Where to spend your dolly dollars in 2015

Now that you’ve saved enough money to attend a doll convention this year (see my previous post for instructions), you of course need to decide which one to spend your hard-earned dolly dollars on. This year’s lineup of fashion doll gatherings takes place on the east coast, west coast, and everywhere in between—some even overseas. Doll conventions are surprising diverse, each attracting a different type of collector, so you want to make sure you choose the one(s) that you will get the most out of.

Conventions held by the major doll manufacturers are of course the most professional and polished, while others, which can be acts of love by volunteers, can have a more “homemade” feel. I’ve attended several Tonner Doll conventions, two Integrity Toys conventions, and several Modern Doll Collector conventions, so those are the only ones I can personally comment on. One of my perennial dreams is to attend the Paris Fashion Doll Festival, but as of now it remains just that—a dream. Feel free to donate to my “Send Barb to Paris” charity if you like, and I promise to write you a kick-ass blog entry in return.

My mother and I pose at Tonner Con with Lois Lane and (an apparently dieting) Superman
My mother and I pose at Tonner Con with an aging Lois Lane and an apparently dieting Superman

For some convention-goers, location can be a significant factor in their decision regarding which event to attend, as they like to make the event a “family affair,” allowing spouses and/or kids to explore the surrounding area while they surround themselves with dolly madness. (In my experience, spouses and kids are rarely interested in attending the convention itself. And that’s usually a good thing.)

Last year, the Integrity convention was held in Orlando (big bonus for me, as I live in Tampa), and several attendees enjoyed a few days in Disney World before and after the convention. That said, most of the collectors I know don’t care where a convention is held, as the convention itself is the big draw for them—many would travel to Jupiter, if necessary, and just put up with the weather while they play with their dolls.

Below is a list of the major fashion doll conventions slated for 2015. If I’ve missed any big ones, please let me know, and I will add it to the list. I am including brief descriptions taken from convention websites and all necessary links. Enjoy your planning! (And if you need me to talk to your spouse to convince him/her that this will be an essential expense for the year’s budget, I’m more than happy to do so.)

*****

International Fashion Doll Convention (IFDC): Las Vegas, July 8-11Theme: “42 Street – Dolls on Broadway”

From the IFDC website: You are cordially invited to the 13th Annual International Fashion Doll Convention! Bring your family and join your friends for a full 4-day legendary adventure in Las Vegas. There will be the Goody Bag, Big Salesroom, $15 and under Salesroom, Competition, Raffles, Exhibitions, Rock of Ages Bowling Tournament for doll prizes, Sister Act Slot Tournament for doll prizes, the Freebie Bags, Workshops, Seminars, A Treasure Hunt through the Casino……..and there will be surprises!

I’ve never been to an IFDC convention, but I hear that it is a great event that incorporates a significant number of activities. A number of doll companies are represented at this annual event, including Tonner Doll and Integrity Toys, which usually turn out pretty cool souvenir dolls.

*****

Modern Doll Collectors Convention: Reno, NV, Sept 16-19Theme: “My Favorite Things”

Modern Doll incorporates breakout events from a wide variety of artists, spanning vinyl fashion dolls, fantasy resin BJDs, child dolls, and many others. I’ve attended this event twice, and each time was very enjoyable. In addition to adding to my collection exclusive dolls from artists I already collect, I’ve also discovered new artists who have made my collection more diverse. In 2014, the Modern Doll convention was hosted in Orlando (again, awesome for me), and Tonner Doll furnished the final banquet’s souvenir doll, from the Déjà vu collection. This year, Connie Lowe is creating the convention doll, and collectors who do not wish to purchase the doll have the option to pay a reduced registration price to attend. Modern Doll has even made a photo of the in-progress doll to help collectors make their choice.

Prototype Connie Lowe doll for 2015 Modern Doll Collectors Convention
BJD
Connie Lowe BJD from 2014 Modern Doll breakout event (original doll on left, redressed and re-wigged doll on right)

Last year, I attended several breakout events hosted by artists I do not typically collect, and I was delighted by the dolls I received from Connie Lowe’s lunch and Helen Kish’s breakfast. If you do attend the convention this year, make sure you go to artist Nikki Britt’s event. Nikki is a young resin BJD artist of all of 23 years, and she is producing imaginative dolls unlike any other in the BJD market. I did not attend her event, and boy was I sorry when I saw the adorable BJD that was the souvenir. Nikki is headed places; don’t miss the opportunity to add one of her fantastic dolls to your collection.

