Of Austrian origin, born in the 1960s, BillyBoy* was an adopted child and grew up partially in the United States, partially in Europe. He went to the Montessori School in New York where he could express his instinctive creative sense: he became independent at the early age of 16. His first move was to open an alternative art gallery named Pizzaz Gallery in New York where he showed his own paintings and collages as well as other unknown artists works. Later he opened a decoration and art gallery on the West Coast, (in the famous art community of Newport, Oregon) promoting designs from the 1950s and 1960s as well as vintage clothes named Fly By Nite. At that time he had a modernist house filled with 50s designer furniture, a 1950 Cadillac and a modernistic studio to paint. Since a very early age he had a passion for fashion dolls, notably the Barbie doll, although he collected many others, all of which he collected thoroughly and with a feverish passion. He initiated the first US Barbie adult collector’s club. He also actively collected vintage fashions notably French haute couture garments and accessories with a predilection for Elsa Schiaparelli who he considers as his muse.
As a performance artist in these years he invented the character of Mister Modern, a post-modern dandy double who lives amongst 1950s artifacts and his own artworks. Mr Modern is the subject of various storyboards, photographs, super 8 short movies, early video (which was quite brand new at the time) and happenings, such as his "Science Fair of Art". Eclectic, BillyBoy* was also a model, he did many televison commercials for pop products such as soda, shampoo and toys. He’d model for designers of the era, but was a designer and did window performances, notably for Fiorucci in New York where Calvin Churchman, now vice-president of Ralph Lauren, gave him his first painting show.
In the mid 1970s, BillyBoy* opened his own alternative couture house in his Art Deco filled apartment on Park Avenue named Surreal Couture. His daringly stylish and eccentric fashions give tribute to Surrealism and of course Schiaparelli. He also designed jewelery, in opposite styles such as constructivist and a lavish new baroque idiom. His designs are regularly featured in the fashion press, notably WOMEN’S WEAR DAILY. He was encouraged by Diana Vreeland (he was her protégé) and Jean Druesedow who incorporated a large selection of his fashions and jewels in the permanent collection of the fashion department (called The Costume Institute) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.
In 1979, BillyBoy* took the decision to leave New York and moved to Paris. Preceeded by his reputation as an artist and designer and his eccentric looks, he was welcomed at his arrival on his Concorde flight to Paris by a TV crew and journalists. The immensely snobbish and trendy French magazine ACTUEL published a 14-page cover story article about him humorously titled "At Last, a Normal Young Man". He spends time with 1920s artist/designer Erté in Palma de Majorca which is featured in the article. He is compared to the famous artist and is considered the modern 1980s equivalent. His own clothes inspired Jean Paul Gaultier to make his first men’s collection of clothes. Another feature article about the life and work of Elsa Schiaparelli in the short-lived Condé Nast publication VOGUE Beauté (with a Guy Bourdin cover) includes documents and pieces from his collection and he is also quoted as a "young genius expert collector and multi-talented artist". This article was the first step which led to the first Elsa Schiaparelli retrospective in Paris, which was based around his already huge collection.
BillyBoy* meets Jean Pierre Lestrade, a.k.a Lala, at the time leader of the camp New Wave band Lala et les Emotions in which he is the singer and songwriter. BillyBoy* asks Lala to help him find an apartment in Paris and they move in together in October of 1983. They instantly start working on projects, notably creating jewellery in the kitchen of their apartment.
BillyBoy* met at the time Bettina Graziani, socialite and former high fashion model from the 1950s. The “surreal” jewellery he created were making a sensation in Paris and were immediately admired and noticed by Gerry Stutz, owner of Henri Bendel’s department store in New York City who ordered 100 pieces for her store. Greeted by an article in THE NEW YORK TIMES reviews the innovative and wildly eccentric, bright colored jewels. The collection is sold out almost instantly. They were showcased in the windows of the prestigious store.
In 1982, BillyBoy* was contacted by the City of Paris and the Musée Galliéra to organize the first official retrospective on the work and career of his muse Elsa Schiaparelli, for which he lends many pieces from his own collections and writes a text in the catalogue, interviewing some of the most famous people of the era of Schiaparelli, whom he befriended, such as Jean Schlumberger, Diego Giacometti, René Gruau, Bernard Buffet, André Beaurepaire, Eliane Bonabel and Hubert de Givenchy, Philippe Venet, Yves Saint Laurent amongst many others. At the same time he'd interview some of his various teenage year celebrity friends such as Marlene Dietrich, Arletty, Suzy Delair, André Courrèges, Pierre Balmain etc and other pre-war and post-war fashion and art stars who'd help him with his research on Schiaparelli. The exhibition was a big success and had a great impact on fashion world-wide, bringing the Surrealism he adored back into fashion again in a huge way. The Musée des Arts de la Mode, initiated by Yvonne Deslandres, welcomes an very important part of BillyBoy*'s Surreal Couture creations into its permanent collection.
