I am not likely to ever own a Zwergnase art doll, but I did stumble upon a wonderful opportunity to purchase a doll from one of the Zwergnase Junior play lines. The company has two styles of play doll: colorful cloth-bodied dolls with simplified vinyl heads and limbs, and more realistic fully vinyl dolls. Both groups of dolls are appealing to me, but the faces on the all-vinyl dolls are more similar to the art doll faces I love so much. Samantha's Dolls carries a great selection of Zwergnase, and during one of their amazing 50%-off sales, I decided to buy a Junior doll. The play dolls retail for between $220 and $250. The half-price sale brought the price of my doll down to $110, which is comparable to the cost of American Girl, Carpatina and similar dolls. Samantha's huge sales usually only apply to 2010 or earlier dolls, so I made my selection from a small number of remaining older dolls. I ended up choosing Ivanca for her bright red hair and interesting expression. I call her Ivy:
|Zwergnase Junior doll, "Ivanca."|
I have warned you about my affinity for dolls with quirky character faces, and I understand that not everyone is with me on this. My husband is not a huge fan of Zwergnase faces, which is one of the many reasons why we don't own one of these dolls. I would like to offer up a challenge, though, to anyone who (like my husband) has been looking at Zwergnase pictures and thinking, "Yikes! Freaky! No, way." Here's the challenge: peruse this amazing website, and try to find just one doll that you think is lovely. I put this challenge out there because one of the many things that impresses me about Nicole's talent is that while all of her dolls are recognizably hers (they could not have been made by anyone else) there is huge variety in the facial expressions. While I adore some of the faces, I am quite turned off by others. My husband took the challenge and agrees that Nike (and a few others) are nice.
The Zwergnase packaging is amazing. Ivy arrived in a well-made padded drawstring bag inside of a regular brown shipping box. The bag is incredibly useful for toting the doll around, and it would also make a great sleeping bag for a doll game:
This bag is even nicer than the MiM doll bag because it is made out of natural fabrics and feels great.
The doll is identified by a small white adhesive strip on the front of the bag:
The one and only drawback I can see with this method of packaging is that Ivy's hair was a bit of a mess when she came out of the bag.
Here she is exactly how she emerged from her body bag:
|Looking a little confused.|
|Wo bin ich?|
I brushed her red hair (with my new wire brush) and re-positioned the headband:
She reminds me of someone I know. In fact, many of the Zwergnase dolls have expressions that remind me of a real person in my life. I think this is a wonderful accomplishment and a credit to Nicole's skill as a sculptor.
Ivy has hand-painted royal blue eyes, which is probably a better option for a play doll than the fragile, mouth-blown glass eyes that the art dolls have.
The eyes are beautifully painted, and the eyebrows have wonderful detail and charismatic asymmetry:
Ivy's right eyebrow is slightly raised. I love this feature on my Ever After High Apple White doll, even though in that case it was a careless defect in facial screening. With this doll, the arched brow is not only intentional, it is a hallmark of Nicole's skill for capturing character and expression:
Ivy has a long space between her nose and her full lips. This is a feature that she shares with some, but not all of the Zwergnase art dolls.
Her lips remind me of Scarlett Johansen. They are slightly lopsided, but beautifully painted with subtle sculpted details:
One detail I didn't notice until I was looking at these pictures is that Ivy has uneven nostrils. You can see it more clearly in this zoomed out photo:
I commented on the facial asymmetry of my American Girl doll, too. I think many dolls are intentionally sculpted with some lopsidedness because it looks more realistic. Also, it's impossible to make something by hand that is perfectly symmetric. For some reason the uneven features on this face don't bother me at all. I think it's because this doll isn't mass-produced. She doesn't seem that far removed from the sculpting process that started her production. I almost want to see small imperfections--they're like little signs that say, "Nicole Marschollek was here."
One of the results of the facial asymmetry is that Ivy has different moods reflected in the different angles of her face. From the front, she looks sweet, but a little stubborn and strong-willed:
In half-profile, she looks calm and reflective--but also very focused and intelligent:
In profile, she looks like a sweet, inquisitive young child:
I removed her purple headband to get a closer look at her hair. I had been noticing the visible rooting of her synthetic hair fibers:
The hair is uniformly rooted over most of the head. It's not thinly rooted by any means, and there's plenty of hair, but the hair plugs around her face should be closer together.
It's especially bad at the top of her head, where the gaps between hair plugs draw attention away from her fascinating face. This is a crime.
