We already know how to play with our dolls from here. I’ve been personally involved in each and every one of these things…so I know what it means to not love your dolls correctly. Yes, it’s true…guilty, guilty, guilty – as charged! We learn from each other to foster more mutual respect within our community, and to keep us from looking like dicks.
This isn’t a finger-pointing session – and truth be known, you may have not even realized you were doing anything wrong. But just as I’ve found out – you will, too…albeit in a less embarrassing situation, I’m most certain. The best gift anyone can give is knowledge – so pay it forward…
Vinegar Rinse – Who is still doing this? Stop it now! I continue to hear this one over and over again. When some individual discovers that the clothing on a doll unfortunately stains doll skin (vinyl, resin, and more rarely, hard plastic) – they immediately take to the internet to warn others, ill-advising them to rinse the garment in a vinegar solution. Wrong – oh-so-wrong. The acetic acid in vinegar is just that – an acid – and even thinking you’ve fully rinsed the vinegar solution away will still leave residual traces within the textile fibers that continue to deteriorate over time. A better idea is to rinse with a salt solution (1 quart of cold water mixed with 1/4c. table salt until fully dissolved – or 1 liter of water and 56 grams of salt) – and let soak for 1 hour before fully rinsing, and let air dry. Now – that being said – remember that any fully sewn and/or lined garment, when soaked in water, can easily be ruined because different fibers, weaves and threads will react differently when wet – some puckering may occur, particularly around top-stitched or turned areas like collars. – Rinsing any fully constructed garment is a bad idea in general – the absolute best way to deal with it is to cover the doll’s surface with a plastic film – or better yet, just never change the garment and leave it on the doll. Accept staining…and let it go…
There is no way to guarantee dyed fabric of any type, color or texture won’t stain. In many cases, it’s the thread that is the culprit as opposed to the textile – and even then, it’s impractical to test all materials against all doll materials in all types of situations (dry v. wet heat, cold, altitude – anything that can affect the environment surrounding the doll and its garment). Staining is not a quality issue – it’s a fact of life (albeit an annoying one). Face it, most textiles used in doll clothing are made for human wearing apparel – not for dolls – it’s a fact of doll collecting, so get used to it. It’s never going away…
Compare Miniature Couture to Human Couture – This is like comparing a molded, plastic shoe to a Manolo Blahnik creation. As one who sews miniature couture, I can say it’s not about the level of workmanship or quality, but more about the form, fit and function – ‘function’ being the key word. Human wearing apparel is not only designed to fit the human body, but to move with it, too. As such, factoring in such a concept as movement can greatly change the way a garment is constructed. I have made wonderful little miniatures of Christian Dior gowns, but I can pretty much assure you they did not have all the underlinings, stays and frippery you’d find in its masterfully created human counterpart. Of course, sewing in miniature presents its own challenges when abbreviating detail to the tiny world, reducing bulk or simplifying seams – but comparing it to the human-scale is irrelevant at best.
Great Expectations – Some collectors just set themselves up for failure. Building unreasonable expectations for any doll is just asking for punishment by fire. That’s not to say you shouldn’t expect great things, but when those expectations are reduced to the placement of an eyelash, or the relaxed curl in a wig, you’ve gotten it all wrong about what it means to collect dolls. Yes, yes – I know you paid a shitastic amount of money for that doll, and that every dollmaker should obsess over quality control – but ‘quality’ isn’t always tied to how expensive a doll is, for they all install some type of quality control in their manufacturing costs. No, what I’m referring to here is the expectation of the inhuman or the improbable – that every doll must look exactly the same – it must be perfect. I’ve seen people scour over a row of the same dolls – eyeing each for the imperfections, waiting for one of them to ‘speak’ to them. Bitch, please – these are dolls, not Cartier watches. Even the most top level of artist doll will have some type of imperfection, and under the watchful eye of its maker, those imperfections are what make it art. Nothing is perfect, and when you can’t look past a stitch that is skipped or a bead set askew, you need to re-evaluate your collecting passions (with a good therapist). Loving tiny detail is fine – appreciation is key – but when one tiny imperfection mars the whole enjoyment experience of the doll, move on.
