Hit the Vintage Goldmine with Ashleigh Lauren’s Dream-Like Miniatures

Because good things come in small packages.

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It’s a small world that just got even smaller. To coincide with our annual drop of vintage designer bags and accessories, designer and creative Ashleigh Lauren created a fantasy world of mini replicas for us that rivals the real thing. From tiny quilted Chanel bags to perfume bottles designed with impecable accuracy–even their iconic labels–Lauren has miniatures down to a (super) fine art. It’s no wonder then that she’s been making smaller-than-life models since she was playing with Barbies. We caught up with Ashleigh to find out what inspires her, where she sources her materials, and how she actually makes these doll-sized masterpieces.

The tiny vintage pieces that you’ve made are unreal. Tell us about how this project came about.
These pieces came about when my boyfriend introduced me to Nasty Gal photographer Michelle Mayer. We met and hit it off right away. After discussing our shared love for old-fashioned crafts and miniatures, we knew we had to collaborate. Fast forward a few months and Michelle approaches me about creating mini sets and vintage-inspired handbags for Nasty Gal’s Vintage Goldmine. That’s all she had to say. I was in.

What materials did you use and where did you find them?
I live in Downtown L.A., so finding materials was easy! I used the thinnest leather I could find, polymer clay, and various metal findings. And I found everything within a 3-block radius of 9th and Maple St. in the Fabric District.

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Walk us through the process of making the pieces, from start to finish.
I like to learn as much as I can about an object before I build it so it comes out as realistic as possible. I do the research, sketch out a blueprint of sorts, and then begin a list of materials. I try to keep the lists ambiguous and open to discovery and inspiration. And walking really helps flare my creativity, so I typically wander around downtown [Los Angeles] to shop and gather ideas for the project. When it comes down to the actual construction, I’ll have a favorite film running to set a specific mood or to just keep me company. I usually work on all the pieces until I hit a wall, like waiting for things to set or dry.

These pieces are sculpted to perfection. Have you done anything like this before?
Thank you! Yes, I’ve been working with various scales of models for nearly 10 years now, although more seriously and consistently the past five years. I was super into Barbie as a child and loved making things for her and her house. When I began making miniatures, I began with a 1:6 scale because this was Barbie scale and most familiar to me. And then, without fully understanding the concept of scale, I took the plunge straight into HO scale, which is extremely small. For example, the people in the models are about 1/2 an inch tall! I had to work with a jeweler’s lens that strapped to my head, a headlight, and a single-hair paintbrush. But now that I know and understand all the various scales, I can say that I prefer working in 1:12, which is a 1 inch scale where the dolls are between 5-6 inches tall.

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There’s an incredible element of precision here. Do you have an obsession with vintage that inspired you?
I love vintage, but mostly clothing. I grew up in Ventura, California, which is known for its incredible thrift stores. And thrift shopping was something my mother and I did together regularly. I have literally been collecting since I was 13 years old. I still have the very first vintage dress I ever bought for myself. But as far as obsessions go, it’s more the skill and detail I’m obsessed with. Although I will admit, it’s the vintage replicas I enjoy making the most.

You’ve essentially created a tiny fantasy world. Is there an element of escapism in it for you?
These Chanel pieces are just one element of what I do. I create full dioramas. I’ve made everything from single furnished rooms to fully detailed retail shops. The largest thing I’ve done was a three-story dollhouse, which I’m still working on. Yes, I suppose like many art forms, you could call it a form of escapism.

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What do you plan on doing with the bags now?
 I’m unsure of what to do with the bags now. Maybe they can be part of some whimsical Chanel diorama? Or I’ll sell them? If anyone is interested in these or any custom orders, please feel free to contact me!

Do you have any other personal or work-related projects coming up that you’re excited about?
Oh yes! I’m working on several dioramas currently, all of which are personal projects that I’m very excited about. The ultimate goal is to create an entire town. In fact, I’ve just began an Instagram for these and all future projects!

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Photos by Michelle Mayer