Designer Spotlight: Doris Mixon

Doris Mixon is an old dame of the fashion doll world. Doris' company, Fashion Boulevard, made it a point to make affordable interesting clothes and dolls for everyone. Unique to Doris is that she was almost more interested in giving independent designers a step up than fully developing her own lines, which is unheard of. She is also a spitfire and refreshingly candid, so hold on for her take on the glamours of owning your own doll business! 

In the interest of disclosure, I have known Doris for too many years to print. I found her through one of Jim Farone's books, noticed she lived close, had a meeting and the rest is history. I've worked with her on two conventions, a few dolls and she of course produced my Empire line for years. I originally wanted to add this interview to the Halloween line up as she is the Grandmother of Goth but her perspective on the industry goes so much further as a woman and manufacturer that I had to feature her alone. 

*Note: If you haven't noticed already, I don't edit my subject's interviews. Other than spell check, I like to hear the designer/artist in their own voice. It is not up to me to censor what they say or make them sound good/bad/ugly. Besides, they're so much more interesting being themselves than some PR job IMHO and I'm grateful they feel they can be open here.  

Sam: How did you get interested in fashion dolls and customizing in particular?: 

DM: I always loved fashion. From the time I was young I would design for paper dolls. I would hold them up to the window and trace around the paper dolls and then I would add my designs to them. I also used scarves to design for my first Barbie Doll. When I got older I would sew for my daughters and really wanted to just go crazy designing but I had a family and I had to wait. Finally when my youngest was in elementary school we went to a doll show and I saw all these amazing Barbie designs and OOAKs. I knew there and then what I wanted to do. So I bought a bunch of material and made patterns from designs I saw in magazines. My first designs were disastrous and I gave them away. Then I got a bit better and signed up to do a doll show in Ontario, California that Bob Mackie was going to be attending. At the show he actually came up to me and told me how nice he thought my designs were. I made a complete fool of myself over him. He has always been one of my favorite designers.  

Original Christina Doll
Original Felice Doll

So after that everything just took off and I went to as many shows as I could and then when Gene came out I really went nuts. Finally a doll that was a big enough size for me to actually be able to design for. I entered my designs at the first Hollywood Gene convention and won almost every category that I entered. Soon after that I found a factory in China and started mass producing my designs. We did fairly well, but I really was getting tired of designing for someone else's doll and wanted my own doll and that is when I started looking for sculptors to design my doll. I found several and after quite a few false starts we chose a person we thought could do a good job on our first Christina doll. The doll was very cartoony, mostly the fault of the factory, but we came out with her anyway because of all the money we had spent on her. Then we tried again after getting ugly reviews of her. The next ones were still not what we wanted, again the factory did not do her justice. Then we tried a third time with our Felice and Christina dolls in resin for the body and vinyl for the heads. Still they weren't what I wanted. I finally got what I wanted this year for our Christina and Felice. They are all in resin and the bodies are fantastic. It only took us 11 years LOL.

New Resin Felice
New Resin Christina

Sam: What was the landscape of fashion dolls when you started your company and how were you looking to add to it?: 

DM: Well, there was a lot of high fashion designs from one company and vintage fashion from another. I started out doing the vintage and high fashion, but there was way to much in those markets. So I decided to go with my love: goth with some punk and fetish thrown in. It was all tongue in cheek and I got some snide remarks over some of my designs, but I let it go in one ear and out the other. Most of the collectors loved our designs and bought them up like crazy.  

Punked Out

Sam: Your style has definitely changed from the vintage wear on Gene to the goth styles you're known for now. Describe the evolution and what inspired you to get into fetish wear: 

Darvon and Demerol

DM: I tried to do some really nice vintage designs for the Gene dolls. Things that I remember seeing in the movies when I was a kid. I did very well with my designs and had a long waiting list of people wanting my OOAK dressed dolls. It wasn't until I came out with our Felice doll that I wanted to get a little more edgy. I've always liked the edgy look and I was the only one doing it at the time. Now it's all over the place. I used PVC, leather, whips, handcuffs and anything else that I thought went with my designs. We even did sexy costumes and people grabbed them up like crazy. So I must have been doing something right.


Sam: What has been your most popular outfit over the years? Your favorite?:   

DM: The most popular was our Teacher's Pet outfit. It came with a short pleated skirt with suspenders, a white blouse, thigh high lace nylons, red platform shoes and a lollipop. People are still looking for that one. I even sold my sample outfit of it. I wish I hadn't though. My favorite design to date would have to be the My Fair Lady Ascot gown. I love that movie and that outfit has always been one of my favorites. Our company made it but of course I ended up selling my sample outfit again because I had a customer that missed out and really really wanted it LOL. 