In 1984, BillyBoy* opened with his companion/partner Jean Pierre Lestrade/Lala his own “Surreal Bijoux” workshop and showroom in the mythical Rue de la Paix in Paris. The official launching was organized at legendary decorator Jansen, Rue Royale. No less than 1000 pieces of Surreal Bijoux were displayed, announcing a new era in costume jewelry: cartoonish, luxurious, humouristic, pop and new baroque, they were all hand-made. This mundaine event gathered the “Tout-Paris” which discovered the young designer wearing hot pants and lilies on his Alexandre de Paris coiffed pink haired head. In the windows, go-go dancers in psychedelic clothes covered in jewels were dancing the frug dance of the 1960s in front of a huge portrait of BillyBoy* with a cowboy hat, dark glasses and his new motto signature:"Get Groovy!".
BillyBoy* has also created jewelry for different couturiers and designers such as Emanuel Ungaro, Thierry Mugler, Bernard Perris, Hanae Mori, Francesco Smalto, Charles Jourdan, and many others. His own collections are represented in the most fashionable shops in France, USA, Japan, England, Italy, Germany and many other cities throughout the world. Stars and celebrities wear them: Bettina, Lauren Hutton, Arielle Dombasle, Marisa Berenson, Jackie Onassis, Liz Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol and Ray Charles, Boy George, Guns N'Roses, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and The Communards.
In 1984 BillyBoy* asked the French, British, Italian and American (and even Thailandise) couturiers to dress for him the American Barbie doll. Incredibly humorous and innovative for the time, this original idea was to be copied endlessly ever after, not only for Barbie - in smaller proportions - but also for other characters such as Snoopy, Babar etc. Except for two designers, the majority of the profession went for it. This groovy project is turned into a major exhibition sponsored by Mattel and named "BillyBoy*, Le Nouveau Théatre de la Mode". Installed in a TGV train, it toured France and stopped in all major cities, drawing crowds of enthuisiastic visitors, children as well as adults along with a major press coverage.
On this occasion BillyBoy* created the “BillyBoy*, Nouveau Théatre de la Mode Barbie” which was the first Barbie doll bearing a designer’s name on its box, his own. He designed for Barbie a black sheath cocktail dress, black shoes, black sunglasses and black nails, and lots of gold chains “just like BillyBoy*”. A small revolution in the all-fluorescent pink world of the early 1980s Barbie doll - it completely changed the world of Barbie doll forever and children and collectors alike have never recovered from his influence (see full article in MODE).
In 1986, his book titled "Barbie, Her Life and Times" was published in the USA. It was the first book to analyse the iconic nature of the Barbie doll as well as its sociological connections to her times as well as the influences of the French high fashion on the supposed role-model fashion doll. The book was to become a best seller which has been translated in 14 languages and it too has been influencing doll books and doll collecting ever since.
For American Barbie collectors, BillyBoy* designed his new Barbie doll. Called "Feeling Groovy Barbie" by BillyBoy*, she had a revolutionary new glamorous look . Her box cover is particularly daring: she is illustrated sitting over the Arch of Triumph in Paris, holding a martini glass (with martini!) and a cigarette, a FIRST for the demeure Barbie doll! Of course, she is also wearing dark glasses, BillyBoy* jewels and black beauty case and accessories, his wildly designed psychedelic outfit and black nail polish, again, "just like BillyBoy*!".
This year, the British newspaper THE OBSERVER nominates him "Man Of The Year" for his jewellery. This a very prestigious yearly title given in Britain to people of merit or who've been noted for some unique achievement. Vivienne Becker, author of the article calls his jewelry "...uninhibited and irresistibly funny, larger than life, naïve, eccentric, rebellious..."
