Friday, December 6, 2013

Exclusive first look: Em'lia Couture presents: the Röntgen fashion - plus an interview of the creator

The Fashion Doll Chronicles is happy to announce an exclusive: The first presentation of the Röntgen fashion from Em'lia Couture! You can see this incredible creation for the first time in my blog, get the scoop on its inspiration and also read a full interview from the very talented and gracious Emilia. Read on.

FDC: The story behind Röntgen - What was your inspiration behind this fashion? Why did you select making pants this time? How did you pick the fabrics and colours for it?

I must be honest and admit I saw this super sexy Calvin-Klein jeans add and thought “wow, that picture is so hot it makes jeans look high fashion”. I mean I have never been a fan of jeans or any trousers on dolls, but that poster and pose just blew me away. A few weeks later I'm browsing silks in my favourite boutique and I find this curios graphite grey silk dupioni, as thin as air, and it has this weird gold effect to highlight the texture. It was love at first sight and suddenly that CK add was on top of my mind again. Should I do a casual fashion for my dolls? They are supposed to be haute couture dolls, but many owners still prefer to dress them down casual when playing. Besides, maybe brands have different product lines, maybe emiliacouture could have m’ the ready-to-wear line (some of my flickr friends call me Em or Ems). So, I bought all the whopping 5 meters of the fabric they had and just hoped it was enough for production. 

Calvin Klein Jeans advertisement, Fall/Winter 2012 ©Steven Klein 

I always say, “If you copy something make it your own” so I could not just make golden jeans and a black T-shirt and sell it as emiliacouture. That would be stealing in my book. If I was to make jeans they had to be special and all about the “booty”, so I went for a very tailored skinny jeans and the unusually thin fabric made it possible to add pleated details to the pockets. I didn't want the do a traditional jeans cut so each trouser sleeve has 4 seams, but the pants do come with 5 open pockets. I went through countless T-shirt designs and prints, but finally came across 18th century X-Rays of women wearing corsets by Dr Ludovic O’Followell (1908):


It immediately awoke my interest since it addresses my love-hate relationship with corsets. Corsets are absolutely beautiful and sexy and I incorporate them in many of my designs, but forcing women into these Silkstone Barbie like beauty standards is cruel and unhealthy. This is exactly why I made Inamorata body slim yet healthy with a natural waist line. I like stirring conversation with my work and so the Röntgen (name of the inventor of x-rays and also what they are called in Finnish) outfit has 2 print tops: a tank top with picture of a 16" waist corset with a tape measure wrapped around the crushed waist, and sporty T showing an x-ray image of the woman wearing this corset. The shirts are all hand printed on tricot so the prints will get that nice rock’n roll faded look when stretched.

FDC: What inspired the accessories (if any) designed to match this fashion?

A couple of tops and fancy pants don’t make an outfit in my book, so accessories were obviously needed. I had a huge thing for ankle booties already in the Spring when I designed this, so that was the way to go. I wanted to make cool booties that would be cut low enough to so some skin between the trouser legs and boot, and I also find women’s ankle bones very beautiful, so I tried to make a design that would incorporate this. For the heel I used the same golden SpikySpine designs as for Vertebrata, that are actually sculpted by my husband Juhana Hirvonen who also designed our boxes. As for the purse, many labels have a sort of recognisable signature bag and I wanted to create just that for emiliacouture, but there are so many bag designs out there and every time I thought I had come up with something new it had been done. Finally the answer came when I was browsing through my flickr activity, I had already designed an em’lia original purse on 2010, only not for my dolls but for myself using my dad old leather trench coat! 

I made a faux leather miniature version of the tote and a black version of this “emiliacouture signature bag” will complete the Röntgen outfit. The upcoming accessory packs will also feature a yellow and metallic burgundy versions.

 FDC: First give us a little background information about you, who was Emilia before fashion dolls came into the picture?

I was a total tomboy and dolls were for chicks. All my friends were guys and I trained in jiu-jitsu and niten (Japanese martial art known as the path of two swords started by Miyamoto Musashi) 10 times a week. I was in the Finnish military for 9 months as a medic after graduating from high school and my dad was kind of disappointed I didn't become a career officer. I had always loved paying dress up and had made costumes for an amateur theatre group I was part of in middle school, so it was sort of natural step for me to earn money while in business collage by making wedding and evening gowns first for my friends and then gradually for a wider range of customers. I'm not sure when it all changed. Maybe when I was doing my year as an exchange student in Beijing University…

FDC: How did you discover fashion dolls?

