In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I went through my 10-year archive of dolly pics and selected a variety of my girls in green. Some of these beauties have moved on, but most have stayed with me and continue to bring me joy. I hope they bring a smile to your face as you celebrate today with kisses to your loved ones and a nice frothy mug of green beer.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that Robert Tonner’s dolls hold a special place in my heart. I discovered Tonner’s dolls in 2003, when Tyler Wentworth and her world reigned supreme in Robert’s offerings. I was primarily enticed by the dolls’ uber-realistic, beautiful faces. They were so full of personality, and each one was distinct from the others. I loved that Robert injected racial diversity in his collections, regularly adding gorgeous African-American, Asian, and Hispanic characters into the mix. Today, I have hundreds of dolls from Tyler’s world in my collection, and they remain first in my heart.
But, of course, doll lines have short shelf lives in the world of high-end fashion dolls, and Tyler and her world were gradually phased out as collectors’ tastes changed. Tonner went on to create other doll lines. Cami, Re-imagination, DeeAnna, Antoinette, and Deja Vu took their turns in the spotlight, and many were gorgeous dolls. But while I purchased several of these dolls, none grabbed my attention like Tyler and Sydney once did. Back in those days, it was difficult for me to winnow down the list of dolls I wanted to purchase in each subsequent line unveiling. Like many collectors, I’d count down the days until Tonner’s latest unveiling, quickly emailing my dealer my wish list in hopes of getting to her first before my favorites sold out. But with Tonner’s subsequent lines, there were usually only a couple that stood out to me, and they rarely sold out.
It could be that I’m romanticizing my early collecting days, and the Wentworth family is a source of wistful nostalgia. It could be that I’ve matured as a collector, and I am now choosier with what I add to my collection. After all, I have to be out of necessity. My collection is bursting at the seams of my many doll cabinets.
At any rate, the point of all this rambling is to say that Robert Tonner just released a collection that has captured my imagination more than any other line since Miss Wentworth entered the scene. Her name is Miette, and she is far from a fashion doll. Miette’s back story casts her in the role of a character in the fictional, fairy tale-esque French village of “Faire Croire.” As described on Tonner’s website:
“Once upon a time, in a far off corner of a very southern part of France, lies a tiny village called, Faire Croire. Don’t bother to look on any map, you’ll never find it. It’s a lovely village where the people enjoy a life of beauty and peace. Every house in the village is a different color and has window boxes filled with flowers of all kinds. The moss covered thatched roofs slant in all angles. There are no locks on any doors or windows. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with fragrant flowers growing in beautiful pots adorned in jewels. The air is always thick with the scent of freshly baked pain au chocolat. It seems like a place you would hear about in a fairy tale. Although Faire Croire is well over 500 years old, no one knows it’s there. But, Faire Croire does have a quality, something sinister that hangs over the heads of all the villagers. Something like a dark cloud. Could that feeling be coming from the castle on the hill?
How could a village be over 500 years old with no one except the people that live there knowing of its existence? Miette, the lovely daughter of the Mayor of Faire Croire, intends to find out.”
I love Tonner’s quirky back stories, and I hope he expands on this one. Miette’s aesthetic is full of pastel colors, ruffles, and eyelet fabric. Her face is open and innocent, her lips ever-so-slightly parted as if she might speak. She reminds me a great deal of one of my other favorite sculpts of Robert’s, Euphemia, one of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters. But while Euphemia is pouty and cross, Miette is sweet and tender.
It seems that I am not the only collector enchanted by Miette. She was just released yesterday, and the status of many dolls has gone from “in stock” to “coming soon,” which I assume means they have sold out of much of their first shipment. While I’m delighted for Tonner Doll, as I can’t remember this happening for some time, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to place my order today. I’m going to start out with a raven basic, and if she is as lovely as her pictures, I’ll likely add a dressed doll. If money were no object, my wish list would consist of the Raven Basic, Dainty Miette, Fanciful, and Enchanting Miette.
I wish Tonner the best with this new line, and I’m looking forward to adding Miette to my dolly world. Who knows, perhaps she will fill the empty place in my heart that Tyler left when she exited the scene.
Hell froze over last week when Mattel introduced Fat Barbie. They’re calling her “curvy Barbie,” but, as she looks like she went from a size 0 to a size 12 overnight, I’m calling her “Fat Barbie.” To say this marks a point of departure from Mattel’s 57-year-old cornerstone brand is an understatement. Moms have been calling for a fashion doll that more accurately reflects the proportions of real women since the dawn of the feminist movement in the 1960s. But their wishes have always fallen on Mattel’s deaf ears, and each year Barbie appeared more sexualized than the year before. To be sure, Mattel defended its icon against charges of being a poor role model by giving her an increasing number of professions. Over the years, Barbie has been an astronaut, veterinarian, doctor, and even President. But she has also been a hair stylist, princess, and fairy. And her principal profession has always been that of a fashion model, forever subject to the male gaze.
