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(photo credit: Meredith Price)
'Dolls are not just for children," says Gala Darin, tucking the ribbon arms of her most recent one-of-a-kind creation into a leg strap so the doll can sit upright. "See. Now she's independent," she adds, clasping her palms together in satisfaction.
"When I put these dolls in children's stores, they did not sell as well as they do in the designer shops or boutiques because most of my customers are actually adults," says Gala. From the fine strands of vibrant ribbon that form each doll's signature Pippy Longstocking coif and the colorful stitches transforming plain eyes into electric round orbs, it's easy to see why they appeal to personality types more than age.
"Artistic women are sometimes attracted to the dolls because they appreciate the work that goes into each one, and the cloth dolls bring back nostalgic memories of their childhood," says Gala.
Children, who like the wild colors and interesting textures, were also on Gala's mind when she conceptualized the dolls. "Each one is a work of art, so they can be used to decorate a room, but they are also soft and durable, and once you remove the ribbon arms from the legs, they move easily so that children can play with them, too," Darin says.
With their huge grins and funky, a la mode threads, the dolls' smiles are somehow contagious, and Gala maintains that this was one of her goals.
Two years ago, after reading a book about a doll maker who knows the difference between "just things" and treasures - Goldie the Doll Maker - Gala was inspired to try her hand at doll making. She had been searching for a way to use tiny squares of fabric and ribbon left over from former projects at the College of Fashion Design and Textile. So as a gift for the birth of a friend's baby, Gala shaped the leftover fabric into a handmade doll.
"Goldie the Doll Maker is about a little girl who loses her parents but carries on their tradition of making dolls," says Gala. "At the time, I was looking for a way to use my odds and ends, and I decided to challenge myself to make a doll of my own."
Today, a few high-end Israeli shops carry Gala's dolls as well as one boutique called Rosebud in the Soho neighborhood of New York. Customers also place private orders for personalized dolls so they can have names sewn onto them. Gala says that people buy the dolls, which sell for NIS 180 a piece, both as decorative items and as birthday, anniversary or baby gifts.
But although Gala is passionate about her dolls, fashion design is her primary enterprise. Dressed in a pair of long crotch jeans with a glitzy summer top from her first clothing collection, Gala says she strives for casual elegance.
"I like to mix and match styles. If I have a fancy top, then I'll put it with something more informal to break it up," she says.
To bear the muggy, Tel Aviv heat, she twists her long hair away from her face and affixes it with a pencil in one smooth, practiced motion. Between racks of clothing, books on design, a sewing machine, spools of material and a large central table, not much space remains in the cozy studio. But Gala, who used to work at home, says that being able to separate the two has made life much easier.
"Creating a collection is a long process. First you have to make the drawings, think about the colors, the fabrics and the textures. Then, you need to test your fabrics and think about your theme," she says. "Being able to work in the studio brings order to my head."
This year, Gala created her first collection with a hand-touched look - meaning that each piece is slightly unique. The material either has free-hand sketches printed on it or is missing patches of color in different places, which gives it a slightly unfinished, casual flare.
In the future, Gala hopes to concentrate only on making dolls.
"I love the fact that I can wear my own designs from head to toe, but my dream is to focus on the dolls and sell to stores like Antoine et Lilly in France or boutiques in the Marais," Gala says. Right now, finding the time to make the two new doll prototypes floating around in her head poses the biggest challenge.
Gala attributes her success to the fact that, like Goldie in Goldie the Doll Maker, a constant smile lights up her face whenever a new doll comes to life.
For more information, e-mail Gala at firstname.lastname@example.org.