Twelve years ago, Integrity Toys released their RuPaul doll. And no one could predict back then what a household name RuPaul would become with his successful tv show RuPaul's Drag Race. Such an iconic person would of course be involved in the biggest drag queen convention in the world, Drag Con. Oh Mannequin, the team responsible for creating all of RuPaul's booths and merchandising at the convention, asked their friend, the multi-talented doll creator and designer Andrew Yang, who for the past year has transitioned into commercial doll making, collaborating with Phyn & Aero and other doll artists and sculptors, to customise 12 Ru Paul dolls into one of a kind Ru looks, in a very short amount of time.
As with any celebrity who makes product, the RuPaul team are guaranteed a certain amount of goods-- and there was one style of doll, the black haired version of The Glamazon doll, that Rupaul's merchandise team had a little extra stock. RuPaul rarely wears black hair, so this particular version didn't have the same magic as some of the others-- not to mention her slightly dated bell bottoms and black bustier.
Already used to working under tight deadlines, Andrew started working on the dolls right away: the dolls didn't need to be fitted for redressing and creating them as "art dolls" would shave some time off the construction end of things. He also was anxious to create a fun project that would be fast and shareable, and at the same time a fun exercise in putting out some new and exciting work-- to say nothing of the fact that RuPaul is one of his few idols. Talk about a dream project! One of the most exciting things about the project was that RuPaul selected each of the looks himself. Many of them were based on looks from the show designed by Zaldy, and other iconic moments from his long career, like a Bob Mackie and "Wonder Woman" number.
So how did Andrew tackle the assignment? First of all, the hair had to go. After heating the dolls in his oven on the "warm" setting and shearing off all the locks, the material had softened enough to remove all of the heads safely without damaging the (relatively old) plastic. Then came the scraping and the tweezing of all the leftover hairs. After that was done, He painted all of the scalps-- all of these girls would definitely be blonde!
Andrew knew that he would be a candidate for an early onset of arthritis if he tried re-rooting the hair himself, despite getting tips from the always amazing Integrity doll community re-routers like Salvador Arriaga. So he called up one of his Los Angeles dolly friends, Denisa Medrano. A hair designer at Mattel for six years in the late nineties and early 2000s, Denisa now works independently, acting as the go to girl for anyone developing a doll, rooting and designing hair for dolls for almost every major player in the toy industry. Going to her studio in Torrence is always an experience: its a magical wonderland filled with dolls and hair of every colour, texture, and curl. Andrew firmly believes that hair makes the doll, so it was important to work with the best.
Denisa's right hand man is the phenomenal stylist and doll photographer Randy LaCroix, so between the two of them, the dolls would be in good hands. The doll heads had to be kept pliable in the oven as the hair rooting machines always work best on soft plastic, so the process of rooting and rotating out and styling took almost three days.
The next step was fabrics and trims-- luckily Los Angeles has a phenomenal garment district, so between that and Mood, Andrew was able to source everything in a relatively short amount of time. He went to work sewing the clothes, and making the accessories. For his bigger fabric dolls, Andrew is used to working on many things at once, so everything is done in stages, pattern making, cutting, and sewing for each doll. And the un-articulated bodies made for great dress forms, even though sewing in such tiny scale was a fun exercise in and of itself.
Andrew used the same design philosophy when making the small Ru outfits as when re-interpreting a look from Chanel for a client like Barneys New York or someone custom in one of his larger fabric dolls. He did not set out to recreate the look in miniature (he said there are vastly more talented people at doing that job), but rather, treated the doll like a fashion illustration and tried to capture the feeling and mood of the original look. Sometimes that can be done with just the hair and makeup, and you can get away with taking more creative liberties on the clothes, other times, there are certain things you have to get right on the outfit.
Third step: painting the face. The makeup was more about being organized. At this point, all of the hair was roughly styled, so when he covered up the nylon locks to keep them from getting painted with matte acrylic spray, Andrew made sure to label all of their paper towel coverings with dress nicknames. His nightmare scenario was doing a faceup for one look on the wrong hair. For most of the looks, he only partially repainted, as the original screening was beautiful and he wanted to make sure the dolls maintained a level of consistency and looked in line with the original dolls and Ru's brand.
After the heads went in for a last round in the oven, and back on the dolls, each of them went through the styling comb again. Randy and Denisa's styling was beautiful, but they are used to delivering something commercial and prototype perfect, and Andrew wanted to find that perfect balance between messy and glamour for a lot of the hairstyles.
It was a big stroke of luck that right around the time Andrew was finishing the dolls he crossed paths with André Armenante, a West Hollywood based filmmaker, inventor, and theatrical designer. He migrated from a career in special effects/robotics to the toy industry with his cutting edge interactive hologram playset HolograFX, which launched with Toys R Us worldwide and was the most awarded toy of 2014. Recently, Armenante was a lead special effects designer for ‘Magic To Do’ - a new musical from Stephen Schwartz the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award winning composer of Wicked, Godspell and Pippin and has worked with the likes of David Copperfield, Mattel, and Hasbro.
Usually, on these short turnaround projects, the artist doesn't get a lot of time to document the work in a great way, so when André wanted to collaborate, Andrew jumped at the chance, and in the days before the dolls were delivered to Ru's people, they shot and edited a fun showcase video-- which couldn't have been done if they weren't pushed to do it all in time by Andrew's partner Daniel Randell!
Andrew believes that if the doll world is to survive, and not become a hyper expensive collector hobby, it is important to market and create a buzz around dolls in a way that reaches beyond just the community, so in many ways this was a perfect project to create some excitement around dolls, and it worked! Hours after the ribbon was cut for Drag Con 2017, most of the dolls had been sold, and by the time the convention doors closed, it was a sell-out ! Congratulations Ru!
Andrew had a lot of fun working in this scale, and on such fabulous dresses, so you can expect to see his new doll, Kadira, in some more flashy fun evening wear-- and commercials for her too! Now back to making all of her samples!....