NOTE: I decided to re-publish this and other Kingdom Doll/Kinsman Doll posts…because they are a reflection of me, too – despite Kingdom/Kinsman shafting me on credit deserved and promised for designing this outfit and making the pattern/samples (in addition to others not yet produced) – AND being denied a production sample – all as promised (they did pay me, though…so all was not lost). I wanted everyone to know – I DESIGNED THIS…
This is a long one, Puddings – no pun intended. And if male nudity, sexual innuendo with dolls, and same-sex kissing offends you – by all means, please read on…
At long last I can reveal one of the secret projects I’ve been working on for months now (though it has been officially announced and brought up on Facebook). This is a project I’ve longed for – an opportunity to show true range, and to push my limits as a miniature couture artist. Sounds rather stuffy, no? But if you are one who enjoys creating any type of visual art, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. We are all too painfully aware of our boundaries, experience, and skills – so when something comes along that breaks us out of the box, energetic creativity explodes by leaps and bounds.
Dressing The Kinsman has been a dream project. Not only are these fantastically sculpted and engineered men so delicious in their artistry, they break the barriers when it comes to male dolls. For decades, male dolls have been either action figures (yes, they are dolls) or accessories for female fashion dolls (like Ken to Barbie). The rise in popularity of the BJDs gave rise to the hyper-realistic male doll from the likes of Granado, Iplehouse, Dollshe Craft and many others. In the last few years, manufacturers and artists have explored the men with gusto to meet a rising demand for something other than an accessory.
I remember the Tonner days with Matt O’Neill, Harry Potter and a number of other male character figures – one really had to give Robert Tonner credit for raising the bar in manufactured male doll clothing. Artist dolls like Chan Sama’s Plastic Guy create exaggerated visions of sexually potent men largely (but not exclusively) from a gay male perspective. But it was JAMIEshow that mixed the BJD ideals with a fashion doll to create sumptuously realized men – and clothing that could successfully be labeled as high fashion.
In working with HauteDoll Magazine as a social media and exclusive products coordinator, I was astounded with Sharon Wright’s vision of a magazine that was entirely devoted to male dolls – yes, male dolls have been used as magazine themes before, but what Wright’s vision as Editor of HD brought was a targeted, in-depth overview of the latest in male doll offerings. Partnered with her amazing photography along with others, the issue was bold, unique, creative…and just a little bit naughty. The May/June 2015 issue was an original in and of itself by comparison to previous issues – and I learned so much about the genre from conversations with Sharon, articles in the issue, and discussions with many of the artists featured. Male dolls just aren’t accessories anymore – and the issue would have been much larger if more advertisers realized the value of supporting our doll publications – but that’s another story to cover later.
It should also be noted that Pat Henry of Fashion Doll Quarterly (FDQ) was (and still is) an early pioneer of such controversial themes in doll editorial coverage. She knew her readers wanted more, and through FDQ, she communicates a strong focus on the fashion doll – male and female, and the makers and artists who bring greatness with an ever-changing industry. Both Henry and Wright are strong editors, and they know what their audience truly loves. If you’re not reading these publications, and you’re relying on the Internet to bring you unique points-of-view in the doll industry – get out of the computer screen and broaden your mind like the rest of the enlightened.
Like its predecessors, The Kinsman join a fascinating evolution of one of the most divided types of dolls. You either love or hate male dolls – there is no middle here…and like the premise of my blog, if you disagree, you’re probably lying or in denial. And menswear? Oh sure – it’s come a long way, but it just isn’t as compelling or varied as womenswear is. It’s either really refined, tailored and boring, or it’s fucked up with frippery and advertised to the Nazi Gay Mafia. I don’t count camouflage, sandals or leisure suits as fashion – so don’t go there.
Be that as it may, menswear has made strides over the last 20 years into a flourishing industry with designers who succeed in bringing a renewed interest in male clothing. More heterosexual men than ever are embracing the ‘silly notion that your appearance matters’. I know many who don’t like the current hipster beard trend, but when a man is groomed and well-dressed, you can’t tell me you don’t want to run your fingers through his hair – or touch the tender, shiny sleekness of a strong, bald head.
A groomed man is sexy, Puddings…and it calls upon a very different set of instincts than that invoked by sexy women. If you don’t understand what I mean, sample a brief session of two women making out, and then, two men – and just try and tell me they bring the same flutter in your britches.
One isn’t better than the other – but they are markedly different.
