Do you know Rose Bertin, the French dressmaker who created the most fabulous dresses for Queen Marie-Antoinette? She is also famous because she brought fashion and Haute Couture to the forefront of popular culture. Frédérique, aka Kikihalb, is simply as creative and gifted. Just like in the fashion industry for humans, nearly every Blythe designer is in the ready-to-wear sector, but Kikihalb’s designs are definitely exceptional and one-of-a-kind, exactly as “Haute Couture” is. Everything is in the details! If you look closely, you will be blown away because we all know how tiny the size of a Blythe dress is! Without further delay, I am very pleased and honored to introduce you to the amazingly talented Frédérique. Be prepared for being filled with wonder!
Hi Frédérique! Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Frédérique and I live in Brussels, Belgium. I am an illustrator and I teach drawing, color and illustration for Bachelor levels at the University. I am a mother of 3 children, who are now 11, 13 and 17 years old. My husband is an actor and puppeteer, so we both appreciate being in a world filled with art and imagination. We live downtown in a nice area called “Garden City”, which is full of greenery and trees. The houses are identical and modest, but the concept combines a maximum of green spaces and common areas for the well-being of our four cats and especially our kids… I feel like living in a resort all year long and it’s really wonderful!
My favorite activities, in addition to drawing, illustration and sewing, are reading books, visiting museums, walking in the forest, playing piano and having drinks with my friends. I also have a passion for Lego, with which I created many small environments for my kids. I think I never broke all ties with my childhood and its pleasures and I never made much difference between work and hobby. All my activities are intertwined and complementary, tending towards “something always greater” that in fact defines me well.
How and when did you discover Blythe?
While surfing the Internet and searching for Christmas gifts for my daughters I came across customized Obitsu and Momoko dolls. I was completely fascinated that they may exist. I had a kind of an intimate correspondence feeling, which is indefinable, such as something I was waiting for for a long time without knowing it: making one’s doll to be one of a kind.
Then I discovered Blythe dolls in a Dolly*Dolly magazine I had bought. I thought at first that they were very strange and intriguing because my European culture makes my eyes not used to see that kind of face and proportions. I spent my time looking at pictures of customs that some people were able to do and the never-ending possibilities of these dolls definitely seduced me. So I bought my first Blythe, a used Star Dancer with her hair colored as ripe wheat and her tanned complexion. She was smelling summer and sun. I was charmed and understood I had just opened Pandora’s Box!
How many Blythe dolls do you have in your own collection?
I have 1 EBL (Disco Boogie), 8 SBL (FT, MS, VM, VS, LL, ILYIT, SMe, ABe) who I often bought second-hand, 10 RBL (SD, BP, RS, NL, PM, CS, SL, SG, SMG, PDWW) and 3 FBL (SV, SC, VA). I also have a few “factory girls” purchased for customizing purposes because I am still not able to work on official releases and take the risk to ruin them.
What kind of dolls do you prefer?
This is a bit hard to tell because I haven’t seen them all. For instance, I have never had a Kenner in my hand. It also depends on the release and what I plan to do with her.
For customizing projects, I would preferably buy a RBL because they are easy to open and I would carefully choose her complexion. There are many releases and it is always possible to re-root them. I’m still not very comfortable with opening heads and afraid of committing an irreparable act that would leave my doll into pieces.
I customized a SBL, saw her head, and I was sobbing while doing it, but eventually I didn’t do it too badly. Phew!
For my collection, I prefer EBLs or SBLs. I find them stronger, heavier and more compact. I like the quality of their hair, rooting, and the materials they are made of look much better.
I would love to have a Kenner one day because I love their faces, which I find strange with a deeper and more harrowing expression.
Of course I also love the dolls that are customized by artists. I would spend hours looking at them. They inspire me so much and show me never-ending possibilities. I admire many customizers: the bright and vibrant look of Le Chapelier Fou and MAPUCA customs, the sexy girls of Erregiro, the freshness and translucent style of Ana Karina and Vainilladolly dolls, the incredible details of the clothes and accessories made by Cookie Dolls and Julien Martinez, the singular mystery of Melacacia and Olydoll customs. I certainly forgot many artists!
