Doll Digest

email john

A Chat with Steve Skutka- Designer for Madame Alexander Doll Company

What if you could design your own dream doll? How many times do we collectors ask ourselves that question? Doll collector and designer Steve Skutka knows the answer. I am grateful that Steve enthusiastically agreed to chat with Master Collector about his life as a designer for Madame Alexander and his love of doll collecting.

MC: How did you first become interested in designing for fashion dolls?

SS: I first became interested in both dolls, and action figures as a child. I was not allowed to have dolls, although, both of my sisters had quite a few. I begged my mother for a doll. She let me buy one fashion doll in secret from my father. I had no clothes for her as she came in a swimsuit. I started making clothes for her. This fueled my collector fire, and as an adult, I just had to have them. I did know I wanted to either design toys or illustrate comic books as a child. As an adult going to doll conventions I was quickly accepted into a circle of artists and learned about re-dressing and re-styling dolls. There were many items, which were not produced that I wanted to see made. I started creating them myself. At one doll convention I designed and made a Star Trek doll gift set. I was the first to do an actual doll in cloth clothing based on that show I was graced with several awards for that set. I found it exciting and felt a surge of freedom that I was able to redo favorite types of fashion dolls and no longer had to wait for the big company’s to get the idea.

MC: What is it like being a designer with Madame Alexander?

SS: Designing dolls for Madame Alexander has been a dream come true. I started designing freelance for doll conventions. I freelanced for about 10 years hoping that a doll manufacturer would hire me. My excitement and determination caused me to go back to school. I decided I liked dressing fashion dolls the best. I returned to school to study fashion design. I entered a contest at the Fashion Institute of Technology to design a doll for the Alexander Doll Company. I had a winning entry and it opened the door to my job. I can’t state emphatically enough how I wish everyone in the world could work at their dream job. I never feel like I am going to work. I love every minute of my job, the signings I am sent on, and the wonderful enthusiastic response I hear from doll collectors. I also feel blessed that I have such a great boss and work among such a talented team of designers. Every year our line outshines the one before it.

MC: I understand the recent fashion doll show in Paris was very successful for you. What are some of the projects you are currently involved with?

SS: The Paris convention was a great opportunity for us. We got to introduce Alex (our 16 inch fashion doll) to a whole new group of collectors. I was thrilled that she was such a success. It was a wonderful opportunity to design a special doll for that convention and to accompany her there. We have a number of great dolls coming up. I am currently working on some fashion doll items for our regular line, as well as our Wendy (8" collectable dolls). I have worked on a number of specials for Lillian Vernon, Ivory Lenox, Colonial Williamsburg, and keep an eye out for some very special product in our 16" doll size designed by me and other Alexander designers which will make a big splash at F.A.O. Schwarz. I expect a few of the pieces will sell out in a short time.

MC: As a collector, what do you look for when deciding to make a purchase?

SS: I still collect a number of different kinds of dolls and action figures. I am always drawn to new sculpts, great accessories, and garment construction. I am very pleased that we are able to offer these things in our Alex line. I normally shop for a good price, but will bend the rules for either great product, or an interesting garment construction, which has taken a lot of thought. I am a big fan of molded plastic accessories (I couldn’t sew these as a child for my one doll…. she remained shoeless.) I am a big fan of companies who develop lots of head molds for their dolls or action figures. A new head or body sculpt is a sure sale from me.

MC: What is your personal take on limited editions and exclusive dolls?

SS: I think that for high collectability, and limited numbers, the Disney store specials we produce are must haves. We created many of the princesses last year (I got to design two of them), and though I am not designing any of the Disney dolls that are coming out this year, they are all winners, limited and great collectibles. I often think like a collector when I design. I like firsts or unusual items, for example I designed a 21" Cissy doll for Collectors United in 1999, she was a gypsy. I took the opportunity to give her a darker skin tone (this was the first time we used this skin tone on the Cissy doll); I feel this made her very special and collectible. I also used lavender eyes on an 8" doll (The Tooth Fairy) for 2001. This eye color was previously only used on Elizabeth Taylor dolls, which were produced in the past. Of these special items I am very excited about a first I’ve done for our 10" doll. She will be coming out in our fall collection this year. She will be the first Cissette (10" doll) to have face paint to mimic the dramatic Cissy dolls face paint introduced in 1996.

MC: Do you have any favorite items in your own collection? Any current favorite designs?

SS: As far as my own collection goes, of course, I love the product we produce (Especially Alex). I am a big fan of Disney. I collect Disney dolls and animated films. I love G.I. Joe and have made a big purchase of them today as they have just released a bunch of great new head molds. I love all fashion dolls, even the competitor's product. I have a large collection of Alex, Barbie, Tyler, and Gene dolls. My favorite items are clothing pieces that are well constructed and lined. This makes me even more proud of the dolls Alexander Doll produces (Cissy and Alex have great clothing construction). Of my own designs for Alexander Doll, my favorite pieces have been Cairo Cissy (Who had a cameo appearance on "Sex and the City"), Shanghai Cissy, Doll Collector Wendy, I Love My Teddy Wendy, and the City Lights Alex doll which was the Alex for the Paris Fashion Doll Festival. I like these items because of special little touches of detail like my hand embroidery and beadwork. I also like these items because of the look of the finished design and their individual style.

MC: Can you offer any advice to new folks interested in starting a collection of Madame Alexander dolls? Any pitfalls to watch out for?

SS: I would be glad to give advice to people who are starting a new Madame Alexander Doll collection, or any doll collection. Never buy a doll hoping it will go up in value, always buy a doll because you love it. That way you will always have a collection, which is very special to you. One of the things I admire most about the company I work for is our commitment to our collectors. We honestly try to tailor our product line to accommodate our collector’s wish lists. We have a great doll hospital, which can repair our product on site. I grew up with a family of Alexander doll collectors. I have seen more than 30 years of product. I am very proud to be a part of the design team, which has developed the 2000, and 2001 product line. It just keeps getting better and I think we have a great product line for both starting new collections, and adding treasured pieces.

MC: Has the Internet changed the way you collect?

SS: The most incredible way the Internet has effected the way I collect has to be the great bargains I have found which have enabled me to make my collector dollar go further. It is the most special buyers market we have ever experienced. It has given birth to an incredible new product line as companies must work much harder to gain the collector dollar. In other words, because of the Internet’s effect on the market, I am buying the absolute best product ever at the greatest prices ever. It is a truly magical time to be a doll and collectible collector.