HOUSE OF RETRO DESIGNS ~ A CELEBRATION

Written by  on February 6, 2013

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I hope that you’ve enjoyed viewing the designs from my portfolio of haute couture ensembles for fashion dolls.The above collection is a showcase/ retrospective of my work in this arena over the past decade.Fashion dolls were the embryonic catalyst for my dreams of becoming a fashion designer as a child in the 1960’s and although I have moved on in my endeavours, they (especially vintage Barbie) will always occupy a special place in my heart and on my resumé!

All designs are  ©copyright Gary Alston 2002 – 2016.

TRESSY’S GOT A SECRET ~ HER HAIR GROWS!

Written by  on February 4, 2013

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Photo by  Gary Alston

In 1963, the American Character Doll & Toy Corporation introduced  a revolutionary new teenage fashion doll onto the  toy market. Her name was Tressy. Although her origins are all American – in both the literal and figurative sense, Tressy was also licensed for production overseas to several European toy manufacturers; most notably to Palitoy in Great Britain in 1964.In France she was licensed to Societe Bella  from 1965, to Schildkrot in Germany from 1967, and to Novo Gama in Spain, also from 1967.Nearer to her original country of birth, she was also licensed to Regal Toy limitedof Canada in 1964 and appeared as “Lili Ledy” in Mexico! Tressy is undoubtedly a very important  part of fashion doll history. This article will focus on the British FIRST edition Palitoy Tressy, who debuted in  British toy stores in 1964.

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Photo by Laney Cummings

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At the time of Tressy’s introduction,Mattel’s Barbie  was selling at the rate of over six million dolls a year! Her phenomenal success and domination of the fashion doll business had  the toy industry’s  movers and shakers scrambling to compete for a slice of this very lucrative pie.It seemed that a gimmick was required to launch yet another  teen doll onto an already saturated market; one who would fit the pre conceived bill, yet still be different enough to command attention, and steal some of Barbie’s thunder.It didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that most teenage girlsinterests extended to hair and beauty, as well as clothes and boyfriends.The ever astute and creative team at Mattel had already initiated the concept of hair play with their incredibly popular Barbie ‘Fashion Queen’ (also introduced in 1963) who made use of a wardrobe of interchangeable wigs, featuring different styles and colours.However, it was American Character’s Tressy who utilised the hair play/beauty/cosmetic angle, and exploited it to its fullest potential.

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LEATHER LOOK : Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

WINTER JOURNEY :  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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FIFTH AVENUE:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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SHAKING THE NIGHT AWAY:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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BLUE RIBBON WINNER:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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HOOTENANNY:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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ON THE BEACH:  Above & Below Photos Courtesy of Alison Craven

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 The marketing hook behind Tressy was her ‘growing‘ hair.Essentially this was achieved by means of  a mechanism inside the doll’s torso, which housed a ‘secret strand’. The child pressed abutton in Tressy’s stomach, and out would spiral a long strand of hair, ready for styling. When the child wished to shorten the hair, she inserted a special ‘T’ shaped key into an indentation in the doll’s back. A few turnsof the key, and the hair would retract inside .In its normal state, Tressy’s hair was a rather bouffant styled bob- one length, to the chin. For the time, Tressy’s growing hair mechanism was a clever and innovative design, and needless to say, she became a huge success. It wasn’t long before she was licensed out to Palitoy, in Leicestershire, England. During the mid 1960’s, Palitoy hit the proverbial jackpot with their purchase of both Tressy and G. I. Joe for the British toy market. “Joe” was christened  “Action Man” in England. These two American icons became the flagship products of the Palitoy range, and both appeared on the cover of the Palitoy Christmas catalogue in 1966, which was produced for the toy trade.

