The Collector: Agnes, editor, Manchester (UK)
The Collection: Fleur dolls
The story behind the collection...
I’m Agnes, and I’m passionate about dolls in general, and Fleurs in particular! ...it's possibly the most complete Fleur collection in the world.
Similar to many other doll and toy collectors, my story begins in childhood. When I was a child, I lived in one of the formerly communist Eastern Bloc countries. It was a very interesting time, and completely different from anywhere in the West. Very few children had the toys they truly wanted. The communist factories made toys of course, but they were not at all like Barbie or Lego or any other western toys! I remember mostly large plastic dolls with poor hair, lots of teddy bears, some doll furniture, lots of wooden blocks and of course cars, trucks, and awful plastic soldiers.
But the toys we kids REALLY wanted were sold at special stores beyond ordinary people’s reach and far beyond their salaries. These stores were especially set up by the government and intended to encourage people to part with foreign currencies. At that time, around the early to mid-1980s, foreign money had enormous value in Eastern Europe. Another reason for these stores was to encourage the tourists to spend their money there, and to give an impression that one could buy anything there, just like elsewhere in the West. Consequently, while ordinary people queued for hours for luxuries like coffee, pantyhose, good quality cosmetics, sweets, jeans, at those stores they could just buy it out right, but at an enormously prohibitive cost. An average monthly salary in those days was around $20 USD – and a Barbie in that store cost $5. Who would spend a quarter of their monthly salary on ONE doll? Barbies weren’t available anywhere else.
To a child, going to this store was like going to another planet – I often went with other neighbourhood kids just to LOOK at the toys. They were kept out of our reach, behind the counter, and the sales ladies didn’t let any children touch them, unless they had come to actually make a purchase. I hope I can adequately explain this feeling – standing in front of a small selection of dolls, with the burning “I want, I want, I want” ache inside, and at the same time knowing that it’s impossible, that my parents could never afford to buy me a real Barbie or Fleur. This feeling, it’s something that cannot be forgotten, when I think about those distant days I feel it so clearly, it was such a difficult thing to cope with, for a child!
My family wasn’t rich by any means, but I was an only child and so ended up with two Fleur dolls and one Barbie, more than any other child in my neighbourhood! I was nothing but lucky – I got one doll because a rich aunt sent over some money, another one my parents saved and saved to buy me, and for the last one I blackmailed my Gradma over the contents of my piggy bank when I was about 11 years old. I still have these dolls today and they certainly look like they were well loved. They have hair like a badly shorn frizzy mop, various bodily injuries including knees that no longer bend, holes in ears where there were none before (yes, I tried to give them earrings…), and original outfits so faded and bobbled they could be mistaken for old dishcloths.
My very first Fleur doll was called Amazone. She wore a gorgeous red riding coat, white scarf, white trousers and black riding boots - a glam equestrienne through and through. I can still remember the day my Grandma and I bought her like it was yesterday. I was 9 years old and felt like the luckiest girl alive. After that came Fashion Play Barbie and then my second Fleur, Alpine, a skier.
When I grew up my dolls stayed with my Grandma for many years, tucked away, safe and sound waiting for me to re-discover them 10 years later. It was while I was looking on ebay for a Barbie I remembered from my childhood when I thought, “I wonder if it’s still possible to find a Fleur?” Lo and behold, with a little luck, there she was waiting to be bought! So, that’s exactly what I did. I bought a brand new Amazone, in box, exactly like the one I had as a child. Then I found another Fleur. And another. And shortly after that I had a crazy thought: what if I could find everything ever made for Fleur; every doll, every outfit, every piece of furniture? Everything I couldn’t have as a child? My collection was born.
You know those promotional pictures printed on the back of almost every doll box ever made? Well, Fleur boxes had them of course, showing other things available to buy… except not to me. As a child, I spent many hours staring at those pictures with an ache in my heart, later pestering my Grandma to make duplicates of the outfits (my Grandma was a supremely talented seamstress with a giant Singer sewing machine that, through my childhood eyes, could perform miracles). That feeling of wanting something so much and knowing I’ll never have it. I remember it so clearly. And then, many years later, I realised, actually, I could have them ALL now… WOW, it was a superb feeling!