Remove a Doll Head – Just the notion of removing any head from many doll bodies is wrong – because they weren’t designed to do so. Seeing little crack splits on the seam of a plastic doll’s neck – yep, that’s a pretty clear indicator you weren’t supposed to take the head off. Many Tonner collectors were so upset by the limitations of the doll materials when it came to head/body swapping – even lashing out that it went against the very fiber of ‘Believe in the Power of Play’. But to you I say there are some that would shove a doll up their ass, then complain about it being stained. Some dolls just weren’t meant to do whatever your tortured little mind wants to do with it. Companies like Integrity offer more convenient options when it comes to head/body swapping, but even they are tricky. Tonner even offers its Doll Hospital to assist with such things – but there are always the selfish people who just HATE that they have to send a doll away (and at personal expense) to take advantage of this service. Really – you only wish these companies could put a convenient doll hospital/customer service team in convenient locations around the world. Remember what I just said about expectations?
Either learn to do it yourself while fully accepting the risks, get a friend who can do it (again, while accepting the risks), or don’t do it at all. Believe me, there are plenty of ways you can play with your dolls, and Frankendolly solutions are not for everyone. For those who don’t know what this is, Frankendolly is a term that refers to the physical deconstruction of dolls, and re-assembling them into new creations – think Frankenstein v. Barbie.
Boil Perms – While we’re on the subject of Frankendolly – know that boil perming saran hair just isn’t the best way to do it. Yes, many have amazing results with it, but the secret to setting saran or any other synthetic fiber is not unlike cooking a stew…low and slow. A dry heat box is the best way to expose the fibers to gradual heat over a longer period of time without the risk of frizzing or melting. If you must do a boil perm, pour the boiling water into a heat-safe vessel, and allow it to temper for about a minute to 90 seconds…this lowers the temperature just under the boiling point and makes it a little less of a shock to the polymer molecules.
Play With Themselves – Yeah, that’s right – they should be playing with other people – either in person or via the internet. There’s nothing wrong with a little naughty fun when you are alone, but if that’s all you’re doing, you need to get out more.
Complain – This one is so easy. Why complain to a bunch of online sympathetic people who can’t actually help you when you should be complaining directly to a doll company’s customer service team who can? Granted, all companies have varying levels of customer service, but if they don’t even know a problem is out there, how can you possibly expect them to do anything about it? What wicked sorcery is this magic? They can have the greatest stinking doll in the world, but it doesn’t make them psychic. And to those who think they should be reading the online forums to learn of such things – well, I don’t know how much time you have – but I’m pretty sure manufacturers have better things to do with their day rather than scrolling through half a million prayer requests, eBay rants and the latest on the Edmonton Scammer. The discussion is all well and good – but the bottom-line is, if you have a complaint, take it directly to the people who have a vested interest in making it right.
Criticize – This one is also easy, but so many are oblivious as to how one criticizes properly. Above all else, you need to know a bit about that which you are criticizing. Research also helps, as does knowing relevant history about the subject matter. We all know the critical blowhards who have nothing else better to do than to sit on their high horse and blast doll makers for what they think is the correct line of action, design or marketing. I’ve never heard such bullshit before in my life – and yet, it’s done every single day. I have nothing against good, sound, constructive criticism – but when you say something looks like ‘shit’, you say nothing…with the possible exception of labeling you as a viable source for excrement identification.