Nikki Britt’s “Pepper Annie”

One final comment on Modern Doll: It is clearly an act of love by a small group of retirees who work very hard to bring it together each year. They do a great job, but, that said, there are some noticeable bumps and bruises that at times give it a “homemade” flavor. Both times I attended the event, the participants tended to be much older. Not a lot of partying going on with this group. At the final event, organizers arranged for a cash bar in the back of the ballroom. I think myself and one bedraggled husband were the only patrons. The bartender did not look pleased with her empty tip jar.

Me at Modern Doll 2014 with an adorable Diana Effner doll I bought in the salesroom.
Me at Modern Doll 2014 with an adorable Diana Effner doll I bought in the salesroom.

*****

Integrity Toys: Long Beach, CA (date TBD)

Integrity generally does not announce its theme and convention date until later in the year, although they have announced that this year it will take place in Long Beach, California. The 2014 convention was over the Halloween weekend, and it also took place during Halloween in 2013, so I’m assuming that trend will continue. I’ve been to the Integrity convention twice now—when it was held in Orlando in 2011 and again in 2014. (There are definite perks to living in Florida.) I was left giddy with doll happiness each time. Integrity gives you a lot for your money (and it’s not cheap to attend), and they work hard to make sure you enjoy yourself. I also think the attendees of Integrity’s conventions are among the doll community’s most colorful characters, and that makes it all the more fun.

One note of caution: Collectors who attend the Integrity convention generally know their dolls. I consider myself an Integrity collector, but my knowledge of body types, characters, storylines, and sculpts paled in comparison to those around me. These are hard-core core collectors, and—more so than others of their ilk—they take their hobby very seriously. So, unless you can carry your own weight during a conversation regarding the multiple incarnations of Vanessa’s face sculpt over the years and which one is superior to which, be prepared to smile and nod a lot.

*****

Tonner Doll convention: Dallas, TX, May 29-31

Theme: “Guilty Pleasures”

From Tonner Doll website: Don’t be shy – we’re all guilty here!  Welcome to the wide world of guilty pleasures!  Like decadent desserts, binge watching your favorite TV shows, and frivolous luxury, the 2015 Tonner Convention is going to be Wilde… especially since it’s in Dallas, TX – the Wild West!  Famous for hosting more restaurants per capita than New York City, local celebs Bonnie and Clyde,   its sheer love of country clubs and more, Dallas is an exciting, urban city that will no doubt be the perfect backdrop for all our Guilty Pleasures!

This year’s fun will kick off with registration starting Friday morning, from 10a-12p, with events beginning later that very afternoon.  For those that delight in ‘evening’ wear, the PJ Party is BACK with a ferocious appetite for fun!  AND prepare yourselves for a super fabulous 16” fashion doll souvenir – a BRAND NEW collection debut that we are excited to welcome (back) to the Tonner Family.

Myself and The Legend himself
Me and The Man himself

I’ve been to more Tonner Doll conventions than any other. Until my mother got Alzheimer’s, we went together each year, and each year, we had more fun than the previous one. For a long time, Tonner held its annual gathering in Chicago, but this year they are venturing into Texas. Like most doll manufacturers, Tonner’s employees work their butts off to make sure their attendees enjoy themselves. There are generally more hits than misses with their souvenir dolls, and their comedic presentations are invariably laugh-inducing. (This is the company that staged a doll wedding when Tyler Wentworth tied the knot with Matt O’Neill.)

Robert Tonner is one of the nicest people you ever want to meet, and he cheerfully endures what can most generously be described as the “over enthusiasm” of many of his fans. The company has managed to keep the event exciting throughout the years. The addition of Wilde Imagination and Tonner’s multiple comic book and movie licenses has added to the diversity of the dolls offered.

Robert at his "daughter's" wedding
Robert at his “daughter’s” wedding

The waning popularity of Tonner’s fashion dolls in recent years (he has a lot more competition now than he had a decade ago) has meant that the company often has convention dolls left over, which it makes available to the public soon after the convention has ended. This has dampened the enthusiasm of many convention-goers (admittedly, including me), as a big drawn of conventions is the exclusivity of the dolls offered. If a collector can purchase an “exclusive” convention doll just a few days after the event without having to pay for an airline ticket, it kind of defeats the point.

That said, many collectors point out that there is no way to replicate the thrill of “being there” and enjoying several days of being with other collectors who “get” you and your hobby. Should you go to a Tonner Convention, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll agree.

P.S. It’s a poorly kept secret that an all-grown-up Marley Wentworth will make her debut at this year’s Tonner Convention. She’s the first addition to the Wentworth line in quite some time, so I expect collectors of the Wentworth dynasty (myself included) will be pretty psyched about this particular event.

