That’s right, Puddings…we’re back…
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – that much we know to be true. You might see something that appeals to your tastes, and yet – it can easily repulse another. People brave enough to stand by their artistic convictions have a damn strong point-of-view, and loads of self-confidence. Those that bully others into feeling something isn’t ‘good enough’ often preach from a gutter of low self-esteem, trying desperately to push their opinions as fact or the definitive word on good design…the late Joan Rivers comes to mind. Well that…and some of my own actions with regards to other dolls…I speak from experience, here.
And yet, people just love to rip apart design, particularly fashion design – and more often than not, it’s more of a statement as to who is creating it and who is critiquing it. It makes for mindless entertainment to sit back and judge the rich and famous. Yes, yes – they are celebrities – they need to get used to it and develop a thick skin…blah, blah, blah. I am very guilty of judging red carpet moments (as my Facebook friends will gladly attest), often using brash and just plain mean alliterations. What ever happened to celebrating what we love and ignoring what we don’t – why is it so important to voice dissent? In a word, because it can be fun (if not a bit juvenile and harmful).
But what makes for good design? It’s a combination of things that largely embrace an open mind – and a fair amount of respect for the art, in and of itself. Many watch Project Runway and scream at the television with discord over the judges’ opinions. First, it’s television – so that alone should tell you something. Second, you have to understand from whence the judges originate in terms of his/her unique point-of-view. A high score or win doesn’t mean it is good design – it just means it is to them.
Take snowflakes for instance – they say no two are alike – but if you were to put 4 of them next to each other, you will probably find a pattern that appeals to you more than the other three. Does that make the rest of the group bad? No…it just means that your inner artist is drawn more to one than the others. Now try to pick your favorite note in a musical composition, or your favorite brush stroke in a beloved painting – I think you get my point.
But now let me ask you another question: What makes a doll haute?
You might immediately jump in and say it’s the design – but I would offer you a different approach. It’s not just what makes a doll haute…rather, what exactly are the elements that comprise a haute doll?
As one who collaborates with HauteDoll Magazine on various projects, I often find myself asking this very question – and it was actually posed to me by my friend, Andrew (who started me writing this blog in the first place because of all the irrelevant bullshit in our online community). Then I see comments on HD’s Facebook page from collectors rating the magazine saying that the magazine is just a catalog for its advertisers – which would be true, you moron – who do you think is paying for that glossy print – subscribers? Advertising largely drives the content of any publication – you tell me how much advertising pages are in Vogue compared to actual content, and I think you’ll get the idea.
Doll makers simply don’t value advertising anymore, particularly in the only print media that continues to archive their world, report on the latest and greatest, and provide thoughtful insight to its readers. One might be irritated that their doll advertisement is placed next to a doll that their collectors have little-to-no interest – and that may be true. There is also the lovely old hag we know as the Internet. News is already old when it soils this old lady’s britches. But what doll makers fail to realize is that when you support the print publication, it gives the publisher an opportunity to expand into more staff hours to not only report on current events, but to report them in an online forum where it can be instantly disseminated. The print publication isn’t about ‘news’ per se…it is about archiving, opinion and community. When the advertiser strips precious page real estate away to just a modest few – the publisher must condense dramatically, which naturally will focus on the advertisers, themselves. It’s not unlike doll makers skimping on extras and accessories to control the price point of a doll – It’s a vicious cycle, but that is the way it works. And when one advertiser throws a bullying hissy fit over another advertiser getting more attention, the publisher can only accommodate (at least that was the way it was when I was in charge of Tonner’s advertising, and we would see Madame Alexander getting more advertising than us). C’est la guerre…
Whether you are a retailer bullying a doll maker, an advertiser bullying a magazine, or a collector bullying doll makers or each other – none of it really matters if you refuse to be bullied and fully accept the consequences of your confidence and its actions. The doll world is many things, but confident isn’t really one of them.
You v. the Designer. Oh sure – we can all do it better, right? Uh-huh…and yet most of you can’t or don’t. What is it about design commentary that always involves those who act like they can do a better job? Yours might be different – but if it were better, you’d have your own doll business. So shut the fuck up and remove yourself to the peanut gallery…you’re annoying our brains.