At first I thought she didn't even have a rooted part. On closer inspection, there actually is a short area where the hair is rooted close together to resemble a part, but the pattern is abandoned towards the front of the head--which is where it is needed most:
I find it hard to believe that this is the look Nicole was hoping for, mostly because there is obvious effort to style all of the play dolls' hair with headbands and hats to cover the unsightly roots. I can understand that the first year of production might have been a bit of a learning process in how to root hair, but the more recent dolls seem to have this exact same hair pattern. Why not fix the problem? This is an expensive doll, and it can't be a very expensive problem to fix. I mean, my $18 Our Generation Charlotte doll has nicely rooted hair. Here's Charlotte's part for comparison:
And the nice close rows of hair that frame her face:
Only towards the back of her head does the rooting come in wider rows.
Ivy's hair is a mystery to me. I really cannot fathom why such an expensive doll would have such a glaring flaw that has persisted through so many years.
The feel of the hair is fine, but it's not as nice as I expected it would be. It's not perfectly silky like Ling's hair or Lorifina's hair. The fibers don't slide past each other smoothly, and so the hair can look rumpled pretty quickly after brushing. I love the color, though.
Ivy is wearing a colorful outfit that is a mix-and-match of different fabric types and prints. The outfit is soft and cozy and makes Ivy surprisingly cuddly for a hard vinyl doll.
This kind of eclectic, layered outfit is very typical of Zwergnase dolls. Ivy isn't wearing my favorite of the Junior dolls' outfits (I prefer Estella's outfit) but I do love the hot air balloon print on her dress and the red thread stitching that pulls the whole ensemble together:
The dress is made out of soft corduroy and opens all of the way down the back with velcro:
The dress had a few loose threads, but is otherwise beautifully made. Like the American Girl clothes, it strikes me as being a perfect little replica of a real dress--all of the seams and edges are finished nicely and the sleeves and bodice are even lined.
Taking the dress off was like unwrapping a present. I wasn't sure exactly what I would find under there! I didn't expect to see this:
Ivy is wearing what looks like two shirts and appears to be wearing her boy-short underpants over her knitted purple tights.
This reminds me of a joke my son told the other day: Superman and Chuck Norris got in a fight...and the loser had to wear his underpants over tights.
Sorry, that's a total tangent, but someday I'll go back and read this blog and think, Oh, yes. That was written during the Chuck Norris joke stage. And I'll get all sentimental.
The shirt is actually all one piece. It is made out of a fairly heavy plaid linen fabric and the long fleece sleeves are attached under the gathered elastic edge of the short puffed sleeves:
Again, the sewn detail is meticulous:
Ivy is wearing grey fleece leg warmers that match the long sleeves of her shirt.
Her shoes are made out of orange-red leather and have a simple boot style with a folded cuff. They slip on and off.
As it turns out, Ivy is not wearing stockings at all. She was wearing her underpants over very (very) long socks. Not like Superman, apparently. I'm not positive what to call this style of sock--extra-tall thigh-highs? Hip-highs?
She has a cute little pot belly:
She has sloped shoulders with low-set arms and a minimally sculpted (slightly shiny) bottom:
Nicole's artist mark is on the back below Ivy's neck:
Ivy poses about as well as my other strung 18" dolls like Carpatina Erin or Magic Attic Heather. She is not as well balanced as some of these dolls, though. She doesn't stand anywhere near as solidly as my American Girl doll, especially when she's barefoot or in a walking pose.
She has smooth, delicately sculpted hands. Her right hand has a gripping pose that makes it feel like she's holding gently on to my finger:
I love the details in her hands--notice that her tiny fingernails even have a sculpted cuticle:
Her feet are fine--I just wish they were a little wider or something so she'd stand up better.
Here's Ivy next to Carpatina Erin. Erin has short legs and a long torso, and Ivy has long skinny legs and a rounded belly. Ivy also has more bend in her arms--almost like she's about to strike a ballet position:
Ivy's face is much more realistic and detailed than Erin's face. Everything from the overall shape of her head to the natural color of her lips and the individual strokes of her eyelashes is very skillfully done. I love both faces, but Erin looks like a beautiful doll and Ivy looks like the portrait of a real girl.
The two dolls can share clothes reasonably well. Erin's Guinevere dress is short on Ivy and fits a little snugly around her tummy:
The rhinestone crown is too big (Erin has a much rounder head), but it does a great job of hiding Ivy's unsightly hairline:
I love the expression on Ivy's face from this angle:
Ivy's outfit is a bit loose on Erin, but the colors look great on her. The sleeves are a tad long and the shoes are too big:
I think Ivy looks really nice in Magic Attic Heather's pink dress. The dress is way too short, but the hat provides another great way to cover Ivy's bad rooting job:
Here's Ivy next to Keira, my American Girl #29. Again, Ivy makes Keira look very doll-like in comparison. Keira seems very blocky and solid. This is what makes her stand up so much better than Ivy, though:
Keira's facial features are very rounded and regular in comparison to Ivy's more unique face:
Keira's meet skirt and top are too big for Ivy, but that magical Springfield Collection dress (the one that looks good on everyone) fits well enough--especially with the sash tightened:
The sash can also be used to hide Ivy's hairline:
There are a few different combinations that work nicely with Ivy's own outfit. For example, she can wear the blouse with a different skirt or pants. Here she's wearing Karito Kid Ling's skirt, but it doesn't actually fit--it's taped in back:
She can also wear the dress on its own--as a sundress. I also like the long tights scrunched down to look like bulky socks or leg warmers:
I took Ivy on a hike to a nearby mountain so that she could show off her coloring--and get her first look at the rural Maine countryside:
She's not a great hiker...she falls down a lot. This smooth, stone path was the best option for her:
We got a nice view at one of the rocky overlooks, but I was terrified that Ivy would tumble down the cliff!