*****

National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention: Arlington, VA, July 29 – August 1

Unfortunately, the Barbie Convention site has been down for the past week, and I’m unable to find information other than the time and place. I’ve never attended the Barbie Convention (produced and hosted by Mattel), but I’ve been told it’s as polished a doll event as you ever want to attend. If you have any more information about this event, please feel free to add it in the comments section.

*****

United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC): Kansas City, MO, July 16-19

Theme: “A Dream Come True”

From UFDC website: Join us for an exciting experience sharing our passions for dolls with friends and family. Fun filled days of educational activities, superb salesroom, themed meal events and sightseeing opportunities including tours of our UFDC headquarters and newly renovated museum.

UFDC bills itself as a no-nonsense, research-oriented institution. Local clubs that want to become officially associated with the UFDC must submit an application and pay dues. In fact, individual collectors must be formally invited to join an UFDC club, and likewise apply for membership and pay (modest) dues.

UFDC’s mission statement states that its global community aims to elevate doll-collecting by enabling the study of dolls: The home of our organization is our headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. From this hub UFDC is able to support the goals of its membership: to promote and assist in the preservation of dolls and historical documents pertaining to dolls; to serve as a clearing house for ideas pertaining to dolls; to promote and stimulate interest in the establishment and maintenance of museum doll collections and other permanent and temporary exhibits for display in public places; to assist the educational process through the sponsorship of and participation in lectures, seminars, conferences, and symposia; to publish a magazine to encourage the above enumerated charitable, scientific and educational activities.

I’m told the UFDC’s museum houses quite the collection, representing antique through modern fashion dolls. UFDC’s 2014 convention likewise featured a wide variety of doll artists, including Denis Bastien, Susan Fosnot, Beverly Stoehr, Helen Kish, and Kathe Kruse, among others. Like Modern Doll, I’m betting that it’s a good gathering for collectors open to discovering artists who are new to them.

*****

Madame Alexander Doll Convention: Dallas, TX, July 29-Aug. 1

Theme: “Bluebonnets, Boots, and Big ‘D’”

From Madame Alexander Doll Club website: Each summer the Madame Alexander Doll Club holds it annual convention. It has been in locations all over the continental United States. During the convention, there are Events, Workshops, Seminars, A Competitive Exhibit, Sales Room, Raffle Room, Special Exhibit and the Annual MADC Meeting. It takes countless volunteers to hold this event, and we are thankful to everyone who helps out with their support.

*****

Paris Fashion Doll Festival: March 13-15, Paris

Theme: “Cabaret”

I’ve only attended the Paris Fashion Doll Festival in my dreams, but I hear that it’s a terrific affair for fashion doll collectors the world over. This year’s souvenir doll will be a Barbie produced by Mattel exclusively for the convention. Wilde Imagination and Tonner Doll are also typically represented, and their event dolls are almost invariably TDF. I’ve spent years chasing after some of them on the secondary market. This year, Superdoll will also be represented, although its souvenir doll has somehow already sold out two months ahead of the event.

Paris Fashion Doll Festival souvenir Parfum de Fleur DeeAnna Denton
Paris Fashion Doll Festival souvenir Célébration à Paris

*****

St. Louis BJD Convention: St. Louis, Missouri (Where else?), Nov. 13-15

Theme: “Pirates and Ninjas”

From the website: We geek out about dolls, learn new things, meet new people, and have lots of fun! We offer workshops to learn more about the care and design of your dolls – want to learn how to face-up your doll? Give it a manicure? Create your own doll? Perhaps you’d like to learn how to create and sew a corset for your doll using a sewing machine? Or make a wig? These are all things that we’ve offered at the convention previously, and we’re just getting started!

I don’t know much about this event, but, according to the website, this is a one-day gathering hosted by a St. Louis-based doll club is in its fourth year. The website states that the event typically draws about 50 people, so it seems to be a small affair.

*****

Italian Doll Convention: Milan, Italy, May 16-17

Again, I don’t know much about this international event besides what I can see from its website. From what I can gather from the photos, good-looking men, drag shows, and alcohol play significant roles in the proceedings. And really, do you need any more motivation to attend than that? Barbie appears to be the main doll represented, and the 2015 souvenir doll is a Barbie dressed by Magia2000.

2014 doll convention photos:

2014 Italian Doll Convention fashion runway
2014 Italian Doll Convention fashion runway

*****

In addition to these events, local clubs often sponsor “doll shows” in locations across the country. Rather than shows, these are typically one-day salesrooms, at which local retailers and informal sellers gather to sell their wares. There are usually one or two of these events within reasonable driving distance of me each year, and I enjoy attending them to see dolls in person that I can otherwise only see on the Internet. If you find one of these events near you (and most of them are held in the late winter or early spring), make an effort to attend. They are good places to meet fellow collectors in your area and perhaps pick up a doll you’ve been searching for. Doll Show USA lists events by state.

