It’s definitely a niche hobby but demand is hot for new and second-hand fashion dolls.

For many collectors including Robi Martin it started with Barbie but, in 2005 something else caught her eye, a 16-inch Syberite Superdoll. The doll was $1,300 USD so Robi didn’t pick up the hobby immediately. But when she saw a slightly damaged second-hand doll for roughly $1,000 less, she relented.

Fashion dolls look airbrushed but life-like in photos, due to their “poseability” – they have over 20 points of articulation.

“I mean you can really do so much with these girls,” Martin said. “It’s just the funnest thing ever. I don’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to do this for hours every day.”

Once owners get a doll, they must then dress it, but sometimes the finest of designer wardrobe items are hard to procure and expensive. But many owners are grateful to spend a small fortune on clothes and accessories from designers who, like fashion houses, release limited collections.

“Ilaria in Italy, she comes out four or five times a year with maybe 50 wigs. As you flip through you have to go ‘add to cart, add to cart’. You can’t have a look and then go back because they’re gone. They’re gone in a heartbeat.

“Each one of her wigs is over $100 USD for a tiny little wig, for a doll!” And Martin has a confession to make. “I have hundreds of them, hundreds of them. It’s sickening how much stuff that I have for them.”

Doll-makers are respected as artists and have been known to have their own seats at prestigious fashion weeks, often with another seat for the doll. Naturally, famous fashion houses like Versace make pieces for dolls. Entire industries have sprung up around these dolls from jewellery to furniture, every detail in perfect miniature.

“There are people that only do shoes for these dolls,” Martin said. “There are people that do the face re-paints, there are people that just make wigs.”

It’s a busy hobby. When you’re not shopping, you might be getting ready for a photoshoot. And it can take over an hour just to change an outfit. But it’s worth it for the many collectors, who share their work with the online community

“You become great friends and you’re always posting pictures of your doll. They comment, you like each other’s stuff and you sort of just develop these relationships with people over the years, who are just as far down the friggin rabbit hole as you… because not everybody understands this.”

Martin has built up a collection to rival most with many one-of-a-kinds, made just for her.

“I was just craving something a bit next level.” So she made friends with UK dollmakers Emperis and had them make several bespoke dolls.

Anyone interested in taking up this hobby can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a damaged doll, or quite a few thousand for new. And then much more to dress them, more even, than it would cost to dress yourself.

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