My Salon Dolls are designed by a small Utah-based company and manufactured in China. The special thing about these dolls is that they have micro-rooted human hair. The commercial on the My Salon Doll website advertises that the dolls can "tolerate any hair product that would be found in a regular salon." The dolls are also described as being bathtub-safe. In my experience with human hair doll wigs, the only problem with them is that they get dusty and dry. This doll's design appears to have eliminated those problems by making it safe and easy to wash and condition the hair. I love this idea and was very curious see what these dolls are like in person. The dolls are listed at around $130, but were on sale for $107 when I purchased mine--and are still on sale now. There weren't many dolls to choose from back in July, so I picked Sydni, who is the horse-lover in the group, and was also the only available doll who looked like she had reddish hair.
|My Salon Doll, "Sydni."|
I took a few pictures before I shipped Luz back to Amazon, but I don't want to take up too much space in this review. Here's the facebook link if you don't have it.
My Salon Doll, Sydni, passed the first glimpse test with flying colors. She has a unique, appealing face, detailed eyes, and her hair looks promising--even though it is blonder and shorter than I expected it to be.
What made selecting a doll tricky is that it's hard to tell what the dolls look like from the small catalogue pictures on the website. Here's the picture of the special edition Malaree doll (sadly, she's sold out now):
I couldn't see the doll clearly enough to risk $130.
There are many new dolls that have recently been added to the website, and the picture quality has improved. I still think that clearer catalogue pictures would boost sales. The video commercial on the My Salon Doll home page has some nice clear head shots of a few of the dolls, and it would be wonderful if all of the catalogue pictures looked like this!
|This is Kendrey ( I love the color of her eyes!).|
If I were shopping for the first time today, I think I'd pick one of the newer girls, Jade (on the left--now that's red hair!) or Bailey (love her coloring and her grey hat):
As I was browsing the My Salon Doll website, I noticed something familiar about the Maycee doll:
She's wearing Karito Kid Gia's outfit--right down to the tasseled boots. It's not exactly Gia's outfit, of course (the two dolls are different sizes) but the design is essentially the same. None of the other outfits leapt out as being familiar, but I didn't spend a lot of time investigating. I don't know what to think about this. It's not very creative and I find it slightly off-putting.
Back to Sydni. I think I'll start calling her Sydney because the unusual spelling of that name is really confusing for me. I keep seeing "Sindy" instead. Sindy is a fine name, but that's another doll.
I like the My Salon Doll logo with the "S" in salon drawn as the cord of a curling iron:
The two sides of the box are decorated differently. One side is blue and white striped and has a notice about the doll's authenticity mark:
The other side has some facts about the doll against a white and yellow polka dot background:
|I think she can wear regular earrings (but I don't have any to try).|
The back of the box is mostly bright green with a few areas of text:
At first I thought it was redundant to call this doll "first" and "original" because the two words are synonyms. However, the alternate definition of original is "not a copy or imitation," so that works. Although it doesn't apply to some of the clothing, apparently.
I find it amazing that no other doll company has attempted a doll with rooted human hair. It's such a great idea. I searched around a bit to see if I could find anything similar. Some artists use reborn kits (like Reva Schick's Angelica) to make play dolls with rooted human hair, but these don't count because they're not manufactured with the hair in place. There are also styling heads with rooted human hair, like Courtney, but she's not a typical doll. My Salon Doll does seem to be the first and original.
There's a little poem:
|I'd have stopped after, "whatever you can imagine, you can create."|
There's also a small picture of the dolls on top of an advertisement for the "Styles and Smiles Academy." The Academy is a series of videos on the My Salon Doll website (and on YouTube) that address the doll's construction, how to be safe when styling the hair, and some suggestions and directions for different hairdos and styling techniques. I like these videos. The woman who narrates them (the owner of the company?) has a great energy. She is friendly, knowledgeable, and easy to follow.