My best friend Jing (Wu Xuejing, now my business partner in Odonata Green Ltd.) and my little sister were into Momoko dolls and while studying in China in 2006 I helped them buy some in Hong Kong. I was living with a Chinese student's budget at the time (my scholarship from Beijing University was 800 Yuan per month which was about 80 euros then) and remember being horrified of the thought of spending the exact same sum on a single Momoko doll. I did find them very intriguing and still curse myself for not buying the rare white version of Mama Told Me Momoko, but I just bought the 3 dolls I had been asked to buy and walked out - and went back for a 23cm blank little Obitsu doll.

I was so fascinated with the Obitdu doll’s poseability and soon it was joined by 3 collectable Barbies. One thing that turned me off Barbies as a kid was their fake smile, blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes. For a Finn these are all so boring every day features I much rather went for the He-Man figures. They didn't sell exotic Barbies in my childhood, but in China I was faced with wonderfully angry looking Barbies with dark hair, skin and eyes. It wasn't long before I was browsing the internet for more, found Fashion Royalty and was in my obsessive collector mode.

FDC: When did you decide to start making clothes for your dolls?

Soon after returning from China I had quite a collection of miscellaneous 1:6 scale doll, but these were mainly bought nude as they were cheaper to buy and out of necessity I started making clothes for them. It wasn't really a decision, more like a junkie’s decision to maximise the little cash left: I could sew clothes, but I could not make dolls. I think the first attempts at doll fashion making were already in Beijing for those couple of Barbies I had. I think a dress might be one of the first things I ever made:

FDC: When did you first start selling your doll clothes?

I started photographing my dolls when the Integrity Toys dolls came into the picture on 2007 and joined Flickr. The doll community there and on Dolly Daily and Wclub gave me so much positive reinforcement I entered the Couture Doll Design Challenge on 2009. By the time I had sold some odds and ends, done couple of commissions and 2 very simple casual wear collections, but it was all a hobby and I was astonished every time people were interested in my doll clothes.

Emilia's CDDC participation in 2009 (above and below is the Amazonian Warrior gown)

During CDDC my cat Neru got seriously ill and I started selling my contest entry pieces to cover his treatment. I put an immense amount of work into those first “creations” and was honoured beyond belief when Paul Pham bought the Amazonian Warrior gown and featured it on one of his OOAK Numina dolls. Paul’s generosity and that of many other dolly friends saved my cat’s life and he is now a healthy 10 year old living together with me in China.

FDC: How did you decide to go into doll making?

I had been repainting dolls since the beginning of my collecting hobby. It was just part of the bonding ritual between me and the doll – making it mine. I think I was re-sculpting my dolls after the 4th or 5th IT doll I bought and took my first baby steps in doll making as early as November 2007. This was a 1/6 scale wax model that never got made, but the main joints and general aesthetic are already the same as in Inamorata 5 years later. I don’t think there has ever been a point for me where I have actually stopped and decided to do start doing something; I've just sort of organically drifted towards this.

Body sketch 24.11.2007

Βody with joints 04.12.2007

I got my first Sybarite, a damaged nude Inque, during CDDC and noticed how much easier it was to sew for 16” dolls. I was soon in the 1/4 scale bandwagon and the growing amount of commission works had turned my hobby into a somewhat of a full time job. On late 2011 I archived my early 6th scale wax model and started working on the new 16” model that was to become the Inamorata doll. My first 1/4 scale doll making attempt was an African head sculpt.

First 16” doll head sculpt

I had to change the sculpt when Paul released his Numina Ajuma, as that was too close to mine. There was no copying involved one way or the other, we just admired the same African beauties and I wanted my doll to have a distinctly different look so the 2 wouldn't be mixed up. This is why Nnaji ended up as the second Inamorata sculpt to be released instead of the first.

FDC: Was moving to China essential to pursuing the doll making/fashion making route?

Definitely. We did try the long distance relationship with the factories during the sample making process in the beginning but it was horrible. Every sample took weeks to arrive even with EMS and then a few more sending it back before repairs could be made. After 6 months I flew to the China for 2 weeks and sat at the factory every day to complete the process. Being here in person is the only way to go in my opinion. It’s hard enough dealing with quality control issues in person, but if you have already paid and accepted the production for shipping there is very little you can do if the production isn't what you expected.

FDC: Did you encounter any obstacles before selling/marketing your dolls/clothes?