Once again, a post that I thought would take a few minutes to write has ended up being the length of a short novel. If you are still with me at this point, thanks for reading, and may all your doll convention dreams come true.

When you wish upon a star...
When you wish upon a star…

The most exclusive club in town

Up until two years ago, I was a casual collector of Integrity dolls. Since I broke up with Barbie 12 years ago, I’d only been seeing the 16” girls. But the occasional Fashion Royalty model did catch my eye, especially the younger NU Face girls. I eventually broke down and purchased Pretty Calculated Erin, followed by her partner in crime, Urban Outfitting Nadja. A number of factors attracted me to these dolls, including their hilarious back stories (no one weaves a soap opera like Integrity does), many non-Caucasian sculpts, and, of course, those clothes. The detail, fit, and accessories remain, IMHO, unsurpassed. And the price for what you get is very good. In time, Colette and Ayumi joined the crowd, and I fell for a few Vanessas and her sister, Veronique. But I kept the group to around a dozen.

And then I joined the W Club.

Pretty Calculated Erin Stalton
Urban Outfitting Nadja Rhyme
Perk Collette Duranger
Miracle Child Ayumi Nakamura

The W Club (Named for the prodigy doll-designer turned human-designer Jason Wu) is open each year to the public, and it is the best deal in Dolldom. For a modest membership fee, collectors are privy to a host of perks and exclusive dolls. Members may choose a variety of price levels, ranging from $50 for basic membership, perks, and coupons, to more expensive packages that include exclusive club dolls. This brochure will give you all the details. (And read them thoroughly before purchasing. It can get complicated distinguishing among the many options available to you.) A video brochure is available here.

Fashion Explorer Vanessa Perrin – 2014 W Club Doll

Membership in the W Club made me a full-fledged Integrity collector. There are many exclusives to choose from throughout the year, and if I don’t like one, I usually fall for the next one. I hear the online community (available only to members) is very entertaining and informative (although I generally don’t participate due to other demands on my time). Members also get first dibs on attending the Integrity Convention, which I’ve now been to twice. There is a members-only event at the convention, which generally features kick-ass dolls (an industry term).

High Visibility Agness Van Weiss – 2014 W Club doll

So even for the mildly curious, I highly recommend trying out the W Club for a year. For only $50, you are entitled to some cool perks, including $20 toward a club doll. So even if nothing tickles your fancy, you won’t be out too much.

Below is a peek at this year’s first (of many) club dolls, available for purchase with club membership until Feb. 16, when the open membership period ends. I will likely pass on Poppy and the dude, although I admit that he would be a hilarious addition to my group. I will definitely get Agnes, as I have a newfound appreciation for Fashion Royalty’s “bitchy” girls. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand what collectors saw in these sour faces. But now they make me laugh, and they are typically dressed in the sharpest outfits. (Although I will admit that this Agnes’ dress doesn’t do too much for me. Still, cool accessories.)

So there’s my testimonial. If you decide to join, welcome to the club!

Baroness Agnes Van Weiss – 2015 W Club doll
Groovy Galore Poppy Parker – 2015 W Club doll
Vice Effect Ollie Lawson – 2015 W Club doll

Girls Gone Wilde

Wilde Imagination debuted its Spring Line today … Sort of. While 12 dressed Ellos and friends were introduced, only six came with production photos. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to hold off until most of the the completed dolls were ready for photography. But what do I know?

Along with the 12 dressed dolls, three basic dolls were released. As I observed yesterday, the brunette is my favorite.

My top pics

Dressed Dolls

“Brrooties” – Cute Ello with a WTF name. Wilde is clearing running out of ideas in the naming department.
“Ship Shape”: Robert loves his sailor-themed outfits … and they are usually adorable

Basic Doll

Essential Ellowyne Seven

Of course, there are new Evangeline, Amelia Thimble, and Sad Sally offerings as well. I do not collect any of these, so my opinion on them probably isn’t worth much. Nevertheless, the new AA sculpt, Angelique, caught my attention. Tonner’s AA sculpts are some of his loveliest, I think. This one is no exception.

Evening Angel Angelique

I also like “Sister Moon” Evangeline. She’s a nice alternative to Evie’s overdone (IMHO) gothic ensembles. I especially like the ornate hairstyle Tonner gave her.

“Sister Moon” Evangeline

Altogether, Wilde is offering nine dressed dolls, one basic doll, and nine outfits in this line. They’ve been working hard. I guess Evie and her friends are selling well.