In reviewing good design, it’s really all about you v. the designer (who probably doesn’t give a shit what you think anyway). If the design is for sale, the designer’s ego can be validated by strong sales and praise – giving them more of a reason to not give a shit what anyone thinks. But I believe this to be a lie – anyone who creates wants to receive praise – or why else would they do it? Usually praise from your own mind isn’t enough, which is why you share it with others.
Being Accepted – Praise of an artist’s work bring acceptance – often in a most secular way. Much as love in biblical times was rarely the case for marriage, and we have shifted our attention to ‘the one true love’ of a mate rather to that of God; artists pine over their abilities they value most, and many find difficulty in picking one through which to excel. Their art is their spirituality, and acceptance of that spirit brings an artist closer to a whole confidence of which they lack. I know this is some really deep shit, but if you explore the origins of it, you’ll find the philosophy is true. You can’t just drop a paperback of The Four Agreements on an artist’s desk and expect them to change the way they view life and philosophy….not for longer than a week, anyway.
In doll design, it doesn’t matter whether or not the doll is made directly by the artist, or if it’s manufactured – it all begins with some type of artist or artist team. Despite Mattel’s creations mostly resulting from a marketing team, I suppose they can be considered as artists in some level of Dante’s Hell.
For those that wish to explore what makes good doll design, I present to you thoughts for consideration – things your eye and mind need to absorb before you can go traipsing off into the vast internet wasteland with opinions that might seem rather common without any justification whatsoever. And no one wants to be like that…right?
You need an educated eye. That is, the more you know and understand the art, the more appreciation you have for the work – I’ve said this on a number of occasions, but in the appreciation of good design, you really do need to know your ass from a hole in the ground…especially if you’re going to be vocal about it. Your tastes change as your understanding of the art increases…what was beautiful yesterday isn’t so much today now that you have a more thorough comprehension of the work that went into a particular design element, or the materials of which a design is crafted.
A good example is Le Petit Theatre Dior. I see clips from this video being circulated on social media frequently – some people event thinking it’s new. Nevertheless, when they see the amount of handwork and technique that goes into the making of even a miniature Christian Dior creation, they are awestruck. I mean, really, did you think Dior’s Couture Fairy Godmother waved a wand over it and all that beading and embroidery just magically dropped onto it from sparkling, misty swirls of magical air? No, dear…that was Lesage…and the beading/embroidery probably took more time than the actual gown’s construction.
I always laugh my ass off when stupid people make comments about cheap fabrics not knowing a single thing about what a cheap fabric actually is. The choice of terminology says so very much about an opinion. However, when Nina Garcia says something looks cheap – we know exactly what she means, because she is a fashion editor. But even expensive fabrics can have a ‘cheap’ look when it comes to how they have been manipulated in a given design. Doll manufacturers struggle with this constantly, because they are trying to control costs, yet still give you something that looks rich. It doesn’t have to be 100% silk, it just needs to look 100% fabulous.
And as with all ignorant terminology – mindless use of the word ‘ugly’ brings out the imbecilic trash in all of us. Don’t use the word ugly with regard to design. Ugly has so little merit, it warrants punishment. People who dwell on the negative would say the same goes for using a word like ‘fabulous’. I guess…maybe in North Korea. But even though the two words are fairly vague in descriptive usage, the use of one versus the other connotes such a vast difference in open dialogue – you have to wonder why it was important to say something is ugly, when everyone likes to say it’s fabulous.
If you love fashion, you probably can’t get enough of it. If you sew, even better – because you have an understanding of construction complexities – but it’s not necessary to truly appreciate well-made clothing. If you have some working knowledge of manufacturing techniques, then consider yourself amongst a minority in our industry, imparting you with a keen sense of understanding with regard to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ miniature clothing is designed and placed into production – it’s not couture, and it’s not meant to be. Creating fashion in miniature is a grand illusion – a magic trick, if you will – allowing a manufacturer to place a price on the highest level of detail they can scrape out of its factory. When you see successful designs pass the test of mass production, you achieve a sense of higher knowing – because you marvel at the placement of detail, the finishing, and even the packaging.
