Bangkok Blythe doll craze no passing trend

Bangkok Blythe doll craze no passing trend

The pricey dolls with the creepy eyes continue to captivate the city’s young ladies -- including celebrity Chompoo Araya

It was love at first sight when the adorable Chompoo Araya Hargate first laid eyes on Blythe.

Benjaporn Anirukkul, the CEO of Bangkok-based Leo Toy, says she got her first Blythe doll in 2003 and has been collecting them ever since. She began customizing and selling Blythe dolls in 2006 and now runs shops in some of Bangkok’s top malls including Central World.

Benjaporn says she sells about 5-10 Blythe dolls daily in each branch, mostly to women aged between 20-40, although she has customers older than 50, and, of course, some little girls. The price? Anywhere between 2,000 baht to more than 60,000 baht per doll. Yes, you read that right. 

A Blythe doll can fetch an even higher price at the annual CWC Blythe Anniversary Charity Exhibition, where handmade one-off dolls are designed by famous fashion figures such as Oscar de la Renta, Anna Sui, Paul Smith, Issey Miyake, Christian Lacroix and Sonia Rykiel, as well as Thai designers Sretsis, Issue and It's Happened to Be a Closet. All of the proceeds are donated to various charitable causes such as Unicef, Make A Wish and Plan. Since 2002, these auctions have raised a total of close to $400,000 for charity.

Where did Blythe come from?

Blythe dollBlythe owners can choose from thousands of dresses and accessories for their dolls.

The massive -- and expensive -- Blythe obsession started in Japan in the early 2000s, but she's been around much longer.

In 1972, the now defunct U.S. toy company Kenner (which later that decade hit it big with its "Star Wars" action figures and playsets) came out with a doll whose eyes changed colors when you pulled a string behind her head. The narrator in the commercial at the time told viewers Blythe was “groovy” and “really outta sight in her mod outfit.”

But it turned out those big, changing eyes freaked out kids in the 1970s, and sales were so poor that Kenner ended production on Blythe the same year.

Flash forward to the 1990s when a vintage doll collector in New York, Gina Garan, came across Blythe, fell in love with the doll and started buying them up by the dozen on the Web. She introduced the doll to a Japanese American woman, Junko Wong, creative director and president of creative agency Cross World Connections, who obtained the license for Blythe and went on to spawn new generations of Blythe dolls and accessories.

Fans of Blythe in Thailand come to the events to meet Wong in person and get her to sign their dolls. Meanwhile, Garan went on to author the seminal “This is Blythe,” published in 2000.

Celebrity Chompoo crazy for Blythe

Blythe dollChompoo's Blythe doll collection.

Any Blythe fan in Thailand likely knows Chompoo Araya Hargate, a famous model and television soap opera actress who has appeared in many Thai magazines with her Blythe dolls. She “met” Blythe, as she says, a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love, buying about 100 of them, some she hasn’t even taken out of the box yet as she saves them for certain occasions. (See above video.)

She checked in with CWC to see what it would take to start up her own Blythe shop and this past February opened The Doll House inside the elegant but funky QConcept store in Siam Paragon.

But while Blythe is still red hot in Thailand, Chompoo says she is concerned about kids who buy too many dolls or accessories, or those who don’t have the means to buy even one, and go to desperate measures -- even going without eating -- to save up enough money.

“Jai yen yen [translation: chill, relax],” she says. “I know, it happened to me before. I got one and I went crazy. Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy... and your savings go to zero!”

But Kittima Vongswat, a 17-year-old student at KIS International School, says that despite the high price tag, her Blythe dolls, named Shoyu and Miso, were worth it.

“These dolls are special and make me happy. Sometimes I use them to represent me or express my feelings.”

For more Asian doll news check out Finding the cutest toys in Shanghai: We go soft for revolutionary pigs, 12 hours inside the Shanghai Barbie store and Cathay Pacific Crew Dolls Contest. For some "real" dolls, try In the boudoir with Shanghai's Chinatown Dolls.

Additional reporting by Pimnaree Piyaboonsitthi and Pimpimon Pattanavimon.