My first exposure to fashion and design were paper dolls and their extravagant paper wardrobes. Paper dolls have been inexpensive children's toys for almost two hundred years. As I recall, the dolls came in a booklet that cost around 39 cents and had themes for a range of clothes using glamorous movie stars and other notables such as Jacqueline Kennedy. The doll was easy to get off the page with its perforated outline. The outfits were a different story since they had to be cut out meticulously. I graduated from the round tip scissors to the pointed style by the age of five, allowing me to punch holes in the center of a space to cut around a posed arm or leg. Each ensemble included shoes, accessories and sometimes a hat, which had to be cut separately and fastened with little tabs. The paper dolls that influenced my passion for fashion are now collector's items. Paper dolls are still being created today and continue to feature popular characters and celebrities.
By 1959, I had packed up my paper dolls and replaced them with Barbie. There was no need to worry about accurate cutting or wearing out the tabs with Barbie and her nonstop fashion wardrobe. Barbie was eventually memorialized as a paper doll. Paper continued to make its mark in fashion in the mid 1960's when the Scott Paper Company mass-produced paper dresses as a marketing stunt. Customers could send in a coupon and $1.25 to receive a dress made of "Dura-Weave," a cellulose material patented in 1958. A half million "Paper Caper" dresses sporting a red bandanna print or a black and white op art pattern were produced, starting a fashion craze. By 1967, paper dresses were being sold in major department stores for about $8 apiece, and paper clothing boutiques were set up by large department stores.
The fashion press speculated that paper would take over the entire clothing market since the trend captured the mod 60's youth movement. But by 1968 the novelty wore off, as it was recognized that the paper clothing was uncomfortable to wear, not very flattering, and flammable.
In 2013 paper continues to inspire artists and designers with the surprise factor that "it's paper!" Lady Gaga recently debuted her new single on Good Morning America, wearing a sexy white dress made of paper. Recently, Penny Stell of Papyrus/Schurman Fine Papers, offered to donate a one-of-a-kind paper evening gown to Benicia Fashion Runway Weekend. The day of the show the dress arrived and it literally took my breath away. It is a work of art with a fitted lace-up back corset with small circles of paper creating a scaled effect, fringed gold paper feathers surrounding the bodice, and draped tulle that cascades into a train. The colors are soft golds, peach and pinks. Each paper feather is cut and assembled by hand before it is adhered to the gown. All papers were courtesy of Schurman Fine Papers, and the fabrics and trims, from San Francisco’s Britex Fabrics.
Naima Mora (America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 4) wore the gown to open the runway show. It was announced afterwards that the company named the dress “the Naima,” which is being raffled for $25 per ticket. All proceeds benefit the Benicia State Parks Association. The drawing will take place on Saturday, December 7, 2013. For raffle tickets, call 745-5125.