So I started all the way back in 2001 and today I have, in my estimate, around 97% of everything ever produced for Fleur, and I know so much about her. Some people very kindly call me a Fleur expert.
As a child, I thought Fleur was just… amazing. She was so small, and so cute, and she bent her knees! That was just totally… unbelievably delightful. She was so different from the ubiquitous baby and plastic little girl dolls available in those days. She was like a real mini-person.
As an adult, and knowing so much more about her, I really appreciate her place in the history of toys. Fleur is Sindy’s Dutch cousin, and she was enormously successful in Holland and other parts of Europe in the 1980s. She even had her own clone, and we all know you aren’t a respectable doll until you have a clone!
In the last few years the growth of my Fleur collection has really slowed down, because all I have left to buy now are the very rare items (the elusive 3%). But if I really HAD to chose one I’d have to say my favourite is the Jazz Ballet doll. Her promo photo was on the back of my very first Fleur’s box, and I was obsessed with her as a child – it’s a wonder I didn’t burn holes in the picture with my eyes! The Jazz Ballet doll is a dancer, dressed in pink from head to toe, with white pointe shoes and white terrycloth towel. Most little girls go through the “ballerina” phase at some point and mine was pretty serious! She was one of the first dolls I bought for my collection when I first started; probably back in 2002 or 2003? I took her out of the box and put her on display. Then, a few years later, I saw another one for sale, mint in box and I bought her as well. A few years later, I bought another one, just because she a different box (for the sake of collection completion, of course…).
Yes, you know you’re in trouble when you buy multiples of the same thing, for no reason other than, well, just because!
The dolls have to be in good condition; no chewed hands or feet, no holes, no stains. Most of them have very bad hair due to their age, or chipped face paint. I don’t mind these things because I’m skilled in doll restoration, so I can give them new hair and touch up their faces.
Oh yes and packaging is a veritable goldmine of information to a collector! I have quite a few empty Fleur boxes in storage (the dolls are on display) and I would never throw them away. Sometimes when I buy a new item I’m very excited to discover never before seen promo photos!
I also collect Fleur furniture, accessories, boxed outfits, and any print adds I find. I also collect variations of things. For example, several of Fleur’s outfits were made using different fabrics (same outfit, different fabric) so I make sure I add these to my collection as well.
I used to have a separate doll room, but when I recently moved and downsized I had to put all the dolls in my bedroom. It’s a bit cramped in there, but I’m managing for now! All the dolls and items are arranged on four big, tall bookcases.
My non-collector friends roll their eyes in the most affectionate and understanding way! They know not to talk to me about dolls, because I can literally go on for hours. They also know not to buy me dolls for presents; it’s usually a miss! Plus, there is hardly anything left now that I need to get for my Fleur collection, so they would have to be really lucky, or have a lot of money to spare, to actually add something to it! Several of my friends have found my doll restoration skills helpful as I’ve restored a few vintage dolls for their mums and grandmas!
My collector friends however think my collection is amazing and we love talking about dolls.
Having a doll collection is a good dating test as well (ha ha). I don’t tell dates about my hobby right away, only in time, and then when they see it I can tell a lot from their reaction. If they make fun of me or put me down because of it, then I probably don’t want to date them!
I think my choice of collection reveals a strong connection to my childhood and the time in which I grew up. I feel that many adults have forgotten that they were kids once, but to keep a bit of a kid in you really helps to find a certain joy in life, even if it’s silly like dolls.
Luckily there are just a few items missing from my Fleur collection! For example, in the late 1980s there was a series of outfits called Horoscope, 12 of them of course, one for every sign of the Zodiac. They are very hard to find today, because they were made in small quantities, due to Fleur’s production slowing down at that time (it ended in 1988). I only have four of these outfits, so eight more to go! There was also a Fleur Babysitter doll which was one of the first Fleurs ever sold, I have her dress but I have never seen her for sale even once, and I’d love to have her boxed (that’s really unlikely).
Visit Agnes's website here
all images © Agnes and used with her kind permission