As the CEO of The Bridge Direct, Jay Foreman is in the business of celebrity dolls, but he’s no dummy. In the 1990s, working for another toy company, he flew from San Francisco to London to meet music mogul Simon Fuller, so he could secure the rights to the Spice Girls dolls. Later, he returned to England with prototypes of the five girls. When Posh Spice, a.k.a. Victoria Beckham, saw hers, she squealed (according to him): “Oh, my God! I’m a Barbie doll. My mum is going to love it!” Actually, a lot of people loved them. The Spice Girls dolls went on to sell more than $300 million at retail and became a toy phenomenon. Foreman followed that up with Britney Spears (who pushed 7 million dolls) and more recently, the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana doll. Now Foreman has the Justin Bieber doll, which is expected to be one of the top-selling toys of the holiday season. Foreman spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Ramin Setoodeh about playing with dolls:
What’s the first step to making a celebrity doll?
You acquire the rights. It’s a whole process, just like if I was going to make something with Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob. Then you sign a deal—and every step of the way you show them the product and the packaging. With Britney, at the time, she had just turned 17. She was very interested in being involved. We spent a lot of time with her, her manager, and her mom.
Do celebrities get paid a certain amount from each doll sold?
Exactly. You pay them a royalty.
Is there a big team involved?
A lot of people. I have a special craftsperson sculpt the head. Another person creates the hairstyle, someone designs the face—paint the eyes, put lipstick on it, some makeup, eyebrows—and another person does the accessories.
What about the bodies?
I don’t know if you recall, maybe it was 10 years ago, Mattel did some plastic surgery to their Barbie dolls. They made them less robust in the bosom. Originaly, she was a really busty doll. Everybody has taken that lead and made their dolls proportion-appropriate. The bodies are all the same.
Do celebrities ever come back to you and say, "I don’t look like that"?
The first round of sculpts we did with Justin Bieber, they felt there wasn’t something right with it. They couldn’t pinpoint what—something about the nose and the eyes. All the guys want to look a little tougher and harder. The girls want to look smoother and softer. “Can you fix my nose a little bit?” “Can you make my eyes look smaller?” The guys say, “I look too pretty. Can you give me a scar?”
Did you really make a Pamela Anderson doll?
When she had a TV show called V.I.P. I had to go to L.A. She was on the set, and I met with her in the trailer with the dolls. I’m sitting there, and she’s asking me if I think the breasts on the doll are the right size. She thought they should be a little bigger.
What did you say?
“I think your breasts are perfect.” She was joking around with me.
The Justin Bieber doll has a tattoo on his hip?
He’s got a seagull from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Does the real Justin Bieber have the same tattoo?
Yes. I haven’t seen it personally, but I hear that it’s there.
What about his underwear?
I would call Justin’s underwear boxer briefs. We got the sense that Justin wasn’t a tighty-whitey guy. We didn’t want to put him in a Speedo. We thought boxer briefs were cooler.
Why isn’t it removable?
We painted the underwear on, so we don’t have jokes or giggles. Next year we are planning on a boxer-short doll. Girls will be able to take off Justin’s underwear.
How big is the Bieber doll going to be?
He’s a really big celebrity. I can assure you, no celebrity fashion out there since the Miley doll will sell as many dolls as the Justin doll, because he’s just that hot. When we did Britney, a lot of pop dolls were out there. There was Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Brandy. Britney sold 10 times more than all of them. It was all about Britney. The other girls were all talented—most people felt Christina has a better voice—but the kids loved Britney. They wanted to be Britney. It’s the same thing. Man, they love Justin Bieber. They want to be with Justin Bieber.
How many dolls do you think you’ll sell?
If history is any indication, we’ll sell 5 million Justin Bieber dolls next year. What really makes the difference is not just the dolls, we’ll have a Justin Bieber convertible car, a Justin Bieber concert stage set. Justin is strong enough that he’s going to carry a whole category.
Ramin Setoodeh is a senior writer at NEWSWEEK who covers movies and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter.