I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw Alice Dolls. What awe-inspiring creatures! It made me very proud to see they were entirely handmade in my home country. The porcelain ball-jointed-dolls are inspired by Romanian mythology, and they could easily be described as works of art. The details are absolutely mesmerizing. We chatted with founder and designer Alice (Alexandra Stanciu) to learn more about things like her inspiration and process, fairies and myths, or the current creative scene in Romania.
Kittenhood: What is your creative background?
Alice: I’m that kind of person who has always loved pouring whatever my imagination visualized on a piece of paper. Later, during college and after, I (self)trained as an illustrator. At a certain point, after traveling intensely and experimenting how things are created “on the other side”, I felt a need to escape from paper and materialize my thoughts even further – so I experimented first with a series of c-thru notebooks, then a series of clothing items with my illustrations printed on silk. I learned all the lessons I could through these trials, and here I am, finally living my authentic professional self.
K: Were dolls a big part of your childhood? Do you still remember your favorite?
A: Yes, they were. Especially because back then, you couldn’t find an original Barbie in Romania (the mid 90s). I remember that one of our friends, whose father worked in the UK, had a few original Barbie dolls and we would play with them each at a time. I was fascinated by the quality of the dolls, how those knees bent, how the arms would rise. I think this really put a mark on my subconscious! It’s really funny, I had my very first original Barbie was when I was working at Media Pro and my colleagues asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I didn’t even hesitate – a rock-star Barbie with a little guitar and all sorts of small accessories and jointed at every major articulation.
K: You’re interpreting two classic themes – dolls and mythology – in a very modern, grown-up manner. How did you get to this combination?
A: I’ve been fascinated by mythological creatures and stories ever since I was a kid – I would even skip classes to check as many books at the library as possible about a mermaid creature (I lived in Tulcea, at the Danube Delta) – the shtima, and, along with a friend who loved stories just as much, we would rent a boat and search for this mythological, mysterious creature who gathered so many local legends around it. Much later, I met Iulia Gorneanu and she “initiated” me in the wonderful, mysterious, and rich world of our Romanian mythology and folklore.
At the same time, I’ve been awed by the work of Marina Bychkova since high-school. Her stupendous work was the only one known and marketed professionally at the time. In the meantime, a small number of international doll artists emerged.
It was a couple of years ago, while super-relaxed on vacation, that I sat and emptied my mind and the idea of creating a series of BJD (ball-jointed-dolls) with the Romanian mythological characters theme struck my mind. It was a small spark of genius, which gave me so much enthusiasm that ever since I’ve been working on this project as much and in the best way that I could. What better way to combine these two elements that I love – dolls and mythology. Profane and sacred.
K: What do you think makes Romanian folklore so special?
A: For such a small question one could create books made of answers.
I’ve always been attracted specifically to mythology – the creatures, the personifications of natural elements, the sights (in a forest, near a river or by the sea, etc.) that someone thousands of years ago may have just imagined (or maybe not). It’s very much connected to my sense of reality, what is false or true, and my process of evolving spiritually and understanding what reality is. There’s more than one, and this collective reality that created these creatures (found in almost all areas of our territory, with small changes in names and behaviors, but they’re mainly the same) is fascinating to me. What is real and what is not? Do we create our reality through pure belief?
Apart from this, let’s not forget all the mystery that our ancestral civilizations left us – who were they? What were their beliefs? Why do we find certain symbols on objects thousands-of-years older than those in other areas, such as Greece, whose mythology and civilization are much better articulated than ours? What do those symbols mean?
And the mythological stories, our Romanian legends are cinematically beautiful! It’s such a pity that we don’t educate our young with these stories, that we don’t promote them locally and abroad, as much as they deserve to be known. That we don’t give them a modern, contemporary face so that they can be understood by the newer generations.
K: During your research, did you learn any new myth or story that you found particularly fascinating?
