Queen of the
BY JENN Y RYAN
The story of one little girl who made a comeback
and inspired the masses.
In 1972, a star was born … only the world didn’t
know it yet. Her name was Blythe, and she was
one of the strangest dolls Kenner ever produced. Her body type was that of a teen fashion doll
— not unlike Barbie’s little sis, Skipper — but oh,
what a noggin! Blythe’s head was downright gigantic, with a button nose, rosebud mouth, and a pair
of enormous, thickly lashed eyeballs that seemed
to follow you around the room.
Indeed they could, since Blythe had the unusual
ability to glance from side to side as well as change
eye colors at the pull of a string, from Groovy Green
to Bouncy Brown to Beautiful Blue to Pretty Purple.
Unfortunately, it seems that Blythe was just too weird-looking for most of the doll-buying public, and she
was deemed a commercial failure. Production
stopped after only one year, and Blythe languished
in relative obscurity thereafter.
Fast forward to 1997. Photographer Gina Garan
is introduced to this odd little doll by a friend, who
thinks it looks like her. Garan finds a grubby old
Blythe on eBay for $8 and instantly falls in love.
Blythe becomes Garan’s muse, who photographs
her in countless settings — on the beach, strolling
through an art gallery, traveling the world. The
photos are eventually collected into a kitschy coffee-table book called This Is Blythe (Chronicle Books).
Garan’s evocative pics caught the eye of Junko
Wong, creative director of Cross World Connections,
a creative agency in Japan. CWC saw great potential, and started producing new Blythe dolls under
license from Hasbro, manufactured by Takara.
More than 60 of these “Neo” Blythe dolls have
been released to date, each with their own distinct
look and personality, while the original Kenner
Blythes now fetch thousands on eBay. Just as Wong
predicted, Blythe has reached icon status in Japan,
and has served as a “spokesmodel” for hair dye,
department stores, soda pop, and more. Blythe’s
popularity has also spread in the United States,
where collectors snatch up dolls via eBay, Japanese
buying sites like
yahoo.co.jp, and a select few
designer toy stores.
The buzz on Blythe certainly has something to do
with the booming vinyl toy collector movement, but
to many doll lovers, she represents more than that.
Unlike Barbie, whose face is fixed in a saccharine
perma-grin, there’s a certain mystery in Blythe’s
features that inspires collectors to make her their
own. The same spooky, kooky eyes that freaked
people out in 1972 are exactly what gives Blythe
her charm today — a sense of unpredictability and
soulfulness that makes her the perfect model for
aspiring shutterbugs and dolly couturiers.
Though some collectors keep their dolls “stock,”
many choose to alter her looks in a variety of ways.
Ultra-fine sanding sponges are used to remove the
glossy finish from her face; new makeup is applied
using chalk pastels or an airbrush; lips are painted
with acrylic paints; and scalps are removed and
re-rooted using colorful, silky saran or curly, hand-dyed mohair. Collectors can also dismantle Blythe’s
entire head and replace her original eye-chips with
colors of their own choosing, adding glittery origami
Melissa Cabral of
saveblythe.com restores damaged Kenner Blythe dolls
by adding new hair, eyes, and custom outfits. She also designed an online
puchicollective.com/blythealizer) to test color combinations. >>
Photography by Melissa Cabral (