The collector scene that treats big-eyed dolls like custom gaming PCs

With eyes as spherical as grapes and lips too small to do something however pout, Blythe dolls look like sullen angels. These haunted stares work to their benefit in a crowded market; Blythes have spent the previous 23 years charming a devoted group of primarily feminine followers, lots of whom pour hundreds of {dollars} into customizing their toys.

Blythe, with toothpick legs and stormy eyes that change color with the yankee of a string in the back of her head, was as soon as the bizarre lady on the lunch desk. Although skyrocketing Google searches for “blythe doll” attest to her present recognition amongst fashion brands and collectors, American producer Kenner initially discontinued her in 1973 after just one yr in the marketplace.

Nonetheless, some have been left mesmerized. In 2000, photographer Gina Garan launched a romantic photobook, This Is Blythe, which presents Kenner’s critical doll as the right mannequin, posing in outsized sweaters, then whereas topless, trying demurely via a veil of eyelashes. Junko Wong, president of Japanese advert company CWC, noticed these gauzy images, hazy as if coated in vanilla lip balm, and “could sense the potential of [Blythe] as a cultural icon,” she informed web site Plastic and Plush in 2005.

Wong relaunched her “neo-Blythe” via CWC in 2001, and the doll has been expertly implementing hypnosis ever since. “I learned about them on YouTube videos [about four years ago],” 66-year-old Marna Kazmaier, who runs the informational web site Whimsical Blythe, tells Polygon. “They were not appealing to me at first. But then one day — I don’t know why — they just were very appealing. Right then, I went and bought one online.”

Photograph: Abigail Rigby

Kazmaier now owns tons of custom and as-sold Blythes. Her assortment features a few authentic Kenner dolls (these have a resale worth of as much as round $1,000), dolls manufactured by firms Ashton Drake and Takara (each value about $300), and one doll made by Good Smile Firm, which presently produces $160 dolls for Blythe’s official on-line store, Junie Moon.

Kazmaier’s motley assortment represents the everyday retail expertise for a Blythe fanatic. Like gaming PCs, Magic: The Gathering playing cards, fancy headphones, and different geek fare, Blythe dolls take pleasure in a distinct segment however thriving on-line market. A potential purchaser can pluck real Blythes straight off of Junie Moon’s vine — now produced in restricted portions, and solely in Japan — or they will purchase considered one of a number of iterations from a classic reseller for round $200. However the world of custom Blythes permits followers’ imaginations to go nicely past what might be discovered on Junie Moon’s simple on-line store. Meticulously scanning eBay, Etsy, and Instagram reveals purchasable dolls with airbrushed, sensual faces, 4 units of bespoke blinking eyes, articulated physique elements, and atelier-level outfits.

Pre-built customs value, sometimes, $300 to $800, although the dolls are simply as steadily priced round $1,000 to $2,000 primarily based on supplies used and quantity of hours put into their creation. The actually high-end stuff — flyaway hair produced from Angora goat wool, hand-sewn lace clothes, replicas of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant — can retail for as excessive as $5,000.

This may increasingly sound like an enormous fuss over dolls… and it’s, even throughout the centuries-old doll collector group. Members of the comparatively new Monster High doll fandom not often alter their dolls past a $200 paint job, and followers of one of many oldest collectible dolls, the Kewpie cherub, which went into manufacturing in 1912, are likely to stuff them into $5 hand-knitted onesies at most. However in response to collectors, Blythe dolls produce an unreplicable maternal pull for avid collectors. It’s all of their world-sized eyes.

“When I saw those big, buggy eyes, I couldn’t resist adding her to my collection,” Natalie Preston, the 37-year-old New Yorker behind collectibles Etsy store WonderTreasures, tells me. “Her main appeal to me is her shifty eyes. The fact that she has four different eye positions makes her more animated and expressive than a static doll. She can have different personalities or moods with the pull of her cord.” These flickering eyes supply collectors a extra sturdy and intimate customization expertise than every other doll in the marketplace is able to; Blythe lets girls construct their goals right down to the final element, and she or he’s extra actual than a designer baby.