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HOOTENANNY (left) & BLUE RIBBON WINNER

 Photo by Laney Cummings

The first edition Palitoy Tressy was released in 1964.Her stock number was #30101.She stood at12” high, with a rigid plastic body, legs, and arms, and a soft vinyl head.She had blue, side glancing eyes, and came with various hair colours,including platinum, golden blonde, brunette, and black. Her outfit very much reflected the British ‘beat’ look of that period. It consisted of a jersey shift dress, with roll neck collar,  and a chain link belt tied at the waist. The doll also wore white panties and white open toe pumps in the style of Barbie. The original Tressy shoes had “Hong Kong” marked on the soles.Her stand consisted of a metal pole with white plastic base, which sported the Tressy logo. The base of the stand also had anarea designed  specifically to accommodate the key for her hair.The first Tressy keys produced were actually made of pink plastic with the Tressy logo on, but they were ultimately too fragile for child’s play, and a metal replacement was soon produced for later issues.Tressy’s dress also came in several colour variations, including turquoise, lemon yellow, or pink, and each colour dress corresponded to a different hair colour on the doll. The turquoise dress was usually worn by a honey blonde Tressy, the pink dress by a brunette, and the lemon yellow dress by a platinum haired doll. Obviously, as with all mass produced lines, there were exceptions to the rule.

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WINTER SPORTY (First version with blue ski-pants)

Photo by Gary Alston

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Photo by Gary Alston

Anxious to release Tressy onto the British market in time for Christmas 1964, Palitoy imported a large batch of dolls from American Character.Therefore, the first Tressy dolls to be released in England utilised the  American Character bodies, which naturally, carried their mark at the base of the doll’s head.Surprisingly, when British production finally got underway, there was no Palitoy stamp on the first issue dolls.There are differences to be found between the American Character and Palitoy Tressys. Some of the differences are subtle, others more noticeable. Palitoy’s Tressy represented the modern, independent, British teenager.Her style and attitude reflected the  British 1960’s  beat culture, and her sensibility was decidedly hip, and European. Her style was less classic than her American cousin, whose wardrobe was more rooted in the rigid formal wear of the early 1960’s.That is not to say that these differences made Palitoy’s version  superior to the American Character one.It was merely a different marketing approach to fit in with British  ideals of style during this period. Not all of Palitoy’s alterations were successful in the production of their doll.

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BON VOYAGE (left) & LEATHER LOOK

Photo by Laney Cummings

For instance,  they used a different type of vinyl  for the head. It was of inferior quality to the American Character version, and overtime collectors have found that some heads have faded or become discoloured. The American Character Tressy had a more ’high coloured’ face paint,with heavy green eyeliner on the earlier dolls, and she also came with different hair colours, especially a red/strawberry blonde version. Palitoy’s first edition Tressys did not receive either of these attributes.The most noticeable difference  between the two cousins however, was in the design of the Palitoy Tressy packaging. Unlike the American version which used a standard shoe box design, the British box was very distinctive – triangular in shape, and extremely cool! This was the ‘Swinging’ ‘60s after all, and Britain was leading the world in the fashion/style stakes. This unique style of box made Tressy very noticeable at point of sale – the toy store window, and was as much a part of her brand image in 1964 as Barbie’s shoe box packaging covered with the stylised fashion sketches, had been in 1959.

