All Dolled Up

Remember your first doll? Well, if you’re a girl you do. Mine was Gigi, a pasty doll with straw-like orange hair and glassy blue eyes that closed when I laid her down.

Today, dolls come with a change of outfits, multiple accessories, cars, cell phones, iPods and even careers. But what if you wanted to change your doll’s face? You seek Kristen Ashford.

Nine years ago she created Repaints by Kristen, a doll “repainting” business to satisfy collectors from all walks of life, even from countries as far away as Australia, Japan and Spain. The term “repaint” refers to a process that completely alters the face of a doll from its original factory look. Whether you’re dissatisfied with the look of your doll, or you simply desire a celebrity look-a-like, Ashford can do it all.

With the birth of EBay, Ashford, an artist and doll collector, saw a doll on the auction site which had been customized.
“I was just amazed! I realized you could customize a doll, that you didn’t have to buy the doll the way it came from the factory anymore,” Ashford said. “You could buy a doll from the manufacturer, remove all the face paint with nail polish remover and paint whatever face you want on that blank canvas.”  

“You can even change the hair color by adding highlights. Remove the doll’s head, thread some new hair through a needle, put a knot at the end of the thread and pull it through, put curlers in your new hair, put it in really hot water and you have curly hair.”

Her ‘blank canvases’ have revealed the faces of numerous celebrities like Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Kiera Knightley, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears. Her website also displays many of her celebrity dolls from the golden age of Hollywood, including Gene Tierney, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. Bella from the Twilight series is her latest doll.

Though Ashford specializes in celebrity dolls, she also accepts commissions. While you can’t purchase a doll directly from the website, they are available through EBay with new monthly listings.

“I use professional artist quality acrylic paint and an acrylic safe varnish that protects them. It’s one-of-a-kind artwork, something I’ve always enjoyed and I get to share it with other people,” Ashford said, holding up the Kiera Knightley doll. “I want them to be in love with their doll.”

She finds it’s much more difficult to repaint male dolls compared to female dolls. “It takes an insane amount of time because the original face of a man doll from the factory is not anything you can work with for a portrait. You have to
change it.”

Ashford works with her mother, an oil painter, who uses her dremel tool to sculpt away the excess vinyl from the male doll’s face until she gets a shape they can work with. Ashford enjoys the challenge of creating the male doll “because realistic renditions of male stars are extremely hard to find.”

So, how long does it take to make one of these dolls? According to Ashford, it generally takes a few sessions of several hours each for a doll.

“Portrait dolls take more time because you can’t just stop when a doll is pretty. It has to look like the person. Commission dolls can take longer if you’re tweaking for the collector.”

Ashford has come a long way from creating paper dolls with her sister as a teenager in her room. She’s now creating top-of-the line celebrity renditions in her living room workshop. Somewhere in Australia, England, France, Japan or Spain, sitting in someone’s lavish doll cabinet, is a celebrity or customized doll, courtesy of Repaints by Kristen.
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