It is so difficult to make a choice between all the customs, as the variety of expression depends on such slight and extensive differences in colors or style. These dolls are truly amazing!
Where and how do you store your own dolls?
That is a problem! My house is quite small. With 3 children, we had to make concessions in the room assignment. I share my small office and workshop with my husband and space is scarce. I leave my dolls in their boxes and wait for better days. The ones that I use regularly as models stand on a shelf in the living room.
There is another shelf above my desk on which I display the ones want to see, I am working on and I have projects for.
Nothing is definitive and I know it will have to find a more sustainable solution. But in a family, some adjustments, such as the room for my daughters who are growing up so quickly, turned out to be a priority and my plans will have to be on hold for a bit.
Why did you start to create clothes for Blythe?
As far as I can go back to my childhood, my creativity has always been based on the confrontation of two elements: the desire for pretty things and the lack of money to obtain them. So, if my parents could not buy us all we wanted, they have always encouraged my brothers and me to create and they support us. We could “do” as long as we finished our projects and cleaned up our mess. That is why I always tried to make what I wanted myself. Making clothes or anything else is a state of mind to me. I first sewed for me, then for my friends, my children, their dolls … and now for my Blythes! I often prefer to do it myself because I know I will get what I really want with the quality I want.
Photo: Kikihalb. The embroidered waistcoat – back. When creativity is supported by breathtaking sewing and embroidery techniques.
Photo: Kikihalb. The embroidered waistcoat – front.
How did you learn to do it?
I learned on the job and little by little. My mom could sew, so she taught me the basics when I was a little girl. My parents bought books with lots of DIY ideas and I remember one called “having fun with sewing” where everything was made of felt and recycled fabrics. As a kid, I was always busy and when my brothers were watching TV in the living room, I was doing DIY on the dining room table while watching the movie at the same time.
In elementary school, we were taught to crochet, knit, sew and embroider by hand because there were different activities for girls and for boys. In high school, I was in a boarding school for girls and there were real sewing classes. That is where I took my first steps on a sewing machine. I started to buy patterns and make my own clothes. With the explanations on the patterns, I gradually improved my techniques and mastered more difficult details, such as piping, collar, bias sewing, etc.
When I was 20 years old, I met a great Belgian designer, Nina Meert, who is now a friend and with whom I still regularly work. She made me discover the love for beautiful materials, the “Haute Couture” work and these details that make all the difference. She showed me how to transform sewing to an artistic activity.
Photos: kikihalb. Marie Antoinette set – an incredible work of art! Please click on the link to see all the pictures of the most wonderful Blythe outfit ever! Frédérique masters all the sewing techniques, even the most difficult ones and that set leaves me speechless.
Photos: Pookalovestomatoes. The Marie Antoinette set was made for Sarah.
What gives you inspiration?
Everything! It’s really hard to say. I am very eclectic and visual. The germ of an idea can be caused by many things. I like a picture or a thought and I get started. I should tell you that I have achieved only a small part of all what I have in mind. The rest remains at a draft stage and could resurface any time through a particular circumstance, an order, some free time or even a new fabric…
Sometimes, and I love it, I wake up with a very accurate picture of what I should do in mind, like out of a dream. I quickly take notes and make a little sketch … that just inflates my batch of projects even more.
In short, the idea always comes from an image, a text, a movie, a painting, a nice combination of colors or fabrics and a buried desire hidden inside of me and combined with a focused and receptive mind.
Photos: Kikihalb. All the steps to create a work of art!
Photo: Kikihalb. The Blossom corset.
What’s your work rhythm and how do you like to work?
