A pretty song

Collecting high-end fashion dolls can be an expensive hobby, so most collectors have to be pretty picky about what they choose to spend their precious dolly dollars on. I like to think that within the 20+ years I’ve been at this hobby, I’ve acquired “an eye” for the best the market has to offer. I try to avoid passing fads and obvious knock-offs and go for the original–those that have that often-difficult-to-articulate “something” that sets them apart from their vinyl and resin sisters.

In general, I like my dolls to look like real people. With the considerable exception of Ellowyne Wilde, my dolls have realistic sculpts and realistic proportions. Bulbous heads and skinny bodies have never done it for me. In my estimation, a pretty face always outranks articulation. I will pass up the most realistically articulated doll with a mediocre sculpt in favor of a stiff doll with a pretty face. I think this is the reason I’ve stayed loyal to Robert Tonner all these years. His sculpts are among the most realistic and stunning faces in the market. While other artists have successfully created dolls with articulation Tyler Wentworth can only dream of, Tonner’s faces remain among the fairest in the dolly land.

So if anything was going to lure me and my dollars away from Mr. Tonner’s 16-inch girls, it had to have more than posability going for it.

And then one day I came across a face that enchanted me almost as much as Tyler Wentworth did the first time I laid eyes on her. The doll was the work of Mr. Paul Pham of Dollcis, and her name was Stratus. I quickly did my homework on Mr. Pham, and learned that he is a one-man-show who creates resin fashion ball-jointed dolls (FBJDs) in batches of about 50, as well as one-of-a-kind commissioned dolls. Stratus was long sold out, and her price tag on the secondary market was more than I was accustomed to paying for a doll. But several months after I first saw her, she came up for sale on one of the doll boards I frequent, and I purchased her. Today she reigns as one of the queens of my collection. She is far more than a pretty face–Stratus has quite the bod, and she poses like a dream.

In time, Stratus was joined by one of Mr. Pham’s other creations, the lovely, Spanish-inspired Alma. I love her aquiline features and serene expression.

I think one of the reasons I am so attract to Paul’s work is the distinct ethnic flavor of his sculpts. When he first released photos this spring of his latest creation, Sung, I did what I had to do to clear up some space for her. Her face seemed to capture the flavor of the Orient, and I wanted her to take her place among her sisters.

This past week, Sung arrived. I was delighted with her as soon as I opened the box.

IMG_3060IMG_3069Eager to play, I began trying different looks on her right away.

Then I photographed her with her Numina sisters.

IMG_3133IMG_3127Sung looked great in every look I tried on her. She especially favors pink and green, given her pink lips and green eyes. Ultimately, I dressed her in a top from an artist on eBay, a pair of Tonner slacks, and a wonderfully tailored jacket by Yum Yum Couture.

IMG_3163SUI may sound like a “fan girl” saying this, but IMHO, Mr. Pham is one of the most talented artists in the fashion doll community. His face sculpts are exquisite, his bodies are works of art, and although his dolls are obviously created by the same artist, each of one has a distinct ethnicity and is lovely in its own pronounced way. I also see him maturing as an artist with each subsequent doll. His dolls from six years ago are lovely, but the ones he produces today are a marked improvement from what came before. I look forward to seeing where this budding artist goes with his future creations.

Bravo, Mr. Pham. Job well done.

Throwback Tonner (#TBTonner): Sydney Chase

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.

Spring Prelude Syd


Like many people, my picture-taking skills are confined to the point-my-camera-at-something-pretty (usually my son), press-the-button, and hope-something-turns-out variety. In all of my 22 years of collecting dolls and photographing them (jeez, I’m old), it’s never gotten more sophisticated than pointing and shooting. I began taking pictures of my dolls back in the Dark Ages, when people actually had to drop rolls of film off at the pharmacy, wait three days, and then pick them up. It was not uncommon to spend $15 to get a role of 24 photos developed only to find about three that were half-way decent.

I recently came across some of those decades-old photos while cleaning out my garage. I uncovered dozens and dozens of blurry doll pictures. I hate to think how much I had spent on getting that crap developed. Nevertheless, those blurry pictures brought back memories, and it really hit home how long I’ve been in this quirky little hobby of mine. When I took my earliest doll photos, I was living in a college dorm room. And now I’m a middle-aged soccer mom in Florida balancing a full-time corporate career I never imagined myself in with raising a gorgeous, precocious little boy.

I had plans after cleaning out the garage to photograph a new doll that had arrived that morning. Those decades-old, blurry photos served as a reminder that 20-year-old Barb and 42-year-old Barb were enjoying the same hobby. Reflecting on that, I realized that dolls were probably all those two people had in common any longer. Life had changed me. But–for better or worse–I retained my passion for dolls.

So I tossed those blurry photographs back into the box I found them in so 52-year-old Barb can discover them again and reflect on her life as a doll collector and the mother of a teenage boy. Will she still be as passionate about the art of doll-making and see beauty in miniature sculpture and couture? I’m guessing so. For many of the most committed doll collectors and artists I know, this is a life-long passion.

But I digress.

The photos I found inspired me to push myself a little to see if I could improve my picture-taking skills just enough to do some justice to the dolls I was photographing. So I visited eBay and selected a backdrop to scale with 16″ dolls that cost me $17.25 (shipping included). It took two weeks to arrive from Shanghai.

The backdrop arrived rolled in a tube. The image was printed on a durable fabric parchment. Well worth the price.

I took the backdrop into my son’s room in the afternoon, just when it is filled by afternoon sunlight. I taped the backdrop to the wall behind his dresser and arranged a couple dolls selected for the occasion. Then I took my camera phone and started experimenting.

These were the best four out of the dozens of shots that I took. My biggest mistake, I see, was in my placement of the backdrop. In this setup, I’ve hung it too high, so the floor begins on the wall. It also might have helped to move my subjects back a bit to enhance perspective and place them deeper into the scene.

Once I cleared up my photo shoot, I got to tinkering around with Alma’s wardrobe, and I found a Gene outfit (“White Hyacinth,” I believe) that went beautifully with her complexion. Rather than set up my backdrop again, I just shot a couple of photos of Alma on her shelf.

I friggin’ love this doll. She looks amazing in anything.

Anyway, such went my first foray into putting some actual effort into capturing the beauty I see when I look at my dolls. I invested in a couple of books about doll photography a while back, and I’m going to dig them out and see if I can make some more progress.

Stay tuned. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

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.