These dog figures appealed to me not just because I had never seen them before, but also because I like the idea of fashion toys for animal lovers. I am quite fond of Pinkie Cooper, the fashion doll with a dog's head, and am saddened that she doesn't seem to be selling very well--at least in my part of the world.
There are eight different VIP Pet characters to choose from (all Chihuahuas), each with a different vinyl and hair color combination, and each with her own pre-assigned personality trait. The dogs cost £9.99 at Smyths and can be imported to the United States for around $25 through Amazon. Alex (the orange-haired photographer) and Juliet (the red-haired romance novelist) are my two favorite characters, but neither was in stock at Smyths during my visit. I decided to purchase the rock star, Gwen, with her white and pink hair:
|VIP Pet, "Gwen," by IMC Toys (£9.99).|
Gwen came packaged in a plastic window box with a four-sided decorative cardboard backdrop. The package suffered a little crushing during our flight home, but it's quite durable.
The cardboard only covers about half of the clear sides of the box, so it's possible to peek in and see Gwen from most angles:
The back of the box is bright pink and has a cut-out VIP Pets membership card, and a message that is repeated in eight different languages:
The message states that Gwen is a rock star, and that she enjoys "rock star hairstyles." There's a brief description of how to create such a hairstyle:
|I'll have to try that later.|
Gwen's cardboard packaging is decorated to look like a small room:
The two sides of the room are also decorated, but with the same pattern:
It seems like the backdrop is designed to be used as a play accessory. It wasn't easy to de-box Gwen without damaging the cardboard, though. Several of Gwen's items were contained inside small plastic compartments that were glued to the cardboard, and so even though I pulled these off very carefully, some of the color from the backdrop pulled off with them.
It would still be fun to use this part of the packaging for a small diorama.
Gwen was held in place entirely by clear rubber bands. I like these because they are very easy to stretch and cut. The bands connecting her feet to her plastic support were the only ones that were even slightly hard to access.
Here is Gwen with all of her accessories:
She comes with a thick plastic brush. The brush has a heart-shaped head with a paw print decoration. The handle of the brush has "Vip" molded onto it:
Like most brush accessories, this one is not very effective.
Gwen also comes with two plastic barrettes--a solid black star and a smaller pink star with a hole in the middle:
And two pink plastic hoop earrings:
But these earrings do not grip the ear very well. If they are placed too far down on the ear, where it is thickest, they pop right off. If they are placed on the thinner part of the ear, they slide off. With some care, it is possible to get them to stay on for photographs, but they'd be constantly falling off during play.
Gwen's last accessory was a bit of a mystery since it came rolled up and rubber-banded:
It's a long black rectangle of fabric that I assume is meant to be a scarf or headband:
The fabric has one side that is velvety and soft--the other side is a smooth weave with a little bit of shine.
Gwen comes with her hair down and a removable black collar around her neck:
I have been looking forward to getting a closer look at the hair fiber on this dog. The VIP Pets seem to be intended as hair play dolls, and so the quality of the hair is a significant factor in their evaluation. Gwen's hair is straight and shiny. It is mostly white, with a few pink highlights framing her face. The fiber feels very soft and smooth.
The rooting is good. The rows of hair are close together at the top of the head, and then become slightly more spaced apart at the back of the head. The hair plugs are dense around Gwen's face and ears.
There was one section of hair on Gwen's right side that wasn't cut very carefully.
This was easily fixed with a quick snip of the scissors:
The hair on either side of Gwen's face had a moderate amount of styling gel in it. It was easy to brush these areas, but there was some clumping and flaking at the ends of the hair--particularly on the right side:
Gwen's hair has a side part and falls over her right eye. I tried out one of the barrettes to see if I could get a clearer look at her face. The barrettes are a little hard to use. They are large, but they don't hold a lot of hair.
Gwen has large blue painted eyes that are each decorated differently. The right eye has a band of purple eyeshadow and a larger asymmetrical diamond of blue that surrounds the entire eye. There is no eyebrow on this side. The left eye is simpler, with a band of pink eyeshadow and a thin brown eyebrow.
I pulled all of Gwen's hair back into a ponytail too keep it out of the way. I like how her hair looks like this, although it's just barely long enough to stay in the rubber band.
Gwen's right side is more complex--with the extra hair and the bolder face paint:
Her left side seems plain in comparison, with hair that stays out of her face and traditional eye makeup:
Gwen has a black nose surrounded by a bright pink blush. I like her sweet molded smile:
She has a very cute profile, with an short, upturned nose. She has two holes on either side of her head, and since several of the other VIP Pets come with glasses, my guess is that these holes are to allow Gwen to share those accessories.
