Junko Wong: Reviving ’70s Blythe dolls

January 21st, 2010  |  by  |  Published in People

headshot of Junko Wong

Junko Wong

close up of Blythe doll

Blythe doll named Cinema Princess

UH degree: BFA ’80 Mānoa
Roots: Born in Bangor, Maine; moved to Hawaiʻi at a young age.
Quote: “The future is about being borderless and about working in harmony with all people.”
Other big-eyed client: Fashion faces and other illustrations by Jeffrey Fulvimari
Hula: Started the Na Pua Liko Wai Hoʻola studio in Tokyo

It takes an artist’s eye to see beauty in the discarded and a business mind to imagine commercial implications. Possessing both, Junko Wong turned the Blythe doll into a pop culture icon.

After graduating from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, she lived in Japan, where she continued her photography and exhibited her art, including “Gomi-e,” which she constructed entirely out of rubbish.

Returning to Hawaiʻi to curate UH Mānoa Art Gallery’s Crossings ’86 exhibition of work from Japan and Hawaiʻi, she realized that her passion was to help other artists’ careers by connecting art and commerce.

Blythe dolls

Blythe dolls Yuki no Namida Hime, Cousin Olivia and Fashion Obsession Jenna on exhibit

After returning to Japan, Wong founded Cross World Connections, a creative agency that puts international artists to work with businesses on advertising, exhibitions and other corporate media. CWC now has offices in Tokyo and New York and has expanded to include licensing, merchandising, publishing and designing as well as online education for aspiring illustrators.

“Our illustrators have no borders. They live in the country of their choice and through our agency work worldwide,” Wong says.

In 1998, a doll collector introduced Wong to Blythe. The doll was created by U.S. toy manufacturer Kenner in 1972. It featured changing eye color, but didn’t appeal to American children.

Nearly 30 years later, when Wong saw Blythe’s oversized eyes and tiny body, she knew the doll would do very well with fashionable Japanese women in their 20s and 30s. She presented Blythe to PARCO, one of Japan’s big department stores, and her subsequent marketing campaign for the corporation—“Have a Blythe Christmas!”—kicked off a Blythe revival.

The discarded doll became a virtual model who had to be “booked” for advertisements, fashion shows and public appearances. CWC acquired the license for Blythe from Hasbro in Asia and Oceania and handles creative direction, production and marketing.

Wong was adamant that neo-Blythe not be mass-produced but instead manufactured in limited numbers, usually 2,000–3,000, for people who really understood her aesthetic. Each Blythe style, which includes the outfit, shoes, hairstyle, eyes and accessories, can take up to two years to design, and one to four styles are unveiled each month.

Through her connections with the art and fashion community, Wong invites leading designers and celebrities to create styles for an annual Blythe anniversary exhibition charity event. In 2009, the one-of-a-kind dolls were auctioned with the proceeds going to the Because I am a Girl campaign to fight gender inequality and promote girls’ rights around the world.

Blythe inspires creativity among her fans as well. CWC holds the Blythe Beauty Contest for fan-made styles. Intricate labors of love, entries for the online contest come from all over the world, and the winner gets their doll produced.

In 2009 Wong returned to the UH Mānoa Art Gallery once more—this time as part of the Degrees of Distinction: Alumni Invitational Exhibition. She displayed a selection of Blythe dolls, including the Michael Jackson tribute doll “Queen of Pop” and a Blythe video in Japanese.

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