Individual fashion dolls can elicit strong reactions from seasoned collectors. Like everyone else, we are set in our ways, and we know what we like. New fashion dolls, especially ones that differ stylistically from the ones currently in vogue among most collectors, can face rapid rejection—or eager acceptance. The history of doll collecting is littered with fashion dolls that never made it past their first issue or two. Among those who do gain a following, few vinyl fashionistas manage to hold on beyond five to ten years. Modern fashion dolls that have remained on the market beyond a decade or two can probably be counted on one hand. There is a reason Mattel proudly celebrates Barbie’s birthday.
Fashion doll collectors are an enthusiastic bunch. When they like something, they tend to really, really like it. And when they don’t, they often do not budge in their opinions. And there is very low tolerance for fellow collectors who speak ill of—or “trash”—one’s favorite vinyl plaything. Critical opinions about a specific doll expressed in online doll communities—even those stated in the most diplomatic of ways—are not well received by said doll’s “defenders.” Flame wars on dolly boards can ignite quickly, and they may smolder for days, weeks, months, even years. Sides are taken, alliances are made. Whenever this “insult my doll, insult me” culture raises its ugly head, doll boards can resemble a school yard sandbox in which today’s “best friends” are tomorrow’s potential rivals.
So what gives? A friend who has made the same observation once suggested to me that fashion doll collectors are either artists, wanna-be artists, or patrons of artists—and artists, of course, are famously temperamental people. I don’t think that accounts for all of it, but perhaps it does in part. I’m no artist, but I consider my dolls art, and I see myself as a patron of artists and a curator of an art collection. When confronted with a new doll that challenges my preconceived notion of what is “pretty” and what is not in the fashion doll world, I’m more likely to label that doll “hideous” and reject it outright than I am to quietly and politely pass on it.
But there are exceptions. I rejected resin FBJDs outright when they began to gain traction in the US fashion doll industry about a decade ago. They were too pale, too fragile, and too awkward with those ugly, open joints, I self-righteously declared.
I now own three, and I am saving for a fourth.
I don’t mean to paint the entire doll collector community with the same wide brush. Plenty of us who collect radically different dolls do manage to keep our most inflammatory opinions about doll aesthetics to ourselves, and we manage to maintain friendships with fellow collectors in spite of such significant barriers. So today I’m going to test the limits of my relationship with you, dear readers, and list a few dolls issued this year that have—for one superfluous reason or another—either rubbed me the wrong way or made me laugh out loud. When a doll makes me laugh the first time I see it, I most often think to myself, “WTF was that artist/company thinking?” And so I present to you my 2015 WTF Doll Awards.
One small disclaimer: This list contains examples of the dolls with which I am most familiar—especially Tonner and Integrity. My choices, therefore, are not meant to imply that these companies’ dolls are any more laughable than any other. If I were most familiar with Superfrock, I could easily dedicate this entire post to them. (And don’t even get me started on those Inamorata atrocities.) But before you start showering me with the hate mail for that last remark, please read on…
1) Worst Doll Name Award: “Brrooties” Ellowyne
I have no problem at all with this doll. She is very cute, and the coat is darling. I do have a problem with her name. “Brrooties”? Seriously? Yes, it’s likely no doll sales have ever been lost based only on the name an artist gave his/her creation, but, as any marketer (or politician) can tell you, language is a powerful tool in the art of sales, and, in skillful hands, it can go a long way toward enhancing an item’s desirability.
I’m a writer, so this may bug me more than it does others. But Tonner’s marketing team needs to step up its verbal presentation. Last year they even started recycling names. It’s a big language, Tonner Doll Co. You’ve been around for a long time, but I assure you there are words in the English language that you haven’t used yet.
2) Most Insanely Overpriced Doll Award: Cissy as Elsa
Much has already been written about this latest Cissy incarnation, which can be yours for a mere $5,000. Even in a community where it’s not unusual to dish out $600 for a limited-edition resin FBJD, this doll’s price tag is eye-popping. Well-preserved antique dolls can command this much and more, but there is no comparison between an exquisite, original 19th-century French bebe and a vinyl Cissy that depicts the latest Disney princess in vogue.
Who is Madame Alexander marketing this doll to? The grandmas who collect their cute seasonal Wendy dolls? My mom collected Wendy, and she was happy to fork over $40-$50 for one of the dolls she found particularly endearing. But $5K for a doll wearing a dress covered in blue crystals and plastic snowflakes? I think mom would have a good laugh at that one.
Perhaps Madame Alexander is counting on its collectors saving up their Social Security checks. Cissy-as-Elsa is apparently made-to-order, so there’s no danger of her eventually making an appearance on the clearance aisle of Tuesday Morning.
3) Most Inappropriate Boxing Ring Attire Award: Jacqueline O’Rion
And in this corner is Integrity’s Jacqueline O’Rion, wearing, in the words of Integrity’s marketing copy writer, “her sexy and mysterious hooded dress!” Now it’s possible that feminized boxing ring attire is all the rage at New York Fashion Week. I have no idea. There have been many sillier trends. But the second I saw this photo in my in-box, I started looking for the boxing gloves the doll had to come with. And I seriously doubt she could win any rounds with that long hair bouncing around her face. Maybe she could use it to blind her opponent while she throws a left hook, though.
4) Doll Most Likely to Never Make an Appearance Award: Caine
In addition to death and taxes, there are two other certainties in life: 1) Each year, Robert Tonner will introduce one or more new doll lines licensed from a movie studio to depict the characters from a film that no one has ever heard of, and 2) The release will include at least one doll that will not be approved by the movie studio until the movie itself is a distant memory. This year, “Caine,” played by Channing Tatum in the sci-fi flick, “Venus Rising,” is thus far a no-show, and the film—mocked for its acting, lauded for its special effects—is well on its way to a second life via DVD.
