A book, a fashion line and more designer collaborations than H&M: How one mother charmed the rag trade with handmade dolls
23:21 GMT, 18 June 2012
Child's play: Jess Brown's rag dolls have become a favourite with the fashion crowd
A mother-of-two's handmade rag dolls have become must-haves for little girls and the fashion community alike.
Jess Brown, from Petaluma, California, began her business 13 years ago, when she started making toys from scraps of vintage fabric for her children.
She now makes 250 dolls a month with a team of local artisans, each selling for between $92 and $240.
Dressed in age-softened fabrics like recycled cashmere and antique linen, the dolls have become such a trend that a gallery of photos featuring the dolls took the internet by storm, inspiring a children's picture book.
She has collaborated with a number of
fashion labels, including Bottega Veneta, which commissioned life-size
versions of the dolls to use in lieu of mannequins during New York
Mrs Brown has now even launched a fashion line of her own that takes
its style lead from the simple garments that the dolls come dressed in.
Though the dolls have a designer
aesthetic – and price tag – she reveals her goal is to create toys that
little girls will use and love until they fall apart.
She told the Today show: 'It was designed to be used and loved and fall apart and resewn, and just
the ultimate comfort doll made out of the ultimate decadent materials.'
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Rag trade: The dolls are all handmade from cotton muslin or linen, and dyed with Persian tea. Their outfits are made from recycled cashmere, antique lace and vintage fabrics sourced in flea markets
Personal touch: Mrs Brown stitches the eyes and lips herself to ensure the look of each doll is consistent
Mrs Brown admits that though the rag
doll concept is not a new one, her signature is unique, and something
she strives to maintain by stitching the eyes and lips herself.
Pretty in print: The dolls have even inspired a book, titled Kiki and Coco in Paris
'I definitely designed a pattern
that I think is very recognisable, with very skinny, lanky limbs and
star eyes and a heart mouth,' she explained.
'There are parts that I have not allowed anybody else to touch. It's the
look of the doll, it's the actual face of the doll, and that's where I
feel I'm sort of pouring in my vision of what I want to see as the end
Each doll is made from cotton muslin or linen, and dyed with Persian tea to create variations in skin tones.
The stuffing is sustainable corn
fibre and arms are attached at the shoulders with vintage buttons. But
it is the outfit worn by each doll that is most special for the fashion
set: from antique lace shifts to striped rompers, they are better
dressed than many of the front row guests at New York Fashion Week.
Growing empire: Mrs Brown has now launched a womenswear collection that takes its style lead from the simple garments that the dolls come dressed in
Small treasures: There is even a collection of doll accessories so little girls can play dress-up, including dresses (left) and a travel coat (right), both $36
there is even a line of doll accessories so little girls can play
dress-up – as long as parents are prepared to stretch to $36 for a
travel coat, and $20 for a party hat.
The only thing limiting Mrs Brown's empire now is her time, as she knows that it is her personal input that makes each piece she designs so special.
She told Today: 'If I could with for anything, it would be like, five more sets of arms, so I could keep up with where my vision is.'
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