No new Patience dolls, which doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think she’s gained much of a following. I suspect she’ll join the ranks of Tonner’s “in-like-a-lion-and-out-like-a-lamb” offerings. One Sad Sally dressed doll and three outfits joined the line, along with one dressed Amelia and one Hamish.

Now I’m waiting impatiently for the introduction of Tonner’s spring fashion doll lines. From the sneak peaks we’ve been given, the Diana Prince line looks promising for collectors who want to transform her from superhero into fashion model. And I’m really, really hoping that Marley will join the ranks of Wentworth this season. And dare I hope for a few more Tylers and Sydneys? Nah …. I’ve been disappointed too many times to set myself up for that kind of heartbreak again.

Ebay Steals

I spend way too much time on Ebay. Besides buying dolls and selling dolls to afford more dolls, I enjoy doing general research to keep tabs on what dolls are worth and where prices are trending. Of course, I always have my eye out for my “grails” and the ones that got away. I spend a lot of time searching for dolls and outfits from years past that I’d like to add to my collection.

In the course of all this research (don’t tell my employer), I keep a running tab of what I consider “deals” in the secondary fashion doll market. So occasionally I’m going to share the love and post those deals on my blog. (Except the dolls I plan to bid on—you’ll have to find those on your own.) 😉

So without further ado, these are the auctions I’m looking at this week. As of this posting, the prices are relatively low.

  • Cristal Peggy Harcourt—This doll uses the original DeeAnna 17” voluptuous body. She’s got a sexy pout and curves in all the right places. What’s not to love?
Cristal Peggy Harcourt
  • Bal Harbour outfit—This is a classic Tonner multi-piece resort set. As with most early Tonner, the quality is top-notch. And this one is NRFB.
Bal Harbour outfit
Ensemble Sport
  • Brenda Starr Showstopper—This may sound hyperbolic, but it’s also true: This Brenda is easily the most overlooked of her kind. She has rare blonde hair (only used on one other Brenda), and her outfit is meticulously detailed. And the jools—to die for.
Brenda Starr Showstopper
  • Basic Simone Rouge—Simone was introduced as Tiny Kitty’s French friend a ways back, and, like many of Tonner’ great sculpts, she disappeared almost as soon as she was introduced. I’m not a big fan of the TK sculpt, but I couldn’t resist Simone. She brings a sophistication to Tonner’s 13” line that I haven’t seen again. I think that she looks like Ashleigh in miniature. Great doll at any price.
Basic Simone Rouge
Bordeaux DeeAnna Denton
  • “I Take Thee Matt” Tyler Wentworth—Again, it’s no hyperbole to say that this is an under-appreciated doll. I think it’s partly because the exquisite detail of Tyler’s gown is difficult to capture in photographs. Trust me—the gown looks deceptively plain. It incorporates lace and beading that are unsurpassed in my bride dolls. And it can usually be had for a song.
“I Take Thee, Matt” Tyler Wentworth

One final note: I really appreciate the feedback I’ve received, and I definitely want to encourage comments on my blog—whether you agree with my opinions or not. But I also reserve the right not to post inflammatory or overly negative comments. This is not meant to be a bitch-fest … It’s a platform for sharing and promoting our love of our hobby and the artists who make it possible. So play nice, and feel free to contribute to the discussion (politely).

A Preview Review

Tonner Doll and Wilde Imagination hosted a small event in San Francisco over the weekend. At the event, the companies offered a sneak peek of their upcoming spring lines. Wilde Imagination has posted some unofficial snapshots on its Facebook page.

I will wait for the official launch of the spring line before I offer a detailed critique, but for now, I just want to draw attention to three dolls that particularly appeal to me.

The first is a doll manufactured under a license with Warner Bros. to portray characters in the upcoming sci-fi film, Jupiter Rising. Tonner has a reputation for purchasing the licensing rights for ill-fated movies—The Golden Compass, Prince of Persia, Tron, Get Smart, The Last Mimzy—the list goes on. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of any of those films? That’s okay. Neither has anyone else.

Flynn from the movie “Tron”
Serafina Pekkala from “The Golden Compass”

Of course, it would be wrong to dismiss those licenses Tonner has cashed in on—Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean being the most obvious examples. Not only were these dolls inspired by popular films, they were also exemplary in detail, likeness, and construction. The appeal of the Potter and Pirates dolls went way beyond the doll collecting universe.