When Kingdom Doll decided to create its new brand in Kinsman Doll, they didn’t want a mere accessory for their girls. Yes, they do partner well with the ladies (and other fashion ladies, too) – but the creators of The Kinsman wanted a stand-alone male doll with exceptional artistry and couture clothing. Their vision was to parallel the BJD offerings in male dolls – the only thing actually separating them is the inability to change the eyes. Really – if that’s what defines a BJD, well, then color me gobsmacked – such rules in that world! I’ll pause for a moment to make sure they aren’t building a bonfire outside my home…
So imagine my thrill when Kinsman Doll reached out to me to create clothing for their debut guys. Incontinence is an understatement.
Now my avid readers may recall that technical sewing isn’t my thing. It requires a precision that I envy in other artists, calling upon a completely different set of skills. But just because it isn’t my ‘thing’, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. When it comes to menswear, technical sewing takes on a new level of concentration. It’s not always the most exciting of fashions, but when executed properly, it is utterly amazing.
Tailoring, topstitching, linings and underlinings, and fit – you get one thing wrong, and it’s back to the drawing board. Loads of work go into shaping the results, only to find you’ve missed a critical step, and it’s all for naught. But when you do get it right, you stand back, take in the beauty as a testament of labor and skill – and feel like you have truly accomplished art.
The folks at Kinsman knew exactly what they wanted for their men – a bold look in top fabrics to make a statement about who their men were. The initial offering for the doll would include a basic male in swim trunks – also on the map are a pea coat, v-neck top and trousers…and exciting visions of the future.
While getting the men ready for production, samples were scarce – but I was initially sent a painted body for my first toiles, later replaced with an unpainted resin fit model so the painted version could be returned for production.
The body sculpt is refined, well-thought and anatomically wondrous – as is the jointing. Smooth and highly functional, there is little kickiness in the body, and he can easily stand on his own without support. He is muscular, yet lean – and his proportions would call for unique adjustments to fit the body – for example, he has broad shoulders, but a very lean waist. It’s easy to see the male architectural inspiration taken from UK Model, David Gandy.
And then there’s his package.
Boy is packing here…and I don’t mean some non-descript bump like you would see on Ken. In fact, it’s hard to not feel a little dirty looking at it as your mind wanders dangerously close to the pornographic. Perhaps the most intriguing feature is his scrotum – it’s fully formed, and beautifully sculpted – dude has a real pair of low hangers there. Despite the erotic nature of The Kinsman, one needs to also be reminded in the beauty of the ideal male body – and that includes all his bits and bobs for wizardry…
Be that as it may, I was in a quandary about how to best fit his crotch without appearing comical or overtly exaggerated. Like a woman’s breasts in a bra, a man’s junk is mashed into his underwear into one nice, neat – well…package. With a doll, even the scrotum is rigid 24/7. Those who are familiar with Robert Tonner sculpts know he typically sees the body as it may appear if the figure were already wearing foundation garments – designing clothing for them is like using a model that is wearing underwear – they are not intended to be viewed naked. Some makers like Madame Alexander completely miss the point of this – their Alex doll had painted nipples, which didn’t make sense considering the shape of her body suggested she was also wearing foundation garments (though I highly doubt they even noticed this). Here you have an example of a doll maker not understanding the scope of its doll when viewed by the customer – nude or dressed. I mean, why bother if the sculpt doesn’t observe the natural form of the human body, like say, CED dolls do?
But Kinsman knew. They knew they wanted the doll to be viewed naked, dressed, partially dressed – whatever. With all of the interesting photographers we have in our world-wide doll community, why deprive them of the joy of fully nude portraits? Or for the customer that isn’t so prudish as to cover their eyes when enjoying the beauty of the human body. It’s natural art – and a miracle of the organic world. Only man-made laws preclude us walking naked down a public street – but for some odd, strange reason, men can go topless where women cannot. I won’t try to argue the double standard our society places on men and women when it comes to nudity – I consider myself rather fortunate as a gay man that I can enjoy the beauty of a topless male jogging down the street with the sun glistening across his sweaty body…(sigh)…but I digress…
The position and placement of the penis and scrotum is tastefully done and true to anatomical references – but it would be a bitch to fit. I have to admit, I’ve never had so much fun concerning myself over the proper handling of a man’s junk. So when it came to the swim trunks, we had an added advantage of glorious Lycra.
4-way stretchy knits like swimsuit Lycra are challenging because you have to anticipate the amount of stretch in any given direction while fitting your pattern. In this case, it was important to not have the swim trunks gape open on the sides where it covers the scrotum, exposing our man to public indecency laws. Using a strip of black elastic as the piping for the waist band offered additional support against over-stretching the fully lined Lycra trunks. Tiny grommets made for a nice detail, giving these swim trunks something more stylish than just a simple Speedo.