In 1988, BillyBoy* and Lala were invited by Absolut Vodka on the first Concorde flight New-York-Stockholm, along with other artists such as painter Kenny Scharf and writer Tama Janowitz whose best selling book “Slaves of New York” was just being turned into a movie with many stars of the time. In Stockholm, BillyBoy* received the Absolut Vodka Award for his limited-edition silk scarf and brooch he designed for Absolut. The promotion was called "ABSOLUT BILLYBOY*" and was initiated by Andy Warhol who was the first artist to do the campaign with his ABSOLUT WARHOL. Warhol was responsible for BillyBoy* getting the project as he insisted to the Absolut company BillyBoy* was a major force on the art scene of the time, along with Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Stephen Sprouse and Andy Warhol who also got involved with the project.
The next day, BillyBoy* and Lala flew to Moscow as guests of the the ..British Embassy. It was the beginning of the Perestroika initiated by President Michael Gorbachev. In a gathering of Ambassador’s and their wives from all countries, BillyBoy* presented with Lala a Surreal Bijoux exhibition and made a conference on the history of costume jewellery in high fashion. Each Ambassador’s wife received an copy of BillyBoy*‘s book on the Barbie doll as a gift as well as a BillyBoy* brooch. In the Embassy’s Rolls Royce (at the time the only one existing in the USSR), BillyBoy*, Lala, and Fiona Cartledge (the ambassador’s daughter and friend of BillyBoy* and Lala), were taken to visit the city. Once on Red Square, they created a sensation: BlllyBoy* was wearing 70s Pop singer David Cassidy’s cowboy jacket in silver leather and lamé (given to him by the pop singer himself, the suit created by Elvis Presley's designer, Nudie's), a cowboy* hat and a mini skirt! They photographed the crowd with polaroids which they gave away to the people along with Barbie Tour catalogues. BillyBoy* and Lala also visit Zeitsev who is the official couturier in the USSR. BillyBoy* offers him a bottle of “Shocking* de Schiaparelli.
Back in Paris, British VOGUE does a reportage on BillyBoy* in the "Modern Legends” issue.
1989: The creation of Mdvanii
After the immense success story with the Barbie doll BillyBoy* decides to move on, feeling the urge to express in total freedom his own creative ideas. He invents his own "fashion doll", this time a brand new concept: not a commercially-made toy for children but a sophisticated and artistic creation for adults only. While the exclusive fashion doll existed before in history, they mostly were for children to play with. Even the original "Theatre de la mode" in 1945, whilst created by artists (head by reknowned French sculptor Rebull, wire body concept by the famous Saint Martin and Cocteau) they were abandoned without thought at the end of the show since it was basically a sophisticated advertising for the haute couture industry in France after the war. At the time it was not something to be kept as artwork which it only much later would be considered.
This Mdvanii concept was an interactive artwork from the very beginning, with a very specific conceptual marketing (like dolls of the 1960s, using all the same references, which was an appealing artistic idea for BillyBoy* considering his previous work). Mdvanii was geared only to adults, from serious art collectors to serious doll collectors (who differ greatly in their approach to the subject) and all people with a curiousity for this unusual and new idea. It was and still is very highly controversial to use a "doll" as a work of contemporary art.
In 1989, the new revolutionary fashion doll is presented for the first time. She is named Mdvanii and her concept is extremely new and daring. She is not commercially-made and is created in an genuine artistic way, and as a camp manifesto artwork. Conceived for adult collectors she is "anatomically correct", made in resin, entirely hand-made and hand-painted. She is made in very limited editions (the biggest one, for F.A.O Schwarz was of 200 examples and three outfits, 600 in total) and she is distributed in a very exclusive way. Her wardrobe is luxurious, made in the tradition of French high fashion. She has real hair (although sometimes yak for the white hair and synthetic hair for special hairdos) and her wigs are graced with the signature of world-famous hairdresser Alexandre de Paris, whose logo has been created by Jean Cocteau. The illustration on her box is by mythical fashion illustrator René Gruau, her catalogue sketches are by American portraitist and former Barbie illustrator Clyde Smith. But Mdvanii is not only a collectible doll, she has a whole discourse: the texts presenting her and her fashions read like a camp manifesto, the true expression of an artistic creation, which give her a real and unique personality. These texts, written by BillyBoy* (and inspired by Diana Vreeland for whom he was her protégé) would influence doll makers and manufacturers from there on in!