Johnny Depp as “Captain Jack”
Harry Potter

Which brings us to the latest licensing choice—Jupiter Ascending. The film does not premiere until February 6, so the dolls based on it have at least been produced before the film will disappear from theatres. That’s more than can be said for more than one of Tonner’s film-based doll offerings. A search for Jupiter Ascending on IMDb.com turns up this synopsis:

“Unbeknown to Earth’s residents, life on Earth and countless other planets has been seeded by families of alien royalty for the purpose of harvesting the evolved living creatures once they reach a “Darwinian state of perfection” to produce a type of youth serum that allows them to live forever. When the matriarch of the House of Abrasax, the most powerful of the alien dynasties, dies her children Balem, Kalique and Titus are at war over the heir. Eventually, a new heir comes to their attention; Jupiter Jones, an unsuspecting Earth-living, unlucky caretaker of other people’s homes. Jupiter encounters Caine Wise, a genetically engineered interplanetary warrior, who came to Earth to reveal that her genetic signature makes Jones royalty and heir to Earth. Meanwhile, he has to protect her from Balem, who put a bounty on her head and would rather harvest Earth than lose it to Jones.”

Whatever. Not exactly my cup of tea. But you never know what people are going to go for these days.

Which brings me to the doll that caught my eye. It is a likeness of Mila Kunis, the film’s protagonist, dressed in an incredibly ornate red and white gown and headpiece. I’m not familiar enough with the actress to feel qualified to comment on whether or not the doll actually resembles Ms. Kunis. I just know that I like the sculpt and that the gown is fabulous. I think the ensemble is remarkable for its originality and detail, and if the production doll is as pretty as the prototype, I just may add her to my collection. This will have nothing to do with the film—the doll will join the ranks of my other vinyl ladies dressed in over-the-top fashion couture. With all of that detail, I expect the price tag will be high. Let’s hope it’s worth it.

Jupiter Ascending
Jupiter Ascending
Movie still from Jupiter Ascending

The other two dolls that “spoke” to me were both Ellowynes. The first is a basic. I’ve got about 15 Ellowyne dolls in my collection, and I am not in the market for a basic. But this doll may change my mind. It appears from the Facebook photos that the basics will again be offered in three hair colors. I was immediately drawn to the brunette with shoulder-length hair. Tonner tends to overuse impossibly-long or impossibly-long-and-curly hair styles. A more realistic, shoulder-length blunt cut is a nice change. Many collectors will like the fact that she’s wigged. That’s not a plus for me, as I prefer the “realism” of rooted hair. Nevertheless, I’m tempted by her.

The final doll that tempts me is a blonde Ellowyne dressed in a sailor-inspired pea coat and outfit. Her hair (what we can see of it in the photo) is reminiscent of the very first blonde basic Ello. She looks adorable.

I look forward to the official unveiling of Tonner’s and Wilde’s spring lines, which will undoubtedly have me pecking at my keyboard again. Stay tuned!

Why the hell isn’t this doll sold out?

Fashion ball-jointed doll (BJD) artists continue to dazzle the collector community with their creations–and there seem to be more to choose from each year. These dolls are typically of very high quality and are produced in very limited editions. They are accordingly very expensive. Nevertheless, the top doll artist can sell out of their creations within minutes.

Which leads me to wonder why the hell this doll is still available. Doll artist Paul Pham was a pioneer in the fashion BJD market, offering extremely well-made, well-engineered resin dolls with perfectly scaled couture. Paul’s dolls are the only ones that have been able to lure away this committed vinyl doll collector into the resin BJD world. Paul’s “Stratus” was my first fashion doll BJD, and I was only able to afford her after selling off a good number of my vinyl girls. I was so pleased with the beauty of Stratus’ sculpt and her versatility in being able to pull off innumerable wigs and outfits, that I knew I was destined to add another one of Paul’s creations to my collection.

When I saw “Alma”–Paul’s Spanish-inspired creation–last year it was love at first sight. And again, I thinned the herd a bit to be able to add her to my collection. Alma is a limited edition of 50, and it recently came to my attention that, after originally being offered in September 2014, Alma is not yet sold out. In the doll world, four months is an eternity–the most superior fashion BJDs do not linger on the virtual store shelves for long.

So here is my plug for those of you who may be sitting on the fence about Alma (or any fashion BJD doll). Buy her. If you don’t have the cash (and she’s not cheap), sell off some of your collection you can live without or borrow against your dolly budget until you have enough. Sell a kidney if you have to. Because, next to the lovely Stratus, Alma is one of the most elegant dolls I own. Her sculpt is different, distinct, and sophisticated. Her face paint is superb. Her gown is regal. And she adapts well to different looks. I’ve had her in dozens of outfits that she has done tremendous justice to.

