Words by Emily Nimptsch| Interview translation by Xenia Leo
With whimsical, avant-garde outfits, elaborately braided, equestrian-inspired hairstyles,and hyper-realistic “imperfections,” including freckles, uneven smiles, and bushy eyebrows, Ekaterina and Elena Popovy’s ball joint dolls are nothing like the cheery, wholesome, and all-American figurines of our collective childhoods. These handmade, hand-painted creations stand empowered and fearless in their unabashed sense of self-expression.
Hailing from Perm, Russia, these obscenely-talented twin sisters and co-collaborators have been experimenting with fashion, drawing, and photography since their teenage years. They recently chatted with BASIC Magazine about their many passions and how they stitch them all together to create these awe-inspiringlydetailed doll collections.
Looking back on their upbringing, the Popovy sisters reveal,
“Our father’s interest in photography had a huge impact on us…The whole film printing process seemed almost magic. As soon as Dad gave us our first camera, we were hooked.”
Their fascination with the daring expression of fashion later took them to Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts in Yekaterinburg, Russia. There, they began experimenting with making pieces themselves, and starting in 2004, the duo got into the business of doll creation, styling, and photography.
Ekaterina and Elena truly enjoy working on these collectibles as a team,
“We can honestly say we have never had any difficult or unsolvable problems. Let’s just say we’re lucky, and everything has always gone rather smoothly for us. When any idea pops up in one of us, we work on it together until it reaches perfection.”
Relying on and inspiring each other in this pursuit, they debut only one collection of 10-15 dolls per year due to the required months of intensive labor. The creative process for their collections is indeed very involved. The Popovy twins typically start out with one unifying theme. Previous motifs have included royalty, birds, and even
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Every single detail – the dolls’ gestures, characteristics, and costume designs – are planned with sketches from nearly every conceivable angle.
“We think through the whole image and personality of the doll from beginning to end. We think through the whole collection – makeup, clothes, the expression. It’s always interesting to look back at the photographs and see if the doll ended up with the personality we planned from the beginning or not.”
After deciding on details, plaster casts and a final polyurethane version of the dolls are made. Originally created in parts, the head and the body are painstakingly painted with gossamer-thin layers. Aiming to make these dolls look as human as possible, they are all given flushed cheeks, bold makeup, and eyelashes. Once finished, the dolls are posed with the help of their flexible ball joints and photographed like flesh-and-blood models. Resembling elegant ballerinas, they bend and contort into experimental, high fashion poses.
Their pioneering, nuanced costume designs tap into something euphoric and sublime. All of the dolls are clad in hand-cut, stitched, and beaded lingerie numbers and avant-garde ensembles straight off the runway. It comes as no surprise that these artisans are influenced by famed fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. They reveal,
“He inspires us as a person, artist, and painter, and we were so excited to be asked to create a couple of dolls for him – we’re actually working on them right now. He likes our style and it’s been incredible that he hasn’t put any limits or boundaries on our creative process. There were some details he liked a lot – tattoos,makeup preferences – but overall, he’s given us total freedom, which is so inspiring.”
On top of this collaboration, the Popovy sisters recently designed music video costumes and a doll for renowned South African hip-hop group, Die Antwoord. Seemingly an ideal match, the Popovy sisters were thrilled to work with the group.
“When they started preparing for their music video, they asked us to sketch their costumes. It was so light and creative chatting with them. We were excited to offer to make a doll for them – they’re perfectly emblematic of our style. Little details we’re attracted to – a tiny gap between front teeth or small bat ears – fit so easily with Yolandi’s (the group’s female vocalist) image – it’s all so picturesque.”
When asked what their goal is in making these dolls, the twins admit,
“We want to activate just one feeling – goosebumps. If they happen, we know that what we’ve created has 100% worked. We love to people-watch at our exhibitions. And it happens time to time that we’re approached by visitors who tell us that they have goosebumps all over their skin. That happiness can’t be explained. It’s like when we’re listening to music and the goose bumps happen, when you know just how deep the melody has struck your soul. That’s how we want our work to be.”
Through their meticulous drawing, sculpting, painting, and photography, as well as their exquisite ensembles and emphasis on eccentricity and confidence, the Popovy sisters achieve this “wow” factor, creating unforgettable works that stir the soul and inspire inner strength.
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