Thanks to the initiative of Carol Lister, Mdvanii is "launched" at LIBERTY, London on February 14, 1989 after several years of artistic development with many different technicians and artisans, and endless developing of her wardrobe, visuals, physiognomy and "personality", which was entirely developed and designed by BillyBoy*. Her body is an original sculpting based on the style of dolls all over the world during the 1950s, 60s and 70s known as "the fashion doll", with an adult body, but BillyBoy* took it much further by not only the look, but the concept. He deliberately made her stylized almost like a cubist painting and appealingly unrealistic but proportioned in human scale, and based on the look of a number of people in his life, notably his adopted mother Dee, and his eccentric aunt, muse to artists in the 20s and 30s.
Although each decision and idea came from him, he continuously asked for the opinion of Lala with his exacting eye and refined culture, so BillyBoy* feels the final result is not exclusively his, but the symbiosis of him and Lala. As for all places where Mdvanii is available, LIBERTY of London proposed exclusive creations, many incorporating the famous Liberty fabrics. In the same way, Mdvanii has been launched and represented in Japan exclusively by Sumiko Watanabe, with unique pieces and exclusive limited series with a special label. Almost immediately Mdvanii became iconic that it even created a few copists in the ensuing years who, due to the rarity of Mdvanii for them to collect, they felt justified in plagarizing her. However, nothing will ever carry the enigmatic appeal and cachet of this revolutionary concept and unique art work. A real Mdvanii is a REAL Mdvanii and nothing can replace the allure of an original Mdvanii of this early period. This early period now has a following of admirers who are literally obsessed with these highly individualized early works.
Mdvanii in America
Mdvanii is launched in New York at the prestigious store F.A.O Schwarz.
Between 1990 and 1993, several different new characters will be added to Mdvanii's world, creating the start of a whole entourage for her: Dheei (1990) Rhogit-Rhogit et Zhdrick (1991), Soraya (1992), Edie et Tzulli (1992) The first male dolls which appeared in 1992 were also sexually defined and had a condom and a text promoting Safe Sex in their box.
Mdvanii will be welcomed by a full-page article in THE NEW YORK TIMES titled “Beautiful But No Bimbo: A Doll For The 1990s”. Soon after she will be launched at F.A.O Schwarz in NYC and in others places thoughout the USA. Other press coverage include articles in THE SUNDAY TIMES, VOGUE, HARPER’S BAZAAR, ELLE, ACTUEL, GLAMOUR, MARIE CLAIRE, L’OFFICIEL, VOGUE, CONTEMPORARY DOLL MAGAZINE, and even PLAYBOY and LUI etc..
BillyBoy* is also regularily sollicitated to write for the international press on subjects related to contemporary art, high fashion history, fashion dolls and also doll’s houses and decoration. Mdvanii is photographed by artists Christine Spengler, Pierre Rutschi, Antoine Giacomoni as well as by mythical Studio Harcourt.
In the early 1990s also, Surreal Bijoux is transfered from the Rue de la Paix to Rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris. An ancient butcher shop from the 1910s, with its original exterior decoration (Belle-époque enameled paintings and meat hooks) is turned inside into an all "Shocking Pink" box, with authentic Paul Poiret furniture lacquered pink, dedicated to Mdvanii and BillyBoy* jewels. Two other rooms include the office of Surreal Productions (with its newly invented fax machine!) and the large atelier were the dolls are actually mounted, painted and dressed.
From April to May 1990, 100 pieces of BillyBoy* own high fashion collection are shown at Cours Mont Royal in Montreal, Canada. They include masterpieces by Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, Jeane Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Jean Patou, Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, and many, many more. BillyBoy* writes his manifesto "Why I Collect Butterflies And Not Stamps" and makes an analogy between the fragility and the ephemeral nature of high fashion garments with the one of the butterflies. The title of the exhibition is “Le Grand Tra La La”. Mdvanii is featured in the show and makes her first appearance in Quebec at GianFranco Ferré's boutique.
The "Le Grand Tra La La" is shown at Bloomingsdale's, New York in the "Vive La France" exhibition.
During these exhibitions, Mdvanii is availaible at Gianfranco Ferre's Boutique in Montreal and on special order to Surreal Productions in Paris at Bloomingdale's.
In 1991 (until 1993), BillyBoy* is starring guest on the most popular weekly French TV show starring Christine Bravo, called “Merci et encore Bravo”. He is featured in humouristic sketches and mock-parodies about how to be "glamorous" in which he appears in unusual settings, Surrealistic, Baroque and Pop Art at the same time, in hilarious costumes and eccentric situations. Called “Art de Vivre” de BillyBoy*" they were written by Lala and often filmed in their parisian apartment, the famous apartment of impressionist painter Vuillard.
