Henri Launay is one of a kind, with the most heartwarming job in the world. He is a ‘doll doctor’, working in a tiny atelier tucked away in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. He fixes broken dolls and fraying stuffed animals in order to bring people’s childhood memories back to life.
There’s no denying the steady-handed artistic skill of his delicate restorations. But what’s even more impressive is the fact that he is a completely self-taught surgeon. Henri originally studied electricity before extending his talent for repairs to leather goods, umbrellas, and eventually, dolls.
As you will see when you step into his workshop, or surgery should we say, Henri fully embraces the self-styled title of surgeon by dressing in a smart, white doctor’s uniform. The role-play makes his work that bit more enjoyable.
This might seem like a peculiar occupation, especially for a man of 90 years of age, and he never had dolls when he was growing up, as he had three brothers. But he admits that what keeps him going is the heartwarming delight he feels when helping to restore people’s fondest memories. Many of the treasured toys are entrusted to him by elderly people who have carried the object of sentimental value with them everywhere. He’s mended teddy bears belonging to former soldiers from World War II, who took the toy as a comfort with them during military service.
One French lady brought her childhood doll to be repaired, with a poignant tale to share. She recalls dropping the porcelain toy in panic when a German tank arrived in her street during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis in World War II. But the doll was then handed back to her by the German soldier in an unexpected act of kindness. The lady has never forgotten his smile to this day.
The dolls are so old, crafted at the hands of early 20th century French manufacturers such as Bella, Gégé and Raynal, that many have been out of manufacture since the 1960s. Before the dolls were taken off the shop shelves however, Henri managed to secure enough supplies and ‘spare parts’ to keep him fixing for more than 50 years. It’s thanks to the abundance of ancient relics of doll parts that clutter his atelier, that Henri has been able to mend the nation’s most treasured childhood comforts, and some might say, even mend their hearts!
Not only does Henri demonstrate an incredible skill, but he works with an impeccable attention to detail and admirable patience, spending hours tending to these toys. He’s a perfectionist and repaints the toys back to life, so authentically that they’ve now become collectors’ items, worth quite a lot of money.
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