Vague terminology such as ‘looks cheap’ or ‘lacking quality’ warrants some type of comparison – cheaper than what, exactly? What does it mean, cheap? I think many people tend to simply infuse their own personal opinion of what is and isn’t a quality touch, which is fine – but there’s no merit in dropping the phrase without any type of qualitative reference. Sweetie – Kim Kardashian is cheap (she lacks finesse, poise, charisma, talent, and panache when compared to say, Kate Middleton – or anyone for that matter) – but she does have a shitload of money – so am I wrong in asking for just a little bit more in such observations? Julia Child was all about the ‘why’ in explaining to the servantless home cook just how you prepare food classics in the French culinary tradition – because she knew the one thing that drives the point home – that is, explaining why it’s important to do something in just the right way. Why do you think something is lacking in quality, design or execution? Because it looks ‘cheap’? Do your homework, sweetie…and we’ll talk.
Pose A Doll – I really don’t get this one – but it happens all the time. I even know people who tell me that they don’t do it very well – which just puzzles me. Do you not have eyes? Look at the promotion images, consult a fashion magazine, watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race – really. With all the amazing articulation that is happening out there, it mystifies me at how this is so poorly done across doll collections world-wide. This isn’t rocket science, people…it’s a doll, and if you are playing with your dolls as often as you should, then achieving natural, human-like posing should be a piece of cake.
However, if you learn nothing in this lesson – learn this: never expose a doll’s armpit to the eye, camera lens or viewing audience. Why? Because, Puddings – Fashion Dolls. Do. Not. Have. Armpits. End of discussion.
No, no…don’t raise your hand with a question or comment – dolls do not have armpits – they have big ol’ rounded balls in the place of an armpit, and the only way to conceal this is with an article of clothing that completely covers the armpit.
There are always exceptions – but they are not the norm, people. If the raised arm is facing away from the eye, then it’s fine. But can’t you see how glaring such a distraction can be in your most lucrative of poses? No? Then this is a good place to begin.
Also beware of static posing – that is, dolls that have no natural body movement whatsoever. Use the basic pose as one where the doll appears to be walking – one foot in front of the other, arms swinging in opposite tandem like a human does when walking. Watch the anatomical physics, too – just because it’s a doll does not mean it should have some Harry Potter-esque magical method of balancing. Photography where the doll is in motion is the exception – and when you get good enough to do that, you’ve already learned the concept of gravity.
Be very, very careful when photographing down on your doll (shooting from above a doll). It can be an effective way to add drama…but in most poses, it can foreshorten the doll to make it look disproportionately strange – as if the head is huge and the body is tiny – keep it at eye level until you get a grasp of miniature proportions and the way it fucks with the human eye. Just serving some dolly realness, beasties…
Finally – are the doll’s eyes focusing on something – that is, something in the subject matter of the image? This is a very abstract concept – but just as in shooting a human being, a doll’s eyes need some point of reference to anchor their expression. It makes all the difference in the world when the viewer of the resulting image is asking themselves, “What is she looking at?” What, indeed with those painted or inset orbs – but if the doll isn’t looking at anything, then this question takes on an entirely different conclusion for the audience (especially since two-dimensional (flat) painted eyes have varying lines of sight). If you still are not following me on this, think of it this way: When a doll is looking directly into the camera, you know she is looking at you. But when they are not fixing their glance on your drooling stare, they should be looking at something that makes the image relevant – it creates a mood, or a meaningful expression that has just elevated your photography to portraiture (this becomes increasingly important for dolls that are sculpted without a pronounced facial expression). That is where the image becomes art.
Display – This one is probably not your fault – and it’s so common in doll collecting, it’s actually considered the norm. I’m referring to crowding your dolls into one concise space. Many of us are limited by space, and that tends to offer up display real estate at a premium. I know exactly how this goes – I did it for years in my office at Tonner – crowd dolls upon dolls…cramming as many as I could into groaning Ikea bookshelf – no, wait – there’s room – for – just – one – more. Ugh…
What you’re really doing is showing off how many dolls you have to anyone who will see it – and you sacrifice the sublime beauty of being able to appreciate the details which are forever lost smashed between Tyler, Gene and Barbie. Create open displays, and learn to rotate and store your dolls so you can enjoy an ever-changing display year-round. And for crying out loud…learn to dust, will you?
