|The Eyes Have It for Niki-a-la-Mode|
|Written by Joshua M. Bernstein|
|Monday, 01 September 2008 00:00|
For several decades, this family owned company has been a vital behind-the-scenes player in the doll industry, becoming the sectorâs leading producer of eyes. What was it doing at this doll-world shindig?
âWeâve never needed to attend IDEXâor any show,â says Pabolâs president, Chestin Lu. âOur eyes are so well-known we didnât need to go to a show. If youâre a doll company, you have to buy eyes. And when people think about eyes, they think about Pabol.â
This yearâs deviation from the norm was due to a revolutionary new product that Pabol had spent more than 15 years perfecting. Trulife Eyes are realistic peepers with eyelids that open and close just like human eyes. âWe showed the product to customers, and they all loved it, but they were reluctant to use it because they needed to modify their molds.â
To demonstrate their breakthrough eyesâmost eyelids and eyeballs are one piece, so when you lay a doll down, its eye unrealistically drops into the holeâPabol created several doll mockups. âWe made 10 dolls and put them in the stand. The purpose was to illustrate the eyes, not the dolls,â Lu says. âBut surprisingly, we got an overwhelming response to the dolls. People loved the dollsâthe clothes, the hairânot just the eyes. That triggered everything. We thought, if nobody else is willing to make the dolls with our eyes, why donât we?â
The result of Pabolâs fortuitous IDEX exhibit decision, hitting retailersâ shelves and collectorsâ hands late this summer or early fall, is a line dubbed Niki Ă la Mode. âThe doll is really about today,â says Lu of his companyâs sophisticated, 14-inch vinyl creations. The poseÂable beauties possess ball joints, realistic hair and a background steeped in glamour.
According to Lu, âNikiâ is a trend-loving fashionista sporting a contemporary, 21st-century look. The fresh-faced 20-something recently graduated from New York Cityâs famed Fashion Institute of Technology, and now sheâs a fashion-world go-getter.
âEach doll has a different personality,â Lu explains. âAs a college grad working in the New York fashion world, she has so many chances to wear different outfits to go to work, parties or exercise. And thereâs even a different eye color, accessories and makeup to match each look.â
For Pabol, crafting the dollsâ personality and style was a huge undertaking. âWe were in the doll eye business,â Lu says. âDolls versus doll eyes are entirely different markets. People buy dolls for pleasure while doll eyes are just parts. At first, we didnât really understand the doll market. It was a huge challenge.â
One of the first steps was finding a visionary to give Niki her trendy style. A friend of a friend suggested NYC fashion designer Colleen Ballou. âIt was really a challenge,â says Ballou, who has spent the last six years designing kidsâ clothing. âIâd never designed for dolls. It was entirely different for me to design on such a miniature scale.â
Where some designers would be petrified, Ballou looked at Niki as a blank slate filled with endless possibilities. âSince it was so off the beaten path of what Iâm doing now, I had lots of freedom,â she says. What she didnât have was lots of time.
âThe schedule was really tight. We only had eight monthsâ from conception to creation, Lu says. âWeâve been working around the clock on the project.â While Lu and company arranged to manufacture the dolls in China, Ballou scoured New York Cityâs garment district for inspiration. Additionally, she looked toward the runways, what she saw young women sauntering down the street wearÂingâand even herself.
âNikiâs âof the momentâ and in-trend,â Ballou says, explaining that the dolls will be clad in very fashion-forward outfits, from high-waisted jeans to pleated shorts to upscale, urbane dresses sparkling with sequins. âTheyâre very detailed and tailored,â Ballou says. âItâs not anything thatâs on the market; itâs unique. Iâm really excited for the doll to come out. Itâs new and fresh, and itâs not like anything else out there. This doll has a seriousness, but also a sophistication, unlike anything anyoneâs ever seen.â
And hopefully, the future will welcome countless more genre-stretching Niki creations from Pabol International. âOf course, we are thinking about future lines,â Lu says hopefully, âbut we need to wait and see what the response is like. We really donât know the outcome, but we have confidence. Niki Ă la Mode speaks to ânow.ââ
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