Teacher's Pet

Sam: What has been the most satisfying aspect of being a manufacturer?:  

DM: Running my own company and calling the shots. I worked for Paradise Galleries for a short time and also did some teddy bear designs for Knickerbocker. I was told what to make and had to have patterns and samples done at a specific time. It was when my husband and I made the decision to open our own factory in China that everything took off for me creativity wise. I just had to send the factory pictures of what I wanted and instructions and the material and they did the rest. It was so amazing to send pictures and in a few short weeks have the samples in my hands and they were usually right on target. It spoiled me big time. I didn't sew for a few years after that. It was great owning the factory at first and being the boss, but then things started going bad after I found out my manager was not doing his job or paying the bills. I finally decided it was time to close down. I was deflated but determined not to let it get to me. I took almost a year off to get my thoughts together and decide if it was time to get out of the business all together, but I love fashion and dolls and said NO!! I'm going to continue what I love.

Sam: What's it like being one of the only female fashion doll manufacturers in a field dominated by men, ironically?:  

DM: I love what I do and I know what I like in fashion. I try and design what collectors would like to see themselves in if they had the body and age to wear my designs. Since fashion doll collecting is a fantasy. People usually project themselves onto the dolls and dress the dolls how they would like to dress. A lot of times I don't think that most men designers see that. They want to tell the populace what they should wear instead of letting them make up their own minds. One gentleman that recently got into the doll market takes designs right off the runways and then calls them his own. He didn't know anything about the doll making market just a few short years ago, but he is all over the place now and posting his stylized photoshoped photographs to every board that will have him. He feels that he is on top of the doll collecting heap, but that is a small heap and you can tumble off quite quickly if you're not careful. I myself keep a small but loyal list of customers that wait for me to come out with new designs and then race to buy. I sold out of my last collection, which were primarily OOAKs. I'm slowly getting back into sewing again and really am starting to find it exciting.  


Sam: What was it like working with independent artists to try and help them start their own production line?:

Well....I started Fashion Boulevard as a way of taking charge of my own line and giving the novice designers a chance to produce their line without having to invest in a huge minimum order. I had a very small minimum order so that the novices could get their feet wet to producing their own line. With some designers it went very well, but with others it was a disaster. I worked with Doug James who is a professional and understands what working with a factory is all about. I love and respect Doug and still work with him to this day. You and Cindy of Red Silk Thread were really wonderful to work with also. You are both so talented and enthusiastic. I know you were both crushed when I had to close my factory. 

The rest of the novices I worked with had no idea what working with a manufacturer was all about. They treated me like a wholesaler or like one person did, an employee. I told the people that wanted to work with my company what to expect up front but they just blew it off and when reality set in I was the bad guy. I had some stores that would place orders and want me to do special lines for them, knowing full well what the minimum was and said no problem. So I would buy all the material and trims needed to produce their lines and also pay to have it shipped to my factory, only to have them cut the orders in half and then one just put me off several times until I had had enough. I also tried to have a doll produced for one shop only to be threatened with a law suit every two weeks because it was taking too long. From start to finish on a doll it's usually about a year and a half to two years, but this person just couldn't wait. I learned in the end that he was working with another company and he planned on dropping me as soon as he received the doll anyway. 

Another artist that we were supposed to produce for started to believe that I was going to steal their designs and creations. I was helping this person and giving them ideas and listening to what they wanted to do. In the end I was called a thief and liar by people I thought were my friends. If I had to do it all over again. I would NOT ever work with novices again. They have no idea what goes into producing a line or the problems that can arise from working with the orient. They just want to have their own dolls and designs produced so that they can be envied by the collecting masses. I would only work with people that understood the mechanisms of working with a production schedule and with a factory half a world away. I still work with a resin factory in China, but it's easier now, because I only have one client and he is a dream. No more threats or harassments. The bottom line is do what you want and love to do and listen to your heart not the rantings of others.

Sam: What are you working on now?:  

DM: I'm working on our Felice and Christina dolls again. We got some interest from people wanting to know if we were ever going to do them again and I said why not. So I put them together again and we did very well.  We will be coming out with our Darvon and Demerol too. They are very edgy dolls and I have been getting a lot of e-mails asking if we're going to do them again. A lot of people jumped on the fashion doll band wagon, but had no idea what to expect. I think they thought it was instant fortunes being made by all of us.  But that was so far from the truth. You have to truly love what you're doing to make it in this hobby. When I started Fashion Boulevard it was to give the collectors something different. I wanted to give them more for there money than they were getting. 

Sam: Where would you like to see fashion dolls go in the future?: 

DM: I think I would like to see them more realistic. I know that sounds really strange, but a doll that has realistic skin texture and maybe even a robotic body would be so cool. I know it would be spooky to have your doll talking to you and walking around demanding more fashions LOL but wouldn't it be amazing!!!

Thank you, Doris, for taking the time to share your work and insight with us. 

No matter what you think of Doris personally or her dolls or her style, you have to give this lady props.  To me she is quite the study of the American dream: a woman "of a certain age", doing what she loves, picking herself up and dusting herself off time and time again. And isn't that the simple definition of success? Get up more times than you get knocked down? 


Stacy Leigh said...

Love the interview, and I think Doris is great.


Sue said...

I've always been a fan of Fashion Boulevard. The fashions and accessories are great! But I have not seen the resin dolls yet. I wonder where I can find them?