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.
Stratus in her various incarnations
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.
The lovely Alma
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.
Eager to play, I began trying different looks on her right away.
Then I photographed her with her Numina sisters.
Sung 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.
I 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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.