I don’t even want to open this can of worms. Sometimes I feel like there are nothing but obstacles with production (we had 6 month delays with production so we are now hunting for a new factory) and in China such a simple every day thing like shipping can become a total nightmare. First with Inro the shipping agent gave us the wrong tracking numbers (they have 2 sets: one inside China and one for international tracking, guess which ones we got?) which naturally created a lot of hubbub on the forums. Now with Cherub and Vertebrata sales some packages got stuck for days in Hong Kong because of “over load of packages shipping abroad, especially to EU and air freight limitations”. Every year this time all the goods made in China for Christmas are shipping out and the rational thing to do would naturally be to double the amount of air traffic to match the requirements of the season, but there is a strict monthly standard to air traffic in China and it cannot adjust. *sigh* I love living here, but sometimes things just don’t work and DHL promises of “3 day delivery” cannot be trusted. I live for the design work, but running a doll production is 60% troubleshooting and only 40% design work. It was easier being just an OOAK artist and it is hard now, but I ty to hope and trust it will get better and I few years I can concentrate on the design work and the factories have found some stability.

FDC: Where do you usually sell your dolls/clothing?

OOAKs are usually commissioned by the customers or sold through my mailing list (you can subscribe at The LE items are sold through the emiliacouture webshop (see the previous link) on first-come-first-served basis. With the current unreliability of factories to keep their production schedules I cannot even imagine taking pre orders yet. People are naturally frustrated waiting 6 months for a doll to come out (I know I am), but they’d be out for my head if I had taken their money before hand!

FDC: What inspires you? Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Everything and everywhere. It can be a beautiful detail I glimpse in a bus or metro, a fabric that speaks to me or a dream (I always have paper and pen on my bedside table). I study a lot of historical garments as everything has already been made, keep an eye on what’s going on the catwalks and street fashion. I often get a huge yearning for some particular colour only to realise it’s the hot trend thing of the upcoming season – but that’s just what fashion mags are supposed to do to your subconscious. Usually my process starts in the fabric shop where I go and feel the materials even more than look at them. The right texture and flow are essential for making a miniature garment work, colour and prints are secondary. When I touch the right fabric my brain just lights up and I know I want to use it, even though the idea itself would be very vague at this point. For LE designs I need to sketch and think because factory production poses many limitations, but for OOAK designs I can let go of all restricting though and just start sculpting the fabric on the dolls body. I hand stitch most of my OOAK work, use a lot of wet sculpting while sewing and generally have no idea what I am about to go. I give my hands full reign and usually what they design is much more interesting than what my head can come up with. .

Wet sculpting shown on the Vertebrata gown

FDC: How long does it usually take from conception to completion for any doll/outfit?

It varies. I like working fast with commissions where the inspiration stays fresh and I can see my work completed within weeks. My concentration spam just isn't ideal for the elongated process of design work, prototyping, samples, production, quality inspections, production issues etc. When I finally get the finished product in my hands it feels old and it because the process does take months to complete. But sometimes I do love taking my time and doing research. The Masai is a perfect example of this. I spend several weeks before the commission studying the Masai culture and traditions, their garments, hairstyles, jewellery and life style. I studies ethnography in university so I still enjoy throwing myself into this kind of work and even though I still try to keep the end result as a high fashion version of the thing, I think the authentic roots set and important base for the design work.

FDC: Who is your fashion icon?

Alexander McQueen. I said before that “everything has already been made“ but McQueen did completely new and unthinkable things. I think he rejuvenated fashion for generations. Such genius often leaves us too early. RIP

FDC: What is your favourite doll to work/design for apart from your own?

Sybarites are definitely on the top of my commissions list for OOAK fashion orders and I love designing for them as they are such demanding little muses, but Numina dolls fall pretty much into the same category. Through my commission work I have had a wonderful chance to see unique dolls such as Deva doll Red Tianshi and a weird little pixie like creature called Skene from Buried in Oblivion. Her curious physique and personality was truly a challenge:

I can’t use an identical design style for all dolls because I always want to take their personality into consideration. FR dolls need business wear, Sybs demand haute couture and child BJDs cute street style.

FDC: What is your all-time favorite doll?

Oh this is a hard one… I get bored too easily to have one favourite for long time. Right now I'm obsessively drooling over Popovy (no doll in particular as they all blow my mind) and Sybarite Concubine. From my own work my favourite is always the newest one I've made.

FDC: What is your most favorite fabric/material to work with and what is your least favorite fabric/material to work with?

