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.
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…
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.
So several of you contacted me after I wrote my entry about the travails of moving a considerable doll collection, asking to be updated as my move progresses. At that point, I was trying to impose some order into packing up my 514 treasures (yes, I counted). Since then, my husband and two other manly men undertook the task of moving “my girls” to a storage facility in anticipation of showing our house (not without the occasional snarky remark, of course). Our Realtor seemed to think that 514 dolls may be a bit distracting to prospective buyers looking the place over. I can’t image why. Personally, it would make me buy the house in a minute. But that’s just me, I suppose.
Anyway, with the majority of my girls secured in a climate-controlled facility, their former home (the erstwhile “doll room”) is astoundingly spacious. I did reserve my right to keep a few (well, 30) out of captivity, as those dolls are either very close to my heart or represent a significant financial investment (sometimes both). And there is no way I am going to let them out of my sight. I’ll walk all 1,000 miles to Maryland with them in my arms, if need be.
Today is the first day our house is on the market. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date as the Great Dolly Move Drama progresses. For now, without further ado, below is a pictorial timeline of my dolly move thus far.
Like many long-time Tonner collectors, I have vivid memories of my first encounters with Ms. Sydney Chase. Sydney made her entrance into Tyler Wentworth’s world of high fashion in 2001—just two years after Tyler’s debut. Sydney’s beauty was entirely different from that of Tyler’s, a notable contrast that quickly captured the imaginations of her growing legions of fans. Whether intentional or not, Tyler’s wholesome beauty stood in stark contrast to Sydney’s haughty sophistication. Their physical differences sparked the creativity of their fans, and different forms of fan fiction soon surfaced. Most fans agreed on the dichotomy the two dolls represented—Tyler the wholesome, over-achiever, and Sydney, the world-wise, scheming business woman. While Tyler cultivated friendships and family bonds, Sydney thrived on duplicity and deception on her way up the New York City social ladder. While Tyler designed wholesome outfits for her prep-school tween sister, Sydney bought and sold the models at her Chase Modeling Agency like so much chattel. While Tyler slept exclusively with her boyfriend, Matt O’Neill, Sydney slept exclusively with everybody.
I began collecting Robert Tonner’s dolls in 2004, three years after Sydney made her appearance in the Tyler Wentworth line. She was then at the peak of her popularity, often selling out on pre-orders. I recall those heady days of anxiously awaiting the newest Tyler line to go live on the Tonner website, jotting down which dolls I wanted to order and quickly forwarding my list to my dealer, in hopes I would get to her in time. Most dealers gave modest discounts to attract business, but in those days there was no need for deep reductions. Those dolls went like hotcakes, and, even though their edition numbers ran into the thousands, they could multiply in value several times over on the secondary market. Accusations of dolls scalping ran high as people bought low and sold high.
The vast majority of my early Sydneys remain in my collection. Dolls like “Black and White Ball,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Absolutely Aspen,” with their fantastic fabrics, exquisite detailing, and perfect tailoring have remained classics long after their novelty faded. Many of my dolls remain dressed just as they were they day I received them. “Cocktails on the Plaza,” “Beyond Envy,” and “Just Divine” are all perfect combinations of sculpt, color, and style. Looking back on Sydney’s numerous incarnations 15 years after her debut, it’s astounding how few of them were fashion “misses” (I’m looking at you, “High Style 1.0”). That’s quite a feat when you consider how many fashion dolls Robert Tonner was churning out at the time. Once he introduced Tyler and Sydney and their fantastic fashions to the world, Tonner’s reputation in the hallowed halls of doll artistry was sealed.
And so I begin what will be my new weekly feature, “Throwback Tonner” (#TBTonner), with a brief homage to Ms. Sydney Chase with a handful of the many photos I’ve take of her in years past. Here’s to you, Syd. May you remain as beautiful—and as bitchy—as you were the day we first met.