Nestled in a sunny, loft-like space in historic downtown Petaluma, California, you’ll find a small group of artisans hard at work creating one-of-a-kind Jess Brown Dolls. Each doll is made with tender care; the cotton and linen fabrics are hand-stitched and stuffed with natural fibers, the dolls are dyed with Persian black teas to create a variety of skin tones, and the dolls’ whimsical wardrobes are created using recycled and vintage textiles with a luxurious feel.
Jess Brown created her first doll 13 years ago from old cashmere sweaters and fabric remnants. “Until we had a team, I was doing every part of the doll which includes sewing the hair and attaching the arms and legs.” Today, she has four dedicated employees and couldn’t be happier to have everyone under one roof. Jess is still very involved in the making of the dolls – she alone embroiders every doll’s face – but she has more time now to work on the bigger picture, ensuring her vision for the company remains intact. On my visit, the place was abuzz with activity as she and her staff labored to finish multiple orders for the fall.
Meet the Dream Team
As the visionary of the team, Jess designs each season’s collections, including collaborations with other designers and customers.
Paige, quality controller-extraordinaire, has worked with Jess for about six years, ensuring doll production runs smoothly.
As head account manager for the last five year, Kim, also handles customer service and communication.
Christi’s craftsmanship is admired in each doll. For the past three years, she has been the hands behind the heavy stitching, including hair, arms and legs.
The newest member on the team, Erin, is head coordinator for the women’s collection and retail shop.
Just down the street from Jess Brown’s studio is a brand new retail space. The cozy shop showcases Jess’ own line of beautifully crafted women’s wear including tunics, work shirts and dresses made of sumptuous double cotton and raw linen as well as cut-to-order quilts and a few of her cherished dolls.
In addition to her own wares, she carries a selection of delicate porcelain pieces by Rae Dunn made exclusively for her, letterpress paper dolls, and limited edition rose water in numbered, amber-colored apothecary bottles.
Christi’s Favorite Jess Brown Doll
“My very favorite doll is one that Jess created for my daughter’s 11th birthday. It’s a beautiful little boy with sassy brown and orange hair, linen pants, and with details that only Jess could come up with. She made it with moments to spare as I was running out the door to make a cake for the big party. To see her create something that is so Penny (my daughter), in such a short amount of time, is to truly see an artist at work. The way she stands in front of the basket of fabric scraps, pulls out the most amazing little swatch, and fastens a little pocket on the back of those fabulous linen pants is something that I still find awe-inspiring, if not downright amusing. My sweet girl loves that doll like no other. Every time I see it I am reminded what a big beautiful kind heart Jess has.”
It’s no wonder Jess Brown Dolls have such a devoted following; each doll is hand-crafted with precision and care and full of irresistible whimsy and charm. They’re modeled after traditional folk dolls from the 1920’s and ‘30’s and outfitted in luxurious, one-of-a-kind wardrobes. The effect is sustainable luxury for the true collector.
The team produces about 100 dolls per week, including partnerships with outside design houses. In the past, they have collaborated with luxury goods maker Bottega Venetta, Atsuyo et Akiko, and most recently Brooklyn based Wovenplay, whose imaginative style mirrors Jess’ own. On my visit, the team was working hard at work on a fall project with Bonpoint, the French children’s wear couture house. The “boheme chic” dolls will be created with fabric from Bonpoint’s fall collection and sold only at Bonpoint stores.
As for other favorites among the team, Paige and Erin are fans of the Limited Edition Follies Doll which are only available during the holidays. Among Jess’ favorite projects are made-to-order dolls, like the one she created for a customer who sent Jess a vintage dress and heirloom ring that belonged to her grandmother, “I love anything custom where the designs are very elaborate and new collaborations.” There’s no doubt each Jess Brown Doll is a labor of love, and destined to be a treasured heirloom.
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