In 1944, the war-battered French couture industry decided to revive its international reputation by conceiving a small exhibition entitled Théâtre de la Mode. The exhibition organizer enlisted the major fashion designers of the day, including Jeanne Lanvin, Lucien Lelong, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Pierre Balmain to create outfits for small wire-frame dolls just over two feet tall.

The exhibition of over 230 dolls, displayed in artist-designed sets, opened in Paris on March 27, 1945 at the Museum of Decorative Arts. It was an instant sensation, and traveled to London, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna, New York, and San Francisco. With the return of the French fashion industry, the dolls had completed their work and were donated to the Maryhill Museum near Portland, Oregon, where they disappeared from view.

Under an extraordinary set of circumstances in 1990, the dolls were rediscovered and returned to Paris, recoiffed and restyled for an exhibition at the Musée de la Mode. Because of his pioneering work with French fashion and historical gowns, David Seidner was asked to photograph the little dolls. Working in the rough interior of an abandoned theatre set, Seidner captured the essence of French style in dolls dressed in designs made on the eve of Christian Dior's New Look, which radically changed fashion in 1947. ICP exhibits fifteen of Seidner's color photographs from the David Seidner Archive in the Permanent Collection, along with one of the original dolls.

This exhibition was organized by Cynthia Young, ICP Assistant Curator.

Special Thanks

This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.