Prepping a muslin toile of the pants got off to a rocky start with a minor, but significant wardrobe malfunction – which reminded me extra care was needed to properly wrap this man’s package.
But it wasn’t just the crotch that presented a challenge – the muscular legs and healthy-sized feet suggested a roomier trouser as opposed to a skinny pant.
But Kinsman was very specific about their man’s identity – he is a younger European (British) man, and fashion-forward. There is a clear separation between ‘European’ and ‘British’, as they have specific ideals that are unique to their territory and mindset – contrasting sharply with the ‘American’ man. He is likely to wear body-conforming clothing, but nothing skin-tight (the trunks are an exception). It was important that the body not only give support to the tailored clothing, but it must also be somewhat visible while wearing them.
For his bum, well…that part was quite easy on the eyes – and creating a contoured backside wasn’t as complicated as I might have guessed. Lowering the waistline to the pelvic line was far more challenging. You see, human apparel includes a great deal of wearing ease in the design for the functional movement of the body in motion. Doll clothes are more challenging because the skin and body parts don’t behave like that of a human – regardless of the most sophisticated jointing articulation in the world – it still won’t move in clothing like humans do. To best illustrate this, notice the side pockets…
Initial patterns were drafted with perfect fit – but the pockets gape open because the seam doesn’t have the same support as its neighboring seams. Also, you can see how this is challenging at the waistline – the lower, deep arch of the gorgeously shaped back is in a fixed position, unlike a human body which has flexibility there – so you won’t get natural concave movement of the pant waistline as it confirms to the body. The pelvic line becomes the ‘waist’, and shallow darts accommodate the curvilinear movement of that oh-so-damn-fine arse. Yeah, yeah…I know sex and dolls don’t mix; but you can have a little adult humor fun from time-to-time, now can’t you?
Kinsman knew they wanted the finest details – and would work closely with their factory to achieve as much as they could get successfully through a production line. As already evident in the quality of the Kingdom Doll clothing, one can see they set a high standard for manufacturing. This meant working pockets, zipper and a working belt. The back pockets were intended to be ornamental – that was my fault. I just wasn’t that comfortable making that tiny of a welt pocket…if you sew and can do this – good for you, dear. I choose to drive myself crazy on more important functionality, thank you very much. And besides, what are you going to put in them – a miniature condom? No dears, that why we have man-bags, now…
The material used for the final pant was a blended twill with a smidge of Lycra to help embrace that pretty butt and those StairMaster thighs/calves. A custom-dyed China silk from England was used to fully line the pant with as little bulk as possible, considering he was pretty much already filling those pants quite nicely.
Like jackets, pants involve an odd technique in closing the lining in one complete seam at the inseam and crotch – it’s difficult to describe it in writing – and one I hadn’t done before; but talking to pattern-making acquaintances walked me through the steps, allowing for a machine-finished hem, ready for a production line.
The one thing I did screw up royally was due to my dyslexic brain not paying attention – if you’re lining pants, remember that the lining is a reverse of the pant if you want the fly to match up on the inside (which has to be closed by hand). This was fixed in the final – but man, I just couldn’t understand why my fly was open (pun intended).
Before taking on the pea coat, I wanted to have the V-neck top sorted. A gorgeous 100% silk jersey was used, and the construction was fairly simple – that is, unless you are trying to save the maker some money on the spendy textile and cut it in the wrong direction that has the least give. Damn…that’s a fast way to use up about ten bucks worth of silk jersey! Note to self: not all jersey knits have the same stretch in both directions.
A human scale version of this top would not have a back closure, or possibly even a center seam – but this is a doll, and we added a fitted seam at the back, and a simple closure to make sure it would fit over his head, and hug his torso. You will note the earlier versions in white poly knit have less fit in the sleeves – something that needed to occur if his big guns were to shine properly…
With all the pieces done – it was time to stop procrastinating – and take on the pea coat. Actually, this was the most fascinating item – inspired by a couture military-style pea coat. Again, the details were important, but we decided mutually that working buttonholes were impractical for the bulk of the sumptuous wool crêpe Kinsman provided – and was I ever grateful they did!
My initial sourcing of the materials yielded for candidates came from Mood in NYC. They were all fine, luxurious fabrics – but in the end, they were just too bulky (the wool bouclé – yes, it is actually a bouclé despite the twisted yarns being very tiny – was the best of the four, but it was decided it was just a tad too feminine for a man’s coat).
Kinsman sent this fantastic wool crêpe that was substantive, but wafer-thin. Hey…England arguably has the finest woolens, in my humble opinion. This would press nicely, turn well with the China silk lining, and still allow for those unmistakable details these discriminating boys demanded. Furthermore, I could use a decent weight interfacing on the lapels, collar and center back vent – I used a knit fusible, because it’s more flexible than woven.
