Past-o-rama, Present & Future
BillyBoy* decided one day to create a doll, his own doll. "I am going to make my own doll" he said, simply. Inventing and creating jewellery was becoming uninteresting for him, and he decided to turn his back on this successful activity which had contributed considerably to his fame. But that was it, no questions asked, the way it would be. By his side, his receptive alter-ego Lala, understood and approved. It was in Paris, in the beginning of 1987.
The most aristocratic of all dolls could not find a better time to step into the world. What was she going to be like? She certainly had the option of being a beautiful object for collectors, infinitely commercial, but this would have been in deep contradiction with the worried nature and personality of her creator, devoted to beauty and terribly demanding. Discerning collector from the age 15, often referred to as the spiritual son of Elsa Schiaparelli (of whom he is an acknowledged and appreciated expert), BillyBoy* created Surreal Couture in New York at barely 15, with the patronage of fashion luminaries Diana Vreeland in New York and Yvonne Deslandres in Paris. He could not betray his vision. No, he wanted to create "Her", which meant...."Him". A whole very elaborate deal... a projection in fact, of himself!
Barely imagined, he knew how to name her: "Midvani". Why? A mystery... Of this Russian-sounding name, evoking the shadows of Misia Sert and the Paris of the roaring twenties, he chose to withdraw the "i" from the first syllable to put it in the third one, keeping nevertheless the initial pronunciation. Complicated? Not necessarily... We do not exist without a name, and a name is almost everything. Don't we say "to make a name for one's self" when one becomes famous? And isn't the "unnameable" a synonym of horror? The dice were thrown: to approach Mdvanii, it would be imperative from now on to pronounce her name correctly: the first step towards initiation, inevitable.
An aesthetic statement
What would be the outlook of this miniature woman? An aesthetic statement, of course. One has to dive into her "history" (it is one indeed, in the full meaning of the term) to understand how extreme it is. Since she is not aimed to please children, she has no boundaries, only choices, with the notable exception of vulgarity, needless to say. Neither an icon nor a heroine, neither Venus nor Sappho, anatomically defined without being sexual, she will have no boyfriend, but a lover and, as the real independent woman that she is, she will even be bisexual if she so wishes! Of course, all this is implicit and subtle, and is no big deal. Mdvanii has her own personality, she is a medium which merely has the exterior look of a doll. With poise, she can afford to be different, distant, with a cold and proud elegance. At other times, according to the infinite expressions of her features, hand-painted by the artist, she will be rebellious, astonished, dreamy, elusive and many other things. She is the antithesis of the "nice girl next door" with her permanent smile, supposed to please everyone. Deliberately brunette à la Louise Brooks, she nevertheless accepts - and how! - to play the blonde, platinum, red-hair or strawberry blonde according to her fantasy and to match her romantic outfits, in which blows the spirit of eternal Paris, as volatile as a cloud of Caron face powder.
We are in 1989. Her colours are turquoise, white and black: she is illustrated by René Gruau and her wigs are made by Alexandre de Paris, both prestigious and generous patrons of elegance. Bettina, former high fashion model and socialite extraordinaire, gives her warm support (once again) and poses for the catalogue (the famous Bettina poses) to give life to Mdvanii in a drawing form because, although the catalogue is in preparation, the doll is not yet ready! One day, after endless difficulties and a few flops, Mdvanii becomes a reality. The New York Times welcomes her with a full-page review, never before seen for an unknown doll: "Beautiful but No Bimbo: A Doll for the 90s". Now she's got her start. She will be seen in Vogue, The Sunday Times, L'Officiel and Actuel, amongst many other magazines and newspapers. She is photographed in the mythic Studio Harcourt... Entirely hand-made in her own atelier on the famous rue de la Paix in Paris and then rue du Cherche-Midi, she is individually numbered and signed. Precious, sophisticated, she is highly appealing, seductive, intriguing, surprising.
