Sophie Gimbel Designs For Saks — And Dolls!

Because you know I obsess over things… Like Gimbels department stores

I was working on another set of doll articles for Diane’s Doll Hospital (this time on vintage walker dolls from the 1950s; sign up here to get the articles), when I stumbled into Sophie Gimbel.

Sophie began her fashion design work as a young girl making clothing for her dolls and grew into an adult who hired as a stylist for Saks. She was hired by none other than Adam Gimbel, whose grandfather was the founder Gimbels. (Kind of ironic, hey?) In 1929, at the age of 31, she was lead fashion designer and manager of the Salon Moderne of Saks Fifth Avenue; by 1931, she would marry Adam Gimbel. Her designs, originally sold under the “Sophie Gimbel” label were so fabulous, she became recognized as an innovator in New Look fashion. By the 1940s, the label was changed to “Sophie of Saks”, and, on September 29, 1947, Sophie would become the first American fashion designer to grace the cover of Time magazine. (Elsa Schiaparelli was the first fashion designer in the world to be on the cover of Time in 1934.) So by the time this news article I’m going to share was published, Sophie was firmly established as a leading force of mid-century American fashion.

sophie gimbel fashions saks 1950s

The article was in the Montreal Gazette, June 17, 1950, and was about a Sophie fashion show which had been held the day prior at Saks Fifth Avenue.  She had designed not only doll clothing for Wanda but a series of matching doll and children’s fashions!

The costumes, which were presented simultaneously on dolls and little girls, are available in children’s sizes three to six and seven to fourteen. They include a pink organdy party frock, a gray flannel jumper suit, a plaid cotton dress, and a blue reefer coat.

I suspect this Sophie’s Original’s For Saks doll outfit may be one of these ensembles, despite being sold as a set for composition dolls. (Wanda Walker and her doll companions were rather pudgy in the tummy in order to accomodate the walker mechanics.)

sophie originals doll outfit

vintage sophie originals doll clothes cloth label

Here’s an ad from Christmas 1950 promoting some other fashions made for the Wanda Walker doll (by Advance Doll & Toy Corporation and/or Walkalon; that’s a long story I’m covering in the doll articles!): “Organdy hat and dress in pink, yellow, or blue are designed by S.F.A.’s own Sophie!”

saxs fifth ave sophie fashions walker doll

This is quite possibly one of those Sophie’s Originals for Saks dresses mentioned in the ad, which was made for, and shown here on, a Wanda Walker doll.

vintage wanda walker doll wearing sophie saks fashions

vintage 1950s hard plastic walker coll with fashions by sophie

sophie originals tag for wanda walker doll clothes

Of course, Sophie continued to design high fashion for adult human females long after this (including creating the red coat and dress Lady Bird wore to LBJ’s 1965 inauguration); but it is more than fitting to include Sophie’s fashion costumes for dolls in her story. After all, Sophie Gimbel began her design work making clothing for her own dolls.

Additional Image Credits:

1950s photo of Sophie Gimbel with models via Patricksmercy.

Adventures In Cute: Child Collectors

After reviewing her book, Hello, Cutie!: Adventures in Cute Culture, I had the chance to interview the collector and author, Pamela Klaffke. In her book, she mentions that her young daughter is also a collector. Since I’m a big fan of children who collect, I wanted to speak with Pamela specifically about her daughter’s collecting.

Hello again, Pamela. Let’s talk a little bit about your daughter and what she collects.

Her name is Emma, she is 11-and-a-half and is in sixth grade. She primarily collects Blythe and Dal dolls, anime figurines, Pokémon plush toys and game cards, plus stuffed animals in general.

When and at what age did she begin collecting?

She’s been collecting since she was a toddler — first with Care Bears, then My Little Pony, and big-eyed Lil Peepers plush toys. Her interest in each collection lasted about 2-3 years and she was really focused. She would usually just buy items for her collections, rather than just a bunch of random toys.

Did you have to encourage her to collect?

It’s not something we really discussed, but being a collector myself I certainly didn’t dissuade her, except maybe when the stuffies started to edge her out of her bed! We had to start keeping them in bins. But collecting has always interested her and come quite naturally.

As a parent and a collector, I feel that the act of collecting is a great thing for children. It helps with practical things such as handling money, negotiating, making decisions, etc. While regular shopping has some of these things, collecting is different and even better than just going to a toy store. Even without the vintage aspect of learning about history, there’s far more involved… It’s not as easy because there’s more to sift through, no catalog pages to circle, etc. A child learns to value imperfect things — while perhaps learning to take better care of the things she collects (because “older” can mean “more fragile”). And I do believe that the role of collector is rather like the role of artist. What things do you think your daughter has learned or gained from collecting?

She’s definitely learned how to save money for an item she wants — she saved for four months earlier this year to pay for a special, limited edition Blythe doll. She’s also learned how to research the best price for items online and can spot a good deal. Many of the things she collects have to be ordered from Asia, so she’s become pretty savvy at ferreting out the bargains. She also combs every nook and cranny of a thrift shop in search of a genuine 1970s vintage Kenner Blythe doll. She’s heard the stories of people finding them in unlikely places and hopes one day it will happen to her!

Here’s hoping Emma finds her big score!

If you or child collect dolls, toys, and other cute things, you’ll love Pamela’s book.

Vanity: Thy Name Is Woman

One of the things I love most about this vintage photo of a woman (obviously showing off her stockings in an erotic “French postcard” way) is the old boudoir doll on the vanity. You don’t see a lot of photos of boudoir dolls!

Miss Dolly on the Shelf

Do you remember this doll? I spotted this poor girl in a GoodWill thrift store this week. She was not in great shape, some hair had caught on something and pulled loose from her updo. Her dress was torn and she was a little dirty. Not things I couldn’t fix but as nice as it was to revisit my girlhood, I did not want to take her home. I had one very much like her, about 30 years ago. My girl wore purple instead of yellow. Next time I go to this store I will be tempted to check around the shelves and see if she is still hanging around.

But, do you know what the doll is called? That’s the big trivia question. I did not. I had to look for it online. Thank you to Dollkind.com. She has written a whole post about… Bradley Dolls. There are a lot of variety to them. Far more than the type above (which was the only type I had seen among my friends and in the stores at the time). You could have ordered a Bradley doll from the catalogue, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I’m not going to repost the history and information from Dollkind, I strongly suggest you check there and read if you are interested. One thing I did like to find out – people were making clothes for these dolls themselves. I used to like sewing, still do but don’t get much done. I’m surprised I didn’t get into sewing fancy dresses for my Bradley doll. I still design lovely gowns in my own mind, they just don’t make it beyond that point.

I found two groups on Flickr for the Bradley dolls. One for Bradley dolls in general and the other for Bradley sitting dolls.