Technology for the Food Industry. She became a journalist and writer specializing in food and flavors after working for the flavor extraction industry inGrasse (the perfume capital of France). Laurence was born in Romans-sur-Isèrre, a bustling town in southeast France famed for its longstanding tradition of shoe making. She was raised in Lyon, the food capital of Europe, in a family where food is part of a smart education. Her family now lives in Bordeaux, France. Website.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Haute-Couture Barbie (An American story), by Barbara Redmond who recalls a coming-of-age story of Barbie’s couture wardrobe and Barbara’s new clothes. Including her book recommendations for Barbie in haute-couture clothing and the complete biography of BillyBoy* & Lala. 

The Child Madeline, by writer and educator Natalie Ehalt who shares her love of Madeline and brings a deserved respect for girls and children worldwide. Including excerpts from Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Colette: Gigi meets Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who contemplates French novels and their heroines, and wonders if French fiction may well be the important key to the mystery of what makes Frenchwomen the way they are. Including a recommendation of books by Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Colette. 

A Fairy-tale Weekend in the French Countryside, by Parisian Abby Rodgers who writes: “Cars rolled in, guests suited up in white, delicious cuisine, divine choux pastry tower, sparklers, dancing till dawn…” 

A French Girl in Greece: On Teenagers, the Sea, and Raisins, by French woman Flore Der Agopian. “In Greece, all foods are natural and we noticed it when we had one mouthful,” Flore comments about her adventures in Greece. “You feel the real taste of the dishes. In France we have some exceptional restaurants, but it can be really expensive when you want to have the same sensation of taste.”


Text copyright ©2012 Laurence Haxaire. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.