We have been followers of @thebarbielookbook on Instagram, an account known for recreating pop-culture icons in doll form. When the account posted a SZA doll, we were so charmed by the resulting interpretation of the queen of cozy, we were inspired to reach out to Jake, the owner of the page.
In an exchange on WhatsApp, we chatted about the SZA doll and ended up getting into a longer conversation about the global community of doll collectors as well as the joys and challenges of his hobby. For starters, we can’t provide his full name nor his exact location other than the Middle East because the country he’s located in is more conservative.
Check out our exchange below and find out how he discovered SZA and also some of the tricks of the trade.
Snobette: When did you start collecting dolls?
Jake: “I used to be a stylist back in the Philippines but my job here is quite different so my dolls are my outlet of creativity.”
Q: Snobette: How did you get into doll collecting?
Jake: “My mom first bought me a doll when I was three-years old. I saw our neighbors playing with Barbies and when you you’re a kid you don’t think, these are boy or girl toys. And I thought, ‘That’s a cool toy they have.’ So I went home and I asked my mom if she could buy me a Barbie and she said to ask my dad. And my dad was like, ‘Barbie, what Barbie?’ But then my mom bought me a Barbie. I have an older brother and he wasn’t so happy with me playing with Barbie and he took it away.
“Many years passed, I entered my adult years and I was earning my own money and that was [six years ago] around the time I moved to the [Middle East.] I was bored and I still always liked toys but didn’t buy anything because I felt I was too old for toys. But one day, I guess I was stressed, I saw a Barbie and realized I could actually buy one and no one is going to say anything lol. I have my own money and am living alone so why not? And I got one and then I got another one. And my friends would enable my addiction and buy me dolls lol. Next thing you know, I have this collection.
“I was hesitant about sharing my collection on Instagram. I was actually surprised when my followers started coming in. Even the people who are not collectors. I would get followers, random people like kids, to adults in the fashion industry and even people who work for Barbie, photographers, stylists. I was actually surprised and it encouraged me to continue.”
Snobette: How did you come to do a SZA doll?
Jake: “I first heard her song while I was in a cab and I asked the cab driver, who is this? Honestly I thought it was Selena Gomez. He told me that it was SZA, but I didn’t ask for the song title. So the song ‘All the Stars’ was stuck in my head, and for the longest time I tried to look for the song on YouTube. I was trying to type random words and I couldn’t find it.
“One day I was watching MTV and I saw the video and it clicked in my head, ‘Oh that’s the song I was listening to!’ Obviously I searched for who the girl was singing and I saw her. I was inspired by her style. She looks so different, so cool and her overall style is very laid back and really sets her apart from her contemporaries.”
Snobette: Where did you get the doll?
Jake: “I got the doll from Amazon, that’s usually where I get my toys. We don’t get everything here. I particularly like the doll because her complexion is pretty. In the doll collection world, doll makers have this impression that African American dolls don’t sell as much as the blonde or lighter skin, but recently people have been looking for more diversity, and Mattel is more into diversity, like there’s a chubby and curvy Barbie now.”
Snobette: How did you figure out how to style her?
Jake: Whenever I interpret styles from celebrity pop icons, the first thing I do is stalk them, lol, go to their Instagram and study their style and get the look they’re going for. I don’t make my own doll clothes. I make a mental note of the doll clothes I already have that match their style. I also enjoy that part. I used to be a stylist and when you’re a stylist you research certain looks when you’re trying to build an idea or a concept for a photo shoot.
Snobette: How did you Sizzafy the doll’s hair?
Jake: “The hair is the tricky part. The doll came with curly hair, but in general out-of-the-box doll hair isn’t as pretty. In the doll world we have this thing called boil wash where we put the doll’s hair in hot water to relax the hair. Lol it sounds crazy but it relaxes the hair and removes the factory gel and glue. And with my dolls that’s what takes a lot of time. You have to brush it and style it so it looks pretty and it’s such a small scale.
“With doll collecting and miniatures, I enjoy working in that small scale, it’s a stress reliever for me. When you’re so focused on that small Barbie world, you kind of forget everything and try to make it perfect. It’s my stress reliever from work.”
Snobette: How hidden is your doll making? Do your friends know?
Jake: “Of course with my close friends or the people who are into arts and are open minded, they know I collect dolls. I have friends overseas and in the U.S. and Europe. For all doll collectors, its quite common to have that scenario where we feel like we’re not comfortable sharing it with a lot of people because some people wouldn’t understand the idea of adults playing with dolls.”
Snobette: You’re right, it’s probably not easy anywhere. Do you think your subject to more pressure in the Middle East?
Jake: “I do have followers who are from this region. Obviously here gender roles are more obvious or implied in the society. At the same time, I know a couple of Arabs who collect toys and collect dolls, maybe not as public as they would want to be. I think slowly people are catching up and being more open. We have our own Comic Con here and you see people into anime and comic books and it’s encouraging.
“I like encouraging people to get a hobby or get into collecting because it’s such a good outlet and especially when you get to meet people wit the same interest. I have friends from all over the world so whenever I travel, you have this big community, which is mostly positive actually.”
Snobette: Is there a doll you feel particularly proud of?
Jake: “I couldn’t pick one particular doll. They’re all a different mixture of fashion concepts I have. I try to make it relevant to what’s happening. Coachella was recent on so I tried to do something with Coachella or if it’s fashion week.
“I’m trying to consciously be as diverse as much possible. One thing I like in putting my dolls on social media, I would see people commenting, ‘Oh it looks like you’ or they would tag their friends or they would say, ‘Oh it looks like my daughter’ or people would have conversations about the doll and it would remind them of someone or something. I find satisfaction in that.”
Snobette: Do you have a favorite SZA song?
Jake: “I like her song “All the Stars’ with Kendrick Lamar. That’s the song that made me aware of her, but also a song that’s kind of controversial about being a side chick or side hoe, “your man is my man…” Lol the idea is fun. That’s what I like about her. She’s unique and not afraid to put out ideas that haven’t been represented. She kind of reminds me of Rihanna actually. She’s making her own niche. I’m still in the journey of discovering her music. She has a really sweet voice and her overall vibe is so cool and so laid back.”
“One point I want to make, there’s a stigma; this idea that doll collectors are weirdos who live in a room full of scary dolls. There are a lot of cool people in the doll collector world. I have a life outside of doll collecting. I travel, I have friends, I’m social. This is something we do on the side but at the same time I feel sad for people who don’t have a hobby or a passion. What do you do with your life if you don’t have any passion?”
“Dolls are such a reflection of our pop culture and fashion and society. I sound really deep but I feel like it’s sad that kids don’t really play as much as we used too, with Toys-R-Us closing and gadgets being more popular. It’s sad because there’s certain magic in playing with small toys and recreating scenarios and dressing up.”
Check out Jake’s take on SZA below along with his feed.