Israeli designer Dana Muskat fled the sharks of the Paris fashion scene for the depths of the sea – to the octopus, whale, sardine and starfish. It all happened by chance, when she began making soft, doll-shaped sea creatures. She sewed the first plush a year ago for her new niece. Muskat says her first white octopus – a meter long from the top of his head to the end of his tentacles – “feels like a child” to her. She also made that as a gift and was surprised by the favorable reaction she received, along with many requests for similar dolls.
Muskat, 29, began selling her dolls on Etsy, as well as at arts and crafts stores in Denmark and London.
She also developed a very short story around her line, which is called Big Stuffed. The sea creatures are soft, snuggly and have real feelings, as she tells it. “This creature was created to be a new member of the family,” her promotional material says.
'Dream was totally destroyed'
Muskat, who was born in Petah Tikva and is a graduate of the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design, Ramat Gan (where she studied fashion), worked in the Israeli fashion industry for a year and then moved to Paris. She served her apprenticeship in the French capital at Giambattista Valli and Lanvin, and worked at Rodier.
“My dream was totally destroyed,” she tells Haaretz in a phone interview from her home in Paris. “The lack of creativity in the field is shocking. People in the industry here [Paris] are just like you would imagine them. It’s hard to get work, and those that find it are neutralized and bored. I understood that I didn’t want to spend my life that way, but I still wanted to make clothes. I started to work independently with dancers and people who put on shows. We began collaborating and it was fun. I did a major project with Dan Cohen that will be at the Suzanne Dellal Center [in Tel Aviv] this year.”
And then her brother and his wife had a baby. Muskat couldn’t make it to Israel at the time, so she looked for something that she could make as a gift. “I was looking [to make] a nice interactive animal that a baby could grab in one arm and play with. After that I made a whale for a good friend of mine. I chose soft, light, pastel fabrics. Without too much forward planning, I discovered that people were very enthusiastic and began ordering more and more of these dolls.
“It was like magic,” enthuses Muskat. “At precisely the time when I had decided I was sick of waiting to make money from my art, it happened! People began buying them up. I made several other animals – a starfish, a little whale, a stingray that would be like a blanket and nursing pillow, or a kind of blankie that [a baby] can be wrapped with. I opened a store on Etsy about four months ago. Christmas was amazing. It really snowballed, and I hope it never stops. Almost 300 dolls have been sold. All kinds of French women bloggers started to write about me. The store now has 14,600 followers.”
Muskat attributes the secret of her success to the size of the animals and their story, as well as “the creatures’ sad and sleepy eyes, which didn’t really exist in this market.”
When asked why she chose some animals that are actually dangerous, Muskat notes, “True, the octopuses are poisonous, but they don’t do anything [bad]. Other than the stingray, which is somewhat bad and from the shark family, all the others are good creatures.”
About half of her customers are not even purchasing her products to give to children. Instead, she says, “they’re Yuppie pillows for Yuppie people.”