If you are not familiar with Poly Styrene's work, from this photo you can gather that she was not terribly pretty, nor elegant by TRADITIONAL STANDARDS, nor was she particularly quiet, and yet I think she was undeniably a healthy role model, a bit like Sophie, one of the Comtesse de Ségur's most famous characters, whose misfortunes are told in Les Malheurs de Sophie. And boy, was Sophie, trouble! She was the total nemesis to her exemplary cousins Camille and Madeleine of Les Petites Filles Modèles.
As a little girl, it was impossible for me, and for many others, to resist Camille and Marguerite's charm. They were both perfection and inspiration. Check out this extract which remains one of my favourite text ever. It is very difficult to find English translations of La Comtesse de Ségur's books. This is by no means an official translation.
[Camille and Marguerite have just been given a present of an entire painting set (to promote their artistic talents) and a doll complete with a full trousseau (to promote their domestic skills) - Ségur had definite ideas about children's education. This is what the trousseau is made of :
A round straw hat with a small white feather and ribbons of black velvet coat a blue taffeta with pink pompoms, a green umbrella with an ivory handle, 6 pairs of gloves, 4 pairs of boots, 2 silk scarves ; a sleeve and an ermine cape.
In the second drawer:
6 shirts day, 6 night shirts, 6 pants, 6 skirts trimmed with scalloped lace, 6 pairs of socks, 6 handkerchiefs, 6 nightcaps, 6 cols, 6 pairs of sticks, 2 corsets, 2 flannel petticoats; 6 towels, 6 sheets, 6 pillow cases; 6 small towels. A bag containing a sponge, a comb, a comb, a brush head, brush comb.
In the third drawer were all the dresses and coats and cloaks, and there were:
1 dress in merino wool Scotch a poplin dress pink taffeta dress with a black dress with a blue cloth, a white muslin dress, a dress nankeen * 1 dress in black velvet gown with a silk lilac; a gray cloth coat, a black velvet jacket, a black silk Talma *; a dark blue velvet cloak, a mantle of white muslin embroidered.
(Illustration by Bertall)
At times, I miss playing with my dolls. Playing with dolls made me full of ambition, I really wanted to sew all the things that were in Marguerite's doll trousseau. Later on, I wanted my Barbie doll to be ever so glamorous at all the cocktail parties she attended with Ken, that I would often sew evening gowns for her, with scraps of material. I would knit jumpers for her evenings of elegant drinking at the ski station bar. I was often disappointed with the result of my effort, but what was worth it was the idea that I could invent any number of outfits, I did not need to be Coco Chanel or Jean Paul Gaultier to dream these up.
At a later stage, my ambition turned to professional goals for Barbie, who with great cunning skill had managed to infiltrate the archives of the priest who received the confessions of the most dangerous criminals on Earth (yes there was only one of them, and - luckily - he (I that is) kept little Barbie size red-covered diaries of the confessions of the untold monstrosities that had been perpetrated.
Victor Hugo wrote this in Les Misérables (Cosette)
The doll is one of the most imperious needs and, at the same time, one of the most charming instincts of feminine childhood. To care for, to clothe, to deck, to dress, to undress, to redress, to teach, scold a little, to rock, to dandle, to lull to sleep, to imagine that something is some one,—therein lies the whole woman's future. While dreaming and chattering, making tiny outfits, and baby clothes, while sewing little gowns, and corsages and bodices, the child grows into a young girl, the young girl into a big girl, the big girl into a woman. The first child is the continuation of the last doll.
And if I may go back to the beginning of this article, despite all desires of perfections, at the end of the day its''s the little rebel girl Sophie, who- to many little girls - is more attractive than her perfect cousins, Marguerite and Camille, just like Poly Styrene in all her clumsiness should forever remain endearing to the female and the male of the species. Because Poly Styrene had ambition, she wore lipstick, but too much, and possibly not a very tasteful shade, she wore fishnets, but they had holes in them... you get me. She was a BAD GIRL, a bit like many endearing vamps of old French cinema, for example:
Ginette Leclerc in Le Corbeau
Suzy Delair in Quai des Orfèvres
Bad, bad girls...
but bully for them! They never lost the "creative freedom" that doll playing gives a little girl, When the doll goes, a new doll is born, she adorns herself in many ways outside and inside, and it is delightful, don't you think?
Who wears Prada? An angel or a demon? Who is to say!