A buying page for Blythe dolls on eBay

Graphic: Matt Patches/Polygon | Supply picture: eBay

However “some people will say that the only true Blythe dolls are the original Kenner creations from 1972,” reads a 2022 Toy Box Philosopher post explaining the distinction between actual and “fake” Blythes. Different individuals purchase comparatively cheaper “factory” Blythes, or imitation dolls “marketed as being made from ‘real factory parts.’” Blythes made by the corporate ICY, as Toy Field Thinker places it, have “chubbier cheeks and more almond-shaped eyes,” whereas the “DBS doll,” a pretend made by Chinese language firm Zhongshan Debisheng Toys, has various measurements.

These so-called knockoffs could or will not be a scourge; it relies on the Blythe collector you’re speaking to. Kazmaier tells me she, personally, does “not name any Blythe dolls ‘stock’ or ‘fakies.’

“Both words seem very wrong to me for dolls,” she says.

Junie Moon sells loads of artisan eye chips ($5), dresses (as much as $138), and airbrushed custom dolls (as much as $900) in its genuine storefront, too. However Trish, a 52-year-old internet designer who sells custom Blythes from her web site adorablymini, particularly seeks out “inexpensive factory dolls” from China to be used in additional bespoke customization. The hunt is a part of the posh. “I’ve spent $700 on dolls alone,” Trish says, and hundreds on uncooked materials and artwork provides.”

Abigail Rigby, who runs the custom Blythe store The Quill and Clay, tells me her most costly modified doll value her “about $1300” and a month of her time. For Rigby, engaged on a doll usually requires “sanding, carving, sanding, sanding, and more sanding” its affected person face till she will get to the “fun part,” the paint, for which she would possibly use PanPastels, Sennelier oil pastels, coloured pencils, and acrylic, amongst different blended media.

“Every Blythe customizer has their way of doing things,” says Preston. She’s been modding Blythes since 2012 (“I loved that you could easily remove her head,” Preston says), initially utilizing them as catalog fashions for the doll garments she was promoting on Etsy.

“I don’t usually start with a plan,” she continues. “It’s pretty easy to mess up a doll’s face if your dremel slips, you sand too much off, or the plastic chips because it’s brittle. I think a lot of customizers lean into these little ‘mistakes,’ and that’s what gives each doll its one-of-a-kind personality.”

A redhaired woman writes on a pad of paper in front of two Blythe dolls set up in a small bedroom diorama

Photograph: Natalie Preston

“The carving process usually takes the longest,” says 31-year-old Nancy of the Etsy store BlytheDreamsCo. Nancy sells cherubic Blythes that are absolutely modified, a course of wherein eyelashes are modified and individually positioned and eye chips are handmade, as she notes in a single doll’s description. She wraps a Blythe by “painting the face and fine-tuning all the little details before a doll is done.”

Nevertheless it’s a gratifying grind, the Blythe customizers say, and it pops the shimmering borders of their imaginations like bubbles.

“I have this fun little fantasy belief that every [doll] finds her right mom (and vice versa),” Trish says. She remembers a doll she made final yr, named Gracie. The lady who purchased it thought stumbling upon the doll might need been an indication, the solar peeking via the clouds. Her childhood pal Gracie died just a few years prior, she stated, and Gracie the lady appeared simply like Gracie the doll.

“I still get chills when I think about it,” Trish says.

Moments like this — tender ones that join girls of all ages, all as a result of they fell for Blythe’s bizarro large eyes — make modifying Blythe a worthwhile pastime.

“People outside of the community may look at [customizing Blythes] with some stigma and make comments about how it’s ‘creepy,’” Preston says, remembering how she was often known as the “creepy doll girl” at her highschool after she started gathering some in 1999. “But the people in the community have a fundamental understanding of what makes us the same: a sense of wonder and excitement about all of the possibilities of our creativity.”

Plus, “the women and men I know who collect Blythe are generally of an age where we don’t much care what people think of us,” says 43-year-old Beth Ramsden, who posts doll customization tutorials on YouTube. “I think Blythe, with her ’70s retro style and oddly shaped head, seems to match that nonconformist mindset!”

“Sometimes it is creepy,” Preston mirrored. However “being creepy is fun too.”

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