It felt a little safer to investigate the lichen growing on the rocks
And climb on some fallen trees:
A brief but violent thunderstorm cut our hike short.
Ivy only got a little bit wet.
After the rain had passed, Ivy changed into her other outfit and went out to investigate a nearby stream:
On a sunnier afternoon, Ivy came along with us to a favorite local pond. She was a little afraid of the water, a phobia that was made worse by the tumble she took just moments after this picture was taken:
|Was sich auf meine Füße??|
She dried out for a while in the sun...still a bit exasperated with me for getting her too near the water.
I am so struck by this girl's different expressions. Her mood seems to shift from moment to moment as I see her face from different angles and the light plays differently across her features.
Here's Ivy safely back at the house and dressed in her complete original outfit for a few more pictures. Despite limited articulation and a troublesome hairline, she really is a delight to photograph.
|Bakterien? Ich denke nicht so.|
The additional $100 isn't buying better quality hair--or at least not a better rooting job. The hair is nicely cut and has a gorgeous color. It is thick and full-bodied with lovely curls at the ends. It doesn't feel as nice as I had hoped, though. It has a slight synthetic "stickiness" to it, for lack of a better description. The fibers don't slide past each other well, and so the hair can too easily look messy or poofy. I find that finger combing is the best way to keep the hair looking good. On the other hand, the hair tolerated a little rain and a dip in the pond, and it actually seems to be getting easier to work with over time. Still, a human hair wig might have been a better choice for this doll. The Zwergnase art doll wigs are so fabulous, it's hard not to want the same quality for the play dolls. I am not thrilled with the hair fiber, but I like it well enough. The rooting job, on the other hand, is inexcusable. Always having to find something to cover Ivy's forehead is a pain. It must also be a pain to try and think of novel ways to conceal the hairline for each new Junior doll that is designed. I would have thought that this inconvenience would be good incentive to try a better rooting method.
So, what does the extra money buy with this doll? Well, Ivy is a completely unique personality. She doesn't look like any of the other dolls I own. Her quirky, hand-painted face is distinct in a way that makes her very familiar and unconventionally realistic. Her nuanced expression seems to change dramatically based on how I look at her. She has a presence that's hard to ignore--I find myself being very careful to leave her in nice "comfortable" poses, not just laying on a table. When I say this doll is unique, I am not just talking about her facial sculpt, either. Ivy's beautifully-made clothes have a layered, eclectic flare that give off a funky-yet-wholesome vibe that is very typical of Zwergnase dolls. Ivy's expression is not as dramatic as many of the Zwergnase art dolls, nor is her outfit as bold, but these things make her more accessible as a play doll. While she is certainly a nice play companion, she is also a work of art. I am grateful that a piece of Nicole Marschollek's exuberant, eccentric art is available in this price range.
Most dolls have a mix of good and bad qualities, with the good outweighing the bad. Some dolls have flaws that are either so glaring that I can't see past them, or the doll as a whole doesn't impress me enough to overshadow the flaws. Occasionally, I find a rare doll that is so special, she has the ability to make even a serious flaw practically invisible. Ivy is one of those dolls. She has obvious flaws, but she is already very dear to me. I think it's partly because she is the Nicole Marschollek doll I have always wanted. It's more than that though--her face has the kind of realism that tugs at my heart and makes me forget her imperfections. This is something I have always appreciated about dolls: different dolls elicit these strong feelings in different people for a vast range of complicated and unpredictable reasons. Despite the time I take to describe every little flaw in all of the dolls I review here, I also recognize that for some people and some dolls, those flaws won't matter a bit. I have huge respect for the power of that special face. Whether the face is worn by a $5 used doll or a $500 art doll, for the right person, a special face can overwhelm even the most glaring flaw. So, I hope that those of you who might be turned off by Ivy's badly-rooted hair, funny features or high price are duly warned by this review. As for me, I have found one of my special faces. I love this doll, and it won't be long before I simply can't see that there's anything wrong with her at at all.