Gwen's outfit is painted onto her body, and consists of a pink shirt with black and white zig-zags:
The shirt is not identical on both sides--there's more pink on the right:
Gwen isn't wearing anything on her lower half, and so her tiny little curly-Q tail is exposed:
Her collar is easily removable. It is black hard vinyl with painted silver spikes:
Underneath the collar, it's easy to see Gwen's peg neck joint. This joint has great rotational mobility:
The neck joint doesn't have much up-and-down movement, though. Gwen's head is set in a slightly upwards-looking position, and it isn't possible to keep her head looking down.
The rest of Gwen's body is unarticulated and molded as one piece. She has a few markings on the bottoms of her feet:
Gwen's hair feels nice, but it is a little bit hard to play with. Her large ears get in the way of my hairbrush, and while the hair looks long because of Gwen's small body, the total length is prohibitive for creating complex styles. Also, while I can grip many of my fashion dolls by the legs or torso as I style their hair, Gwen does not have a lot of surface area on her body and so she's often flopping around as I work with her hair. If she had a heavy stand that could secure her body while her hair was being styled, that would be extremely useful. There is a VIP Pets salon playset, but it doesn't look like it comes with such a stand.
I wanted to re-create the "rock star" hairstyle pictured on the box:
It looks like the black collar is being used as a ponytail decoration, and the star barrette is added to the side. Like this?
But, once I read the directions more carefully, I realized that it's actually supposed to be the scarf that covers the ponytail holder:
Which doesn't look as good:
I think the scarf looks better as a headband...
...although the bulky ends stick out in the back:
A simple ponytail is cute and practical, especially if the shorter strands of hair are held in place with the barrettes:
Or a ponytail with the headband:
Here are a few other hairstyles I came up with:
And here she is with her hair left down:
While Gwen's proportions are similar to the Littlest Pet Shop pets, her overall size is much larger:
Gwen's size is more similar to the Funko Pop! figures like my Cinderella, although the VIP Pet heads are bigger:
The VIP Pets were displayed right next to the Pinkie Cooper dolls at Smyths. This is a good choice since I imagine that the two lines attract a similar audience.
Here is Gwen next to my Pinkie Cooper:
And next to Pinkie's Jet Set Pet, Li'l Pinkie:
Personally, I like Pinkie Cooper slightly more. This preference is partly because Pinkie has a wardrobe and interchangeable hair, but also because she seems like a high-quality toy--with inset eyes, detailed face paint, and articulated joints.
I certainly appreciate Gwen, though. In fact, I think she's an excellent addition to the spectrum of products that range from animal toys to fashion dolls.
Vinyl dog --> vinyl dog with hair --> vinyl dog with hair and a human body --> vinyl human doll.
I also think that Gwen makes an excellent pet for large-headed dolls like the Cutie Pops.
Gwen and Cutie Pop Coletta get along fabulously, and Gwen is much more engaging than Coletta's two weird poodles.
Bottom line? Because Gwen is a souvenir from an amazing trip, and because she's rare here in the United States, it's harder than usual to give a level-headed opinion. I'll start by saying that her £9.99 price tag is a little high. This is equivalent to about $17. I have the same reaction to Gwen's price as I had to many other prices in the United Kingdom: the cost in pounds would be perfect if there was a 1:1 exchange rate. Gwen is a great $10 toy, but pushing $20 is too much.
However, I am very fond of this dog. I think she captures a nice balance between trendy and sweet. She has a rock star theme and funky hair, but her smile is innocently impish and...well, she's a dog. Dogs are inherently lovable. Collectors who were put off by Pinkie Cooper's bizarre para-human appearance will probably be more comfortable with Gwen's predominantly canine features. The only human thing about this character is that she has cranial hair instead of fur.
The hair is clearly the central feature of this large-headed chihuahua. While kids could certainly play a wide range of imaginary games with the VIP Pets, the line is focused on hair play. The hair is nicely rooted and the fiber feels silky and smooth. I also love the assortment of bold hair colors on the eight different VIP Pet characters. However, I found this particular dog to be a little tricky to manipulate. The combination of her short hair and small body made it difficult for my large hands to create tidy hairstyles. Some of the hair accessories made the job harder, too: the barrettes are difficult to close, especially if there's too much hair trapped in them, and the velvety scarf is long and awkward to tie. Despite these small frustrations, I was pleased with some of the simple styles I tried, particularly variations on a single ponytail. If Gwen had come with a weighted stand and a collection of easy-to-use hair clips, it would have been much more rewarding to style her hair. Several of the VIP characters have longer hair (and better accessories) and I would be curious to see how different the play experience is with one of them.
The VIP Pets remind me of Funko! Pop figures or enlarged Littlest Pet Shop toys. I would argue that the simple addition of rooted hair to this type of figure makes a notable difference, though. The hair is immediately engaging and increases the play value. It also gives these dogs a human trait, making them more relatable. Last, the different lengths, textures and colors of hair make each of the VIP Pets distinct individuals--they don't all look the same. While large-headed figures have certainly been done before, these particular pets strike me as different and appealing enough to find their own place in the market. Personally, I wouldn't mind hopping back over to Scotland to grab a few more.