~by doll fashion designer and fashion pattern maker Magalie Houle Dawson
I had quite a bit of experience before entering Fashion School in my twenties. Starting at three for four, I was playing with dolls and dressing them. I started creating my own clothes for the dolls with scraps from my mother’s sewing efforts, before I was allowed anything but child’s scissors and big blunt needles. This morphed into sewing cloth dolls for sale during my teenage years and I started sewing my own clothing. I also started doing alterations for many people in my neighborhood and then took a piecework job with a local clothing manufacture, and learned how to sew on industrial sewing machines.
This led to starting a dance-wear company with my sister. We designed and sewed unitards, leotards, leg warmers etc… This business continued for several years, and as my sister moved up in the world of ballet, I had new customers for my designs. In my mid twenties I started attending Colege La Salle in Montreal. My classes in Fashion School filled in what I didn’t already know, especially about how to drape and draft professional patterns.
I studied fashion history and had a very inspirational teacher for Fashion Drawings. The high point of those years was winning a fashion contest that let me represent Canada in an international competition held in Paris. The theme was “Cruise Wear” and my entry was titled “The Pirate’s Fiancé”. It was thrilling to see my design compete on a Paris Fashion Runway with a professional model dressed in my creation!
Right about this point in my life I met and then married my husband, Bennett, and moved with my two young children to Vermont, where there is no fashion industry at all! So I opened my own shop called Fashion By Magalie where I had a rather decent business making custom sportswear; winter fleece wear, and personally fitted bathing suits. This became too much to manage while raising my children, so I took a position as creative designer for a small doll company and designed two complete lines of cloth dolls with extended fashion collections. Then in 1999 I discovered eBay and the rest is history. I had finally found a viable outlet for my childhood passion!
This was when Gene Marshal was a big star, and I was designing One Of A Kind ensembles which I sold on Ebay. Then Tyler came on the scene, along with Ann Estelle, Kitty Collier, and Helen Kish’s Four Seasons and Riley. After a while I had a good customer base, and had made some good friends among the Artistic Doll Repainters. We started collaborating on projects, culminating with “The Four Elements Project” where four artists sent me dolls to dress as Wind, Earth, Water, and Fire. One of them was Kathy Weinberg one of the top doll repaint artists. She also sent me a repainted Volks SD13 girl in 2003, telling me that the BJDs were the wave of the future in the doll world!
I was so very impressed by the quality, size and figure of this girl, and was hooked on the spot. The first thing I did for her was my Unitard design from the ballet days, as her body was so elegant, and wanted to show her form without the joints (photos), then my interpretation of a classic Kimono, which is not constructed as a real Kimono because I wanted the “sleeves” to fall better, and display the fabrics at their best advantage (Nid D’Amour). I started offering patterns in 2006 after having my baby boy, and have enjoyed watching exceptional seamstresses use them to fulfill the demand for well sewn ensembles for our favorite dolls.
I had interviews on my design work in Haute Doll, Doll Reader, and other publications over the 13 years that I have been in the doll business. My husband and I have worked together to grow MHD Designs (he does all the photography, computer work, printing, shipping, and web site maintenance. I do the designing and try to answer all of the emails), but we haven’t been to any shows or participated much in the retail scene, so we’re probably still a well kept secret at this point.
Since my beginning into the BJD world, there were so many different companies creating different size dolls that I got lost a bit as far as knowing which dolls I should design for. I stayed in the SD size, but did not do much for the other smaller dolls. When I discovered Nyssa, a Kaye Wiggs 18″ MSD girl, I knew that I had to work with her! Since then I have purchased a Miki of the same size, and Millie and Cinnamon who are much smaller. I have many plans for them, patterns, limited editions and One Of A Kind designs.
While exploring the Resin Cafe web site I met Bo Bergemann and was enthralled by her wonderful and charming little girls. We discussed possible collaborations and I ended up creating a “Thumbelina” costume and display for this year’s IDEX convention. I also designed a “Red Riding Hood” ensemble for the Doll Reader auction at IDEX, which fits Kaye Wiggs’ girls. So even though I couldn’t attend in person, some of my work will be on display.
I am currently dividing my work in four ways: I will always do One Of A Kind ensembles as it is my way of “relaxing” – designing without any restrictions. I am also offering doing a few limited editions on a pre-order basis, the edition number determined by the amount of the fabrics or embellishments I have available. Third is fashion patterns. When I release a new pattern I usually offer the pattern proofs (the ensembles made with the pattern to show the finished fit) on Ebay. It provides the initial publicity for the pattern, and the ensembles are really one of a kinds because I move on to the next pattern, OOAK, or LE.
There are also short term plans to design an extensive collection of patterns for the 18″ size BJDs such as Kaye Wiggs Nyssa, also for the tiny BJDs such as Millie and Cinnamon. I also look forward to the SD size Nelly from Kaye Wiggs. I hope to design ensembles for some of Bo Bergemann’s limited editions girls. They’re really beautiful (and I would love to do this with other doll artists if possible). I am inspired by many things – beautiful fabric, classic movies, but most of all my inspiration comes from the dolls. I look into their eyes and they tell me what they want to wear next week…
Photos above: “The Pirate’s Fiance” costume design, Unitard for BJDs, Villede Chine for KazeKidz 1/4 girls.
MHD Designs – OOAK and Limited Edition fashions and unique pattern designs of Magalie Houle Dawson