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Laura had been approached by a client to make a full fashion wardrobe for her doll. She was asked to collect the doll (whose name was Sally) from the customer’s flat. As she climbed the stairs, she heard a plaintive, eerie sound, as though she was being called out. Once Laura saw Sally, she knew she would never be able to let her go: her eyes seemed real, her teeth seemed sharp, and she wore an expression of disdain towards the clothes she wore. Laura thought she heard her say:”get me out of this tat: I am too good for this.”

She fitted the doll into her duffle bag, muttering an apology to her. The next day, Laura phoned her client and said she had left the bag on the Tube. She was enraged, of course, but accepted Laura’s offer to buy her a replacement, and the new Sally was dutifully delivered, with a wardrobe of hastily-concocted outfits. With that transaction completed, Laura sat back on her heels: now, she thought, now you are mine. But as it turned out, she belonged to the doll.

The name, first. Sally would never do: it was too winsome. She should be called something feral, something hungry, something characterful. Vulpina. Vulpina she would be. Laura sat Vulpina on the sofa and asked her what she wanted. Next morning, there was a little scrap of paper in the doll’s hand. In a beautiful copperplate script was the word “Dior”. So be it.

Laura bought layers of tulle and some little applique daisies. Vulpina’s New Look outfit had a massive skirt that swayed in the breeze as it blew through the open window. The waist needed to be tiny, and Laura fashioned a little corset to create an hour-glass figure. The bodice was cambric, so stiff that it stood up on its own, and Laura sewed the daisies onto it. The arms, the decolletage were bare, and the contrast between the fabric and the creamy flesh was piquant. Laura was pleased. But as it turned out, Vulpina was not. Laura was a heavy sleeper, but was awakened by sharp pain on her left bicep. Someone had made a tiny tattoo of a shoe. The shoes must be wrong: and accordingly Laura laboured to make little high-heeled shoes in the same colour as the skirt.

So far so good. Vulpina seemed to like her outfit, and a sophisticated smile played across her features when the evening sun struck the sofa. In a few days, another scrap of paper appeared in her hand: “Chanel”. Laura bought some fine tweed and made a tiny patent leather belt. Vulpina’s suit was tailored with some rigour: the darts were mathematically precise, the kick-pleats of the skirt were a marvel, the little hat with the tiny brim looked both smart and coy. But something was amiss. The same sharp pain assailed Laura in the night, and next morning she found a tattoo of a handbag on her arm. She had made the mistake of giving Vulpina a shoulder bag, and she had to replace it by a little clutch with a snap fastening.

Things went from bad to worse. It would have been tolerable if Vulpina had favoured easy designers. But she clamoured (or so it seemed) for difficult ones like Jean Varon. Laura made her a psychedelic kaftan, and was punished for not supplying a hat. Vulpina felt that her Alexander McQueen outfit had insufficient textures. But the Iris van Herpen frock was worst of all. Try as she might, Laura could not replicate the stiff yet mobile ensemble, and she was duly punished by a snaking ribbon tattoo that ran right down to her elbow.

Something had to be done. Laura’s tattooed arms were a perfect catalogue of distress. Her failures were written on her body: but not by her. Any day soon, Vulpina might move into historical costumes, and farthingales were not Laura’s forte. She went and bought some blue gingham. Puffed sleeves with bias binding and sweetheart pockets would be just the thing. She made a white dress with a blue checked apron and red sparkling shoes. She plaited Vulpina’s hair (under protest, she thought). She was now a perfect Dorothy.

Some little girl would love her. Laura put Vulpina into the duffle bag once more, and carried her to a charity shop (taking care to choose one that was a long away away). When she got home, she made a bonfire of all Vulpina’s clothes. All that was left of the escapade was the map of tattoos on her arm. She might have them lasered off, perhaps: or she might keep them as a warning to avoid being in thrall to someone who was tiny, exacting and with sharp teeth.

– For Laura Mayne –

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