Mattel’s long-standing tag line, “We girls can do anything, right Barbie?” continued to ring false as the number of model, princess, and fairy barbies continued to outnumber the odd astronaut and president thrown into the mix. And that shouldn’t be very much of a surprise. Those princesses and models sold like hotcakes. Little girls had long been instructed that their worth lie principally in their physical rather than cognitive attributes. Of course, we cannot lay the blame for this solely on the doorstep of Mattel. But Mattel’s marketing machine did its part to reinforce what little girls had always been taught by society at large: You are what you look like.
I find it interesting that Fat Barbie comes close on the heels of 2014’s Sports Illustrated Barbie, through which Mattel vehemently defended its iconic busty, anorexic fashion model. Equating Barbie with Sports Illustrated models was a slap in the face to the growing ranks of Barbie-denouncing moms. The SI swimsuit model is the very embodiment of anti-feminist sentiment. Her existence confirmed to concerned mothers everywhere what they had suspected all along: Barbie was the embodiment of Sex with a capital “S”–and the kind of sex of men’s misogynistic fantasies at that.
In what seemed like a emphatic slap in the face of feminists everywhere, Mattel adopted the hashtag #unapologetic as its marketing campaign for the swimsuit-clad, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model. “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in the issue gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be #unapologetic,” Mattel stated in its press release. Take that, feminists. You may hate Barbie’s body, but it’s here to stay. And we’re going to shove it in your face in the most misogynistic way possible. Fuck you.
It’s no surprise that this created a backlash among the feminist set, which is what Mattel probably wanted. You can’t buy the kind of coverage that accompanied Barbie’s debut as an SI model. Everyone media outlet from CNN to The New York Times fell over themselves interviewing Mattel’s media machine and angry feminists everywhere. The clear winner? Mattel. Their SI model sold out in no time. Again, fuck you, feminists.
But wait. Such a bold move to position Barbie as an in-your-face anti-feminist icon reeked not a little of desperation. When Sports Illustrated Barbie made her debut, Barbie sales were tanking. In January 2014, Mattel’s Barbie sales were on a downward spiral. Barbie sales plummeted 20% from 2012 to 2014, and they continued to fall last year. In fact, Barbie sales have been down for four consecutive years now. Heads have rolled in Mattel’s executive suite as new talent with new ideas have tried to save the brand that was once the envy of toy makers everywhere.
So how do we reconcile SI Barbie with Fat Barbie, which appeared just two years later? Simple. Being unapologetic about her body didn’t do a damned thing for Barbie’s sales. So let’s give the hollering feminists what they’ve asked for all along and make a Barbie that actually looks like a real woman. What the hell. It’s not like things can get much worse.
Other companies had already beaten Mattel to the punch. In 2014, Nickolay Lamm launched “Lammily,” a realistically proportioned fashion doll, after a successful crowdfunding campaign to create a Barbie alternative. “Lammily” sold out on her first run, and she’s attracted a large following. An African-American Lammily is currently in the works.
Mattel’s marketing campaign for Fat Barbie is the polar opposite of that used to market Sports Illustrated Barbie. Whereas Mattel declared that SI Barbie unapologetically owned her busty, skinny, leggy body, the same company is now telling us that Barbies come in all shapes and sizes, and that should be celebrated. In a video Mattel released to introduce the dolls, a bespectacled little redheaded girl declares, “It’s so important for Barbies to look different. You know, like the real people in the world.”
“Curvy” isn’t the only new body Mattel has given its iconic doll. The company is also debuting “tall” and “petite” variations. But those latter two will be lost in the shuffle in the media frenzy currently buzzing around Fat Barbie. It’s an admirable effort to put Fat Barbie in with a mix of other alternative body types, and it gives the appearance that Mattel isn’t really caving on changing Barbie’s proportions from one type to another. They’re just giving girls a few more options. And, oh yeah, one of them is fat.
I predict that Mattel’s Fat Barbie will likely get a positive reception in the media. The coverage that I’ve read thus far all echo the same “it’s about time” sentiment. And, of course, it is about time. It’s fucking overdue. But will finally joining the 21st century revive Mattel’s Barbie sales? Will little girls who have been forever conditioned to perceive thinner bodies as more desirable bodies voluntarily reach for Fat Barbie?
Sadly, probably not.
