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Inside the intricate worlds of Polly Pocket

Oh, to quarantine inside a Polly Pocket, safe and enclosed, all the comforts of home sculpted in colorful plastic. Browsing the Instagram account @polly_pick_pocket might be the next best thing. Logan Square–based artist Julia Carusillo works as a set and exhibit designer, creating sets and displays for theaters, nature centers, and aquariums—which gives her a particular appreciation for miniature worlds. On the popular Instagram, she posts soothing ASMR “tours” of Polly Pocket interiors from her collection. Her manicured nails click against the clamshells. The cases open to reveal tiny, interactive worlds inside: an 80s-kitsch surf shack, a pastel fairy cave, a water park with a winding pink slide, a hair salon with a tiny checkerboard floor. The account’s tagline is “I bet you had the same one!”

With a shout-out from Jezebel and 21,500 Instagram followers (and counting), Carusillo has tapped into an online world of 90s nostalgia, toy collectors, and design buffs. She talked to us about the appeal of miniatures, the toys’ influence on her own art, and which Polly Pocket clamshell she’d recommend for sheltering in place.

Megan Kirby: Where do you get your Polly Pockets?

Julia Carusillo: My biggest haul that I’ve ever gotten was a woman on Craigslist who was selling about 15 of the clamshells. That’s where I got the bulk of mine, right when I began collecting again [about five years ago]. I also get them on eBay. I’ve only found them in a thrift store a few times. Those are the golden moments, when you find them out in the wild. That’s only happened to me twice. I have notifications for this estate sale website, and sometimes people will be selling them. But somehow people know that they’re valuable, and so often when I get to the estate sale they’re already gone or they’re super overpriced.

How do you fit into the wider Polly Pocket social media world?

Well, I’m friends on Instagram with all of these accounts. I think my account is different because I don’t collect the dolls at all. I only collect the clamshells. I have probably a hundred dolls that have come with some of the kits. But I don’t seek out complete sets the way that other accounts do. I care a lot more about the architecture of the actual toy than I do about the dolls.

What draws you to the clamshell structures?

I’m a set and exhibit designer. The world of miniatures has always been super interesting to me. In school and in my professional life, I make tactile and digital models. So, I love the intricacy of the architecture of the sets. They’re so complex and detailed. It’s amazing that they can get that level of detail with the size of these things.

How do Polly Pockets fit into art history?

I love the Venus of Willendorf and all of the miniature statuettes throughout art history. They’re so cute. When you go to the Asian wing in the Art Institute and see all of the tiny little pieces there that are carved out of jade. I just love that.

It makes me think of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute, too.

That was always a major destination for me. I grew up in the suburbs, and we would go and visit those all the time. My mom loves miniatures too, and so does my sister. The Thorne Rooms are the best. I went a month ago—well, I guess it’s quarantine so it was more like three months ago. I went and visited them, and they’re just so beautiful.

How do Polly Pockets influence your design work?

My dream job would honestly be to design Polly Pocket worlds. I do embroidery, and I’ve done really complex embroidery of different Polly Pockets. And I guess that seeing the level of detail you can get out of molded plastic has made it clear to me that I can get that level of detail from the things that I make.

How would you describe the Polly Pocket aesthetic?

Super 80s, early 90s. Polly iconically has a short perm, which I love. The molded plastic is just so iconic to me. Not only is there molded plastic, but there are stickers for the even-more-tiny details like what you’d see out of Polly’s window. They have a ski chalet where you can see the mountains, things like that. They’re their own little worlds, and I think that’s what makes them so special, aesthetically.

What are your favorite specific details?

One of my favorite details that’s in a couple different compacts are these little marble statues, but they’re done in the style of what the Polly dolls look like. So it’ll be a classical statue but it has the same facial features as one of the dolls. I love that.

This one is probably the most popular Polly that I see for sale online, which is a really big pink star—it’s bigger than most of the other compacts—and it’s really special. The part that opens up that is perpendicular to your desk is the night sky. And it has hot air balloons and a Ferris wheel, and the stars behind them light up, and the little compartments for people move in a circle. When they have so many moving parts, it’s just like, how on earth did you design this? They amaze me.

If you had to quarantine in one Polly Pocket set, which one would you choose?

I was thinking about this a lot. Definitely the ski chalet. There are a few ski chalets, and there’s a Pollyville one that’s like a little house. There are icicles dripping off of it. Little pine trees. Stuff like that. But there’s also one I have that has a little ski slope built into it, and it comes with a sled. It’s a gorgeous little world, so cozy and warm.

Then, my all-time favorite Polly Pocket is this little pink suitcase—it’s called Polly in Paris. And it has a view of the Eiffel Tower, it has the little statue I was talking about. It has an elevator, a fainting couch, a little courtyard. It’s like, this is the place to be, for sure.   v

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