Jennifer Hubbers is part of a community of collectors of ‘reborn’ dolls
Jennifer Hubbers with one of her lifelike dolls. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef
When Jennifer Hubbers goes for a walk in Sliema, strangers often peer into her vintage pram and compliment her on how beautiful her baby is.
“I turn around and tell them it’s a doll,” she says. “Some get all creeped out but some get interested and ask to touch it.”
Jennifer is part of a community of collectors of lifelike-baby dolls and has turned her hobby into a business, assembling and painting doll parts to truly resemble a living infant.
She first discovered the dolls seven years ago when she bought a vintage pram for her youngest daughter and wanted a lifelike doll to put inside it.
As she researched, she came across ‘reborn’ dolls but could not afford to buy one – so she decided she would learn to make one instead, and her collection began.
She eventually realized that there was a community of collectors both internationally and in Malta and turned her hobby into a business.
Starting with vinyl dolls, she then took a short online course to learn how to create silicone dolls, which are even more hyper-realistic.
“There is a community of collectors also in Malta. Some have been collecting before I picked up my first brush, but they had to buy their dolls from the UK,” says Jennifer, 62.
“A lot of people find this weird, but I’ve learnt to realise that, in most cases, there is nothing strange about collecting dolls. When a man collects matchbox cars or stamps we don’t find it strange. It’s just a hobby and, as with everything else, there is nothing wrong unless it is taken to the extreme.”
There are many reasons why grown women want to buy the dolls, which can cost from hundreds of euros to thousands of euros, depending on the material and the artist involved.
The dolls come in parts and Jennifer then paints them and adds hair and eyelashes to make them more lifelike. Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef
“Of course reborn dolls are very lifelike which I understand can seem creepy to some,” says Jennifer. “But when I meet collectors I now understand them. I have had collectors asking me to make memorial babies. I’ve had a woman who cannot have children asking for a doll to keep. In most cases, however, they are just collectors,” she says.
She also knows of collectors who wanted a reborn doll that resembled a child who has grown up.
People often assume that Jennifer has made the dolls because she did not have children of her own.
This is not the case since, in fact, Jennifer is a mother of four – Katja, Vanessa, Alessandro and Kahlen – and a grandmother of three – Adam, Zak and Si’Naiya – and her family support her hobby that has now transformed into her business.
“I used to have collectors tell me that they wanted to resell a doll because they didn’t bond. At first I could not understand but now I do. Sometimes I find it hard to part with some of the dolls after having worked on them for weeks and seeing them ‘come to life’, so to speak,” she says.
She explains that she imports a kit for each doll from reborn doll sculptors in the US, Germany or the UK. The kit includes the silicone or vinyl head and limbs, or full body silicone dolls.
Jennifer’s job is to paint the doll parts to look lifelike with veins and other features and assemble them. In the case of some dolls she uses a fabric body stuffed with glass granules.
She also includes the glass eyes and then laboriously roots the doll’s hair a strand a time using mohair. All this lasts between four and five weeks per doll, which she does from a fully equipped workshop in her St Julian’s home.
Full silicone dolls are the most lifelike, says Jennifer as she stresses that she only works with original kits as opposed to fake copies on the internet.
As for the price she says this is commercially sensitive due to the competition in the niche field. Jennifer does not exclude branching out in the future to create more than just reborn dolls. Perhaps lifelike animals or fairies. Her options are open.