Interview with Carolina Santello from Ma Poupée Chérie

Alluring and romantic are two words that fit like a glove in Carolina’s work as the customizer of Ma Poupée Chérie dolls. She strives for perfection, and she gets there. All details are carefully planned: the carving, makeup, hair, accessories, photography and even the packaging is superb. You will get the full bundle with these exquisite dolls.

Don’t compare your success and progress with other people, just make sure every doll you put out there is a little bit better than the last one.

Carolina Santello – Ma Poupée Chérie

DollyCustom posed 12 questions to Carolina Santello about her history as a customizer, her process, and techniques. Here are those questions:

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi! I’m Carolina, nice to meet you! I am a Graphic Designer turned Blythe custom artist. I live in Belgium and I’ve been a professional doll artist since 2014.

Dolls were always a passion for me, one that did not fade after childhood. I’ve started collecting them again in my early 30s and never looked back.

I love all sorts of dolls, and my last obsession has been with Sindy and Licca-chan dolls, but Blythe will always have a special place in my heart.

Lana (January 2016).

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

Back in 2008 I was really into Japanese culture and anime and started looking at BJD dolls. They looked really nice, but they were too big for me and too lifelike. During my research on BJD, I came across Blythe dolls. Although I must say at first, I found them a little weird, they really grew on me over the years, and finally, in 2012, I decided I was going to get my first one.

I was constantly looking at pictures of gorgeous Blythe dolls on Flickr, especially the ones by voo_doolady (Maribel Dias). Her photos are really really awesome, lifelike and inspiring. The dolls look like real children playing and remind me of my own childhood.

I started looking on Amazon for a Blythe doll, but there weren’t too many available, and the ones that were available came from Japan – I wondered why. So I went on to research about Blythe and figured although she is originally from the US, the Neo Blythe was being produced by Takara in Japan.

I searched high and low on the internet to figure out where to buy them, and after joining the Blythe Kingdom (lurker here… hi?) forum, I heard about CC Toys, where I would later buy my first stock doll.

But the dolls at CC Toys looked so different than the ones in the pictures! I wondered what the difference was, and after more searching I discovered that what I actually liked were not the stock Blythe, but custom ones. I finally decided to buy a stock girl and trying to customize her myself – sounded like lots of fun! My first doll is Misty, originally a Simply Vanilla girl.

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

It took about a year before I was happy with what I was achieving with my dolls.

Poor Misty, she arrived and the very same day I sanded her makeup off, trimmed her hair and messed with her mouth a bit… and it obviously didn’t turn out like I wanted! I wanted her to have more realistic hair, so I bought a bunch of Suri Hill Alpaca fur and tried to follow some tutorials, but my hands aren’t really suited for that. I ended up asking another artist to reroot a scalp for me using the fur I had bought, and it turned out really pretty.

After her, I started buying the stock girl of the month from CC Toys – there were no factory dolls available then for me to train on, sorry collectors! – and customizing them. I customized 6 base dolls time and again until I was happy with the results I was achieving and started posting them to Instagram.

After getting lots of positive feedback from the small slice of the community that was on Instagram – Flickr was way bigger at the time – and having people asking me who customized my girls, and if I would ever sell them – my friend Andrea gave me the last push and words of encouragement, and I opened my Etsy store in January 2014.

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

It started out as a hobby, but thanks to all the lovely people who supported me, it quickly grew into a profession! I have sold over 100 dolls at my Etsy shop over the years, attended 3 Blythe events as a vendor and many more as an attendee.

Promotional video featuring Ma Poupée Chérie dolls inside their brand box.

What is your creative process like? Do you plan your custom dolls from start to finish or just go with the flow?

I just go with the flow. I start out with a little bit of an idea for their personality and style, and then go through an iterative process that sometimes spans several days, until I’m happy with how a doll turns out. If I’m not happy the moment I put on their hair scalp and eyes and look at them “alive” for the first time, I’ll redo them until they are just perfect.

The romantic and sweet style of Ma Poupée Chérie dolls.

What is your favorite part of this process and your least favorite?

My absolute favorite part is when I put on their eye mechanism, scalp and close their head for the first time after completing the face-up. It’s like magic, out of plastic a little girl was born, ready to make someone in the world very very happy.

Sanding after carving to smooth out the rough edges kills me every time. I have a video on YouTube of me sanding that somehow got 1300 views! I wonder why people would ever be interested in seeing that, I posted it only to share the pain with friends!

Cherry inside her custom box.

How long does it take you to customize one doll? Do you do one at a time or multiple?

From start to finish, including the time I take doing their photoshoots, it usually takes me 2 weeks to complete one doll.

Sometimes I’ll do 2 sort of at the same time for things like hair treatment, sanding and replacing eyes, but I never do 2 face-ups at the same time. I have to pour my heart into carving them and putting on their makeup, so it simply wouldn’t be fair to do so.

Since in Belgium days of good sunlight are rare and far in between, I tend to do photoshoots with more than one doll in a row, but there’s a limit to it. If I feel my dolly mojo running out I stop and come back to it the next day – every girl only deserves my very best after all!

Where do you work on your dolls? Do you have a dedicated workplace?

I am blessed to live in a properly big house in the Flemish countryside in Belgium, and I have a whole room dedicated to my work and collections. It’s so inspiring to be surrounded by my collection of dolls and little things I love while I work.

Me and my husband built it as if it was all custom furniture, but in reality it’s just one big IKEA hack. Alex has a really good eye for how to combine IKEA products into something that works as a whole.

I have a workstation where I carve and do makeup, and a separate workstation where I assemble and dismantle dolls, make eye chips, sometimes do a little bit of sewing and build pull charms.

This year we created a corner where I keep my roombox setup always ready to take pictures, before that I had a floating island in the middle of the room to do that.

Ma Poupée Chérie workplace.

How would you characterize your style?

I think a Ma Poupée Chérie girl is a Blythe doll taken to its full potential, but still a doll.

Some people like to create very realistic dolls, or modify the Blythe in different ways, adding tongues, eyes, ears and such. Not me. I like a doll that still looks like a doll, not a person.

I draw a lot of inspiration from eastern artists, as their vision tends to match with mine. Some eastern artists I love are juju99 and wanwandolls.

Aleesia (April 2017).

What are your favorite tools? What is your favorite Blythe mold to customize?

I tend to use manual tools like hobby knives and more specialized sculpting tools for most of the work I do. I have a PROXXON Micromot 50 rotary tool I use for broader strokes, but I do most of the work manually.

My absolute favourite mold to customize is the Radiant Blythe (RBL), and the factory blythe (TBL?) ones. They have more plastic than the newer models and are more symmetrical than the FBL. I can’t live with asymmetry, beauty comes from balance.

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

After looking on Etsy for dolls that looked a little bit like what I was offering, and thinking for myself how much would I be open to spending on a custom Blythe doll, I set my initial price, but from then on, I have let the market set my prices.

Unboxing of a Ma Poupée Chére by Jennifer Hayslip.

For the beginner customizer, what advice would you give them?

  • Do your own thing. There are so many people out there trying to learn other artists’ styles and replicate them, but your dolls will only truly speak to people and become art when you pour your heart and soul into them and make something only you can make.
  • Don’t compare your success and progress with other people, just make sure every doll you put out there is a little bit better than the last one.

Getting a custom doll by Ma Poupée Chérie is a delightful experience that starts with the packaging and grows in expectation, unveiling each small gift until we reach the delicate creature that lies asleep inside the box. Magical and sweet, these dolls are the fruit of hours of work and years of experience.

Don’t forget to follow Carolina Santello’s work in progress through her social media accounts. All her links can be found on her profile page.