Sculpture is no different – you don’t have to be a sculptor to appreciate the accomplished beauty of a fine sculpt, the detail, the life in the eyes (optical sentience). Anyone who’s been in a sculpture gallery of any museum will understand this. Be that as it may, we seldom take time to appreciate that this statue was carved from a single block of stone, or that Monster High face and body was sculpted either digitally or in clay before it went into molding…by some person or persons.
It’s your opinion, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong – but be open to new ideas and thoughts. This isn’t a question of who’s right and who’s wrong…and it’s not a Republican Presidential Debate. Design is largely a popularity contest, seeing whose vision can piss the farthest. Dolls are no different, and yet some collectors will draw sides with not only fierce loyalty, but with intentions bordering on the violently insane.
Don’t be bullied. If you love that multi-ruffled craft lace eleganza, then love it – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – but that doesn’t mean it’s good design, it just means you love it. Just as being bullied is criminal, so is that act of argumentatively defending your love of a design. If no one else agrees with you, you either aren’t making a good enough point, or you have no taste. Nevertheless, just move on and grapple with your next cause to champion. People don’t have to like your choices…but you don’t have to dwell on it, either.
It’s funny that most people online will observe this in a polite way. It is true that if you ask someone’s opinion, and they give you one you don’t want to hear – you probably brood for a week on how no one loves you (I do this occasionally on Facebook when no one likes my photo albums, not realizing that few have time to go through 200 shots of my best floral macro shots – really). That’s just stupid. But more often than not, people simply don’t comment if they don’t have something nice to say – to avoid drama (which is probably wise). So if your thread has no comments, get a clue and move on – but don’t take it personally. They just don’t want to hurt your feelings (not realizing that by not posting anything, your feelings have been hurt even more). Such complications we have with online interactions…really, who has the time anymore?
Scale – size matters. Yeah it does…let me tell you why. The eye has much to take in and decipher on its route to our brain’s pleasure center. Relative size of design detail works in tandem to create a cohesive composition. When one or more elements go awry, the effect can be a virtual train-wreck on your visual sensory perception. Scale is one of these things that can easily mar even the best design efforts. When a print, sequin, appliqué, fold or pleat is just too large (or in some cases, too small to capture enough interest), it just screams inside your mind…you just know something is wrong, and it’s not always evident. But unlike an unsavory pairing of colors or textures, scale detracts from the design when viewed as a whole. Odd choices in scale can work for the design, but not always to everyone viewing it – and as with all elements in design, they can largely be subject to interpretation. But when you see a mammoth print that simply consumes the model, you can pretty much assure yourself that scale is the culprit.
The exact opposite seems to be true of doll sculpts. With the exaggerated proportions seen in so many dolls of both antiquity and modern times – one has to wonder just what in the hell was the sculptor thinking? But like fashion, sculpture proportions exaggerated can also be a design element that is intentional – and obscene when it is not.
Drape v. Tailored. These two are about as similar as the sun and the moon, and when executed well, they can each involve just as much work as the other. But the difference in the organic, rounded shapes of a draped design create much more attention than the subtle, clean beauty of a well-tailored suit. But the one thing that a draped design has that a tailored execution does not is an abundance of fabric, which can increase the cost. I always marveled at Tonner’s Tyler Wentworth designs where shirring and gathering were used in abundance. First of all, they are not easily produced well in a factory, but more importantly, they exhibit a luxurious amount of fabric used to bring a sense of perceived value in such an understated way. Not many appreciate the cost-savings that can be easily pared down when simplifying draping techniques, and the impact on the total design is undeniable. That being said, to behold a triumph of fit and tailoring can bring tears to the eyes when it is done impeccably – seams match, the body shape is true, lapels appear almost effortless – those are the marks of someone who understands how to manipulate fabric.
A Hand Job to Remember – yes, I did just say that – because one thing that goes into the finer elements of design execution is the amount of work done by human hand. This is more of an appreciation and a significant factor in cost, but you should at least know what the bloody difference is between ‘screened’ eye paint and ‘hand-applied’ eye paint – though I guess hands are used in both circumstances. The real difference is in the level of expertise at the skills needed to not make it look like a two year-old finger-painted it.