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Photo by Laney Cummings

In addition, Palitoy Tressy’s wardrobe was given a cutting edge, ‘modern‘ look of British designed fashions; although some outfits were duplicated fromthe American designs, including ‘Blue Ribbon Winner’, ‘Hootenanny’, ‘On Fifth Avenue’ (renamed ‘On Park Lane’ in Britain) and ‘Miss American Character (‘Miss Fashion’) a beauty pageant style ball gown.They are a perfect reflection of that era‘s trends; both in fashion and popular culture. Each outfit was beautifully designed and detailed, with charming miniature accessories.The outfits were tagged ‘Exclusive Tressy Empire Made’ – a nostalgic reminder of Great Britain‘s historical importance! Careers were well represented; Palitoy Tressy had an air hostess outfit, and a secretary costume – called ‘In The Office’. Her “Shopping In Town” tailored suit and “Winter Journey” featured styles that were smart and classic, whilst outfits such as “Leather Look” and “Shaking the Night Away” represented the 60’s style to perfection. “Shaking” even featured a miniature recordplayer and telephone, and took its inspiration from The Beatles and the classic British pop t.v. show “Ready- Steady – Go” hosted by “Queen Of  The Mods” Cathy McGowan.Tressy also had sportswear in the form of “Winter Sporty” – a great skiing set; oddly though, Palitoy supplied her with ski’s, but no ski poles, andshe wore ice skating boots instead of ski boots! There were of course, plenty of delicious formal gowns, including the rare and highly desirable “Black Magic” which was another design borrowed from her American Character cousin, and which camecomplete with a tiny perfume bottle, plus the extremely popular “Evening Date”, a turquoise cocktail dress with chi chi lace ruffled skirt, again a look that was so representative of that era.

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SHOPPING IN TOWN:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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EVENING DATE:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

Apart from the boxed outfits, an inexpensive range of ‘Budget Fashions’ at ‘pocket money prices’ were released; sold on card style tray shaped packaging, they included some of the most high fashion ‘Mod’ styled pieces, such as ‘Soda Pop Cutie’ and ‘In My Solitude’, complete with its white ‘go-go’ boots.Given the Tressy hair styling concept, many additional hair and cosmetic sets were produced for her. Referred to as hair glamour packs, they contained such items as shampoos, setting lotion, lacquer, rollers, and later on, cosmetics and hair colouring sets too! Tressy was advertised on British t.v. during the children’s hour.Wearing ‘In Holiday Mood’, she was pictured in a speedboat, Tressy flag blowing in the wind at the back of the boat. A catchy jingle ran: “Tressy’s got a secret , be the one who knows – You can style Tressy’s hair, to match the lovely clothes she’ll wear – her hair grows!”

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MISS FASHION (MISS AMERICAN CHARACTER IN U.S.):  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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In 1965 Tressy gained a little sister called ‘Toots’.She too, was a copy – of American Character’s ‘Cricket’.Toots was 9 ½” tall. Her stock number was #30601.She had the same growing hair feature as Tressy, side glancing blue eyes, and posing legs. She came in a white ballet tutu and shoes.Like Tressy, Toots’ box featured the triangular design, this time in red and white. Following the precedent set by Barbie’s Skipper, Toots was given a range of outfits that would correspond with her older sister.For example, Tressy’s “Winter Sporty” outfit co-ordinated with Toots’ “Winter Weekend”, which unusually for a doll of 9” in height, came complete with miniature ski’s AND ski poles to match her big sister’s. Toots also had her own version of “Hootenanny”.In all, she had ten boxed outfits, and seven budget fashions.

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TRESSY IN:  BEAUTY SLEEP & TOOTS

Photo by Gary Alston

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UNDIE-FASHION:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

In 1967, Palitoy released ‘Mary Make Up’ – Tressy’s best friend. She was yet another clone; this time of American Character‘s Mary. The American Mary Make Up doll, who was released in 1965, had a bubble cut style hairdo; the British version appeared in 1967, and therefore her hair is cut in  a more contemporary, bob style. As the name suggests, Mary was all about cosmetics! She did not have a hair growing feature, but did share the same Tressy body, sans the hair mechanism. There was a special finish given to the vinyl on Mary’s face to allow ‘make up’ to be applied and removed. Her hair could also be coloured with felt tip pens. On first appearance, Mary Make Up can look terminally ill! This is due to her platinum white hair waitingto be coloured, and her face almost devoid of paint, waiting to be made up! She came in either a blue or red dress with striped  sleeves, plus a hair and make up band to protect the hair for  when the child applied   cosmetics to the doll‘s face.