A: Iulia Gorneanu shared a beautiful (and beautifully written by her) story about The Sun and his beautiful, pure sister, The Moon:
In old times, long before ours, the Sun was a strong emperor, with a head made of gold and a human-like body. He had a beloved sister, the mesmerizing Moon, with a head of silver and a human body. The mighty Sun couldn’t resist the amazing beauty of her sister and following his melted heart, he decided to marry The Moon. God saw everything, as he does today, and decided to do everything he could to stop the wedding from happening. So, He stole the saddened Moon from the wedding ceremony and hid her in the water, so that the Sun would never find her. As the Sun’s investigation approached the place where the Moon was hidden, God placed her graceful being in the sky. Therefore, when the Sun went to sleep, she would appear, her head lighting up the night sky with a softer, sweeter light. She searched around her and found Sun’s teardrops (which were invisible in the powerful light that he shone during the day), small and sparkling, which today we call stars. “When the two met for a moment on the same sky, they said nothing from there on, took a last glance at each other and, saying their goodbyes with tears in their eyes, left to wander the world, to forever look for each other and never meet again.” (Iulia Gorneanu)
K: Can you take us through your creative process – from the first steps to shipping the doll?
A: Because everything happens for a reason, I had the concepts for the doll ready before even having this idea. I made a series of illustrations – Mythologica – which later came to represent my doll concepts. It wasn’t a very easy task, especially because I’m the first dolls artist in Romania to have created this kind of doll (ball-jointed porcelain doll).
“I had to reinvent “the wheel” and improvise as I went further through the project.”
All 5 dolls have been created in parallel, so I wouldn’t know exactly how much one, from scratch, would take creating. The first thing I had to do was sculpt the body: 19 independent, articulated pieces of clay. Afterward, I had the molds made and the porcelain pieces ready following the exact shape of my sculpt. In the meantime, I created the detailed designs for the costumes and their embroidery, gathered the materials for them, and collaborated with great artisans for the actual creation of my vision. Another important part was the creation of the jewelry – I made most of the jewels on my own, using the lost wax technique, and some with the help of great jewelers. While things were in the works, I painted each piece of the 5 dolls with precious porcelain lusters and assembled them using personalized (each joint needs a different tension) springs, hooks, and other accessories to make the dolls what they are. Let’s not forget the wigs, which I created using silky-smooth strands of raw alpaca hair. All this, and more (box, doll stand) took a lot of time, from design to trial and error, to the final product. It has been a super adventure and I’m still living it, happy and grateful.
K: I realize you probably love all five dolls passionately – but do you have one whose story is closer to your heart?
A: I love everything that Dragaica (or Sanziana) stands for – she’s a floral fairy, who comes to life once every year, on the 24th of June. This magical night, when it’s said that the skies open up, the Sanziene are born from the yellow bedstraw plants (or sanziene flowers), rising in the moonlit sky, and dancing in circles. They magically amplify the healing powers of all plants. There are many customs specific to this date of the calendar – for example, unmarried women create beautiful, yellow wreaths and throw them on the roof; if the crown is stuck, she will be married that year. If not, she has to throw it as many times as necessary, thus finding out how many years she has to wait. Another custom has old women secretly gather fresh dew early in the morning and bring it to their unmarried kin, who wash in this magical water of the heavens – all to bring wealth, health, and love.
K: How do you imagine this project evolving in the future? Not to ask for a five-year plan or anything…
A: I believe there are many stories left to convey through doll-making. I already have so many ideas firing up in my head!
“I know that my project will go out there, in the world, and spread the word of a beautiful, meaningful Romanian culture.”
I have some surprises in store for you – one of them is the collaboration with the internationally famed designer Maria Lucia Hohan, with whom I’ll soon make a collection of doll fairies. All these and more will come soon.
K: You’re working with a handful of artisans on this project. What can you tell us about the creative scene in Romania?
A: Yes, and I’m very grateful and lucky to have had the involvement of all my talented collaborators for the Alice Dolls project. You can see the list with all the great artists who gave a helping hand here.
Interesting question – I was watching a documentary yesterday about how much the creative Romanian scene has evolved, having made a serious impact in the world (it was mainly about product design & architecture). People are creating their own identity at work, they’re really authentic and perseverant. I’m witnessing (and am part of) a generation that is hard-working, has vision, and materializes it with confidence. From here, the only way is up.
K: Are you a fan of handmade pieces in your everyday life? Do you have any favorite makers our readers should know about?
A: I love everything that my close friend Madalina Andronic does, and have all sorts of porcelain presents from her hanging in the house. I also like the beautiful and fun ceramics created by Cristina CIobanu and Ciprian Ariciu. Pink Moss’ jewels are fairytale material, they’re unique and passionately made. And I love to make small, eco-friendly creations designed by Curs de creatie with my young daughter (she loves it even more than I do!)
Photography courtesy of Alice Dolls. Check out some fascinating behind-the-scenes photos and stories on Alice’s blog.