Below are a few of my very amateur photos of my Alma (as well as several superior photos by the talented Angela Nielson) and my Stratus. Now click HERE and buy yourself the loveliest fashion doll you are likely to own.

Do your dolls make you feel fat?

The debate over the effect of the waistline of the typical fashion doll on the developing psyches of young girls is a perennial favorite among fashion doll collectors. The topic can raise the hackles of those on each side of the issue, but, at least in my observation, the general consensus seems to be that those who decry the, at the very least, unrealistic proportions of fashion dolls are perpetuating a false hysteria. The typical argument goes that such dolls are playthings, and that young girls understand this and treat them as such, using them as vehicles for their own creativity. Female collectors generally vouch that they played with Barbie and her friends during their own childhoods, and that doing so never did their own self-esteem much harm.

My own viewpoint differs from this general sentiment, as I think that many collectors miss the fact that today’s prepubescent girls have much more than Barbie’s skinny plastic body to compete with. Barbie on her own has never given a little girl an eating disorder. But our girls are continually bombarded with the message that the bodily proportions exemplified and perpetuated by Barbie—as seen online, in movies, TV shows, billboards, commercials, and magazines—are the most desirable, and that women who do not possess them are inadequate compared to those who do. In time, girls absorb these messages and start to believe that their bodies are the outward manifestations of their inner worth.

To be sure, Barbie did not accomplish this on her own. She had lots of help. In fact, in many cases, when people refer to “Barbie,” or, more appropriately, “barbie,” they are not specifically referring to Mattel’s best-selling doll 50 years running. Rather, it has become the catch-all title for all fashion dolls with less-than-realistic proportions. (So don’t take it too personally, Barbie collectors.)  😉

Today’s world is a very different one for children than the one that many of us grew up in as we played with our Barbies in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. While we undoubtedly did, in some shape or form, receive strong messages that our sex appeal was more important than our brains, the mass objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies did not yet exist. Today’s Barbie has come to encapsulate the consistent message that real success is achieved with sexual desirability. Images of women with exaggerated sexual attributes are used to sell everything from automobiles to drinking water. As one of the most recognizable representations of commercialized femininity, Barbie is often a scapegoat for the larger sins of our society.

BMW ad
Perrier ad

Most successful collectable fashion dolls (but not all – more on that below) reflect Barbie’s idealized proportions to one extent or another. Many of those who design fashion doll clothing say in defense of Barbie and her friends that these dolls were never meant to be naked. Rather, they say, these are fashion dolls, and they are accordingly created to model miniature clothing to the best possible advantage. These defenders of Barbie say her proportions are necessary to achieve a scale that mirrors the size of actual fashion models. This is undoubtedly true when you consider that today’s fashion models are typically a size 0 or size 2, and that models who wear a size 6 are considered “plus-sized.” But I’ve always wondered, if doll artists can properly scale the fashions of a size 2 model, is it not possible to achieve a scale in miniature of the sizes worn by most women?

This idea has been tested in the collectible fashion doll world, with mixed results. (More average-sized play line dolls have also been produced, most recently the much-talked-about “Lammily.” But my discussion here is limited to the collectible doll world.) One of the earliest examples, at least to my knowledge, is Robert Tonner’s “Emme,” produced in 2006. Emme was designed to be a likeness of Melissa Aronson, who was one of the first successful “plus-sized” models. She is a writer, TV host, lecturer, and a self-proclaimed feminist who works to encourage positive body image and self-esteem in girls and boys. In one of her books, Emme tells the story of her stepfather, who, when she was 12 years old, drew on her body with black marker to indicate the areas where he told her she needed to lose weight.

Robert Tonner’s Emme body (Courtesy of “brodjam”)
Emme in the flesh
Tonner’s 2006 Emme doll
The muse with her doll

Although the Emme doll initially sold well, the body’s lack of sufficient articulation ultimately led to the end of the endeavor. I’d argue that Emme’s face sculpt didn’t help either. Emme the doll bore little resemblance to Emme the person, and the fashions Tonner gave her were less than inspired. Kudos to Tonner for the effort, but it fell short. Tonner would later use Emme’s body on Effie (from his Dreamgirls line), Belle Watling (from his Gone with the Wind line), Julie Andrews (from his Princess Diaries line), and several others.

Effie from “Dreamgirls”
Belle Watling from “Gone With the Wind”
Julie Andrews from “The Princess Diaries”

Far more successful was a doll body that Tonner debuted in 2008 and used for the video game heroine, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Tonner called the body “athletic,” and it better reflected the way in which female characters were typically rendered in video games and comic books. Tonner used this body several times for his DC comics superheros. These dolls were tremendously popular, especially among comic book enthusiasts, and they’ve become very difficult to find on the secondary market. When they do pop up on Ebay, it is not unusual for them to fetch hundreds of dollars. Tonner would later use his “athletic” body for his “Re-Imagination” series that featured an adult reinterpretation of fairy tale heroines. Again, these dolls gained a sizeable following and sold out quickly.

