I first came across ‘Clementine the Living Fashion Doll’ on YouTube when I discovered her wonderfully creative and camp films. Then, last year, I was treated to a side splitting night of hilarious and ingenious puppet cabaret at Cafe Zedel in London’s West End. This featured the mini diva herself along with a supporting cast of extraordinary characters and creatures all performed by a hugely talented cast.
The wizard behind the curtain is Mark Mander, a puppeteer and dress designer who sews couture for one of the great miniature divas of show business. Puppet Place were able to catch up with both Mark and Clementine to find out about some of the hard work behind the magic, glitter and glamour of being a puppet princess.
First of all Mark, can I ask you how your relationship with Clementine began? What came first: diva or couture?
My relationship with Clementine came about when I was asked to create and perform a puppet show for a pub. The landlord wanted me to make something like a Punch and Judy show with Spitting Image style characters based on people who drank at the venue. This struck me as far too cruel a thing to do to people living out of the public eye , as puppet caricatures can be pretty unforgiving.
I had seen the comedy double act ‘The Two Ronnies’ use humanette puppets in a sketch on TV and wanted to use the same technique. A living doll seemed to be the obvious character – and so Clementine was born. Her first performance was warmly received and she has continued to grow and control more and more of my life ever since!
As to which came first, Diva or Couture, I would say the latter.
I went to art school where I particularly enjoyed fashion studies, but I‘m one of the breed of puppeteers who has always made my own puppets. I was creating puppets and the associated miniature clothing since I was about 6 years old I guess. I learned to make clothing by doing it. Good old trial and error.
Clementine, I understand that you are quite a demanding client! I also hear that you have had over a 1000 dresses made for you throughout your career. How do you go about discussing and deciding upon your next glamorous creation?
I wouldn’t say I was demanding in the slightest! You must remember that I was living the American Dream of pink plastic perfection before I came to REAL life. It was only THEN that I discovered my penthouse apartment was made of printed cardboard, my sports car ran on two AA batteries and my boyfriend’s underpants were moulded on. It was all difficult to grasp, I can tell you.
I think we would all like our lives to be like a Hollywood film, with dance numbers and a happy ending. I just want everything to be PERFECT, which I think is a reasonable starting point, don’t you?
Yes, I do have an extensive wardrobe of fabulous fashions, but I need them for my fantastic lifestyle. As a liberated doll of today and multi-platform CELEBRITOY my days are action-packed.
I might be dancing ‘Swan Lake’ after breakfast, helping to remove plastic pollution from a coral reef by lunch time, then fighting alien invaders in deep space by dinner. So in a typical day I look at my diary , imagine what outfits I need, then get my PA to tell my designer to have them ready in an hour or two. I imagine you do something similar?
Just because I’m helping save the environment (PLEASE don’t ask me about my charity work) or battling an extraterrestrial menace, its no excuse for not looking my best.
Mark, as well as being Clementine’s costumier, you also have a special role to play within her performances. Can you tell us a little bit about this relationship? How easy is Clementine to work with? Do you always see eye to eye?
All I can say is that, due to several gagging orders, Clementine and I are seldom seen in the same room at the same time.
Clementine, can you tell us about your live performance? You also include various other guests. What are the important elements to a Clementine show? What are your main sources of inspiration? What is it that you hope audiences will go away with?
As luck would have it, I’m returning home from a live performance in the West End as I type! (I‘m in my clockwork private jet . It’s VERY environmentally friendly, but we do have to stop after every 4 miles to wind it up.) I guess my show is structured like a Variety TV special from the 1970s. I have several guest characters performed brilliantly by Ruth Calkin and Mark Esaias , there are some live sketches, some filmed inserts and of course I sing a few songs wearing amazing evening gowns.
My source of inspiration is pop culture in all its forms. Old TV shows , classic songs from the American Song Book, fashion fads, etc.
I hope the audience go away from my shows having had a good time. I adore making people laugh and according to some research notes, which came with my nurses outfit, science is proving that laughter has a real and positive physical affect on the human body!
There are a million shows out there that are catalysts for deep thought and discussion – probing the innermost recesses of the human condition. My shows do contain a few political references and adult themes, if you care to spot them, and it can be argued, by people who like to argue, that having ANY opinion on stage is a political act, but my main aim is to have the audience leave the show having laughed and feeling better than they came in. I also like it when they pay for tickets.
Mark, as well as the live show, you have also worked with Clementine on a number of fun and fantastic films, some of which can be seen on YouTube. How does Clementine’s film work differ from her work on stage? Which of her repertoire are your favourites?
Clementine on film and Clementine on stage require different technical approaches, each with their benefits and drawbacks.
On screen, Clementine is completely free to move around, do anything and go anywhere she wishes, giving huge opportunities for different narratives. What can be lost is the sense that Clementine is a live performance with her head and body working in unison. I have been asked frequently what computer program I use to generate Clementine’s body. Anything unusual on screen is often now assumed to be CGI.
On stage Clementine is more static but the upside is she is standing in front of an audience appearing like a computer generated avatar but clearly live. It’s a simple illusion but very impactful. Clementine has recently come in a talking version and speaking live on stage creates a direct bond with the audience , making her seem all the more real and strange at the same time.
As to my favourite clips… Clementine made a film for the British Film Institute several Christmases ago in which she raided the archives of the BFI and presented clips of well loved puppet characters like Pinky and Perky, Hartley Hare and Basil Brush. It was shown at the BFI for one night only, but the trailer is on YouTube. The event was called ‘Puppets With Attitude’.
Another favourite film was a tribute Clementine made to the late great animator Ray Harryhausen. Sadly this clip was removed from Vimeo and I can’t find it online. If anyone finds it I would love to know. My most recent favourite film was a collaboration with the BBC, showing how Clementine’s costumes are made and linking her to the program The Great British Sewing Bee.
Clementine, you have recently held a residency in London’s West End at Cafe Zedel. What lies ahead for a star of your stature? Where would you like to take your talents next?
Clementine Held ? HELD ? Wrong tense sweetie! I’m currently HOLDING a residency in the West End at Crazy Coqs, which is the gorgeous Art Deco venue based within Brasserie Zedel. I just finished my Easter Eggs-travaganza, which brought the house down on the 22nd April . My thoughts now turn to my NEXT show at Zedel on the 4th of July. It is American Independence Day of course, but it’s also right in the middle of the London Pride festivities, so I have decided to call the show ‘Clementine’s Liberty Special – A Star Spangled Rainbow’, a celebration of fabulous freedom. I have new songs to learn, new films to star in and have to be fitted for a host of new costumes. I have to give, give , give till it hurts, but that is my duty as an icon of glamour.
There will be at least two more shows at Zedel after that in 2019. Watch the website for details: www.liveatzedel.com
I haven’t forgotten those people who through choice or some form of personal disaster do not live in London. I’m taking my West End Show directly to ‘The Little Theatre, Sheringham’, a gorgeous independent theatre on the North Norfolk coast on the 9th of November. Beyond that I’m hoping to get back onto TV again this year, but whatever the platform – be it the West End Stage, International Travel or the internet (visit my website: livingfashiondoll.com and my Facebook page Clementine Dolly) – I hope I can continue to spread happiness through my appearances as a singer/ actor/ presenter/ model / glamour icon / charity worker… In short, a Celebritoy!
Sparkly love, Clementine xxx
(Is there a fee for this interview?)
Interview with Josh Elwell