This is the story of how a series of exquisite handmade dolls, representing the history of French haute couture made their way to the United States as an expression of gratitude.
Jean Bader – 1733 Doll
In 1948 France was still suffering from the effects of World War II. Housed in boxcars and dubbed the “Friendship Train”, American aide organizations had sent large-scale relief the year before.
A. Reichert – 1755 Doll
France wanted to show its gratitude for America’s generosity by creating the “Gratitude Train” or “Merci Train” – a set of 49 box cars filled with French-made gifts, like handmade toys and priceless works of art.
Edward Molyneux – 1762 Doll
The French fashion houses banded together to create something very special. The most talented and well-known fashion designers, hairstylists, and accessory designers of the time created these miniature masterpieces – a set of fashion dolls that showed the evolution of French fashion.
Jean Desses – 1774 Doll
The unique design of the fashion doll, originally created for Theatre de la Mode was conceived by Eileen Bonabel, and the plaster head by the artist Rebull. .
Maggy Rouff – 1785 Doll
Each doll was approximately 24 inches high, with bodies made entirely of open wire. Human hair was used to fashion the hairstyles.
Lucille Manguin – 1779 Doll
Each designer chose a year between 1715 and 1906 in which to dress his doll. Their varying sources of inspiration included works of art, literature, and historic fashion plates.
Mendel – 1787 Doll
The Gratitude Train fashion dolls represent a unique moment in the history of couture as they are not only creative interpretations of historic fashions by the greatest designers of the period, but also are wonderful examples of the skill, care, and attention to detail that would have been applied in their full-size counterparts.
Jacques Griffe – 1788 Doll
Fabrics used to create the mannequins were donated by the Union des Industries Textile, the Fédération de la Soire, the Comité Central de la Laine, the Syndicale Général de l’Industrie Cotonnière, and the Négociants en tissus speciaux pour la Haute Couture.
Agnés Drécoll – 1789 Doll
The date of the first mannequin, 1715 also marks the death of Louis XIV. The reign of the Sun King had brought about significant changes in the cultural landscape of France as well as its political standing within Europe. Some of the greatest artists and authors, from Molière to Rigaud thrived under Louis XIV’s rule. His actions led the dominance of the French fashion industry through the encouragement of tapestry producers and the Lyon silk industry. Louis’ patronage of visual artists and literary figures placed France in a position of cultural dominance that continued well past his seventy two year reign.
Martial & Armand – 1791 Doll
Marcel Rochas took inspiration for his 1715 dress from the painting L’Enseigne de Gersaint by Jean-Antoine Watteau. The fashionable women in Watteau’s fêtes galantes were so often depicted wearing this style, that they became known as Watteau pleats.
Jeanne LaFaurie – 1797 Doll
Molyneux’s contribution representing 1762 was inspired by a portrait of Madame de Pompadour by Maurice Quentin de la Tour who was the French portrait artist to King Louis XV of France from 1750 to 1773.
Raphael – 1800 Doll
Les Adieux by Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune provided the inspiration for the 1774 dress by Jean Dessès. Moreau le jeune was a French artist best known for his illustrations recording fashionable dress and interiors in the Monument de costume physique et morale published by L. F. Prault in 1776–1783. Moreau le jeune’s painting Le Rendez-vous was also the inspiration for the 1779 mannequin by Lucille Manguin.
Made Gres – 1808 Doll
Lawrence Alma-Tadema a Dutch born painter provided the inspiration for the house of Lanvin’s contribution to the Gratitude Train. He settled in England and was one of the most renowned artists of the late nineteenth century. His paintings were used as source material for several Hollywood movies including, Ben Hur, Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, and Gladiator.
House of Paquin – 1811 Doll
The designers and dressmakers took great care in making these mannequins. The mannequin by Elsa Schiaparelli, representing the year 1906 featured high-heeled calfskin boots with functional jet button closures made by Perugia.
Alex Maguy – 1816 Doll
The 1774 mannequin by Dessès wears a cream taffeta petticoat under her skirt, with steel pannier hoops trimmed in black velvet ribbon over cotton drawers.
House of Patou – 1820 Doll
Under the gown by Marcelle Dormoy the mannequin wears finely crafted pantaloons trimmed in a double layer of Valenciennes lace.
Henriette Beaujeu -1828 Doll
The exquisite construction of the Gratitude Train mannequins is a testament to the French legacy of superior craftsmanship as well as design.
Madeleine de Rauch – 1830 Doll
In 1949, the Brooklyn Museum received a gift of forty-nine fashion mannequins. The Syndicale de la Couture de Paris gave the entire group to the Brooklyn Museum so that they could remain united as a group and be appreciated for what they are: a singular example of French craftsmanship and design ingenuity.
1832 Doll – Marcelle Dormoy
The Trains – In 1947 Drew Pearson, a political columnist and radio personality voiced the idea that America should come to the aid of war-torn France and Italy.
