Culture

Polly Pickpocket Is Instagram’s Coolest Polly Pocket Collector

Polly Pocket collector Julia Carusillo brings an artistic eye to the beloved toy.

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For every unwatchable Hollywood remake resurrected through the relentless nostalgia industrial complex, there’s a small reprieve. On one niche corner of Instagram, nostalgia lives in a tiny, colorful case, complete with an even tinier girl — Polly Pocket.

Polly Pocket collectors have seen a micro-boom in interest thanks in part to never-ending pandemic weariness, a 2018 relaunch of the toy closer the original’s scale, and the promise of a Lena Dunham-directed live action Polly Pocket film. The Polly Pocket community is surprisingly robust, filled with people who are willing to shell out serious cash to relive their childhood wonder; according to Architectural Digest, mint condition Polly Pocket compacts sometimes sell for up to $1,000 on eBay.

There’s a Polly Pocket collector account for everyone; some are completionists who collect every piece, down to the dolls, while others focus on creating adorable scenarios for the dolls in the compact. Then, there’s Polly Pickpocket, run by Julia Carusillo. As a set designer and artist, Carusillo’s interests vary from her fellow collectors; she finds herself more captivated by the architecture of the miniatures, along with the general absurdity of the Polly Pocket world. “I have an obsession with the bathrooms and Polly Pockets,” she says over a Zoom call with NYLON. “I think it's so hysterical to take the time to design the sink and toilet of a kid's toy. It just cracks me up.”

Carusillo’s eye for detail brings the magic of Polly Pocket to a new level as her photos show off the painstaking detail of the miniature worlds. Suddenly, you’re not looking at a vintage children’s toy, but a sculpture with textured, plastic pool water that feels like a David Hockney painting and just happens to double as a pencil case. Ultimately, Carusillo’s love for Polly Pocket aligns with her maximalist core. Minimalism was never the name of the game as far Polly Pocket was concerned — how else would the smallest woman in the world have a Parisian pied-à-terre that includes views of the city and a garden with a cherub statue with her own face? “Everything right now is just like let's take minimalism to the point of unrecognizability,’' she explains. “I’m a maximalist to the core. I'm sorry. I love to have fun. So kill me.”

Dunham, if you’re reading this, you know exactly who to hire.

What’s the backstory to your obsession? How did you get into Polly Pocket?

Growing up, I had a ton of Polly Pockets. My sister and I shared all of them. We were obsessed. I think the reason that we got into miniatures is because of Polly Pocket. I don't know if you've ever seen the American Girl rooms. I want to say they're 16 by 16 by 16 shadow boxes, basically, that you fill in with miniature furniture, all the same scale. You can buy it from them, but my sister and I would make our own, and we just got obsessed with tiny stuff. I've never really lost interest in Polly Pocket, but I didn't collect at all until maybe 2016.

What made you want to start collecting?

I can't remember what exactly spurred it, but I was like, "It'd be kind of cute to have a Polly Pocket in my apartment." And then, I went on Craigslist and some woman in the Chicago suburbs was selling a Tupperware bin of 50 of them for $100. And I was like, "I know that that is a very, very fair price." I just went and got them all and that totally started me being like, "Oh wait, now I just want to fill every crevice with tiny Polly Pockets."

Which ones do you like the best?

I love a classic Polly Pocket, the heart-shaped compact. I always show in my photos that they're Bluebird, because Bluebird was the original British company. This guy literally invented this for his daughter and built one. And then, it became a manufactured thing.

I really like these classic ones because they just have kind of a quaintness to them. And, I've always thought that the difference between printed matter on the walls versus the 3D stuff was a super fun element kind of for adding detail. I love the kind of super vintage ones, but I'm not the kind of collector who is like, "This is 1989, blah, blah, blah." I look it up when I do this stuff.

Is collecting the dolls an important part of the process?

I have a big stash of dolls, but I don't collect them actively. It also makes it easier for me to collect because if you want to buy a set with all its original dolls, even if it's not in its original packaging, it's way more expensive. And, I just don't care. I like the architecture of Polly Pocket. That's what interests me.

I think, because you're an artist, you're viewing it as a study of spatial design.

Yeah, exactly. That's why I like to photograph them the way that you would with elevations on a plan for architecture where it's head on view, back view, isometric view, detailed shot. I love to be able to do that. I think that’s a little bit of what people enjoy about my account is that I will take a photo of just the toilet. And, you can see how that was molded and sh*t like that.

Has collecting inspired your sense of design at all?

I think I have always been somewhat intrinsically inspired by Polly Pocket because I was so obsessed with it growing up. I also loved dolls and Barbies, until older than you should. I was playing with Barbies in middle school and loving it. I think that being so into Polly Pocket made me a really good model maker, which is something that I have to do as a scenic designer, because I love making the tinier sh*t that my fat fingers are capable of. So I think in that way, I've always, actually been inspired by Polly Pocket. I can't necessarily say I've designed anything that is that kind of microcosm of a world that a Polly Pocket compact is. I definitely think the way that they arrange space is so clever and they really are elevations of buildings when you open them flat.

I remember at one point you would make molds from the interiors and then cast them in cement. Is that still happening?

