Sabrina was right. I can’t think of anywhere to celebrate the coming of spring like Paris!
Paris means so very much to me…for so many reasons. It is my infallible connection to all that is Europe, love, dolls…things that speak to me. London was my teacher, but Paris is ma coeur. It doesn’t matter that my French is weak at best, nor does it matter that the city is full of stereotypes (both good and bad)…what matters most is that the magic one feels in this magical bouquet of art, food and fashion is profound, if not just a little naughty.
For me, this was the first time in four years I had seen my lover – she still glitters at the sparkle of sunlight and bears the fruit of a million lights heaped upon her ample and exposed bosom. This also marked my first real return to the doll world, seeing old friends, healing festering wounds, and reveling in my all-time favorite art forms: dolls, fashion, culinary and photography. Considering I had ballooned to a stout 275 pounds (reaching maximum grande in September 2011), hermited myself away from any doll happenings, and hiding behind a Facebook account that was peppered at times with anger and drink, to say I was nervous was putting it mildly.
You could play the scenarios in my head a million times over, and never have the same outcome. And as much as I’d love to generalize the drama known of creative people, mine was worse, because it was mine.
My first trip to Paris was in 1993. I had just moved to London, working for the US Navy. My quasi-partner at the time (a long, non doll-related story) joined me for a drive to Dover, across the sea into Calais, and on to Paris and the Chateaux of the Loire. I was just about to piss myself considering the wonders I had already encountered in London. I lived in Athens, Greece as a child – but when you travel like this as an adult, it’s a completely different experience. Upon my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, my knees were weak – and since I was driving in Parisian rush hour traffic, that was not necessarily a good thing. Since that first trip, I had been to Paris seven times before my first trip to Paris under the miniature veil of doll collecting. Flash forward…
2000. Paris Fashion Doll Festival. Gene Marshall is Queen (to the dismay of the Barbie faithful that built this Festival from its humble beginnings in 1994). Vince Nowell hits a homerun, but would NOT get on that plan to be there – it’s OK, we called him from Paris to rub it in. American Gene collectors flood the festival to show support for their Goddess, and many bringing their ugly American with them. They are unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of not only organizing an event of this scale – but doing so in a foreign country. And just to be clear, I was one of them, too. The most celebrated are the rehabilitated, right? Welllll…
For my old fan website, Always Glow Brightly, I covered the event as I saw it, but clearly not understanding the ‘why’ things were…so of course, there was a tone. To be fair, though…few collectors really deign to understand the trials and tribulations necessary to pull off a convention. I wouldn’t have more appreciation for it all until I actually worked for a doll maker, and when I experienced firsthand the 18-hour days, significant physical labor, and the cramps in my face from smiling all bloody day…well, maybe you get the picture.
I read all types of bullshit sprayed across blogs, bulletin boards, and groups harping on unrequited expectations some collectors experience when attending events. To some, it’s the event pacing, to others it’s the presentations, still others snobbishly shuffle the disappointing hotel food around on the plate before scarfing it all down in one frightening inhale – and we haven’t even seen the ‘doll’ yet. Bitch, whine, complain…moan, whore and lament…screech, scream and fart – all because YOU don’t think this is up to your ‘standards’. Oh dear. To you shrewd and dull harpies I say, organize one…or shut the fuck up.
I’ve also heard from those that beg to be a ‘volunteer’, only because they want to be with the inner circle, or the cool kids, or in with the ‘in’ crowd – largely because it does give you access to certain perks when buying extra exclusives, obtaining special doll-related gifts, or to otherwise elevate your pathetic status to the rank of the rest of us who are standing on the sidelines sweating our asses off hoping you won’t bitch about the events to your friends, or worse yet, our bosses. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who work for work’s sake – completely selfless people who sincerely want to help. And then there are the others…and you know who you are, thank you very much. Can I just say table hosts are not equal to working volunteers – end of discussion.
To attend a doll convention is to take your love of your favorite dolls, share it with others, create a boundless energy when you embrace others’ love of their dolls…and have fun. Reborn baby dolls do not count…and I draw the line on that one. And not unlike reborn baby dolls, children generally don’t have a place at these adult-themed events either. There are exceptions to children – and of this I refer to well-mannered, beautiful children, impeccably dressed and charming. No one wants to see you put more effort into dressing your travel doll than your snotty-nose kid. Many smart parents will often travel with a companion (really more of a babysitter than a doll collector) to mind the child. In the end, these are not always child-appropriate events, and a vigilant parent must be fully aware of this. Infants and very young toddlers are strictly forbidden, period unless they are comatose…which people will think is a reborn doll anyway, so just go with it.
For Europeans, the doll events take on a very different feel. Whole families will attend with the children being given direction, activities, even a role at the event – which makes for a very different child than one clamped to your nipple at the dinner table. Look, I don’t scream at the top of my lungs when I’m hungry (not generally anyway), and I do not shit my pants during dinner (at least I don’t think I have), and I don’t talk like a baby (though some annoying women do for reasons unknown) – therefore, if I CAN control my body – and your infant cannot…leave them at home, or wait until they can (and have the approved and appropriate training curriculae).