1992: BillyBoy* published with Maeght Editeur, “Bleuette, la petite fille modèle de la Collection BillyBoy*”. Considered today by many a collector as the “Gûtenberg Bible of Bleuette", this 990-page book is the ultimate anthology on the first popular fashion doll which has been a reflection of French high fashion and society from 1905 to 1960. On this occasion, BillyBoy* created his own Petite Fille Modèle doll in homage to Bleuette. Also entirely hand-made in his atelier, this collector’s doll has been made in very limited series (about 200 examples in total). La Petite fille modèle is the only creation of BillyBoy* which was created for children, as well as adults.
1993: BillyBoy* directs with Lala a video clip for the Japanese band “SuzySusie”. It becomes a Top of the Pops favourite for 17 weeks!
The photographic exhibition “Le Jardin Secrêt de Mdvanii by BillyBoy* sponsored by the FNAC galleries and stores travels in different cities of France for three years. Just before the end of the tour, the trunks containing the entire collection are stolen! A poetic and humourous text was written by Edmund White, the visionary author who invented the term “gay author”.
BillyBoy* models on the runway for Yohji Yamamoto.
The magazine L’OFFICIEL runs a 14-page feature story on BillyBoy* titled “L’incroyable BillyBoy*”. On this occasion, Mdvanii is presented as the “Ambassador of French High Fashion” and is dressed by Thierry Mugler, Torrente, Louis Féraud, Révillon Haute Fourrure (where she'd be presented during the runway fashion shows along with the human-sized furs), and others as well as by BillyBoy*. The magazine has their own exclusive Mdvaniis for special clients and was available through the magazine dressed as she was on the cover of this iconic french fashion review. For VOGUE Hommes, there are creations by Claude Montana, Nina Ricci, Balenciaga, and many, many others.
In 1993, BillyBoy* and Lala decide to leave Paris and move to the Normandy coast to a house by the sea in Trouville (next to Deauville) in September. From this date, BillyBoy* decides to withdraw himself from the public attention and refuses all interview and press coverage. This decision will be kept until 2005.
In 1993, BillyBoy* becomes officially an expert and member of the Union Française des Experts, specialized in high fashion and textile history, contemporary art and fashion dolls (and toys in general). This highly prestigious organization encouraged him where he assisted auctions for Millon, Tajan and others, worked with the experts Camard and family, wrote catalogues and helped set record prices for things at auction via his expertise. Being an expert in France has the status of someone with the legal responibility in which the experts word enters into any legal dispute and requires the studies and internship for five years to be authorized.
From 1994 and 1997, BillyBoy* and Lala develop the artistic evolution of Mdvanii, which will be made in porcelaine, as all the members of the tribe. New "teenage" boy and girl dolls are included in the Mdvanii family. Tzulli, Muio-Bix, Ishwar, Jobbi, Yucef, Ouimi (1996-97).
During this highly creative period, several other fashion dolls are created: Mademoiselle Rivière and Bénedict, wooden dolls inspired by the eccentric fashions of the Merveilleuses and Incroyables which were the fashionistas of the French revolution: entirely hand-carved and hand made by fishermen in Honfleur, a neighbouring seatown, they are dressed in antique fabrics from the times. Lala hand-finished the roughly carved dolls and painted them, like he has been doing now since many years for all of their artworks and Mdvanii and family pieces. Prior to his painting every Mdvanii, he had a staff of employees, specially trained artisans in the workshop, who reproduced exactly his prototypes. Every season had it's own make-up styles and colours entirely designed and named by BillyBoy*. Another doll creation is the boudoir-style doll ZIBBI, “the Modern-Age” doll” inspired by the Wiener Werkstätte and dressed with authentic Art Deco fabrics.
Mdvanii’s nature as a revolutionary fashion doll for adults has evolved and is now defined as “a sculpture with a lifestyle”. Mdvanii artworks are regularly exposed in Japan.
A selection of BillyBoy*’s own wardrobe composed of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier is included in the exhibition "Art and Fashion 1960-1990" in Brussels, Belgium - Le Musée des Beaux-Arts. For the opening BillyBoy* creates stupor while wearing the original runway example of the famous Yves Saint Laurent “Mondrian” dress from his own collection.
In June 1997, BillyBoy* et Lala decide to leave France and move from Trouville to Lausanne, in Switzerland.