I read somewhere online that the dolls are made in the United States (I was excited about that!) but the box says that they are, in fact, made in China:
Sydney is attached to a blue and white striped cardboard support that slides out of the main box:
She is attached to the cardboard with two cable ties that are very easy to cut. Look at her cute shoes:
I'm not crazy about the style of this doll's outfit, but I like the green and grey color scheme. The shoes are nice, and the leggings are fine, but I didn't like the camp shirt right out of the box. It's a little cluttered, which detracts from the doll's mild face.
I like Sydney's face a lot. There's nothing about it that confines this doll to any one style, age or mood. She seems versatile without being generic or plain:
|Her eyes are a little wonky, though.|
I think she has an especially pretty profile:
She has inset pale blue plastic eyes with painted and applied lashes:
The painted lashes are nicely done with tapering, delicate ends. I wish the eyebrows had this level of artistry. The iris detail is printed, and while individual printed dots are visible up-close, the eyes look very convincing at normal magnification.
The applied lashes are glued in place and are beautifully realistic. They're not chunky or thick, and they have a nice light color that matches Sydney's hair. They look and feel synthetic, but I can't be sure.
The hair on My Salon Dolls is hand-rooted human hair. On the My Salon Doll website there's a big deal made over the fact that this hair is purchased from a hair extension factory and does not take hair away from the wig-making industry. I don't know enough about the wig industry to have been upset about this possibility, but (assuming hair extension factories aren't taking hair away from the wig-making industry...) it sounds like the hair selection is socially responsible.
I think I was expecting the rooting to be sparse--like the horrible rooted mohair on my Ashton Drake silicone Baby Emily.
The hair is rooted nicely around Sydney's face so that up-do styles will look natural:
The doll's side part has two rows of hair that are placed especially close together for a natural look:
The hair can also be parted anywhere on the head, although the area of visible scalp will be wider in a random spot than it is with the indented part:
I'll talk more about the hair in a bit, but first, I want to take a closer look at the outfit. The shirt is made out of a grey fabric that resembles denim, but (unlike denim) it's very soft and fine with a nice drape. The green plaid accents are made out of thicker material that doesn't hang as nicely. There are things I like about this shirt, but the belt area seems too cluttered with those huge belt loops and the thick, bright belt.
|The plaid neck area doesn't line up evenly in front.|
The shirt has three decorative green buttons on the outside with concealed snaps underneath. The snaps seem loosely attached (they move around a lot), but none of them have fallen off.
The construction of the shirt itself is nice. It has darted seams in the back for a slim fit, and all of the edges look well finished.
The pockets really open and could hold small hair clips or other items.
Underneath the shirt, Sydney is wearing green and grey jersey knit leggings:
Her shoes are made out of grey canvas and have a non-functional metal buckle:
The lining of the shoes matches the green plaid in the shirt:
These are wonderful little shoes with great attention to detail. Even the underside of the strap is lined in green plaid:
I was surprised to find the Kidz 'n' Cats logo on the soles of the shoes:
I asked someone at the company about this and she said that there's no association between My Salon Doll and Sonja Hartmann, it's just that "the material that the factory used to create soles is simply the best they could acquire." I gather that these dolls share a factory with Kidz 'n' Cats and that some leftovers might be shared? That's just a guess, but I'm not sure what other explanation there could be. I suppose we know that these two doll lines can share shoes!
Under her leggings, Sydney is wearing plain white underpants:
I checked the bottom of her foot, just to make sure she has the My Salon Doll authenticity mark--she does:
Sydney has a soft vinyl body with five points of articulation:
I think that the shape of this doll's body is very natural--with a few exceptions. First of all, her arms are a little short. Also, she has an oddly-shaped bottom:
Sydney's posing repertoire is not very impressive, but it's on par with most 18" play dolls. She's nicely balanced and can easily stand on her own. She can also do the basic split moves, and can sit on the ground without her legs splaying out too much to the sides.
