|Bring on the Tiara|
|Written by Sharon Verbeten|
|Friday, 01 August 2008 00:00|
Long Islanders Nik Moronese and Marie LeBreton may not have taken a conventional path to becoming doll artists. But even though the duo behind NiniMomo took some career detours, their one-of-a-kind (OOAK) designs are a testament that dolls were their true destination.
âIf youâre creative and you love fashion, it just falls into place,â says Moronese, a former fashion photographer. Heâs the âNiniâ in the companyâs nameâa nod to his childhood nickname. âMomoâ is LeBreton, whom he met while the two attended Hofstra University in New York.
Collectively, the artists have degrees in photography, biology and healthcare administrationâyet it was their shared interest in artistry, fashion and pageants that led them to create NiniMomo more than a decade ago.
An Idea Sparks
âWe admired their work,â LeBreton adds. âWith [Nikâs] degree in art and [because] I know how to sew, we thought maybe it was something we could play with.âÂ While both were employed in other careers, they applied their creative touch to Barbie dolls as a hobby.
They neverÂ intended for their business to become as big as it has; they certainly never planned on it becoming a career.
The timing was ideal. LeBreton was leaving her job in social services and Moronese was looking for something new. âWe both had time off,â Moronese says. âI was a fashion photographer and wasnât making the money I wanted to make. We taught ourselves everything. After a couple months, we kind of got it down.â
In 1996 they made their first OOAK designs for Barbieâthe doll they believed best fit their ideas. For their first show, they brought about 15 dolls and sold half. âThis was such a fluke for us,â Moronese admits. One of their first dolls even won Best in Show at a local Barbie show.
Welcome to the Pageant
And choosing that theme seemed to be a no-brainer. The duo had longtime associations with pageants. âI always had an interest in pageants,â says Moronese. âI grew up watching them with my family.â Moronese coached LeBreton in the 1992 Miss New York USA pageant (LeBreton even designed her own gown), and the two are still involved in pageant judging and coaching under Donald Trumpâs Miss Universe umbrella (which includes Miss USA and Miss Teen USA).
Their creations are part of what NiniMomo calls its pageant collectionâin which dolls represent the 50 states, as well as nations around the globe. Barbie dolls are the ideal blank palette for their work, they say. âWhat I love so much about Barbie now, as opposed to the 1970s, is thereâs such a variety of skin tones and face molds. I choose the doll depending on what country weâre doing,â Moronese says.
Working from a studio in Moroneseâs home, they select a Barbieâanything from pink box dolls to more costly collector dollsâto best represent their vision. They then remove the face paint, repaint the face, reroot eyelashes, and reroot and restyle hair. The bodies remain âas is,â but they are then dressed in NiniMomoâs custom-made ornate and opulent couture.
Many of NiniMomoâs designs are their own; some are re-creations based on the works of fashion designers, including Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix. âFor me, I like coming up with my own designs,â Moronese says.
Their diverse ideas range from the tropical silk evening gown worn by âMiss U.S. Virgin Islandsâ to the arctic silver dress and cape worn by âMiss Greenland.â Inspiration, they say, comes from many places. âItâs just everywhere,â LeBreton admits. It could come from travelâsuch as Moroneseâs recent trip to South Africaâa shopping trip to buy fabric or even a glorious sunset.
âYouâre just constantly inspired,â Moronese agrees.
Painstaking detail and handiwork is a cornerstone of the NiniMomo collection. âWhat really sets us apart is we really focus on hand-sewn beadwork,â Moronese says. âItâs very tedious. When you start doing it, you get into your zone. We taught ourselves. At the beginning, we were doing less beadwork, but we realized that the customers were so in love with it.â
Of course, intricate beadwork notches up the qualityâand costâof the dolls. Most NiniMomo originals range from $450 to $800. âIâm proud of the fact that weâre putting out such high caliber dolls,â Moronese says.
âOur dolls appeal to a lot of people for a lot of reasons,â LeBreton adds. âSome customers started out collecting dolls from countries that they visited or [based on] their heritage.â
Pageants as Promotion
Judgesâusually someone involved in the doll worldâare chosen to determine the winner from among the 50 dolls selected for the compeitition. Itâs a way for the doll owners to fulfill their pageant dreams by vicariously competing and possibly winning the tiara, sash and flowers.
Ten years ago, Moronese and LeBreton might still be working in jobs they found unfulfillingâhad it not been for the spark of inspiration that hit at that one fateful show. Today, their vision stretches their creativity and inspires pageant dreams in others.
And they love that every day brings something new. âI like the challenge of something Iâve never done before,â says LeBreton. The fact that our dolls are OOAK keeps that fresh.â
For more information, visit www.ninimomo.com or callÂ (631) 382-9386.
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