"High Fashion is For Dolls"
One has to say that her creator is also her best ambassador. While Lala, in the atelier, is painting, embroidering, gluing, hairstyling, BillyBoy* struts like a peacock. He appears on television in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, dressed in Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler or Yohji Yamamoto, and always makes the best of it. He is brilliant. BillyBoy* in fact hates to do publicity (he wants to attract attention to what he does, not what he looks like), but the journalists eat it up. Once, invited on the set of Rai Uno in Cinecitta, Italy, he is wearing a lavishly beaded "cowboy couture" outfit by Jean Paul Gaultier that totally reveals his derriere, which are tightly fitted in semi-opaque black hosiery. At the last minute, the host of the show discovers - so to speak - the controversial outfit. Panic stricken, he demands that BillyBoy* change his outfit. BillyBoy* coldly refuses ("This is all I brought to wear" - paraphrasing Edie Sedgwick, who once dined chez Castel, totally nude under a mink coat and holding 10 white rabbits on ten leashes). Totally indifferent, BillyBoy* threatens to leave. Italians love everything daring. Once the live show is on the air, the audience raves and screams. The next day, at the flea market, people ask him for autographs -calling his name from every direction!
"High fashion is for dolls" claims Mdvanii, using her Pygmalion's own motto (he gave a magnificent demonstration of this theory in the mid-eighties by having all the world's leading couturiers and designers dress the Barbie doll in the now historic New Theatre of Fashion exhibition sponsored by Mattel, which toured France and America; Andy Warhol himself, who often wore BillyBoy*'s "surreal" jewels, made the pop art portrait of Barbie on BillyBoy*'s clever suggestion). Soon, Mdvanii will be more than fascinating and intriguing, she will be copied by others, with no hesitation and no restraint. It is the ransom of success, the price to pay for fame. Once a message has been understood, it will be exploited to the maximum, to be sure. Thrusting opening the doors of fame for his égérie, BillyBoy* inadvertently awakened an ugly commercial machine in total creative lethargy, hungry for original ideas. On the red carpet of an idea rich with genius, and determined to fight, two particularly ugly sisters in drag arrived on the scene, named Kitsch and Rip Off (always dripping in something, those two, wearing faux fur and fake pearls), vying for priority with their loud and Hollywood-esque maids in waiting, Pastiche and Retro. What usurpations are committed in the name of High Fashion! Mdvanii, when she decides to wear fur, orders them from Révillon Haute-Fourrure, just like Marie Antoinette, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich in their times. However... Mdvanii, unruffled, who manages to seduce without a smile on her lips, keeps her mystery in full. Her aura is untouched. She remains untouchable. The one who cannot be bothered by followers is already far away.
Mdvanii became part of the doll collectors' world only by accident, even though it is they who initially, with sincerity, acclaimed her appearance in a time when all that existed were remains of the past and the completely synthetic reality of strictly commercial production. Her undeniable influence eventually contributed tremendously to the better quality of fashion dolls, generating considerable profits for many businesses. But in the meantime, how to satisfy such consumer demand when the desired object is intrinsically an artistic creation, totally hand-crafted, the expression of two complementary individuals, bound in a spiritual, if not a cosmic way? It is impossible. A decision is required, and will be taken, without any hesitation.
A different horizon
As early as 1993, BillyBoy* decides to turn his back completely on the USA doll collectors market. From this date onwards, Mdvanii and the other members of her multi-racial tribe will evolve towards very different horizons, far from the ugly consumer trap, where they will be appreciated in private series by discerning, international art collectors. Rumors once circulated that BillyBoy* had died and that Mdvanii had been discontinued after 1993, which is very revealing of the distorting power of media and doll collectors' lack of curiosity regarding what happens outside America's shores.
Disappearing from the media scene, even willingly, is equivalent to dying, and since one cannot "die a little", it ultimately signifies, for a certain type of audience, non-existence. "Media suicide" (BillyBoy*, now aged 33, has been living in retirement from the world since he left Paris at the same period) is an extreme, and certainly courageous decision that very few celebrities dare to take, even if it becomes a vital necessity.
It is not by chance that, with the exception of the faithful private collectors around the world, it is in Japan that BillyBoy* manages to cultivate a privileged relationship, that one can find the biggest private collections of Mdvanii artworks, as well as other creations of BillyBoy* (he and Lala have created many other fashion dolls, such as Zibbi, the Modern Age doll, Mlle Rivère and the Petite Fille Modèle). The Japanese culture, so refined, proved to be more responsive than American culture - which gives preference to rapidity of movement, and profusion, and which rarely understands that not everything can be commercialised - to Mdvanii's specificity, to grasp fully her nuances and subtleties, to accept the slow process inherent in most creations and leave room for natural maturing. It is without any doubt thanks to this spiritual communication, this faithful trust that Mdvanii (and her creators) have managed to avoid the traps of success, to steadily pursue the only direction that mattered to them, that of art.
to be followed on page 3
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