Her construction is very simple. She has one elastic cord strung between her two arms, another strung between her legs, and a third attaching her head to her neck:
|Her right arm pulled away from her body.|
|Looking into the arm hole:|
the elastic runs through a section of PVC pipe.
The arm elastic goes through a PVC tube, but the leg elastic is unconfined and can easily be seen by pulling the leg away from the socket:
Looking up into the body through a leg hole, it's possible to see the PVC pipe between the arms and the pink plastic connector that sits up against the body wall:
The head elastic is anchored to a pink flanged connector piece in the neck:
What I like about this simple construction is that I feel like I could re-string this doll if I had to. I often get intimidated by elastic-strung dolls, and figure that if their elastic loosens, I'll have to call in a professional.
Sydney's strawberry blonde hair is layered in back and hits the top of her legs at its longest point:
The hair feels fantastic. It's soft and smooth and behaves just like real hair. Syd has a few dry ends, but overall the hair is amazing to the touch. The hair is shorter and thinner than I expected it to be, though. I could just be imagining it, but the dolls in the Styles and Smiles Academy videos seem to have longer hair. While the length and cut are wonderfully scaled to the doll, there's not a ton of hair to play with.
The layering adds to this volume problem. Again, the layered style looks great, but it thins out the overall feel of the hair, and it means that the amount of hair around the doll's face is limited. I imagine that this was a hard balance to strike--do you give the doll a believable hairstyle and hair length for her scale, or do you attach an unrealistic amount of hair so that there's more to play with? Price and hair availability probably factored into this decision as well.
Sydney is about the same height as my other 18" play dolls. If you look at her next to Carpatina Erin, Sydney's slightly larger head seems to make up most of the difference in height. Also, Syd's shoulders are broader and her hands are bigger. Sydney's large hands make it hard to put some of the slim 18" doll shirts on.
Sydney's clothes fit Erin nicely, but Erin's fitted Guinevere dress is too tight through the chest for Sydney:
The green in the outfit looks nice with Erin's eyes:
Because I have a BFC Ink doll again, I can show you how she compares to Sydney. What strikes me most in this picture is how cheap and orange BFC Ink Kaitlin's plastic looks next to Syd's naturally-colored vinyl. Also, as I mentioned in my Britt review, the BFC Ink's teenaged body is at bizarre odds with the childish head.
BFC Ink dolls also epitomize bad doll hair to me, so Kaitlin is a good poster child for what My Salon Doll is trying to avoid. Although Kaitlin's hair looks fine in the picture, above, her hair is already frizzy and tangle-prone--especially at the bottom.
I recently got the chance to look at a BFC Ink Kaitlin doll that had been played with for a year or two, and the hair has become an unruly, un-brushable mat of tangles:
Sydney can't fit into Kaitlin's clothes, and the My Salon Doll outfit is too big for Kaitlin:
Here's Sydney next to a Karito Kid (Piper this time, in case you're tired of seeing Ling). Of all the dolls I compared to Sydney, Piper is the one that stands out as being of much higher quality. Everything about Piper's construction is top-notch, including her silky, smooth hair. Piper is a class act.
|A class act with ridiculous tan lines.|
Piper is quite a bit taller than Sydney, but her torso size isn't that different. Most Karito Kid pants and skirts are too wide for Sydney, but the shirts fit well and the shoes are only a little bit big. Piper can wear Sydney's outfit, although the leggings have more of a capri style, and the shirt's belt sits above Piper's waistline.
Again, the outfit makes green-eyed dolls look nice:
Sydney's chest is about the same width as My American Girl Keira's chest, but Keira has wider shoulders and her stuffing gives her more thickness from front to back. Also, while Keira keeps the same width throughout her torso, Sydney tapers a bit in the waist and hips:
These differences mean that Keira can wear Sydney's outfit, but the shirt is tight through the shoulders and the leggings are tight all over:
Many American Girl clothes fit Sydney, despite being loose in the shoulders and loose around the waist. In general, pants work better than skirts because unless they have an elasticized waist, most skirts will fall off Sydney's hips.
