Blythe doll history and her reincarnation finally explained. In 1972, the Blythe doll was born. She died later that year. Mainly because her oversized head and peepers were deemed too scary for children, Blythe’s manufacturerKenner summarily pulled this kooky, big-eyed doll from the shelves, preventing many young girls from meeting her – at least for the moment. One of those little girls was Gina Garan.
Gina moved from the suburbs north of New York City into Manhattan as a teenager, bringing her burgeoning doll collection with her. But among the thousands of the 60s and 70s fashion dolls she had already amassed, not a single Blythe lived. Only after a friend described a doll on bearing a resemblance to her did Gina first meet, fall in love with, and begin snapping up these originals, all for about $15 a pop. At one point, she counted over 200 original Blythes among her collection.
For another couple years, Blythe continued to live in relative obscurity, known only to hard-core collectors as a quaint curiosity. But Gina, living the peripatetic life of the young downtowner, moved into her nth apartment and among the detritus left by the former tenant found an old SLR camera. With no formal training as a photographer, she began taking pictures of her favorite doll. The result of this experiment was This Is Blythe (Chronicle Books, 2000), a coffee-table digest that reintroduced Blythe to the world. The book, named Firecracker Alternative Book of the Year for 2001, has sold over 100,000 copies and remains in print, making it a part of Blythe history.
(Interesting note: When Gina approached the toy company Hasbro and asked for permission to use Blythe in her pictures, Hasbro demurred, not understanding that it had in fact acquired the Blythe brand when it bought Kenner in the 70s. Hasbro actually had to look through its stock to find it owned Blythe!)
Gina also introduced the doll to her then agent in Japan, Junko Wong. Their first project together was a stop-motion-animation Christmas commercial for the Japanese department store chain Parco. Gina’s husband, Asa Somers – an actor with Broadway and television credits – came up with the concept of Blythe and her friends living inside a snow globe. The commercial and the campaign were a success, and Blythe as a new, 21st Century brand was off and running.
CWC, with the toy company Takara, soon began manufacturing new versions of Blythe. The result has been a miraculous (and slightly surreal) global renaissance for the doll, especially in Asia. A new generation of collectors eagerly await the arrival of up to six new Blythe reproductions each year – and then promptly put the dolls up for sale on online auctions for double the price.
Every year there is an Annual Blythe Charity Fashion Show in Tokyo, where leading designers from around the world create tiny versions of their outfits for Blythe to wear as she is carried down the runway by white-glove-wearing models. As a virtual model, Blythe has found fans among the leading design houses, including John Galliano, Prada, Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Issey Miyake, Versace, Sonia Rykiel, and many others. Gina documented some of these designs in monthly full-page installments in Vogue Nippon in 2002. Blythe has also appeared in major advertising campaigns for Sony Europe, Nordstrom’s department stores, and as seven-foot-tall life-size mannequins in the windows of Bloomingdales. Most recently, Blythe was the muse for Alexander McQueen’s campaign for U.S. retailer Target, and the television commercial, print ads, and ubiquitous billboards were all done under Ms. Garan’s consultation.
Ms. Garan has also published numerous other books of her work, including the popular Blythe Style, Blythe on Beauty and more. Her photos have been displayed in solo shows in Tokyo, London, Melbourne, Seoul, Nottingham (U.K.), Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Fe, and in numerous group shows. Gina and her work have appeared in countless publications, including The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, People, The Times (London), The Village Voice, The Miami Herald, and The Dallas Morning News. You may have seen Gina speaking lovingly about Blythe on VH1’s I Love the 70s (1972).
Ms. Garan has also collaborated in the design and production of several new dolls, including ginagirls, sold mainly in Japan, and Bendel’s Girls, available at Christmastime exclusively at New York department store Henri Bendel.
Ms. Garan lives in New York’s Gray Square neighborhood with her husband and their son Carpenter. Thanks for reading our Blythe doll history. Check out our Blythe adventures here.
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