My favourite is definitely silk in all its forms. I especially love raw silk, coarse dupioni and 90% silk satin with that essential bit of elasticity that makes it heavenly. Silk can be thin and heavy at the same time and it has the perfect flow for miniature fashions to look real. Least favourite must be polyester and anything trying to be fake silk. I can see and feel the difference instantly and it’s just cheap. I loathe it. 

FDC: What has been the most rewarding part of making dolls and fashions for them?

The people. Every time I have a new commission customer I gain a new friend. The talks about the conceptual design often go deep and personal and we found common ground both in design and in our lives. I think doll collectors are most warm hearted and generous people in the world. I couldn't do what I love without them and it’s their joy of receiving something I made that makes it all worthwhile. If I’d be just me making the exact same things I do now, but keeping them in tucked away where no one can see them it would be like they don't exist. My creations only become real to me when I photograph and share them.

FDC: What is the difficult part of making doll-size clothes?

Lining. I am rubbish at getting it right. Happily the seamstresses at our fashion factory (huge facility of 5 workers including the boss) are better at it than I am.

FDC: Are we going to see more accessories for your outfits? Like bags and shoes? Are you selling them separately from outfits?

Yes. There are 4 accessory packs coming out together with the Röntgen fashion now. I'm hoping to make it a Christmas tradition for our doll line as they make perfect little gifts to give your dolly friends. This year's accessory packs will feature a purse, belt, colour variation of the Vertebrata shoes and a bonus dress since what are accessories if you have nothing to accessorize? Ok, it’s a fashion set, but I'm calling it an accessory pack and packing it a tiny box and putting a smaller price tag on it, so that’s that.

FDC: What kind of details do you make sure to always incorporate into your clothes/dolls?

I want everything to be made like it’s a real sized human fashion, but in miniature. The pockets are real (even the tiny 5th pocket in jeans), the buckles open and bra’s have actual metal under-wire inside the cups. It was the amazing attention to detail that captivated me in my first FR doll and I want to give that same wonderful feeling to every person who gets something I have made.

FDC: What has been your favourite outfit/piece so far and why?

Maybe the Inro jacket because I still don’t know how it came to be as it’s so far from my usual designs. I was just playing with strips of fabric when I came up with the sleeves and I love the cut-out detail on the back of the jacket reminiscent of my Wild Rider Adele OOAK but taken to the next level 

I was absolutely sure the factory could not make the jacket when I gave them the sample and so hyped when I saw they could. 

FDC: Are there any tips or advice for all the doll-clothing makers out there you'd like to share?

Do not make miniature copies of what you see on runways (I know there are endless customers who ask though). Find your own style and if you do copy something make it your own - and rock it!

FDC: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself, your dolls or your clothing?

LOL. I went totally blank with this one, but then again its 2am now. I hope I’ll have better brain power tomorrow I hope… ;)

All photos and information courtesy of emiliacouture - Emilia Nieminen - reproduction without permission prohibited.


  1. Emilia never stops amaze us, I swear, she make me losing my mind!!! Strikingly beautiful items! Excellent presentation for my beloved friend Stratos!

  2. I love everything Emilia does! She is a fascinating woman, strong, creative, determined. It is inspiring to watch her grow. I wish the best to her with her new business.

  3. Me encanta son preciosassssss estas chicas negras la masai me gusta un monton, besosss

  4. Wow, what an amazing person, her personality just pops! And the designs and concepts are EVERYTHING! I design for dolls too, but low end barbies. What an inspiration!

  5. Now I realize she's just a Popovy wannabe; but before, I already knew she was making an ass out of herself with her horrid and ludicrous "designs". Please someone tell her to stop already!

    Sandra Cardinale

  6. Dear Sandra: I totally disagree with you (I find Popovy completely different in style but both are very creative and talented individuals) but you are entitled to your opinion of course. Just keep it civil please.

    1. You know it's ironic, when someone has a negative or different opinion or doesn't use a commonplace comment you always raise your voice.
      I think this supposed doll designer is talentless, because when you look at her work, you can see her references, and these latter are always better. She's unable to overcome the originals, because she is unoriginal per se. Morover the outcome of her work is ugly when she pretends all the way around; sure she's a beautiful human being but she's a bad artisan at the moment.

      Sandra Cardinale

  7. Most of the doll world will disagree with Sandra Cardinale, particularly those who have seen Emilia's work at the Paris Fashion Doll Festival. All artists show references to others in their work. Why be so nasty and unpleasant?

    Helen R