These generalities apply to 18" doll clothes that are advertised as fitting American Girl, like the My Life As athletic outfit I used in my Paradise horse review:
And the blue Springfield Collection dress that looks good on everyone:
At this point, I decided to leave Sydney in the blue dress and start playing with her hair. I want to preface this section by saying that I have absolutely no hair styling skills. I didn't even own a curling iron when I ordered this doll. So...whatever I am able to accomplish with Sydney's hair, keep in mind that it's just the tip of the iceberg.
I began by attempting two simple braided pigtails. The hair felt perfect as I was braiding--silky and smooth and easy to manage. There were two problems with this style, though. First, the shorter layers of hair around Sydney's face can't be contained very well by a braid, and they stick out pretty badly about half of the way down:
The second problem is that right where the part fell in the back of Sydney's head, I found this:
There's a fairly large crack in the vinyl on the back of the doll's scalp:
My hypothesis about why this happened has to do with the design of the doll's head. The vinyl used in these dolls is soft and pliable. In the hair region, however, the head feels rock hard. There's something inside of the head--like a skull made out of hard plastic. My guess is that this skull serves two purposes; to help the head keep its shape and also to hold the rooted hair securely in place. It's pretty clever, actually. The hair is rooted into the soft vinyl, but then this hard plastic piece is glued to the inside, anchoring the ends of the rooted hair so that it doesn't fall out.
The downside to this design seems to be that the inner head piece puts some stress on the vinyl, stretching it and/or simply eliminating its flexibility. The rooting holes probably create weak points in the vinyl that, when stressed, run the risk of starting a fissure:
I feel confident that if I had approached the company with this problem back in July when I purchased the doll, they would have happily replaced her (or her head). Even now, three months later, something tells me that they would have cheerfully done something to remedy this. I just didn't feel like it was fair for me to ask for a fix this long after my purchase. I also didn't want to stop my review and wait for a new doll!
When I re-parted the hair straight down the middle, the defect was completely hidden:
I'm pretty happy with how this part looks. The rooting is dense enough to make the hair look quite realistic:
Here she is from the front:
Next, I tried a French braid on one side:
The hair looks nice and it behaves just like normal hair--thin hair, to be sure, but silky and very easy to manipulate.
The only problems are that, again, some of the hairs are so short that they pop out all over the place, and also there isn't enough weight in the hair to hold the pigtail down. It sticks out at the bottom:
|Pipi Longstocking style.|
I changed Sydney's outfit and hairstyle. Now she's wearing Magic Attic Heather's shirt and dress (the shirt is pretty tight, but it stretches to fit):
With a simple side braid in her hair:
The visible hair plugs here make me wish that this doll's hair was more densely rooted:
I got out my new curling iron ($4.99 at Walmart) to try some more adventurous hairstyles.
|3/4 inch size was the smallest in stock.|
Before turning up the heat, I decided to glue Sydney's head defect closed so that it wouldn't get any bigger. I used super glue. It was actually quite hard to push the edges of this rip together because the vinyl is very securely attached to the underlying support and there's practically no flexibility. This made it even more clear why the rip occurred in the first place. The vinyl must have been stretched too much over the plastic skull.
I made a bit of a mess with the glue...
...but after pressing the edges of the gap together with toothpicks for a while, I finally got it closed:
As the curling iron was warming up, I tried some very loose curls:
These all but disappeared when I brushed the hair, though:
As the curling iron got hotter, I was able to make some tighter curls:
These make the hair behave very differently and are fun to play with:
These were the tightest curls I was able to achieve with my 3/4 inch iron:
It was really fun to see how these curls changed the look of some simple hairstyles:
Adding hair spray into the mix allowed for even more dramatic options!
Now I really wish I had a crimping iron and some curlers to try next. There's a lot more that could be done with this doll's hair.
I wasn't at all shy with the hairspray, so after this fancy up-do, Sydney needed a bath.