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TOOTS:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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THEATRE TIME:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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BOWLING BEAUTY:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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HOOTENANNY:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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SUGAR ‘N’ SPICE:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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WINTER SPORTY (Second version with red ski-pants):  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

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AIR HOSTESS:  Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven

Tressy enjoyed remarkable longevity in Europe. Her career lasted far longer there than in her native America, for in  1967 American Character Toy Corporation had ran into business difficulties. Subsequently,  they had settled with their creditors in that same year, and in 1968 went out of business. One wonders what caused Tressy’s early demise in America.It has been suggested that American Character, although really up against the might of Mattel and Barbie, simply did not develop the doll enough.Tressy was not given  a boyfriend or a car, or indeed many of the otheraccoutrements that a doll of her stature should have enjoyed. There appearedto be no real ‘sense of family’ to the line. In any event, American Character sold several of their molds to rival companies, including Ideal (Tiny Tears & Tressy) and Mattel. In the 1970’s Ideal used the grow hair patent for their Crissy doll.

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MISS FASHION (left) & BLACK MAGIC

Photo by Laney Cummings

There were another three editions of Palitoy Tressy released In Great Britain. The final version was produced in 1979.Today, Tressy  enjoys a cult following with a large and loyal fan base – mostly it has to be said – in Great Britain, but also in France. Two British  ladies – Sandra Cartlidge and Linda Clark, have websites devoted to her, plus a lively Yahoo group. Linda says that Tressy was her favourite childhood doll, and was sufficiently inspired to delve into Palitoy Tressy’s history, and her relatives from all corners of the world, at her website: Tressydoll.com .Then there is collector Laney Cummings (whose photographs appear in this feature), who also has an extensive Tressy collection at her website, including an incredible array of boxed Tressy and Toots outfits.Sandra of Tressy.co.uk told me about the appeal that Tressy holds for her: “Unlike today’s plethora of blonde dolls, Tressy was much more individual. Many of us, myself included, started collecting Tressy as a way of buying back our happy childhoods. I still find it strange the way in which finding a tiny, elusive plastic umbrella, or handbag, can make me feel. Many hair colours can be found on first issue Tressy dolls, from pale blonde, to almost black.Of all the Palitoy dolls, the first issue is the most collectable. One of the most desirable first editions is the whitehaired version. She is not found often, and looks extremely elegant. Other‘special dolls’ were made for exhibitions and toy fairs. Some lucky collectors have Tressy dolls with pink or copper coloured hair! We also have to remember that Tressy had her own hair colouring sets, resulting in a few unexplained hair shades, but what a wonderful time we had!”

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IN HOLIDAY MOOD

Photo by Gary Alston

Sandra sums the Tressy doll phenomenon up very succinctly: “In the 1960’s, who could have asked for a better doll than Tressy? We wanted nothing more than to change her fashionable clothes, and style her versatile hair.” Sandra, I was there too, and I agree. Tressy ROCKS!

*Extra special thanks to Laney Cummings and Alison Craven, who supplied me with some wonderful photographs featuring Tressy dolls in often rare-to-find ‘complete’ outfits from their personal collections.Many thanks also to Sandra Cartlidge and Linda Clark for their invaluable assistance in preparing this feature.

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TEENAGE PARTY

Photo by Gary Alston

Tressy & Toots model ‘TEENAGE PARTY’ ~ original OOAK outfits by Gary Alston for HOUSE OF RETRO LONDON.

‘TRESSY’S GOT A SECRET ~ HER HAIR GROWS!’ ARTICLE TEXT ©copyright Gary Alston 2016.


A SELECTION OF GARY ALSTON’S FEATURED ARTICLES

Written by  on February 3, 2013

Here are some examples of my published articles, largely focusing on my past work with fashion dolls, but beginning with a detailed piece on cult figure April Dancer aka as ‘The Girl from Uncle’:

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ACTIONTV

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Tressy

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ebay

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