The way I make things is very organic; I used to say “like a plant that grows.” I always start with drawings, certainly my most natural way to create. I am very tense at the beginning of a project, even a little stressed. I go through my fabrics and books. I combine things. I look for embellishments and the best sewing techniques. I hesitate. After all this agitation, I start to feel certain but I do nothing without having experienced it. That is the moment I make up my mind and take important decisions. I really start making my project, refine my patterns and with new choices made along the way, I always end up with something unexpected, but concrete.
My work rhythm is very slow, sometimes to my chagrin, because of my mandatory activities, work or family, and also because I am very demanding and a perfectionist. I learned it the hard way, when I worked in the advertising sector where the deadlines were always “for yesterday”, that time is a luxury but an absolute necessity for quality. I finally decided to opt for quality, regardless of the time I spend. I want this creative activity to be primarily leisure and pleasure based on my desire and bringing to me the joy of a job I am satisfied with.
I like to work in peace without any time pressure and I avoid irritations and failures because they depress me. I need to be in a quiet environment to make relevant choices. That is why I always let my clients know before a potential order that my deadlines have to be flexible… but I love to make anything!
How does your studio look like?
It’s a small room on the first floor with a desk, a computer, my notes and daily small equipment (glue, brushes, etc.) as well as shelves full of my Blythe dolls, books and binders. My sewing table with my old Singer is behind my desk and faces the window overlooking a beautiful birch tree in the front of the house and filtering the sunlight in late afternoon. The best time of the day for work! On my right, there are two large Ikea cabinets to store all my precious equipment. This is the place where I prepare my courses or where I draw or sew. It gets quickly cluttered and I really have to force myself to clean up regularly if I want to be able to move from one activity to another. I feel good in my space despite its small size and that is the most important to me. In the evening, I work in the living room while watching TV.
Photo: Kikihalb. The work table. I love that colorful set up!
What are you working on these days and what are your next projects?
I have been very busy these past weeks because I was back to school and had to build all the students’ projects for the year with my team. My projects for Blythe are so numerous that I do not always know where to start. I would like to finish all the little things that are in progress, such as my “Tales” series.
I also started a “Monaco” set, inspired by the outfits of the lovely bridesmaids at the royal wedding. I love it because it reminds me of one my mother was wearing in Nîmes, France, when she was a kid… I also have another project with Hanky dresses sewn into pretty vintage handkerchiefs and skirts with bright colors.
Photo: Kikihalb. The Blossom corset.
My series based on an illustrator called Boutet de Monvel is not finished yet either and I have quite a lot of commissions on my list. They are each time creations inspired by my clients’ wishes. I transport myself into their world. I love to enter unknown territories and bring out something special for them! This is where I really feel creative.
Photo: Kikihalb. Nous n’irons plus au bois (we won’t go to the woods any longer), from the Boutet de Monvel series.
What do you like the most about collecting Blythe dolls?
I love the never-ending possibilities you can experience with Blythe. It is possible to create so many beautiful and special dolls. Our creativity is always awake and revived and that fascinates me!
I also love the spirit of our community. People are extremely friendly and encouraging. This is very refreshing for me because I work in an elitist artistic field, where snobbery prevails too often. I regret having too little time to communicate with everyone, help some, meet others…
That is why I take this opportunity to thank all of you who trusted me, leave positive feedback, admire my work and keep encouraging me… Without you I would certainly not be here. I affectionately dedicate this interview to you and I really hope that my answers will give you back a bit of the wonderful energy you gave me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Photo: Kikihalb. Morning Mist set.
Painting: Claude Monet – The Seine at Giverny, morning mist. The inspiration behind the Morning Mist set.
Photo: Kikihalb. The corset of Morning Mist – Just divine!
Thank SO very much, Frédérique, for accepting to be interviewed by Mademoiselle Blythe. I am not sure I found the right words to describe how beside myself with joy I am when looking at your designs! When I lived in Paris, I had the chance to attend a few Haute Couture runways and you bring back memories of these fabulous moments. I am so happy I discovered your work thanks to Ana Karina, one of your first and loyal clients in the Blythe community. I wish you many more clients to come, but I have no doubt they will rush to you shortly!