All hair products are supposedly safe for this doll, so before Sydney's bath, I mused over the idea of dying her hair red. I quickly concluded that it would be impossible to avoid staining the vinyl on her head, and that even highlights probably wouldn't be a wise idea. Disaster averted.
I set Sydney in a sink full of soapy water and washed her hair under the faucet. I used moisturizing shampoo and followed with some nice Aussie heavy-duty conditioner. I scrubbed pretty hard at the head defect area, hoping to get rid of some of the glue residue.
I tried to be a little carful around the doll's eyes, but on the other hand I didn't want to be too careful, because it is advertised that these dolls can go into the tub, and that's certainly going to mean full submersion. Her eyelashes looked fine after getting pretty wet:
Sydney has a very small hole in the bottom of her body (a "pee hole") that is presumably meant to drain water out of her hollow torso. It's pretty ineffective. I had to twist all of her limbs upside-down and dump out the water. I also had to pull one of her legs out of joint so that the water in her torso could drain. It took a while to get to the point where I wasn't hearing water sloshing around in her legs, arms and head.
The hair can easily be parted anywhere when it's wet like this. In fact, it was difficult to find and restore the original part.
Some of the glue residue washed off, but not all. I think it will come off with time and repeated washings.
Even after I thought I had most of the water drained out of her body, Sydney kept dripping. Part of the problem is that all of the elastic was soaking wet, and water was trapped in the plastic pieces that anchor the elastic:
I decided to blow-dry Sydney's hair, and then let her sit and drain overnight. Blow-drying was fun, and it gave the hair some additional body:
Both blow-drying and curling require quite a bit of tugging and pulling on the hair. I am impressed that very few stands of hair came out during the whole process. This hair is very securely attached.
What you can't tell from the picture is how great this doll smells now, too!
What I was missing during my styling sessions was a way to hold the doll in place while I manipulated her hair. I ended up doing most of my styling with Sydney awkwardly wedged in between my knees. The Styles and Smiles Academy videos show the dolls in a fancy salon chair. This has always struck me as a cumbersome and silly doll accessory, but I might have just changed my mind. A salon chair could be very useful, provided that the doll can be attached to the chair and the chair has enough weight to stay in one place. The My Salon Doll chair looks impressive--and has a little seat belt for securing the doll. American Girl and Our Generation offer salon chairs for their dolls, too.
The next day, I re-curled Sydney's hair (because it's fun) and took her outside for a photo shoot in some natural fall lighting. I dressed her in American Girl Keira's pink shirt, Karito Kids boots (a little big), and the My Life As yoga pants (they're big in the waist but look great everywhere else).
At first, I thought I could use my new fence as a backdrop....
But I realize that Sydney is fence-colored:
I took her out to the old leaf pile, which shows off her coloring much better:
After I moved her around a few times, I noticed something funny on her neck...
She's still dripping!
Sydney looks lovely in the natural light, and her hair might not be as shiny as some synthetic doll hair, but is a gorgeous natural blonde color.
Here she is in Karito Kid Ling's shirt, Piper's boots and her own leggings:
Apparently, Sydney likes climbing trees. This is ok, I guess, since I know how to get her clean.
She found a mushroom that perfectly matches her shirt!
Doesn't she have a sweet face? I think lots of different people could project their own ideal personality and range of emotions onto this versatile expression:
Here is Sydney back inside, and back in her original outfit. The outfit has grown on me a little. The fabrics feel nice, and if I remove the belt, the shirt looks less crowded and the belt can be used as a hair accessory:
I might just snip the belt loops off--they're really large and they cover up the nicely seamed waist of the shirt.
You can see that in the indoor light, Syd looks much more like a redhead than she actually is. I'll end the review with another outdoor picture, since these give the best sense of what the doll really looks like.
