As legend has it, Beatrice Alexander Behrman first marched herself into FAO Schwarz again in 1923. Higher recognized to historical past as Madame Alexander, this decided saleswoman was visiting the enduring toy retailer with one aim: to make the primary sale of her handcrafted dolls. She succeeded.
It’s solely becoming, then, that the Madame Alexander Doll Co. — which Behrman based that very same yr and continues to be in enterprise right this moment — hosted its largest A hundredth-anniversary occasion on the present FAO Schwarz flagship retailer in New York Metropolis earlier this yr.
The FAO Schwarz story is certainly one of many legends surrounding Behrman. One other, in line with David Morgenstern, Vice President of Gross sales at Madame Alexander, is that Warner Bros. forged actress Vivian Lee in Gone with the Wind primarily as a result of she resembled Madame Alexander’s in style, book-inspired Scarlett O’Hara doll. “I don’t assume that’s true,” Morgenstern admits. “Nevertheless it’s story.”
What’s definitely true, nevertheless, is that Madame Alexander had a big impression on the dolls class and the toy business at giant. It might be unimaginable to suit all 100 years of Madame Alexander’s historical past onto these pages — Behrman’s improvements alone are a staggering record.
She popularized “sleep eyes” (doll eyes that shut when children lay down the doll) and rooted hair; launched a few of the first-ever, formally licensed toys for literary and leisure properties, together with Alice in Wonderland, Gone with the Wind, and Little Girls; and debuted Cissy, the primary trend doll within the U.S.
Along with being an business disruptor, which earned her induction into the Toy Trade Corridor of Fame in 2000, Behrman was one of many first ladies within the U.S. to begin her personal enterprise. David Niggli, Chief Merchandising Officer at FAO Schwarz, highlights this when describing the dollmaker.
“I used to be fortunate to have met Madame Alexander and got here to appreciate what a pioneer she was within the toy business,” he says. “Celebrating the A hundredth anniversary of Madame Alexander at our flagship retailer throughout Girls’s Historical past Month is so important.”
However maybe most notable amongst Behrman’s contributions was her work in supplies. She changed the porcelain our bodies that had at all times been the usual in dolls, first with material and later with plastics. In response to firm legend, Behrman grew up in her father’s fix-it store, watching younger ladies convey him their damaged porcelain dolls, which weren’t straightforward to restore. “And the little ladies had been crying,” Morgenstern, who has been with Madame Alexander for 26 years, says. “And he or she actually needed to make one thing that might final and be slightly bit extra sturdy.”
Typically, he provides, Behrman checked out dolls as greater than toys. She noticed them as a studying alternative, educating children abilities akin to etiquette and the way to gown themselves, or introducing them to completely different locations in our world and characters from the world of literature.
One other hallmark of a Madame Alexander doll? The eye to element. Morgenstern remembers when he first joined the corporate, and the workplace was nonetheless in Harlem, New York. Each doll, he says, had double stitching on the underside of the clothes, detachable garments, the Madame Alexander brand inside every shoe, and a dangle tag inside each hat. And that sentiment hasn’t modified.
“I can nonetheless check out a easy $15 or $20 retail child doll or certainly one of our $300 or $400 collectible dolls, and the identical sort of sewing is in each one of many dolls,” he says. “Our tagline for the final 15 or 20 years is ‘Love is within the particulars.’ It actually applies every day to what we do.”
This dedication to high quality, sturdiness, and element in the end made Madame Alexander dolls long-lasting toys. Whereas that was Behrman’s hope, an unintended aspect impact was that the dolls turned collectible. In response to Morgenstern, she needed children to play with the dolls, not sit them on a shelf.
Nevertheless, that unintentional aspect impact is the gasoline that has stored Madame Alexander going for thus many a long time. Again in 1961, the corporate sanctioned the constitution for an official Madame Alexander Doll Membership, which stays energetic to at the present time. The group hosts an annual conference, has an official publication referred to as The Assessment, and presents doll lovers a possibility to attach.
Plus, the long-lasting dolls — and a love for them — are handed from era to era. This was on show in a Season 2 episode of the Hulu sequence The Kardashians final yr. Within the present, actuality star Kris Kardashian noticed Madame Alexander dolls in a toy retailer, proclaimed them to be her favorites, and acquired six of them on the spot for her granddaughters.
Whereas this was a mainstream second of publicity for the model, Morgenstern says that sort of buzz is uncommon. As an alternative, he says, love for Madame Alexander grows extra organically.
“It’s grassroots,” he says. “It’s ladies all around the U.S. who’ve grown up with these dolls that wish to move ‘em on from era to era. And males, too. So it’s not the flash within the pan, it’s not the most important star that’s advocating your product. It’s simply the a whole bunch of hundreds of girls over time which have purchased Madame Alexander dolls and nonetheless cherish them.”
That ongoing dedication from customers and collectors has additionally fueled the model’s year-long A hundredth-anniversary celebration, which the corporate has been planning for greater than three years. Along with April’s media occasion at FAO Schwarz, dozens of smaller, specialty toy shops will host anniversary occasions all through this yr. There are additionally quite a lot of limited-edition centennial dolls slated for launch and even a Madame Alexander anniversary exhibit at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.
In response to Michelle Parnett-Dwyer, Curator of Dolls and Toys at The Sturdy, the exhibit is full of “gems,” together with dolls from all through the corporate’s historical past. Highlights embrace Cissette in Black Velvet Toreador Pants, a W.A.A.C. Doll, and Cissette as Jacqueline Kennedy.
“With Madame Alexander turning 100, it solely made sense for the museum to look again at its vital historical past and share a few of the dolls in our assortment,” she says. “Beatrice Alexander was an business trailblazer. …. Her iconic dolls and their intricate fashions doc historical past and the evolving tradition.”
And over the course of a century, tradition has definitely developed. As with all long-standing firm, Madame Alexander has tailored and altered to remain related within the trendy period.
For instance, Madame Alexander dolls had been as soon as, in Morgenstern’s phrases, the darlings of department shops. “They had been featured in great glass circumstances everywhere,” he remembers.
Nevertheless, as department shops have grow to be nearly out of date within the retail panorama, the corporate has relied on different long-term relationships and tailored to altering client tradition.
“We nonetheless have a whole lot of loyal retailers on the market which have carried our collectible dolls and now carry extra of our child dolls,” he says. “As a result of the Era X and the Era Y mothers, they’re enthusiastic about worth. They’re enthusiastic about dolls that gained’t break. And our dolls are actually, so far as value level goes, very popularly priced these days.”
Morgenstern says the corporate additionally continues Behrman’s spirit of innovation, increasing past collectible dolls and child dolls. In 2020, for instance, Madame Alexander launched a line of 18-inch dolls referred to as The Kindness Membership. Final yr, the corporate launched a wholly new sculpt for an 8-inch trend doll line referred to as It’s All Me. This yr, the corporate launched the Be taught to Gown Koala, a luxurious companion that instantly carries on the aim of educating children by way of play.
Whereas these newer toys could not look something just like the dolls that Beatrice Alexander Behrman carried into FAO Schwarz 100 years in the past, or the doll sculpts that earned the corporate its loyal following, Morgenstern says the standard is what stays the identical.
“They don’t seem like Wendy dolls,” he says. “They don’t seem like Cissy dolls. However the custom and the ‘love is within the particulars’ simply shine by way of with each doll we make.”
A model of this text was initially revealed within the 2023 Classics & Specialty Problem of The Toy E-book. Click here to learn the total concern! Wish to obtain The Toy E-book in print? Click here for subscription choices!