Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Getting Desperate

We started the week thinking that Barbie v. Bratz was the doll news of this Toy Fair. As in: "who's the alpha doll." You know, something like Jasmin saying:
"Don't make me take off these earrings, girl."
While Malibu Barbie straight from a workout at the Santa Monica dojo goes all "Crouching Tiger" on us. And out.

Hasn't happened. Instead, it's the war of the press releases as Mattel and MGA send out numbers that "don't lie" claiming top status around the globe. True, numbers don't lie. But the interpretation of numbers can be flexible. As anyone knows, context is everything. So, while the kids decide what they want (and both lines look pretty awesome we have to say, though never more different in point of view and product), these two teen (albeit plastic) titans are headed for their ultimate smackdown in trademark court. (Kudos to Mattel for always taking the high road in this argument, BTW.)

Instead, the Toy Fair You-Go-Girl Award, Doll Category, goes to Madame Alexander. For the sassiest line of dolls we've seen yet.



Madame Alexander? The woman who in the 1930s gave the Sonja Henie doll the romanticized nose she thought the world famous skater "should have," according to Madame? The company that made a mint licensing the Dionne Quints? The company that has made every character from Jo March to the Wicked Witch of the West look almost exactly the same with the so-called "Madame" face?

Believe it, kids.

This is not your Great Aunt Tessie's Madame Alexander. The company has done a full line of dolls based on ABC's mega hit, Desperate Housewives. Now, for you folks who really care about the ins and outs of the toy industry, they've licensed the characters and NOT the actresses likenesses. This takes away a whole layer of approvals, but it also keeps the focus on what the true collector wants--realistic representations of the show in doll form. According to the designers, they searched high and low for the actual fabrics that were used, recreated specific outfits from specific episodes. And the result?

Wow! Totally amazing. Some of the most beautiful collector dolls we've seen in years. We don't think we're going anywhere near a limb when we say that for collectors, these will be one of the hottest scores of this year. What the Madame A. company has done that's so smart is focus on the beautiful clothes and hair, and given the "attitude" a pass.

Why does this matter? Well, for collectors it's all about the relationship between the owner and the doll. Collectors will see in these dolls what they want to see. They don't need the characters spoon fed to them. The designers have focused on the details and let the results speak for themselves.

I met Beatrice Alexander late in her life, many many years ago. She had very specific ideas of what girls and dolls should be. She started her company at her kitchen table and never wavered from her vision. And millions of dolls--and treasured memories for their owners--later, the company is still going strong. Better than ever, even. While lots of collector doll companies seem to be pushing the same depressed babies in god awful frills they've been pushing for years, Madame Alexander's entire line looks great. Really, something for everyone as a new generation of collectors emerges.

I only wish Madame were still around. I'd love to hear her take on girls today when the romanticized vision is not quite what it was--if it ever was. Madame was a practical woman, and a sound business person. I like to think she'd get a kick out of the Desperate Housewives dolls. She knew that the doll business was a lot like show business...and the only way to be successful is to give em what they want.

-C. Byrne