I’m no photographer, but, through the miracle of digital photography, I’ve found that if you take enough photos, there’s bound to be a few that don’t turn out that bad. Those of us of a certain age will recall taking our film rolls to the local drug store, waiting a few days for development, and then going back to pick up our pictures to discover what those photographs looked like. Most often, mine looked like crap. Out of a couple dozen pictures taken during a summer vacation, two or three weren’t blurry. Now, of course, we have the luxury of deleting the crappy photos before sharing them with others and we don’t have to pay for our prints sight unseen. With the dawn of cheap digital photography, everyone has become an amateur photographer. The younger set tends to document every moment of their lives–whether notable or not. Women of my age are most likely to photograph our children. My five-year-old is one of the most documented little boys around. The number of his childhood pictures will dwarf the number that my mother took of me.
And then there is the doll collecting set. We love to take and share images of our dolls. Mostly, I believe, because there are so few of us, and we rely on the Internet to bring us into contact with one another. Online, we can share pictures of our latest discoveries and learn about new dolls and upcoming artists. Some of today’s doll photography is an art in and of itself. Nearly every day I come across some new doll imagery online that leaves me scratching my head, thinking, how did she do that?
My own photos are amateurish at best, but once in a while the photography gods align around me and I take a pretty decent image. Prego, one of the doll boards that I frequent, adopted the theme of doll photography this week, asking members to post some of their favorite photos. I was inspired to dig into to my 10+ years of collected doll photos to locate some of my favorites.
Doubtless this will be a trip down memory lane for some of you more seasoned Tonner collectors. Looking back on the many, many images of dolls that I’ve taken throughout the years, I’m reminded of how much pleasure this hobby has given me, how much it continues to give, and how much more I’m sure it has in store.
First up, the Sydneys:
And a few more recent lucky shots…
Many of you have been following my recent move from Florida to Maryland and the trials and tribulations of transporting 500+ dolls along with all of my other crap. Well, it’s been two months since my family arrived in our new home, and the process of constructing my new office/doll room is complete. I am lucky to have a basement as well, which will house a couple cabinets that did not fit in my doll room. But today I wanted to share just pics of my anointed Dolly Room in all its glory.
My apologies for the poor quality of these photos. The room gets no direct sunlight, and my camera does not operate well in artificially lit rooms. But you should get the idea. So here’s the grand tour.
Immediately to the left when you enter the room are three cabinets and one bookshelf. The cabinets contain mostly Tonner fashion dolls, and the bookshelf is home to my mini dioramas. I am a big believer of taking advantage of any vertical space that is available, so some of my dolls aren’t far from the ceiling. Floor space is also valuable real estate, so I’ve positioned several of my Annette Himstedt girls there.
Confined to a small space, my dioramas are compact, but I enjoy making them. It really doesn’t take much to put together a classy diorama. An upholstered chair, a rug, and a glass of “wine” can show off a favorite doll to great effect. Sofas are great too—especially for the smaller girls.
On the opposite wall are two more narrow IKEA cabinets, on either side of a large window. By being creative, I managed to get quite a few Himstedts on that side. I’ve stacked up my plastic drawers that contain doll outfits and props.
Some of you may remember when Tonner Doll Company created totally over-the top table centerpieces during their annual convention and other events. I’m lucky enough to own two of these heavy, resin creations. My favorite is Aquaman riding his huge purple seahorse, “Storm,” his wife Mera by his side. The other is a street scene in which Rufus (who was making his debut) offers his heart to Ellowyne.
So there you have it. Once I get the remainder of my dolls set up in the basement, I’ll post pictures of them as well. I always love to see how others display their collections, so feel free to share a pic of your hoard as well.
I spend a good amount of time surfing the Internet in search of the latest fashion doll offerings. Although there is an abundance of art in this medium, the vast majority of what I come across I can quickly pass on. This is most likely because I prefer realism in my dolls’ features. There is the occasional exception, but in general my collection consists of dolls with uber-lifelike features. I adore dolls that look as if they might speak. Asian dolls with animal heads just don’t do it for me.
Once in a while in my endless Internet searches, I come across what I consider to be a hidden gem. To be sure, some of these doll artists may have large followings, but they are new to me. Many of these dolls are by foreign artists, and I think it’s fascinating to have a window into the doll art being produced by artists in different countries. It is sometimes easy to identify the national origin of these dolls based on their aesthetic. For example, anime-inspired dolls most often hail from Japan or other far-east countries. Other nations, like Russia, can produce a wide range of dolls, from the highly stylized Popovy to the uber-realistic dolls I feature below.
Below I highlight three artists producing dolls that have recently taken my breath away. Most of these dolls are out of my price range, so the closest I’ll likely get to seeing one is on my computer screen. And they should command a healthy price, as most are made by hand, the artist sculpting and painting each one personally.