Tonner’s “athletic” female body (courtesy of “brodjam”)
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider
Power Girl
Catwoman Selina Kyle
Circe
Insatiable Sweet Tooth (Gretel)
This Dish Is Too Hot (Goldilocks)

Shortly after Lara Croft hit the scene, Tonner again put the athletic body to use—this time, for a fashion doll named DeeAnna Denton, and, later, for her nemesis Peggy Harcourt. DeeAnna’s back story cast her as a 1950s heiress to a chewing gum empire founded by her father, and her dress befitted her role as a privileged member of New York high society. DeeAnna’s curvaceous body was markedly different from Tonner’s previous fashion dolls, and her new figure more accurately mirrored the standard of beauty popular in her era. Her lovely facial sculpt and historically accurate and well-detailed and gorgeously draped fashions added to her appeal, and she quickly became a fan favorite.

Turning Heads Poolside DeeAnna Denton (original body)
Va-Va Voom! Peggy Harcourt (original body)
Cristal Peggy Harcourt (original body)
Plum Royale DeeAnna Denton (original body)

Sadly, Tonner substituted DeeAnna’s and Peggy’s athletic body with a new, so-called “curvaceous” body in 2012. DeeAnna’s head was accordingly “shrunk” to fit her new diminutive form, in which her generous bust balanced awkwardly on her small waist. DeeAnna’s face lost its softness, and her body lost the proportions that made her such a welcome change from Tonner’s typical fashion doll fare. Her sales dropped off, and today the “new DeeAnnas” are often liquidated in online factory sales. DeeAnna and Peggy dolls with the original bodies and their fashions go for hundreds of dollars on Ebay.

Tonner’s “curvaceous” female body (courtesy of “brodjam”)
All Vintage DeeAnna (new body)
All Vintage Peggy (new body)
Short and Sassy Peggy (new body)
L’Amour DeeAnna (new body)

By the time Tonner obtained his license to manufacture the likeness of Marilyn Monroe, he had created the “starlet” body, which had an infinitesimally larger bust and hips than his standard fashion doll body. (One collector measured no difference in the bust, and a mere ¼” difference in the hips.) Tonner put his less-than-flattering Marilyn Monroe sculpt on this body, and the result bore no resemblance to the legend at all. I can only speculate how his sales might have improved had Marilyn been given the curvier athletic body (and a facelift).

Robert Tonner’s “starlet” body (courtesy of “brodjam”)
Marilyn Monroe as Lois Laurel by Robert Tonner
Marilyn in the flesh
Robert Tonner’s “Diamonds”
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Many lesser-known, independent artists have likewise experimented with realistic female body sculpts. One remarkable example that recently came to my attention is the “Dea Vivente” dolls. Dea Vivente is the work of Russian doll artist Anya Kozlova. Her dolls are made of porcelain and are ball-jointed for maximum realism and posability. I am not exaggerating when I say that Kozlova’s dolls are some of the most stunning art dolls I have ever seen. She crafts each one of her masterpieces by hand, and they are engineered so well that they able to stand unassisted. Even the diminutive hands and feet are works of art. More than any other, I think, Kozlova has proven 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.

Dea Vivente “Taiga”
Dea Vivente “Taiga”
Dea Vivente “Taiga”
Dea Vivente Vilen
Dea Vivente Celia
Dea Vivente foot detail

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. Many modern, Asian-influenced, anime-inspired fashion dolls likewise defy the skinny-waisted, big-busted, pointy-footed body type that most often characterize Western fashion dolls. Ellowyne Wilde, with her large head and underdeveloped, girlish body is one such example of a wildly popular nontraditional fashion doll. (wildeimagination.com) The ball-jointed doll (BJD) world is awash in additional examples. These dolls constitute a huge segment of the collector doll market, and they bear no resemblance to the “barbies” that most non-collectors are the most familiar with.

Although the “barbies” of the fashion doll collector world still set the body standard for the industry, I am seeing more and more artists deviate from that standard and explore different body types on which to model miniature fashion and couture. As collectors, we vote with our pocketbooks, and what we choose to spend our money on dictates which dolls stay and which go. Doll artists do take chances on nontraditional doll concepts—this post explores but a few. If we signal that we are ready for more diversity in our collections, we will see it in the marketplace.

(Are there any nontraditional dolls that you have in your collection? Please share in the comments section!)