• The San Juan Daily Star

Heriberto Vázquez and his Fashion Dolls

By Iris Edén Santiago

Special to The STAR

A top local fashion designer, Heriberto Vázquez has been styling and collecting dolls for most of his life. Besides putting out annual collections for men and women, he takes time to adapt fashion trends to 28-inch dolls, his hobby and passion.

Vázquez, who owns more than 3,000 dolls including Barbie’s 35th and 50th anniversary collections, said he spent most of the coronavirus pandemic ordering, designing and styling new dolls.

“I didn’t want to work with models and the fitting process during the pandemic,” said the longtime Caguas resident. “So I turned to dolls, all the creative juices without risking anybody’s health.”

When he heard about San Juan Moda’s plans for a live 15th Edition in Puerto Rico, he had the first three dolls ready for the runway. So he ordered and styled 12 more for “Couture at 1/3,” a collection of 15 dolls that was unveiled at the weeklong fashion series.

Standing over two feet tall, the mannequin-like dolls are known as Superdolls or 1/3 scale, and represent adult body types. These are not toys but are primarily designed to be dressed and styled for collectors, exhibitions, conventions, and to reflect contemporary or classic fashion trends, Vázquez explained. Their value can be anywhere from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars.

With a fashion career that spans 37 years, the Río Piedras native is very enthusiastic when he talks about his passion for dolls. His dream is a local museum that can host a permanent exhibition of his collection.

“I want all this hard work to be my legacy, a gift to my island,” Vázquez said.

“I’ve been buying and styling dolls since I was in elementary school,” he said, “not to play with, but rather to display and study them -- I used to imagine the possibilities of transforming them with modern fashions and different hair and makeup.”

The creative process

Vázquez said it all starts by ordering the 28-inch ball-jointed dolls from manufacturer Mattel. They are shipped from the States and come with girlie garments and hairdos. That’s when the couturier begins seeking a new glamorous look, and searching for the true soul of each doll.

He carefully sketches and designs garments to scale and proportion. He dyes and reroots their hair and changes their makeup and hairdo to reflect current trends and mature styles, “to create one-of-a-kind dolls.” After clothing silhouettes are designed and assigned to each doll, he looks for the ideal fabric, accessories and shoes. Shoes are bought and shipped from China. Fabrics include silk, organza, brocade, lace, tulle and vinyl. Vinyl, he noted, is used to imitate leather: “I’m a fierce animal lover.” Also used are tassels, fringes, sequins, pearls, mini zippers, rhinestones, ruffles and bows.

“I only use the best materials for my dolls,” said Vázquez, whose collection includes Limited Edition dolls by Lacroix, Valentino and Vivienne Westwood. “This is a pricey hobby.”

The collection ‘Couture at 1/3’

As people lined up around the exhibition, a proud Vázquez smiled. The Fashion Dolls were an instant hit with fashionistas and guests at San Juan Moda. For the collection, the designer mostly dressed them in his favorite color, black. Also seen were dolls in midnight blue, pewter, gold and silver. Although some wore their hair down in silky manes, most were styled with chic high buns.

The collection, with clear holiday vibes, was inspired by global designers like Chanel and crowd favorites like Jennifer López and Aretha Franklin. Each doll has attitude and a unique personality.

These dolls command attention: Flawless stitches, pleating and draped details, cutouts, cropped tops and micro-sequined dresses are hard to ignore. Accessorizing is meticulous with chain details at the waistline, sculpted earrings, cuff bracelets, rings, hand-applied eyelashes, strappy sandals, satin pumps and boots. … Intricate details to blow your mind.

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