The pandemic has made many of us long for our yesteryears when times were simpler and more fun. So what could be a better reminder than Barbie dolls? Inspired by a serious case of quarantine boredom, Molly Borman Heymont’s photo series Party Girls and the follow up, Party Girls: Life In Plastic are 2021’s must-have pieces of nostalgia décor.
But this series is about more than just something that brings us back to our childhoods. While most little girls admire Barbie, adults can truly appreciate Borman’s fun, whimsical style that reminds us of all of life before the word “pandemic” was part of our daily lexicon. After a year of looking through our closets, realizing we can get all dressed up and yet have no place to go (at least in some parts of the country), it’s hard to see Borman’s work and not feel just slightly envious of the glamour.
These pieces are also something we can buy for our homes guilt-free because every purchase benefits Cap & Conquer. This amazing non-profit provides cold scalp therapy caps that can help save the hair of women undergoing chemotherapy.
Borman has been involved with the breast cancer community for years as the founder of Just Nips. This company makes stick-on prosthetic nipples for women who have undergone mastectomies. It’s also popular with real-life party girls who want to look just a little bit “colder.”
The Party Girls series is sold through the Just Nips website. These beautiful fine art prints measure 20 x 24 inches and are printed on high-quality archival paper. A choice of both black and white lacquer frames are available.
I recently spoke with Heymont about the process of creating Party Girls and seeing her vision come to life.
How did you come up with the idea for Party Girls?
My Party Girl series was born out of quarantine boredom. Ever since I moved back into my parents’ house, I have been raising my son in my childhood bedroom. He is constantly poking, prodding, throwing, and playing with my old toys, and all these things, these tokens from my childhood, Barbies, snow globes, yearbooks, and photo albums. You name it… Every single day I am reminded of the sweet nostalgia.
I spent the last year staring at these relics that meant so much to me at the time, were all but a distant memory for decades. Now they are fully back in the mix of my everyday life.
What sparked your interest in photography and art?
In a very non-direct way. I took a ton of English classes at the University of Michigan (where I studied to be a teacher, but I’ve never taught). This served me well as I built a career in editorial, from working for Ralph Lauren’s website as a copywriter, to writing my first book, The Instagram Iceberg.
I’ve always had an affinity for words, as you can see from my first body of print work, Love Signs that I created in collaboration with ArtSugar. Love Signs also hinted at nostalgia, mixing photographs of mid-century road signs with modern sayings and phrases. It was my first foray into the art world and showed me that I need to continually raise the bar and stretch the limits of my creativity. I finished the second set of this series and was partially through editing the third when I felt compelled to go in a completely different direction.
What was your original vision for Party Girls?
The vision for Party Girls was crystal clear— nostalgia and old-world glamour. I had custom jewelry made for each doll, some of which did not make it through the shoot. I wanted to evoke a sense of the new “Roaring 20’s” we all expected the beginning of this decade to be.
For me, post-production was tedious, and the process could not have come fast enough, as I was compelled to get these pieces framed and up on my walls immediately, to give myself something stunning to look at, and make me feel better about the less-than-ideal circumstances surrounding us each day.
Party Girls is a departure from what I am used to, and I was thrilled to be able to push myself beyond the boundaries of my typical work. To get my vision just right, I worked with photography studio Gerard and Belenvender here in Detroit.
Did you use your old Barbie Dolls?
I absolutely intended to use my old dolls, but from an aesthetics perspective, I was also going for a super shiny, high-gloss, and all-done-up vibe. As you can imagine, using my dusty dolls that had been sitting untouched for over a decade competed with the high-shine aesthetic I was going for. Ultimately, I sourced gently used dolls from second-hand doll shops online.
How did you choose what the dolls would be wearing?
Most of the outfits and accessories were custom. But, believe it or not, the doll universe is full of passionate makers who create the most detailed and elaborate miniature accessories. My search started on Etsy, and from there I was able to meet craftsmen who specialize in miniature everything. I worked with these artists to create doll-sized jewelry modeled after vintage styles sourced from around the world. I may or may not have commissioned a few Barbie-sized Chanel-inspired tweed suits for a series down the road.
To double-down on the glam aspect, I looked at the Barbie Holiday collections, which tend to feature Barbie’s fanciest looks.
The jewelry was hand made and is so incredibly stunning in person, not only do I wish I had some for myself but also, I am toying with the idea of using the jewelry alone as the next subject of a new series.
What was your process of styling the dolls?
Styling the dolls was a challenge, mostly because of their hair. On set, we found that the more you touch a Barbie’s hair, the more it loses its shape and just when you think you can fix one little piece, the other side collapses bringing us back to square one.
It was important to me to have the juxtaposition of plastic as the backdrop of each doll to play up the element of contrast with their ensembles. The light was another tricky piece of the puzzle, as it always is, but you can see we really made magic with the stunning reflections bouncing off the jewelry.
Styling the dolls was so fun. Is there anything more adorable than miniature faux fur shawls? But the clothes were not the primary focus. The hair and jewelry were the focal points; they are the elements I wanted to stand out the most. Of course, that is by design.
Back in my old life, when we would go places, nothing was more deflating than when I would get all dressed up, looking my best, and I would realize the lighting at the restaurant or party was terrible. No one can see my cat eye or the effort I put into my eyeshadow crease, or the way my jewelry drapes ever-so-perfectly along my neck. What was the point of all that effort!? However, with manufactured lighting, this is not the case! I wanted the dolls to look perfect, and to me, perfect means ample amounts of fabulous lighting.
Although you came up with the concept, you didn’t actually shoot the dolls. What was behind this decision?
Gerard and Belevender were the photographers behind the shoot. It was important to me to use a team that could execute the vision I had because not only was it hyper specific, but I wanted it to tie into my other bodies of work (physical products, still life) seamlessly.
How do you recommend hanging these incredible pieces?
Initially, I thought people would pick their favorite doll and hang it in a gallery wall style setting, or maybe to accent a corner in a little girl’s room. But so many of my clients are hanging all three together, which is stunning to see. The personalities of these women come to life on the wall, whether each is alone or hung as a triptych.
I’ve seen clients hang them above the changing table in their little girl’s room, which is beyond adorable and I am working on a commission for a playroom as well. It makes me happy to see the dolls in entryways and common spaces because they add a playful yet sophisticated element to the home.
In my own home, I have them hanging in my dining room. Party Girls make the perfect quarantine dinner guests!
Party Girls is a limited edition collection, but will Life In Plastic be available indefinitely?
Yes, Life In Plastic is an open-edition series and I have two more sets coming in the next few months.