Such as it was with Paris. I met children there that were so sweetly beautiful, well-behaved and worthy of respect that I almost wanted one myself (almost). There’s still the subject of the shitty diaper, so that thought flew out of my head as fast as that first piece of under-cooked duck I bit into – things have vastly improved in my understanding of French food since – apologies to the chef).
When all is said and done, and the presentations are made, and everyone is dangerously amorous from the constant flow of wine, it’s time to present the banquet doll. And bitch, get out of the way when that happens. In 2014, when Robert Best presented the Festival Exclusive Barbie, it was only the photographers and eBay whores you had to avoid. In 2000, it was the crazed groupies of Mel Odom. Oh dear. Presenting to the European people that you have no more manners than a pig is just the way to uphold your world dominance, isn’t it America? Like a boil on the ass of the globe, the Americans made the 2000 Festival a circus with their constant talking during presentations, impossibly ethnocentric expectations, and bad wearing apparel. They should be ashamed and embarrassed. Maybe they were. Gene was already in decline, and with the doll’s favor with the Festival attendees diminished, Gene disappeared quickly from the face of Paris. The following year (2001), Tyler made her debut in Paris (along with that crack addict, Alex, who just followed Tyler around like a sad, dirty stray dog), and although Tyler also had her splash and decline in Paris, Tonner still supported the Festival, offering its newer dolls, and even taking a back seat to Superdoll and Barbie, all in support of its customer. Despite the Festival’s origins with Barbie, the doll didn’t really recover from the bitch-fight brought on by Gene and Tyler until Mattel upped their game, making exclusives that were actually exclusive albeit simple color variants or packaging distinctions (which in Mattel’s defense, isn’t an easy thing to do for 300 people – so give Barbie a break). In the end, Mattel, Superdoll, and Tonner have done more in support of the Paris Fashion Doll Festival, and each were beautifully represented at the 2014 20th Anniversary Event.
My change from collector to doll company representative confused many of my friends. Some of the reasons were warranted, but many were not. I felt I had to be something more than what was required of me. This wasn’t ego, mind you…I really thought it was a part of my job. But then, I had so many confusing messages about who I was supposed to be, and how I was supposed to behave…even being told shortly after starting at Tonner by a company subordinate, “You can’t be the center of attention”. Who, me? Of course, it comes as no surprise after I was sacked and became severely depressed, this same lackey dismissed my devastation with, “It’s only a job, Tom.” Yeah, and Barbie is just a piece of plastic. Remember, I have a photographic memory – which is a very valuable talent. But I digress…
Following 2001, until November 2010 (when I was laid off by Tonner), Paris became even more to me. It was my one perennial. It didn’t matter that Robert and I often traveled to events together without anyone else to annoy us or intrude in our dreaming (don’t read into that, you pervs)…it became a retreat from the company (at least that’s the way I saw it – and I only speak for my own experience and memories). This was an escape to a different world where we could see fashion, view vintage and new emerging dolls, join a smidge of friends who would also journey to the city of light (yes, I had to say that at least once). Paris was a destination that had sublime impact on the balance of the year, giving a new excitement and breath to us as individuals that Toy Fair and Tonner Convention could not, because of all the others involved in those events.
I was sewing much more in these days, and fabric became an obsession. At the small shop Maupiou (which closed at my heart’s breaking on December 31, 2011), other sewing friends and I would touch, fondle, and stare obscenely at the remnants obtained from the couture houses. I spent a fortune on these fabrics, many of which I still own to this day, just waiting to gasp threadfuls of air and light outside the several boxes in which they are now stored. (Sigh) One day…
I watched dolls come and go, kissed more cheeks than a politician, drank the most divine chocolate known in the western world, and met a couple of lads who would one day make their new doll super. You can’t dream shit like this…not really.
The memories do come at a price, however. Being what I thought I had to be, I put off a number of people, too. And in fairness to Robert Tonner, this behavior was not at his request. I felt I had to be a shield of some sorts…to keep ‘undesirable’ people away (or at least people I judged to be undesirable, in a somewhat twisted standard). I won’t apologize for this in general…but it was not the way to behave to people you once called friends. And that’s all I will say about that.
By 2010, I made my last visit to the Festival as a Tonner company employee, though the trip was largely made as a collector and to accompany my dear friend, Paula – before she left this world. It remains as the most single and beautiful voyage of my life. I miss her terribly, for she was the anchor I needed when my sails burned away, ashes tossed into the sea – leaving me to drift inside my damaged soul with little control for the next 3 years. In the fall of 2010, I was laid off from Tonner – my decade was done, my ‘job’ was over, and quite frankly, I didn’t think I would ever see Paris again. Truth be known, with all Paris meant to me…I didn’t even want to.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to leave my house. I ate and drank, gained weight, and thought about terrible things. I have since talked to a number of people who fell into such similar depression, with catalysts varying across the board. I’m a Libra…and I think about things over and over and over…ponder, wonder, speculate….all dangerous things for someone just pushed across the brink of losing everything. Some people will raise eyebrows at my talking about my depression so candidly, to which I say get over it. I have…and with the help of a good therapist, my unbelievable family, and Facebook (yes, that’s right, Mark Zuckerberg), I have made it back from the abyss. And once again as I have already said, I blame no one except myself and my own choices that led to such a fantastic downfall. Losing my ‘job’ was only a catalyst…it could happen to anyone.