Muslin after muslin, I sallied forth. With each variation, a new detail was tried along with fit adjustments. Since the buttons weren’t functional, we went with brass domed nailhead studs for ornamental flair, and a tinier brass shank button for the cuffs.
I wasn’t looking forward to the collar straps, which would be painfully close to the seam edge when installing the facing/lining (the first attempt was a shitastic nightmare in poor topstitching).
One thing I have made as my own personal mission is understanding the relationship of the sleeve cap to the armscye – it had to have a well-shaped roundness to match the Kinsman’s deltoid – this is one area where making a mistake would be highly visible. Sleeve caps in menswear simply do not fit like they do in womenswear – the dynamics are the same, but the way they accentuate the shoulder is quite different. I must have sewn a dozen different variants of the inset sleeve, arriving at the perfect solution and fit. The interesting thing I discovered both through testing, and talking with other sewing friends – there is no perfect relationship. Pattern-making books will illustrate how to measure and cut a sleeve, but you will always have to spend time adjusting the curves until you get the depth you want – it’s a necessary evil, and you can’t get around this if you wanted nicely tailored sleeve caps.
Another perplexing puzzle was the center back vent. My muslin samples were always gaping open when the coat was fit on the body. The solution was to baste it closed – not once, but twice. Installing the backing to the vent was done with a center back seam that was basted together, opened for steaming and top-stitching, and closed again with basting until the very end – this keeps the back from distorting as you continue to handle, press and steam. A funny little epaulet was used inside the bottom back vent – but it couldn’t be sewn in place until the end because the wool would make an impression once steamed. Ahhhh…the things you discover with menswear!
I can’t stress the importance of basting frequently and thoroughly. It helps when you are pressing turned edges like lapels, but it also provides structural support when more work is needed, and keeps your epaulets from creeping when sandwiched between two layers. I also use white threads to mark my pattern pieces on dark fabrics, because I don’t like tailor’s chalk, and it does offer more precision, especially with all those matched, intersecting seams. This technique was also invaluable when making the welt pockets.
To close the center back vent, I decided to employ an underlining before basting and pressing the pleats closed, then it would be completely covered by the full coat lining.
I was reminded of Der Kommissar (ironically fit on Kingdom Doll’s Brunel) during the assembly.
Layers held all manners of fripp and fuss, all in anticipation of the lining, and your proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Top-stitching virtually every seam except the sleeve cap aroused an emotional sense of accomplishment. And much like the pants, you never get a true feel for success until that odd technique of closing the lining is completed. To give you an idea of this technique, watch Magalie Dawson’s video here – it just can’t be verbally explained easily.
It’s a great deal of work – precise work, that is.
The pea coat took 24 hours over three days to complete (that doesn’t include the muslin drafts). I won’t know how well it will reproduce at the factory for a while now, but giving them this sample was a triumph – and a little like sending your child away to school. In doll production, you have to set a high mark, then dissect each step of the construction to determine what will successfully reproduce, and what won’t. I’m glad I have my Tonner experience managing doll production to assist in speaking the language – but truth be known, I’ve not known any company outside the BJD world to even consider incorporating this level of detail into male doll clothing. That should tell you something about the Kinsman’s standards.
During the past few months, I have sent work-in-progress images to Kinsman – met with such supportive enthusiasm and quality direction. I have every confidence what they produce will preserve the couture detailing in these samples. Be that as it may, don’t go all batshit crazy on them if they must make business decisions during production, and make changes – or if they simply scratch their heads and say, ‘now why on earth did he do that?’ Dyslexic genius isn’t always reproducible, Puddings (some may even call it daft lunacy)…
I did receive permission from Kinsman to write this post, largely because it was a fascinating journey outside of my comfort zone, and because yesterday they communicated details of the new line to attendees at their MetroDolls Kingdom Doll Dinner in New Jersey. And like my other How It’s Made posts, I wanted you to see what is involved in this type of detail – because the factory will being doing it mostly in the same manner. It’s not some glittery ballgown, dear…it’s menswear – and it’s a right good challenge to make properly.
I will say now that I will not be accepting commissions to make menswear for male dolls while working with Kinsman – it’s just not appropriate – apologies in advance.
But it wasn’t until I got to see the actual men in the clothes that I nearly passed out. Images shown are courtesy of Kinsman Doll (Photos by Alexandra Forbes) and used by permission.
Now that, my dear…is a man. Now if I can just talk them into burly, hairy chests…woof.