Price – ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’ – what a pile of crap. Just because a doll is expensive doesn’t make it great – it only means someone wanted it more than someone else, justifying its sales price or auction results. This doesn’t prove its worth, dears.
That’s some of the basics of knowing good design – now let’s explore what makes a doll haute…it must have high marks in four primary elements: Sculpture, Clothing, Stuff and Community.
Sculpture – More commonly known as ‘sculpt’, though ‘sculpt’ tends to mostly refer to the head, it can refer to the body or its parts.
Whether a doll is a BJD, fashion doll, child doll, baby doll, action figure (yes, they are dolls), artist doll, toy doll…hell, anything. The one most truly important element of any doll is its sculpt. When applying your thoughts of good design, there must be a pause to ask yourself how much effort went into setting forth something someone thought was good?
So many considerations in your marking results, Puddings: proportion, the placement of features, the detail, relevance of exaggeration, experience of the sculptor, the medium used, etc. Some would discount a manufactured plastic doll by saying ‘it’s just plastic’ –but the plastic doll often goes through more developmental sculpture and molding than the high-end resins or porcelains, and a much higher cost up front. Ultimately, what is used to make the final doll will have its own consideration when evaluating sculpt, but material alone cannot be a factor when determining the ‘hauteness’ of a doll…it’s much too limiting and somewhat discriminating for no good reason.
Then you must consider the finishing (sanding, painting, hair, assembly) methods used…and let’s not forget the eyes. The BJD world has this sophomoric rule that mandates a doll must be fully customizable, including changing of the eyes, in order to be called a BJD. It doesn’t matter if it’s a child, an elf, a dark lord, an angel or a devil, or a beautiful model – they are all BJDs to these collectors. No, dears – BJD means ‘ball-jointed doll’ and any doll having ball-jointing, or some variant can use this term accurately – whether or not you choose to exclude them for certain communities is the choice of that group’s decision-making folks – but it does not accurately define a genre of doll.
If you think changing the eyes makes it customizable, and repainting them does not – then you can clearly view the changeable acrylic or glass eyes as a bit of a trade-off. True, they have more 3-dimensional appeal, but painting can often match that realistic illusion when rendered by the right hands – and the smaller the scale, the less appreciation one would have for true 3-dimensional realism, because the human eye just doesn’t register it. It’s arguable how much a manufactured acrylic or glass eye would compare to a hand-blown glass eyes in terms of contributing to a doll’s hauteness; but I can damn well assure you that the skill level of many eye repainters can transform a ToysRUs toy doll into ‘haute’ in the stroke or two of that artist’s brush.
The play value of a doll isn’t so much as an evaluation factor in the ‘haute’ of a doll…but it does contribute highly to ‘Community’ which we will see later…
Clothing – This doesn’t specifically refer to the removability of clothing (again, that comes into play value and ‘Community’ later on) – as with the theme of this post, it’s about good design.
This category can be as widely debated as the sculpt or medium of which a doll is made. Quality is key for high marks, but so is good design. Complexity can result in higher marks than others – but it doesn’t have to be complex as long as it’s well-made and constructed of quality materials. Individually crafted clothing versus factory-line clothing doesn’t guarantee high marks based on this fact alone. You must consider the skill level of construction used and the techniques of finishing. Just because it’s all made by the same artist isn’t a guarantee of its ‘hauteness’…a Balenciaga couture original was made by an entire team of craftspeople – the same can be said of high-end factory-made dolls.
Much like exaggerated proportions used in certain sculptures, ‘edginess’ of a particular design often pushes it into ‘haute’ realms – but this alone isn’t a determinant. ‘Edgy’ can be so widely defined (the same as beauty), it is often in the eye of the beholder.
Urban Dictionary has much to say about ‘edgy’ – some of it hilariously true – but this tends to be the ‘cutting edge’ definition most think of: “…tend to challenge societal norms and reveal the dark side.”