When I first started collecting five or six years ago, they weren't as precious to me because I didn't have a big collection. I thought it'd be so fun to make cool sh*t with these. I was really into casting and resin and cement at the time. I was obsessed with cement and doing it in my tiny apartment. I got in a lot of trouble when I moved out for all the cement. I was literally mixing and pouring cement in my apartments.

Julia!

I know. Ridiculous. No one should ever rent anything to me. I had this cool putty that cures once you've pressed it onto a surface. I would press the putty and it would get into every single crevice. I'd pull it out, and then I would pour either resin or cement in it. It was so f*cking cool. And I loved them. But when I moved, I purged and threw them out, and I really wish I still had them because that project was awesome. It destroyed a couple Polly Pockets, so I don't do it anymore. It was so fun. They looked like weird Roman artifacts or something, but Polly Pocket.

Why do you think Polly Pocket is having a resurgence right now? I feel I'm seeing more coverage of it.

I've definitely noticed that, too. My account hasn't grown wildly in the last year, but I definitely get a lot of engagement on it. One of the things that I love the most, and I'm not someone who's like, “I get energy for my online community!” or anything that, but I do get the most heartwarming comments on my photos, usually between sisters tagging each other and being like, "We had this one! We had this one!" They'll comment on 10 in a row and send me a message that I reminded them of their childhood. I'm like, "I can't believe I'm providing sweet moments for people. Who would have thought."

Also, I think people are obviously on their phones way more than ever. I think having those little cute moments pop up in your feed are just little light moments that people enjoy. There's obviously always the nostalgia factor for sure. When I have friends come over, they always want to check out the collection. They literally get lost in it. It's sweet. Guys and gals alike are just like, "They're so tiny. Oh my God. I remember blah, blah, blah." They're a very analog toy too, which is part of why I like them. Some of them have batteries and lights, but for the most part, you can stash them away for 30 years and they're still in the same condition.

We have to talk about Lena Dunhan’s upcoming Polly Pocket movie. Are you excited? How do you feel about it?

First of all, the day that that happened, I got no less than 30 texts and DMs about it. People were like, "Are you involved in this yet?" I'm like, "I f*cking wish." I read a lot about it, and I still don't quite know how it is technologically being made and what we will be looking at. Polly Pockets are literally a set. It's almost more theatrical than filming, but a proscenium stage is an audience. This is literally made for making a narrative, you know?

In that way, I think it could be fascinating. I think they'll obviously hire unbelievable designers, knowing who's involved with this. I just cannot f*cking wait to see, first of all, the texture that they decide to go with for the set, whether it's going to be glossy plastic or realistic, just from a set design point of view. I'm very, very interested in how they're going to do that.

The thing about Polly Pocket is she's like Barbie in that she doesn't have a set personality, but she's not as impressive as Barbie because she doesn't have multiple jobs. She just lives in different worlds and fits into different ones no matter what's going on. A couple of her friends have names, but she never has a romantic interest, none of that. I'm very curious what the narrative's going to be and how that structure is going to work. Polly doesn't have an age as far as I know. She’s in scenarios where she's getting married, so I guess she must be of age, but she does other weird stuff like slumber parties. So, how old is she? Maybe Reddit knows, but I don't know.

Oh, Polly Pocket Reddit must be insane.

I haven't gone deep only because I'm not a completist like I was saying with the dolls and stuff, and a lot of people are so obsessed with having the full sets. But, I definitely like to go on there. There's another account — I don't know how they accomplish this or own these pieces — but they have prototypes of a ton of Polly Pocket figurines and compacts that are unpainted or early drafts. They must know someone who works for Bluebird or came into them somehow, but they're amazing. It's so weird to see them without paint. It's like Roman sculptures or something.

Something that caught my eye on your page was the Polly Pocket Fabergé egg homage. I’m obsessed with them, and this one is so beautiful.

Oh, my God. I know. This woman literally DM'd me and she was like, "I love your account. It brings me so much happiness. I have a few that I never play with and I would just love to give them to you." I had posted a hospital Polly Pocket, which I'm obsessed with. The x-ray is the funniest part. It's not in scale. It makes no sense with their bodies. She saw that I had posted someone else's wishing I had it, and she's like, "I'll send it to you." Then sent me this beautiful box, including the egg.

That egg one I've never seen in my entire life online. I never knew that existed, but it reminded me exactly of a Fabergé egg. I literally went to that museum in Russia. My mom loves tiny stuff, too and I was there with her. The entire time we were like, "That's Polly Pocket. That's Polly Pocket." I guess there really is a tradition of miniatures and automaton. Also, I posted this a million years ago and I don't even know where I found it, but there was some religious artifact that was a little box that opened and looked exactly like a Polly Pocket. It was hand-carved wood and so gorgeous. I want to know the full history of tiny stuff.

If you had to live inside one of these, which one would it be?

This is a little fake Louis Vuitton monogrammed Polly Pocket suitcase. Isn't it funny? I think it's called Polly's Paris Apartment. It has this courtyard and some of my favorite Polly Pocket features ever. There is a little cherub sculpture, but its face is in the vernacular of Polly Pocket. I think it's so funny. It has this water feature, of course, a totally set perfect table. Up here where she lives, she's got her little vanity and a little dressing area. There’s an elevator that operates from the side, it opens up to reveal little shoes and more of little sculptures from the side. And a balcony looks out to Paris. I just think it's so charming. I want to live in this opulent plastic home so badly.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.