Storage – If you truly care for your doll collection, and want to keep it for a damn long time (or for future generations), you’ve got to learn to store your dolls properly. This does not mean wrapping the little bitches in acid-free tissue and banishing them to an attic to be forgotten…and plastic bags – never.
Critical elements to storing your dolls are doll/clothing materials, environment, temperature and humidity. Unless your doll is hermetically sealed, ignorance on any of these elements will ruin your treasures. True, acid-free tissue is a mainstay – but this only scratches the surface when you start crossing the cloth/plastic/resin/porcelain lines, the entire game changes. Desiccants are a reality in the storage of dolls, even if you think humidity is not an issue – but use care – they are chemicals, too, and they don’t last forever.
Hard plastics undergo this bizarre transformation when exposed to extreme cold over prolonged periods of time. Porcelain can crack, composition can craze, cloth can rot (or host some unsavory little critters and their offspring). Resins can yellow in more than just sunlight, my friends. Don’t think that popping your dear little dolly into a Walmart plastic storage bin is responsible, because you can easily be condemning that sweet little plaything to woe and misery – much of which cannot be restored or repaired.
Storing doll clothing flat is a mistake – but sometimes it’s your only option – make sure you are filling them with some type of padding to keep creases from forming – especially on natural fibers. Regular retrieval and fluffing from storage is a must, and get to know a good hand-held steamer – yes, they spit…but your dolls will thank you for keeping those intricate ruffles, pleats and draped skirts away from the horrors of an iron.
Oh yeah – and if you think storing a doll safely in its original box is the definitive solution for this – think again – and this time, really hard! Manufactured packaging is designed to protect your doll during transit through whatever shipping services will touch it on its way to you – they can even be used for very short-term storage, but I still wouldn’t recommend it. You see, manufacturers simply do not care how their dolls will fare over the long run in its original packaging – they are engineered to be removed from the box and enjoyed. There is a whole host of chemistry and metals associated with your doll’s original packaging – and none of it is good for extended storage. So rip that bitch out of the box, know your materials and how to best store them – or piss your money into the loo, and be done with it.
Give Praise – Take careful note here – praise for the doll maker is not only a good thing, it’s something for which they live, especially if they are a doll artist. Problem is, the praise isn’t being given correctly, or more importantly, to the right person.
If you’re giving praise to a company as a collective, then it’s fine. But I can’t tell you how many people would come to me praising a doll, thinking I had designed it – I never designed any production doll made by Tonner – I just made them look good in the photographs. Sometimes…too good – so much so that you can imagine a collector getting the doll and being sorely disappointed because they couldn’t get the doll to look like I did. Yes, there was some Photoshop to a degree – but Robert was always very specific about making sure the dolls weren’t presented in such a glamorized manner that it couldn‘t be achieved in the hands of the customer…well, mostly.
I guess the real issue with giving praise is underscored by the ignorance of who did what, and to what extent. Look, there’s nothing wrong with cheerleading – but don’t you think it carries more weight in its frivolity when sparked with just a hint of accuracy? Praising someone for something that was clearly designed by another may have some merit because of the concept. But when someone like the late John Puzewski isn’t even remembered for the signature look of Cissy’s relaunch in 1996 or when Noel Cruz gets all the credit for a celebrity likeness that is clearly sculpted by someone else – then it’s time to re-examine how we give praise within the doll community.
Collect Only One Doll – Putting all your eggs in one basket is limiting. How can you honestly call yourself doll collectors when you only collect one kind of doll? Oh sure, people specialize in specific dolls within their collections – often being drawn to a particular doll for its certain je ne sais quoi. But in doing so, you rob yourself of the variety that is the spice of life.
I am absolutely certain there are people who won’t agree with this one – to each his own, I suppose – we agree to disagree. But it is unfortunate because of all the wonderful things you’re missing.
Selling – Collectors have been doing this for years – selling their dolls in all the wrong ways. Either it’s terrible images, or lack of critical descriptive phrases like “I smoke in my house where my dolls are displayed”, or thinking their doll is worth more than it really is…well, it just screams of stupidity.
