Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Viewers may not realize just how demanding Project Dollway was for us contestants. Arguably our world is a small one, all this fuss a mere doll-size tempest in a teapot… and of course I can’t speak for the others, but my sense is, even for designers who regularly compete and are in the public eye, it must have been a hard climb.

Overnight I went from happily making doll outfits and accessories, to dedicating months to participating in a high-profile online competition.

From the very beginning, I knew I would need to develop a thoughtful approach, and stick to it.

While we can’t control what happens in the World Out There, we can certainly control our own actions and reactions. Not only can, but should.

It’s always a good idea to know why you’re doing something, to be clear about it. That’s why I came up with a plan, a ten-item mission statement when it all began.

By the way, the photo here is one I took at a remarkable Las Vegas display in the Caesar’s shopping area.

Although I snapped the photo in 2004, and the gown itself is no longer the height of fashion, I really love the image of the precarious figure. Not only is the full-size mannequin reduced to looking small and doll-like, but in an appealing way it manages to sum up certain ideas I have about the last year of my life as a designer.

* * *

It was really great being chosen to participate, and I hope everyone realizes I do appreciate it. We twelve (thirteen, in fact) should all be very pleased at being chosen in the first place… all of us. Of those who weren't chosen, several would have to content themselves with participating in the online at-home version of the contest... I'm sure it was fun for them, but the challenge requirements weren't anywhere near as demanding. And so, in being chosen out of over two hundred hopefuls, a handful of us beat the odds.

Anything beyond being chosen to compete, I chose to see as a kind of bonus. As I prepared for the task before me, I began to think instead about what I could accomplish within the context of the competition… no matter what happened along the way.

There was no way I could know what was happening behind closed doors in the minds of some judges I didn’t know, carrying out an evaluation process that was only partly clear, and whose artistic qualifications were nearly unknown to me. I would be agreeing to be publicly judged by these people no matter how I might come to feel about their competence, professionalism, or knowledge of design. There was always the very real possibility I’d be eliminated, even though I’m an experienced professional designer. That was possible from the very first challenge.

Given that so much was out of my control, how could I come out of this situation with an outcome I wanted? Only the most foolish of dreamers would equate knowing they’re a good designer with knowing they’ll win.

There are many ways to approach a contest like this. Although I wanted to stay in the contest as long as possible, I decided I needed to set some goals, and stay true to my own path.

And so, to insure I would succeed on my own terms no matter what, these were the goals and unbreakable rules I set for myself during Project Dollway:

1. To promote (by example) a specific option for collectors: original high fashion for dolls, designed in the same way as designers create real-world collections for the runway. This approach could help put doll design at the top of the fashion food chain instead of the middle.

2. To carefully analyze each challenge word for word and create what I’m asked to as closely as possible (while not actually possessing a crystal ball).

3. To create pieces that bear the stamp of my style… To Thine Own Self Be True, but within the challenge limits.

4. To always use only my own absolutely original pattern drafts, and then make finished patterns to archive my designs.

5. To reflect the mood of the very latest trends in fashion, but never copy or modify the work of another designer, real-world or doll-world, in the creation of an outfit.

6. To always be mindful of the limitations of manufacturing, to the best of my understanding from what I’d seen of their products. This means following Ted’s ongoing admonition to “keep it simple”. No overly elaborate construction, no obscure, vintage, or overly-expensive fabrics.

7. To take risks with each challenge, and bring something new into the world. If/when the time for elimination comes, I would prefer it not come due to timidity or undue compromise.

8. To not critique, discuss, or question in any way the entries of my fellow designers.

9. To the best of my ability, make sure my work is correctly presented to, and understood by, the public.

10. To keep a sense of perspective.

Looking back, I still respectfully submit that the contest would have had more dignity and meaning if it hadn’t relied on so closely emulating the television show.

The producers of this contest worked very hard, and with Project Dollway gave us all something new and enjoyable, and despite my take on it, I do want to thank them. We participated willingly. Any thoughts I have on how it might have been should not be taken personally. The project took an incredible amount of work to arrange and pull off, and nothing like it had ever been done before. My thanks go to all who worked on it.

My thoughts here about how it was run are idealistic, but still worth posting. First of all, having eliminations only makes logical sense if the challenges are clearly and steadily increasing in difficulty. But if anything, in this contest the harder (IE less clear) challenges came in the beginning. Regardless, it was purely the luck of the draw whether the sequence of challenges would favor any given designer’s strengths, and for purely random reasons a strong designer might well falter early on before having a chance to shine. The elimination of contestants deprived both contestant and viewer of the opportunity to see each designer tackle the full range of challenges.

It would not have been unreasonable for all twelve of us to have competed in all the challenges, then the top three point-earners would each create a collection, from which the single winner would be chosen. That would have been very fair and doable, and more in line with the stated purpose of the contest, which was to showcase the work of top doll designers and search for an overall favorite.

Instead, there was probably a kind of fear that the contest wouldn’t be dramatic or interesting enough without being more like Project Runway. I do understand this thought process. It would be a brave producer of either television or an online contest who took a chance that watching talented designers at work would be interesting enough.

I consider it a major malaise of our time that we need tearful departures, recriminations, bickering, and train wrecks to hold our interest.

* * *

Viewers and readers, as of this writing, still await the outcome of the competition. Naturally I don’t want to give anything away. Outcome aside, as we’re nearing the end it seemed a good time to share these thoughts from behind the scenes. And it can’t be said often enough, I have the highest regard for all my fellow contestants not only for their obvious talent, but because it was never, ever easy.

It was an exciting, precarious year. Having a personal game plan was my safety net.