A tea party with a guest list including Christopher Kane, Donatella Versace and Sarah Burton will convene at this weekend’s Port Eliot Festival. But the guests around the cake tiers and teapots won’t be the designers themselves—instead, the designers’ cherished dolls are sitting down for tea.
‘When I’ve interviewed designers, they’ve often talked about how their first experiences of designing were creating clothes for Sindy dolls or Barbie dolls,’ BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent and Port Eliot Fashion Programme Director Sarah Mower told us. ‘It’s always been fascinating how many designers started making clothes that way.’
A conversation with Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz crystallised Mower’s idea to hold a fashion dolls’ tea party at the 2012 festival. ‘He told me that his parents had so little money when he was a child that he used to make his chess set into dolls, dressing the chess pieces in bits of fabric and paper, making hair for them and playing all these games.’
Elbaz produced a more lavish version of his childhood set for the event, this time with a self-portrait—the designer appears as a knight in the middle of the board, fitting a dress on another ‘doll’.
The chess set holds pride of place in designer Michael Howells’ installation in the Big Dining Room at Port Eliot. Fashion East founder Lulu Kennedy's two rabbits are also there, as are Christopher Raeburn's Mr T action figure and Donatella Versace's personal Barbie. In total, the installation includes more than 50 dolls.
Sixteen of these come from one designer—Christopher Kane. His studio assistants have created miniature runway outfits for Barbie from the scraps leftover from every collection since the beginning of Kane’s career. He sent all these seasonal souvenirs to the tea party.
Erdem Moralioglu, also represented, told Mower he recalled feeling ‘violently jealous’ when twin sister Sarah received a Skipper doll one Christmas during their childhood. He swiftly appropriated the doll and dressed it in a blue circle-skirted dress of his own design. This original Skipper sits alongside a modern companion, dressed in a look from Erdem’s AW12 collection.
Dolls are so important to these designers because the toys serve as canvases for their earliest artistic experiments, Mower said.
‘Everybody who’s good at what they do starts when they’re really, really young,’ she said. ‘It’s our first experiments in life... our dreams and nightmares projected onto dolls.’
As well as inviting festival attendees to enjoy the installation through the festival weekend, Mower has encouraged festivalgoers to bring their own dolls to show and tell. A pageant at the end of the festival will award prizes to the most enthusiastic participants. ‘Hopefully from that,’ Mower said, ‘a lot of creativity will spring to the next generation.’