In today’s online buying forums, you need to be very specific about a doll’s condition, and images help to validate your claims. Even if you think it’s not important, or worse yet – can’t be bothered with all the fuss – you shouldn’t be selling anything. True, buyers need to be a bit more realistic about expectations (there’s that word again) – but what would you expect if someone uses only a manufacturer’s promo image in their online auction and the actual doll just isn’t the same? If you’re a company, you have systems in place to help compensate buyers – but if you were stupid enough to use the promo image and not compare it to the doll in your hand, then you’re just asking for a dispute.
Never-removed-from-box (NRFB) dolls are the exception, and, if it’s not too old, the buyer may be able to appeal to the manufacturer for repair/replacement. But if it is – you’d probably do yourself a favor and remove it to check its condition…especially if it’s a doll already known to have issues such as staining, yellowing, brittle materials, etc. Sell the doll as Mint-in-Box (MIB) rather than NRFB. I’m not going to even address dolls such as Barbie that require a doctorate degree in engineering to safely remove from its packaging.
We are a very fortunate hobby in that we can endlessly recycle our collections as our tastes change through selling or trading; but this doesn’t make selling easy – so don’t be lazy about it. You want top dollar? Then treat your item like it’s worth top dollar.
Photograph – Oh dear…don’t get me started. If it’s not the sad posing, it’s the bad lighting (or both). With the advent of digital photography, there is no excuse anyone can make about not learning how to take doll photos that actually do justice to both arts of dolls and photography. We’re not all born Ansel Adams, but we can certainly take the time to learn it, right? And considering you don’t have to pay for film developing, even more the reason to not condone bad doll images. You don’t even need an expensive camera anymore – the newest smart phones are stepping up image quality so much, the photo almost takes itself.
I’m amazed at the high level of doll photography our community produces – and those that not only ask questions, but share their techniques – and even develop a unique style that is all his/her own. It’s an exciting time for doll photography, and you should be doing it so well, you piss yourself.
Understand the basics like lighting, shadows and glare. Explore how your camera’s flash can be your best friend…or your worst enemy. Get those posing skills fired up and make jaw-dropping miniature dioramas that bewitch the eye and ensnare the senses (my inner Snape is coming out). Play with perspective like it’s a naughty little pleasure. Using a basic photo editor, learn to remove annoying little anomalies that tug at your eye and trample your heart. Dammit, man…do something aside from plop your damn doll on a fur rug and expect Hugh Hefner results! There’s just no excuse for bad photography anymore – so try your best to explain to the rest of us why you still do it. You’re robbing yourself of one of the simplest pleasures in dolly play – that is sharing your images with others in this digital world full of color, texture and Apple products. Get a grip on yourself, and get to work…
Share – You’re doing it correctly, just not enough. And with that being said…
Avoiding Social Media – You can’t. So stop think you’re being clever about protecting your privacy. If you are reading this, using the internet or have a smart phone, you cannot avoid social media – you couldn’t avoid it if you tried. So embrace it and make it work for you, rather than being afraid of Big Brother.
Apologize – Dear, you only have to say it once – not once for every person that may have fell victim to your incompetence – or for every time you feel you need to say it, secretly thinking it will make your embarrassment go away any faster. It won’t.
Doll collectors do this frequently – apologize for this, for that, for not being good enough, for making a mistake, for being human, for apologizing too much. The worst people like this apologize for not being good enough – at sewing, photography, repainting, posing, having an extensive doll collection, not liking something that someone else does – hell, anything. This is bad self-esteem, be certain of that…and it’s nothing to take lightly. People who apologize repeatedly may suffer from deeper issues…and doll collectors seem to canvas the ‘deeper issue’ arena pretty well. This may seem like a humorous statement, but I can assure you sincerely that it is not.
As with Dale Carnegie’s teachings: If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. But sweetie…just do it once…okay?