Haute Couture often challenges the norm, revealing taboo, often scandalous interpretations of colors, texture, silhouette, societal themes, even nudity in a form of expression that is high fashion. Think of a couture runway show by John Galliano or Alexander McQueen – one will often hear of these designs, “…who would wear that other than a celebrity at the Met Gala (or any drag queen for that matter)?” Hmmm…how often have we heard that about doll clothes – even when it’s only matchy-match as opposed to post-apocalyptic? Indeed…
Here’s the thing about doll clothes: Despite miniature apparel contributing significantly to the cost and look of a doll – it’s still only a supporting role when it comes to the sculpt. A doll cannot be evaluated as ‘haute’ on its clothing alone (or its stuff, as we will see in the next category). I have seen ‘haute’ dolls that have little to no clothing whatsoever – and yet they are most worthy of the title. Ultimately, clothing and stuff all come into the play value – and that is key in separating even the most extraordinary of art dolls from a ‘haute’ doll.
Stuff – The number of accessories that comes with a doll versus the number of accessories made for and separately available for a doll versus the number of accessories that are crafted by artisans for a particular doll – that’s the ‘stuff’. As much as I love Popovy Sis and Enchanted Doll, sadly, not a lot of stuff is made for these ladies. But when you purchase a Mona like these, chances are the stuff isn’t a pressing thought (more like how your bank account will recover is more likely).
Nevertheless, it is a critical factor in evaluating a doll’s hauteness. A Mona might rank high in the sculpt and even the clothing arena – but not so much in stuff or community, because there simply aren’t that many people who own and play with them. Admirers are only that – they are not customers…it’s like saying you’re Anna Wintour because you review the couture collections from your laptop while eating Cheetos and drinking diet RC Cola. Hardly…
Dolls need stuff like humans need oxygen. One might think we can blame that on Barbie, too – but you’d be wrong there. Dolls have had accessories and the like for centuries. And much like clothing, this isn’t always the role of the manufacturer or doll artist – it often takes the form of independent artists who provide such miniature wonders that bring such depth to a doll’s world of wonder. Because when you have people that are inspired to create for their favorite miniature icons, and those that share with their friends and attend conventions to celebrate their favorites – that, my dear is when you have…
Community – The value of community doesn’t rest upon the number of followers one might have on Facebook or Instagram – it does directly relate to the number of active participants a doll has in a collective that own, play with and share experiences of – a particular doll or dolls.
When I was working with dollbid (an online community much like eBay created for doll collectors by doll collectors as a lower cost alternative to eBay and other auction type sites) – the mission of the creators was all about community and solidarity: buying and selling amongst our own kind. It was to offer safer alternatives to privacy and monetary transactions than merely posting your listing on popular bulletin boards. It was an idea ahead of its time – but its sense of community is what struck me as the strongest ideal.
While at Tonner, both company owner and employees felt community was a worthy goal, trying to maintain its transition from private collectors’ club to online diversification almost overnight. That success finally came at a price few collectors even seem to fathom. You might call yourselves loyal, but it was frightening how quickly so many loyalties shift once discounting became the norm for the industry. And yet, companies like Tonner still hold onto a faithful few who will stay with them until the bitter end…which is saying something for the testament of a global brand few doll collectors at-large even know.
Sadly, community within the doll world is largely driven by online presence or shitloads of money. One almost begets the others at times, with artists and companies clawing their way through social media hell for that one extra ‘like’ they can use as a potential customer – failing to see that it costs nothing to ‘like’, and much more so to love.
Despite my negative ideas about community, it is critical in ranking the hauteness of a doll, because it’s a sounding board of sorts – a way of sharing – a camaraderie that unites us freaks in various circuses to play with our dolls. For it is the power of play, that ultimately brings elements of a haute doll together into one perfected idol worthy of worship. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? It does, by the way – but if no one plays with a doll, can it be haute? It is unlikely, but even if it is – who really cares if no one knows about it or shares in its celebration? I rest my case…
The Haute Doll – Aside from the magazine, itself – I present to you a new class of doll much in the same way BJD dolls have been lumped into their own ambiguously defined genre – behold, The Haute Doll – one ranking high in sculpture, clothing, stuff and community that exceeds the levels of mere mortal dolls. It can include BJDs, indeed – but its definition is more widely defined based upon the artistry and execution of the doll itself. No one is asking you to go forth and admire all Haute Dolls equally – but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them either…for if you strip away the elements of hauteness, you will still find a doll – and all dolls are worthy of love.