Bottom line? I didn't have huge expectations for this doll. I couldn't get a clear sense of what her face looks like from the small catalogue pictures online, and I assumed that her rooted hair would be really thin, or would look unnatural. Also, a doll like this could easily have been all about the hair, with very little attention given to other details. I was pleasantly surprised on all counts. It was actually Sydney's sweet, mild face and big eyes that impressed me first, and then the unrestricted fun of playing with her beautiful hair that won me over completely.
My Salon Doll advertises these dolls as bathtub-safe, and claims that they're able to tolerate any typical salon hair styling product. Both of these statements are technically true, but I feel like there are some caveats. I don't own many hair styling products, but everything I used on Sydney worked nicely. However, I don't think that coloring or highlighting this doll's hair would be a good idea. Maybe that's obvious enough to most people without having to plaster warnings on the box. In terms of being bathtub-safe, she can certainly be submerged in water, but I wouldn't recommend it. It was time-consuming and difficult to drain all of the water out of this doll. Three days after her bath, Syd's head is still dripping and her hair is still damp. I picture a little girl taking a bath with her My Salon Doll and then asking to snuggle with her in bed that same night. This would be a bad, soggy idea. Also, I am hesitant to get the gorgeous eyelashes wet. I would hate for them to come un-glued. Last, I worry about the internal elastic getting wet since it doesn't dry quickly. No one wants a moldy doll. In the future, I will wash Sydney's hair in the sink, carefully keeping her body and eyes dry.
Sydney's hair looks and feels realistic, and the internal "skull" anchors the rooted fibers securely to her head. Careful brushing, washing, drying and styling caused very little hair to fall out. The length of hair looks great with this scale of doll, but the layered style reduces the total volume of hair. For a doll that is specifically designed for salon play, Sydney doesn't have quite enough hair. The pictures and videos on the My Salon Doll website suggest that there's some variation in hair length from doll to doll, and I might have just gotten a doll with hair on the short end of the spectrum. Similarly, I have no way of knowing whether my doll's scalp crack was a freak occurrence or a common problem. I guess it raises some concerns about the durability of the soft vinyl, especially since the rooting holes appear to create areas of weakness. While I wish the hair was a bit thicker, I worry that a denser rooting pattern would increase the likelihood of a fissure in the vinyl.
The range of possible hairstyles with this doll line is exciting. You can part the hair anywhere, curl it, crimp it, braid it, twist it, add any amount of hairspray and gel...and then wash everything out and start over. The only thing you can't do is cut the hair and expect it to grow back. The hair is so nice that I find myself yearning for the few changes that would make it flawless. Having perfect doll hair within reach is tantalizing. If Sydney's hair were thicker and a few inches longer, I wouldn't be able to think of a single negative thing to say about it. I have a lot of admiration for the people who recognized the frustrations and limitations surrounding synthetic doll hair...and proactively set out to manufacture a high-quality solution.
I like to ponder how some dolls manage to overcome their flaws and win our hearts completely. For me, this doll is an interesting example of that phenomenon. I have lukewarm feelings about her outfit, her head had a crack in it, the length of her hair is too short for some hairdos, and I wasted a lot of time trying to drain the water out of her body. And yet I find myself very attached to sweet Sydney. Furthermore, I would be really excited to purchase another My Salon Doll, either for myself or as a gift. I like small companies and new ideas--but that's not why I like this doll so much. I have mentioned before how I think certain shared experiences can strengthen the bond between a toy and its owner. I think that the strongest force behind Sydney's charm is how realistically I can interact with her hair--and not just because her hair lathers well and and parts nicely. Shampooing and styling this doll's hair was so lifelike that it evoked a motherly tenderness in me that I did not expect. It brought back memories of bath time with my own kids, making spiked-up mohawks and sweet-smelling bubble beards. It was a bonding experience.
Sydney is cute, personable and flexible enough to offer the same range of play options as most other 18" dolls. On top of that, though, she introduces a whole new level of hair play. Her realistic hair will help fulfill both the creative ambitions of young hair stylists, and also the desire to form an emotional, nurturing connection to a very special doll.