Stick with a Concept – Oh, wait…this is for manufacturers, not collectors.
Keep Informed – If you’re getting your latest dolly news from the internet, good for you – but if you’re not subscribing to the doll magazines, you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Doll collecting is a luxury, and as such you should be subscribing to at least one doll magazine, but you’d do yourself some grandness to get them all. Not only are they wildly entertaining in terms of doll imagery, but they also keep you on the au courant news by supplementing information via their websites and social media outlets to bring you the latest and greatest.
Doll magazines may seem like a dying breed – and their future is all of our responsibility. These publications hold within their vaults the holy grail of doll histories, particularly fashion doll history which has had a new golden age only since 1995 with the introduction of Gene Marshall…and the doll magazines have been there to not only keep us informed, but to give us an archive of eye candy that is worthy re-visiting again and again. We have no one to blame but ourselves if any of these publications fade away – and they can only be as good as we make them by showing our support.
If this sounds like a huge commercial for them, then so be it. And don’t tell me you can’t afford it, then step away to comb that Sybarite’s hair. We have lost magazines for many reasons in the past – but largely it’s because we didn’t support them. That’s one of the biggest Crimes Against Dollmanity – lack of community support. If you’re not seeing your favorite dolls in the magazines, then let them know – or better yet, let that doll maker know they should get off their lazy, cheap asses and drop some advertising in said magazines. Any doll maker who isn’t actively supporting the trade media shouldn’t be making dolls, because they obviously don’t give a rat’s ass for their community. Think about that next time you don’t see your favorite doll in a publication.
Bonus – Words You’re Saying All Wrong – It’s lev-ee-OH-sa…
I remember my first year of fashion at school – there’s this ‘French For Fashion Majors’ class that has one sole objective – to teach you how to say fashion terms and designer names correctly. Take due notice thereof, and govern yourselves accordingly:
Tonner – it’s TAH-ner like CAH-ner (Conner), not TOH-ner like Toner. He would never correct you – but try calling him ‘Bob’ and see where that goes…
Sybarite – it’s SIB-uh-rite – not SY-buh-rite.
Madra – is pronounced MAD-ra (more like MADGE-ra), not MOD-ra. I got this from Mel, himself…so unless he was shitting me to make me look stupid – well, I am sure one of you will correct me.
Madame (as in Madame Alexander) – is an American incarnation, and it’s not fancy enough to use the French pronunciation…therefore, it’s MAD-am, not ma-DOM. Think of a really fine whorehouse…
Buttry (as in David Buttry) – is BUH-tree, not BYOU-tree (I actually just had this confirmed last October at IT Convention – sorry, David!)
Ellowyne – is EL-o-win, not el-o-WINE – or simply pronounce her name as I always do, “bitch” (BICH).
Saran – is suh-RAN, not SAY-ran.
Théâtre de la Mode – hmmm…well, if you are saying it properly in French it’s tay-atrad la mode with the ‘D’ being so gentle, you almost don’t hear it – but, we do have many Americans here. Nevertheless, you do it a great disrespect if you just say Theater Dayla Mode.
Haute Doll – (see above) it’s OAT-DOLL, not HOT or HOHT DOLL – the ‘H’ is silent. Shush, then…
Couture – is coh-TOOR, not coh-CHYOOR. CORRECTION: (Yup: someone just corrected ME – it’s coo-TOOR)
Duchess(e) (as in satin) – DUH-chess, not doo-CHESS (yeah, one of which I was corrected by no other than Robert Tonner, himself).
FAO Schwarz – has NO ‘T’ IN IT! It’s SCHWARZZZ…not SCHWARTS.
Swarovski – swar-OV-skee, not swa-VORSK-ee
Ralph Lauren – OK, so it’s not specifically a doll name – but – it still gets to me. How do I know how to pronounce the American Design Icon’s name? I heard him say it himself – and/or heard in his TV ads – It’s LOR-en – not lo-REN.