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Elfdoll: Don't Call It A Toy Company

by LA Weekly
October 28, 2008 6:00 AM

By Liz Ohanesian

Winner of the Elfdoll Halloween contest that took place October 25. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

The popularity of resin-based ball-jointed dolls (BJD), typically made in Japan, South Korea and China, has grown dramatically in the United States over the past five years, creating a community revolving around fan forums like Den of Angels, local meet-ups and a few nationwide conventions. Of the numerous BJD companies, Elfdoll, a subsidiary of South Korean firm Artmaze, is renowned for detailed, human-like features. The company opened its Glendale showroom last year after realizing that roughly 70% of its sales came from the U.S. and has since become the center of the greater Los Angeles BJD community.

Headless Elfdolls. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

“We think that we are not a doll company, we are artists,” says Elfdoll Foreign Trade Manager Yeounjoo Lim, best known to her customers and friends as Ms. Cholong.

Ms. Cholong of Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

Ms. Cholong’s job is part curator, part community organizer and part salesperson, bringing together BJD enthusiasts for events where purchasing the handmade objects is only part of the fun. At the showroom’s October 25 party, hobbyists arrived with arms filled with pieces from their own collections reconfigured to fit Halloween images of comic book heroes, steampunks, fairies, Japanese-styled Lolitas and goth boys in drag.

An admiring Elfdoll fan. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

Consider it art remixed. Each Elfdoll is handcrafted by sculptor Rainman and a team of artisans. They are produced in limited quantities and the prices reflect that, with dolls small enough to fit in the palm of your hand typically costing over $200 and larger pieces starting in the $500 range. The shockingly realistic, remarkably flexible BJDs are blank slates upon which the owner can impart his or her vision.

“Other companies, when they market the dolls, they actually create characters for them,” says Chris Holz of Melbourne, Australia, a collector who happened to arrive in Los Angeles just in time for this event. “The Elfdolls don’t have a background. They’ve got a name, but that’s tantamount to just identifying the doll. When people buy them, it’s whatever they want.”

Hair pieces and outfits are sold separately, giving each doll the potential for a unique look. Many collectors also make their own outfits, while others often deal with a network of crafters and companies who specialize tiny fashions. Additionally, BJD enthusiasts often perform “face-ups,” painting or otherwise modifying the face, and can swap body parts to further change the doll’s appearance.

“I can sew. I can paint,” says local landscape designer Chris Rosmini, “but it’s so much fun to see what other people can come up with, to see the connection between people who are inspired by one thing that started in the U.S. or Japan or Korea and travels across the world.”

She concludes, “I never thought of dolls as an art form before this.”

Elfdoll busts. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

Tough guy Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

Nice facial hair Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

Matching Halloween costume with her Megu Doll from Volks. Photo by Jackie Canchola.

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There are 8 comments posted for this article.

The last picture is of a Volks Megu not an Elfdoll doll. Just thought I'd clarify for those that are not experienced in BJD's.



I think I meant "a _participatory_ artform"!

Artists have been making dolls for centuries and I have some of those too, but these dolls are more or less intended to be modified by the owner.

Umm the last pictures caption is wrong. That doll is a Megu from Volks. It is not an Elfdoll doll. :)

FYI: Some of the dolls being admired by the 'Elfdoll' fan are Volks sculpts and one is specifically a Dollshe Bernard, which is yet another abjd brand. Those who know Volks' sculpts better than I will be able to give you more details.

What's wonderful about the Elfdoll store is ANY brand doll is welcome to visit. At a panel at the recent Dollectable convention, Ms. Cholong told us a story about someone bringing a Kelly doll (Barbie's baby sister) to the shop to find some shoes.

This joy of embracing all dolls is what makes the Elfdoll store extra-special to the abjd and all doll communities. I just wish they would open a store here in Texas!

Those things are kind of a good way.

Wow I had no idea these dolls existed. Cool approach Great Read!

they look super cool, definitely a lot of potential for creativity in that field...

Steampunk represents for the winner - nice!
Interesting article, I'm curious to see the showroom now.
thanks! cmp