By the time the decision came around to return to Paris in early 2014, excitement would be a feeble understatement. Not only would I be seeing my magnificent Paris again, I would be reconnecting with so many friends, many of which either weren’t on Facebook, or didn’t know how to find me (or I, them). Waves of nervousness and delight would exchange with each other in a dance of such great magnitude in heart and stomach, and I’d sometimes sat for great lengths of time returning to Paris in my mind.
It’s very difficult to describe the microsecond that feels like an hour when you see someone you knew well for the first time in years. And with a few hugs, a fair amount of tears, and trying to minimize your drama to the best of your ability, it’s all done, and the novelty fades just as quickly. It was good to be back…with everyone (well, except the reborn baby doll people).
I was told by a dear friend that I really needed to let it go…which was a big part of my subliminal message in a video I made to present to the Festival. Turns out, it wasn’t so subtle, but it worked.
As the weekend progressed, I was able to see the Paris Fashion Doll Festival through new eyes for the first time. It was fresh, bold, exciting. I was able to see many of these dolls for the first time in person. There comes a moment when viewing such exciting work with new eyes – I felt like a newborn vampire weeping at the beauty of the night for the first time.
The biggest highlight for me was seeing the Superdoll Retrospective Exclusives they created for the Festival. I have watched Superdoll arrive on the scene and wrestle this world down to their feet – with a smile and a wave of a fan. Seeing the evolution of this Sybarite Dream was a true treat. This small exhibit was only touching the tip of their world, but what an exciting world it was. Superdoll is the new orange, and as such, they are doing what they want to do, with no boundaries, no regrets, no apologies. I’ve spoken to people who lie to me and say Superdoll is not their thing…but what this really means is they either don’t understand it, can’t afford it, or can’t travel to the places to follow their work, because it instantly sells out when they unveil it. I don’t see their world changing anytime soon…
Another highlight was to see the Magia 2000 coordinated Barbie Rétro Chic exhibit at the Paris Musée de la Poupée – a beautiful mixture of vintage and new, of redressed designs by Magia 2000, and the backdrop of all those fabulous dolls of yesteryear populating the museum, care of Samy Odin. Sewing fashion for miniature models is a daunting task, but Mario and Gianni make it seems effortless, beautiful and worthy. But guys, you could have had some champagne pouring – just kidding – no, really.
The salesroom on Sunday was truly a sign of our community – very international in its flavor, virtually every type of doll that is important in collecting today, and artists making a stand for themselves and their art in miniature that takes an enormous pair of balls to put in front of their peers. There is no doubt every resin 16inch fashion doll is compared to Superdoll – some are flattered at this, and some would spit in your face for even suggesting it. Nevertheless, it is a competitive, highly charged environment that will let you endure the heat generated by hundreds of bodies crammed into a huge room just to catch a glimpse of Robert Best or Tonner, Superdoll, Emilia Couture, Fashion Doll Agency, Magia 2000, Créations COTHO, Artist Creations, MICRODIVA, and so many others…even yes, those reborns. I will say this for the reborns, they were doing some serious business, so like it or not, deal with it…they have planted their veiny foot right smack dab in the middle of it all – and they are here to stay, even if it is in a Walking Dead alternate reality. Show some respect – they love their dolls, too – and if anyone can love Alex, then reborns deserve some space at this blooming teat we call the doll world.
What surprised me more than anything was the absence of such newcomers as Kingdom Doll, several Asian BJD makers and OOAK artists from the East – even German and Italian artists where travel isn’t such a chore as those spanning the oceans (granted, new events in Madrid, Hamburg and Milan give some Europeans a closer destination). I do understand that many of these folks capitalize on the internet and the word-of-mouth, but if you are new – this was the show for you. Few in America allow you to showcase your work at such a personal level and not be drowned out by every ‘artist’ coming out of the woodwork. Paris matters, as it does with Fashion – and too many makers are relying on the internet to sell brands that manifest such an emotional impulse when seen in person. You’re just killing yourself by letting your customers take charge of your marketing and branding.
And then I will say, too…Integrity Toys’ absence, even as an exhibitor, was noticed. This is largely to Integrity’s unique branding of their products and events, so I am certain their reasoning is sound. But what a treat it would have been if they had been there, too…why…that would make this event nearly perfect in terms of its representation. Practically perfect in every way, despite the duck. Really, why so serious when it comes to hotel food when you have PARIS?
Oh yes, and it doesn’t hurt that it was Paris’ best weather this time in recent memory…so I can’t think of any better way to gloat and chide at how much you missed out. Vive la France!