Who would have thunk, in these days of Olympic unrest that a set of Russian Dolls could stir up so much pride.
"The bear — the yellow guy — he's so cheerful. A bundle of sunshine," says Brahm Finkelstein of his personal favourite in the Pride Dolls set. "The idea was to have a rainbow on the outside and on the inside, with the colours matching the — I hate to say stereotypes. How about clichés? The blue hunk, who sort of looks like Freddie Mercury, is the smallest because he's inside all of us. The silver fox is the largest because he's the oldest. By coincidence he looks a bit like Vladimir Putin, so of course he's on a red background."
Actually, Finkelstein is not quite correct. The largest doll, the one the others all nest in, is a drag queen, which, considering Stonewall and history, seems metaphorically appropriate. "I was out with some friends at a Russian vodka bar and they had all these matryoshka dolls across the back of the bar," Finkelstein says. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be ironic, considering everything that's happening, to do LGBT dolls in the Russian format?' I've had ideas before but never acted on it. This I grabbed by the balls, so to say, and ran with."
The proceeds from the sale of the Pride Dolls will go to GLISA (the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association), a non-profit dedicated to creating equality in sport that is actively protesting the draconian Russian anti-gay laws that have sullied the spirit of the Sochi Olympics. "The dolls are a trifecta," Finkelstein says. "Topical, humanitarian and political." The dolls are also visual stunners, and, sized for the gay male aesthetic at 7 inches tall and three-and-a-half inches around, will nestle nicely into any queer household's décor.
"I wanted it to be clean and minimalistic so that the characters would show through," Finkelstein says. "I commissioned an artist, Danilo Santino, and we started with the queen doll because I figured it would be the hardest." Each doll is painted by hand to Finkelstein's meticulous — reflecting his day job as a copywriter — standards. The work had to be outsourced to a Chinese factory to make the cost "attainable for most people; doing it here was just cost prohibitive." But he reassures that he did his research. "This toy factory is over 30 years old, with several generations in the business." It meets not only all Canadian environmental standards, but also those of Europe, which, he notes, are even stricter.
The initial run is 1,200 dolls, and that may not be enough. "We have more sales in the US than in Canada," Finkelstein says. "We had a soft launch and just used social media to spread the word. Already we've sold in the UK, Italy, and we just got our first order from Australia. Worldwide in a week. We'll extend the line if the world has an appetite. We're looking ahead to the Pan Am Games, WorldPride . . ." It's impossible not to covet the colourful nesting dolls. Not only do they make a statement and raise funds for an urgent cause — but who amongst us hasn't dreamed of unscrewing a queen and savouring the inner hunk?