Take Andy Warhol’s former muse BillyBoy* (the asterisk is legally part of his name) – an artist and designer with a penchant for haute couture – add a doll, like Barbie, but not Barbie, and what do you get? Mdvanii (pronounced Med-Vah-Nee). A molded vinyl doll, handmade by artisans and haute couture seamstresses in Paris (the myriad of exotic incarnations created by BillyBoy*) with lavish detailing such as embroidered crepes and diaphanous organza, accessorised with decadent vintage statement jewellery.
Mdvanii, whose name has no literal translation, was conceived as a conceptual art and fashion doll for adults and collectors by BillyBoy* – a collector of antique French dolls, Barbie and other vintage post-war fashion dolls. After re-working and re-designing commercial dolls (such as Barbie) for his own pleasure in the late 70’s and early 80’s – features in the fashion press, including French Elle, that paid homage to his work as an artist and his passion for dolls, resulted in designers from all over the world personally creating outfits for his doll collection. He later created the Nouveau Théatre de la Mode Barbie, for Mattel, followed by Feelin’ Groovy Barbie in 1986, and also released the book Barbie, Her Life and Times – accompanied by BillyBoy* Le Nouveau Théatre de la Mode – a world tour which showcased his unique vintage and haute couturier clad-Barbie creations.
Post-the-Barbie years, Mdvanii was born – a fusion of art and fashion inspired by 1950’s and 60’s fashion dolls, with garments made in the tradition of French haute couture. She made her first appearance in BillyBoy*’s Paris-based Surreal Bijoux showroom, and later launched at Liberty’s in London – channelling the spirits of, and wearing the actual fabrics from Lelange, Poiret, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Dior and YSL, all sent to him specifically for his dolls.
YSL in particular collaborated many times with BillyBoy*, crediting him as the inspiration for many iconic pieces from his early creations, including the Piet Mondrian dress, the revolutionary Dior trapeze dress and cocktail dresses from the Serge Poliakoff collection. He also collaborated with BillyBoy* on various YSL retrospectives across the world. After the designer’s death, BillyBoy* and his partner Lala (artist Jean Pierre Lestrade) paid tribute to him by featuring Mdvanii in a music video performing Lala’s song L’Amour n’a pas de prix. The video includes the doll’s house by Jacques Grange (inspired by the Parfums Guerlain showrooms designed in the 1930’s by Christian Bérard and Jean Michel Frank) which was gifted to BillyBoy* by Grange and YSL.
In the modern day, Mdvanii remains an icon within the fashion industry, and has now spurned ‘The Mdvanii Society of New York’, described by BillyBoy* and Lala as “the transgressive, sexually ambiguous world of Mdvanii. It’s a veritable orgy of vaguely comprehensible art, fun puzzles and games, sex tips, fashion which nobody seems to wear and Mdvaniiism, the zeitgeist of our era.”
The pair are currently working on a series of exclusive Mdvanii Art Jewels for humans, including a head pendant with sapphire eyes, and a re-edition of all the classic Mdvanii shoes in gilt, silvered and black lacquered metal, including brand new “f**k me” pumps. I’m not sure what YSL would’ve made of those.
Now one of the largest private collections of vintage haute couture is being auctioned by Christie’s in London, with pieces from The BillyBoy* Collection featuring Dior and YSL. Thirty pieces of couture clothing dating from 1948-1978, and costume jewellery by Chanel, Dior, YSL, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli and Poiret from the 1930’s to 1980’s are for sale – including several items originally made for 50’s fashion muse and model Bettina. The collection also includes pieces worn by BillyBoy* such as the androgynous velvet Lord Fauntleroy jacket photographed by Andy Warhol at his Parisian flat in the 1980’s. With jewellery estimates from £300, and prices for couture pieces starting at £1,000, the auction takes place on December 1st, with public viewings starting from November 26th.
Christie’s Fashion Auction, Thursday 1st December 2011, 85 Old Brompton Road, London. For more information and to view the auction catalogue, visit the Christie’s website.