Russian twin sisters Lena and Katya Popovy, aka the Popovy Sisters, create highly bespoke dolls from their St Petersburg studio.
Over the last decade, Lena and Katya Popovy’s unique dolls have captivated the fashion and art world. The identical twin sisters, who are based in St. Petersburg, Russia, work together to craft every doll by hand, under the name Popovy Sisters. With high profile collectors including Louis Vuitton and Jean-Paul Gaultier, the dolls have become highly coveted, sculptural art objects. Over the years, the sisters have acquired a kind of cult status, due to the fantastical nature of their creations. “The dolls allow people to plunge into the world of fairytales,” they explain, “we create complete characters, not just the doll itself but the image as a whole, starting with the wig and the make-up and ending with the costume. It all works as a single organism.”
The sisters, who studied fine art and sculpture, made their first doll in 2004 while on a course in clothes design. “We found ourselves in a doll exhibition and we got so carried away that we took a masterclass and started trying to make dolls. Since then we just haven’t stopped.” Because each element is produced by hand, the process calls for the sisters to inhabit various roles all at once – as well as artists, they are skilled mouldmakers, costume designers, hairstylists and photographers.
Created with such extraordinary attention to detail that they appear hyperreal, each doll is treated as a unique character with their own markings and traits, such as pierced ears, tattoos, and even individual moles and freckles. The sisters explain that the extreme, angular frame of the dolls is based on fashion sketches, and serves to enhance the final silhouette. “They are not natural, it is by no means a real body,” they explain, “we’ve extended their proportions and elongated the neck. Due to the way the fabric falls, when you dress a doll with more natural proportions, the body of the doll looks bulky and the neck looks too short.”
Cast using polyurethane resin and porcelain, each doll measures around 40cm tall. While early incarnations were static, in 2012 the sisters developed their line of posable, ball-jointed dolls. This adds to their uncanny, lifelike feel, while the ability for provocative poses also adds a fetishistic dimension. For the sisters, the progression to posable dolls marked a big victory, with their frustration at the limitations of static limbs tracing all the way back to their childhood. “When we got our first doll, a standard Barbie doll, we were disappointed. We wanted her body to be more alive, we even tried to alter it with playdough,” they explain.
Infringe magazine visited the sisters at their workshop, just outside of St. Petersburg. As enigmatic in person as their work would suggest, we captured the duo in action, and documented the mesmerising artistry behind the creation of each doll.
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