5) The Dukes of Hazard Meets Marvel Award: Bombshell Wonder Woman
If my remarks on this doll sound uninformed, I assure you that they are. I have never read any comic book other than one about Archie Andrews. I have never watched a comic book movie—unless it starred Robert Downey Jr. (For his sake, I make an exception for the Iron Man flicks.) I have never watched any TV show or movie starring Wonder Woman. Even Lindsey Wagner annoys me for some reason.
So I do not know if this incarnation of Wonder Woman is supposed to be adapted from a specific artistic or film rendering. All I know is that she’s a pretty accurate cross between Wonder Woman and Daisy Duke. With that yellow hair bandana, Daisy Duke short-shorts, and mid-calf country boots, she looks like she’d be quite at home in the driver’s seat of the General Lee. Not what you should be aiming for with a superhero doll.
6) Doll Most Easily Confused With Your Dog’s Favorite Chew Toy Award: Periwinkle
When it comes to WTF dolls, Madame Alexander is the company that keeps on giving. Each year, its Cissy, Cissette, and Wendy dolls get weirder and weirder, and I continue to wonder who the hell is buying these dolls. I personally know no one (outside of my Mom, who used to buy the occasional Wendy) who collects MA dolls. This may come as a shocker to my non-doll-collecting readers (Are there any out there?), but we doll collectors are a pretty diverse crowd. In fact, depending on what we collect, we may not have anything in common with one another at all. Put a Sybarite aficionado in a room with a reborn fanatic, and I guarantee there will be an endless amount of awkward silence.
According to the Internet Gods, Periwinkle is Tinkerbell’s “twin sister.” I find this hard to believe, as poor Periwinkle looks more like the misshapen sister abandoned at birth. That horrible white fuzzy wig, thrown-together, poorly-stitched piece of blue felt that passes as an outfit, and pom-pom bedroom slippers make for one pathetic-looking fairy. And she can be all yours for the low, low MSRP of $159.95.
7) Most Obvious Tonner Doll Rip-off Award: Madame Alexander Dorothy and Toto Steampunk
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Madame Alexander must be wildly in love with Tonner’s aesthetic. In 2012, Tonner applied the popular steampunk treatment to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz—to great effect. I don’t particularly like steampunk myself, but I had to admit that the detail and execution of this doll was terrific. I even bought one.
Two years later, along comes MA with their steampunk Dorothy—with an interpretation awfully similar to Tonner’s. I’ll let the photos above speak for themselves. Sadly, MA is not very talented at stealing, either. Tonner’s Dorothy leaves their Dorothy in the tornado dust.
8) The Past Is Best Left in the Past Doll Award: Ollie Lawson, Vice Effect
Integrity loves to commit all kinds of fashion atrocities with its male dolls, and collectors can’t seem to get enough of them. Not calling this doll Don Johnson probably saved Integrity a lot in licensing fees, but there can be no doubt who this guy is modeled after. I remember Miami Vice well, and even then I thought that the only thing worse than Don Johnson’s acting skills was his ever-present pink, blue, and white suit. Please, Integrity, let the past stay in the past. There is a reason men don’t dress like this anymore.
9) Most Likely Skin Cancer Candidate: “Second Skin” Vanessa
I suppose this doll is called “Second Skin” as an acknowledgement that the character of Vanessa is, in fact, white—not black. Darkening her skin tone this much has the same effect as when Mattel first made “Black Barbie”—by simply giving her a darker vinyl. It looked like crap then, and it looks like crap now. You have plenty of beautiful black dolls with beautiful black features in your lineup, Integrity. Stick with them.
10) Trashiest Doll Award: Sybarite Solitaire
I’m probably going to lose some readers over this one. Yes, I know I am clearly in the minority here. She sold out in literally minutes – if not seconds, and she is highly coveted on the secondary market. But for me that does not change the fact that she looks like a mannish prostitute who just rolled out of bed after a hard night on the job.
Note that I would have given this award to the more-deserving Inamorata, but that would mean cutting-and-pasting her image onto my blog, and that doll scares the shit out of me.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the MA creative meeting that resulted in this monstrosity. I can just imagine the conversation that took place:
Creative Director: The people upstairs want one more Wendy idea, guys.
Designer #1: How about zombies? They’re big right now.
Designer #2: But aren’t zombies kind of scary? Don’t they eat flesh?
Designer #3: I somehow don’t see Wendy as the flesh-eating type.
Designer #1: We won’t actually decompose her. Just mess with her makeup a little.
Designer #2: But won’t an undead Wendy be a little scary for the little old ladies who buy these dolls for their granddaughters?
Designer #1: Naw, zombies are cool. Grandma can show that she knows what the young people are into these days.
Creative Director: Whatever. I can’t tell the damned things apart any more, anyway.
Personally, I think she looks less like a zombie than the victim of a makeup session gone terribly wrong. I guarantee that any little girl getting this Wendy will develop a life-long hatred of dolls. Especially if she was also gifted the Lizzie Borden Wendy.
So there you go — my highly unscientific, erratically random 2015 WTF Doll Awards. As these opinions are purely the product of my own idiosyncratic aesthetic preferences, you will likely disagree with some, if not all, of them. Which is great, as variety is of the spice of life. Unless, of course, you are a fan of Zombie Wendy. Then you just need professional help.