Thu, Feb 03, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Isn't she a doll!

Yes, she is a doll. But after 30 years on the shelf, Blythe is becoming a supermodel

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Most people think of supermodels as 2m-tall, perfectly proportioned plastic beauties who date rock stars. For Blythe, Asia's latest supermodel sensation, that's only partly true. She stands about 30cm high and her head is too big to pull a sweater over, but she is plastic and rumor has it she's seeing the lead singer of the punk band Money Shot.

Blythe's not one to kiss and tell, though. If she could open her mouth at all she'd probably tell you about her skyrocketing career, or maybe her work for charity. Whether she's on the set or on a shelf, she's as quiet as can be. Which is probably why she has a who's-who list of fashion designer friends who speak on her behalf: Valentino, Versace, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Paco Rabane and others. They've each created couture especially for the doll and helped her raise over US$103,000 for Unicef and the Make a Wish Foundation -- charities which she volunteered to help in between her own high-paying modeling gigs.

Life hasn't always been so easy for Blythe. She was born in the US in 1972 and manufactured by Kenner Toys. But after a year of lackluster sales, they broke the mold and stopped making the doll.

Fast forward 25 years to a 1999 Christmas event thrown by the Tokyo-based creative agency, Cross World Connections, where CWC's president and creative producer, Junko Wong was introduced to a photographer named Gina Garan.

"Gina is a serious doll collector with hundreds of rare and unique dolls in her collection from America circa the 1960s and 1970s," Wong said in an e-mail interview. "After a brief introduction she showed me a couple of the pictures she took of Blythe. I fell in love instantly. I immediately wanted to bring these images to Japan where I was certain they would be well received."

For the next six months Wong made proposals to several venues, including Parco, a long-time business associate of CWC, to exhibit Garan's photographs at their gallery. The proposals changed in size and shape and eventually took a commercial edge when Wong made a presentation to Parco for its 2000 Christmas campaign.

"The rest is history," Wong said. "We animated Blythe and she was on-air for two weeks in Japan, causing a serious stir and phenomenal interest from the public."

Parko bought the rights to the doll and began manufacturing what would come to be known as "neo-Blythe" dolls, then a smaller, "Petite Blythe" version. Meanwhile, classic Blythe dolls became a hot item in on-line auction rooms.

"Five years ago I heard from Gina that you could get Blythe for US$8," Wong said. "Then when the Parco commercial went on-air, vintage Blythe dolls could be bought on eBay for US$100 or so, on up to around US$300. For a vintage Blythe still in the package, US$2,000 or more was not unheard of. I know one girl who bought hers for US$3,500."

To date, Parko has manufactured 50 neo-Blythe and 60 Petite Blythe dolls, some of them sold only in certain countries -- a fact that has caused a craze among well-heeled Japanese collectors.

Kao Wan-chun (高婉君) owns a small Shilin toy store and frequently travels to Japan for business. She says she received a call from one Japanese collector last year asking that, on her next trip to Japan, she bring any of the dolls that couldn't be purchased in Japan.

"The woman said she would pay for my plane ticket in addition to paying for the dolls," Kao said. "I didn't think she was serious, but she was very serious. I went to Tokyo the next week." Kao said that the dolls are also causing a stir among Taiwanese, too, mostly woman in the 20s and 30s.

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