First up are the porcelain dolls by Russian artist Natalia Loseva. Sadly, her blog is written in Russian without translation, so I can only guess about her artistic process and inspiration. But there is plenty of eye candy that transcends any language barrier. Although firmly grounded in realism, I find Loseva’s porcelain girls to possess an ethereal quality that draws me to them. Their wistful expressions and purposeful stares convey both strength and gentleness. They seem to have stories to tell. I love dolls that pack an emotional punch—and Loseva’s girls definitely do that for me.
Another artist from Russia who creates her porcelain BJD dolls by hand—up to and including their wigs and their photography—is Anya Kozlova. Kozlova calls her dolls “Dea Vivente” (Italian for “living goddess”). The name is fitting, as her dolls’ wide hips, full breasts, and wistful expressions reflect traditional representations of goddesses throughout the ages. In her blog, Kozlova writes that her dolls “represent genuine and healthy women living in harmony with themselves and the world, having a grown mature body with fluent and natural lines. Born for admiration and respect, they are full of dignity, honour and inner strength. Sensitivity and sensuality coexist inseparably in them: softness, tenderness and delicacy from one side, from the other side – fire and passion.” To me, Kozlova’s girls are firmly rooted to the earth, embodying strength and femininity. Kozlova illustrates that collectible dolls can be “big” (a relative term) and stunningly beautiful at the same time. You can follow Kozlova’s work on her blog or Facebook page.
My third “hidden gem” is less hidden than the previous two. But I’ve found that many people are still unfamiliar with DeMuse doll. Malaysian artist Nigel Chia is the genius behind this resin BJD. The coolest thing about this artist is that he designs for both doll and human alike, and when you visit his website, you can see how the human and dolls worlds reflect the same artistic vision. Chia says that he began designing for dolls before creating his human-scale fashions, mostly because he lacked the funds to create for people while he was still in school. Chia is not for everyone—he adores fuchsia and frothy designs that can turn his models into walking flowers. (Which is the whole point of his latest line, “tulipdelphy.”) While not all of Chia’s work is for me, I am drawn to his ball gowns, and one of his sculpts (while bitchy) blows me away with its uber-realism.
I am continually blown away by the tremendous talent in the fashion doll world. Dolls are an art form that encompasses the talents of sculptors, painters, designers, photographers, wig-makers, jewelers, diorama-makers, and others. What other art form can say that? If you have a favorite “hidden gem” artist, let me know so I can feature their work as well. Happy hunting!
A year ago today, I made a resolution to launch my own doll blog that would mix personal memoir with my experiences in the world of fashion doll collecting. I am proud to say that this is the only New Year’s resolution that I’ve ever actually kept.
Today, 50 posts and 37,000 views in 90 countries later, I realize that I’ve touched a nerve in the doll community. Doll collectors are a simultaneously solitary and communal people. Solitary because there are so few of us out there. Communal because we seek one another out to share a hobby that is often mocked in the mainstream. Like the “crazy cat lady,” the doll collector is perceived as eccentric and out of touch with reality. For this reason, many of us assume a self-deprecating persona with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about ourselves and our community. Like all minority groups, doll collectors often celebrate their uniqueness and form close bonds with those like them.
It is due to this reason, I believe, that some of my most popular posts in the past year combine personal story-telling with the world of dolls. I’ve shared stories about my mother with Alzheimer’s, my late husband, and my little boy. Because doll collecting is such an intimate part of my world, each of these topics coincide in some way with my love of dolls. Before she became ill, my mother and I enjoyed the hobby together, doll collecting helped me combat depression when my husband died, and my five-year-old son thinks it’s perfectly normal to have a mommy who redresses her dolls in the evening to relax.
So whether you are a new visitor to my blog, or someone who has been with me all year, below is a list of my most-read blog posts in 2015. Thanks so much for your encouragement this year, and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2016. And remember, if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post in 2016, please follow by blog and my new entries will appear in your email in-box. Happy doll collecting to all!
#5 When a doll collector moves My interstate move this year involved packing and transporting in excess of 500 dolls amassed over two decades. See how I did it.
#4 They hide in plain sight Learn which of Hollywood’s rich and famous lead double lives as doll collectors.
#3 The 2015 WTF Doll Awards Some dolls just leave us shaking our heads. Here’s your guide to the oddest offerings of 2015.
#2 How (not) to sell dolls on eBay Learn the do’s and don’ts of selling dolls on the world’s largest online flea market.
#1 Kristen’s Tale (or Why You Should Never F*** With a Doll Collector) Read about the great dolly caper starring a now-famous lost-and-found eBay repaint.