Véra Boréa – 1855 Doll
As word spread across the country the project grew until seven hundred boxcars were filled with forty million dollars’ worth of supplies, far exceeding the original goal of eighty cars. After traveling across the county to gather individual contributions, the boxcars were shipped out of New York, arriving in Le Havre on December 18, 1947.
Weill – 1863 Doll
The following year the people of France, moved to action by this goodwill, wished to express their gratitude. A veteran and railroad worker named Andre Picard had the idea for the Gratitude Train.
Marcelle Chaumont -1866 Doll
Like the American Friendship Train, the project relied on the generosity of individuals who arrived in droves to donation centers bearing gifts of art, food, wine, needlework, children’s mannequins, letters, war medals, books, furniture, and homemade toys. The project was soon taken over by the French War Veteran’s Association.
Jacques Fath – 1867 Doll
It was decided that forty-nine boxcars would be sent full of gifts. Each state would receive one car, with Washington D.C. and the Territory of Hawaii sharing the forty-ninth car. Each boxcar and every gift inside it was labeled with the emblem of the Gratitude Train, an image of the front of a train with flowers representing Flanders Field.
House of Balenciaga -1870 Doll
Individuals were encouraged to donate anything they could give; children made drawings, or sacrificed beloved toys; people gave hand-crocheted doilies and ashtrays made from broken mirror. However, with the humble gifts from individuals, priceless works of art and historical artifacts were included.
Jungmann – 1874 Doll
According to newspaper reports, one woman, too poor to provide anything of material value, rushed to one of the freshly painted cars saying, “I have nothing else to send, I will send them my fingerprints” as she pressed her fingers into the wet paint.
Jacques Heim – 1876 Doll
The donations were so abundant that over nine thousand gifts had to be left behind. The boxcars crossed the Atlantic on the merchant ship Magellan, leaving Le Havre and arriving in New York Harbor in February of 1949.
Madeliane Vramant – 1873 Doll
Over two hundred thousand people attended the New York celebration welcoming the train which included a ticker-tape parade as the New York box car was taken up Broadway in Manhattan.
House of Lanvin – 1878 Doll
Once the forty-and-eights arrived in the United States they were divided into direction to the South, West, and New England and placed on flatcars, as they were too wide for American rails.
House of Dior – 1880 Doll
Each state organized committees to catalog the contents of their cars. Many of the gifts were auctioned for charity, while others were given to museums and libraries.
Nina Ricci -1884 Doll
Some gifts, such as an engraved Joan of Arc bell included instructions for distribution. The city of Annecy cast the 500-pound bell as a gift to Cardinal Spillman with the inscription, “I am the ambassadress that sings of gratitude and friendship.” Cardinal Spillmen gave the bell to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
House of Balmain – 1888 Doll
Unfortunately Hawaii, at the time still a territory, which had donated two carloads full of sugar on the American Friendship Train, shared a car with Washington D.C. When the Hawaiians received their shared forty-and-eight they were surprised to find it full only of packing straw; the car had been completely emptied in Washington D.C., leaving only the car itself as a gift.
Marron – 1889 Doll
Many of the trains were opened and turned into exhibits before distributing the objects as each state saw fit. Most states continued to exhibit the boxcars to the public after their gifts were distributed.
Georgette Renal – 1890 Doll
This dress was inspired by a design by Redfern. British-born designer John Redfern opened his salon in the English seaport town of Cowes. As the house’s popularity grew in Britain, it was expanded to the United States, and later Paris in 1891 under the design direction of John Poynter. After years of success Redfern was “By Royal Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen and H.R.H. The Princess of Wales” in 1888.
Germaine Lecomte – 1892 Doll
Balenciaga’s doll was inspired by a dress made for Princess Metternich. Princess Metternich was a great patron of the arts, and responsible for introducing Charles Fredrick Worth to the Empress Eugénie, his greatest client.
Fourrures Max – 1894 Doll
The inspiration for the 1888 dress by Balmain was a design created by Worth for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916). She was known for her keen fashion sense as well as strict health and beauty regimen.
Bruyère -1896 Doll
Jacques Griffe’s contribution to the Gratitude Train represents the year 1788. Griffe worked in the house of Vionnet where he perfected his draping and cutting techniques, developing a style similar to Vionnet in its mastery of bias and the human form. Griffe served France during World War II, even being taken prisoner before returning to Paris in 1941 to open his house . This dress was inspired by the polonaise costumes made popular by Marie Antoinette during her sojourns at the Trianon palace. The Petit Trianon is located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. The small chateau and surrounding park were given to Marie Antoinette as a gift from Louis XVI. There she enjoyed dressing in the style of the working class while escaping the pressure and intrusiveness of royal life.
Calixte – 1900 Doll
Jean Bader used a painting by Lancret for inspiration. Nicolas Lancret was a French painter known for depicting scenes of light comedy and courtly life under the regent Orleans.
Robert Piguet – 1902 Doll
Canada Furs – 1903 Doll
Louis O’Rossen – 1904 Doll
Elsa Schiaparelli – 1906 Doll
Images are copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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