By Liz Ohanesian
Winner of the Elfdoll Halloween contest that took place October 25. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
The popularity of resin-based ball-jointed dolls (BJD), typically made in Japan, South Korea and China, has grown dramatically in the United States over the past five years, creating a community revolving around fan forums like Den of Angels, local meet-ups and a few nationwide conventions. Of the numerous BJD companies, Elfdoll, a subsidiary of South Korean firm Artmaze, is renowned for detailed, human-like features. The company opened its Glendale showroom last year after realizing that roughly 70% of its sales came from the U.S. and has since become the center of the greater Los Angeles BJD community.
Headless Elfdolls. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
“We think that we are not a doll company, we are artists,” says Elfdoll Foreign Trade Manager Yeounjoo Lim, best known to her customers and friends as Ms. Cholong.
Ms. Cholong of Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
Ms. Cholong’s job is part curator, part community organizer and part salesperson, bringing together BJD enthusiasts for events where purchasing the handmade objects is only part of the fun. At the showroom’s October 25 party, hobbyists arrived with arms filled with pieces from their own collections reconfigured to fit Halloween images of comic book heroes, steampunks, fairies, Japanese-styled Lolitas and goth boys in drag.
An admiring Elfdoll fan. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
Consider it art remixed. Each Elfdoll is handcrafted by sculptor Rainman and a team of artisans. They are produced in limited quantities and the prices reflect that, with dolls small enough to fit in the palm of your hand typically costing over $200 and larger pieces starting in the $500 range. The shockingly realistic, remarkably flexible BJDs are blank slates upon which the owner can impart his or her vision.
“Other companies, when they market the dolls, they actually create characters for them,” says Chris Holz of Melbourne, Australia, a collector who happened to arrive in Los Angeles just in time for this event. “The Elfdolls don’t have a background. They’ve got a name, but that’s tantamount to just identifying the doll. When people buy them, it’s whatever they want.”
Hair pieces and outfits are sold separately, giving each doll the potential for a unique look. Many collectors also make their own outfits, while others often deal with a network of crafters and companies who specialize tiny fashions. Additionally, BJD enthusiasts often perform “face-ups,” painting or otherwise modifying the face, and can swap body parts to further change the doll’s appearance.
“I can sew. I can paint,” says local landscape designer Chris Rosmini, “but it’s so much fun to see what other people can come up with, to see the connection between people who are inspired by one thing that started in the U.S. or Japan or Korea and travels across the world.”
She concludes, “I never thought of dolls as an art form before this.”
Elfdoll busts. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
Tough guy Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
Nice facial hair Elfdoll. Photo by Jackie Canchola.
Matching Halloween costume with her Megu Doll from Volks. Photo by Jackie Canchola.