Currently reading : SB6 Archive (2012): Dr Doll’Art
Grillz One$hine, 6 teeth of the upper jaw in chromium cobalt with Swarovski and a Goldteeth CLA$$IC, 6 teeth of the lower jaw in chromium cobalt
With grills becoming more and more popular it seemed only natural that they would creep out of the world of hip hop and evolve outside. Dolly and Merry are both 26 years old and live in Paris, where they have created Dr Doll’Art, a business which creates custom dental jewelry. Dolly already having graduated from dental school and Merry having a background in jewelry design, the two have paired up to make beautiful and intricate grills. Being the only people in Europe making these grills, they are taking on a whole new customer base which in turn has surrounded their business with exciting new ideas about how people want to adorn their teeth.
How did you decide to start making grills?
Within Dr Doll’art there are two of us. Myself and my associate, Dolly. She has trained as a dental technician. We met four years ago and I completely fell in love with her art. I thought it was incredible that she was making handmade custom pieces for the teeth. I’d never known of anyone doing anything like it.
How did Dolly get from being at Dental school to then thinking about and creating jewelry for the mouth?
Dolly felt that as a dental technician you never see the full result of your work in the patients' mouth or teeth. She started to feel bored with her job and was watching a lot of American rap videos at the time, which gave her the idea that she could actually make these grills herself. She has taught herself her own technique, which is 100% her own. It is very special because she wanted to be able to make jewelry for the teeth that could be worn at any time and not just for music videos. I’m actually talking to you now wearing 6 gold teeth on my bottom row.
Surely the route that Dolly has taken is pretty special. Did anyone else she train with do the same thing?
No, she is the only one. We get phone calls and emails from dental students who want to have internships with us, but we want to keep what we do vaguely secret.
I think you have to be in what you’re doing; it is so original that you don’t want to be sharing your process around.
Exactly, we have already seen how other dental technicians work. It is well done, but on the other hand me and Dolly work as a pair. We have a creative chemistry, which we think makes our work more progressive. From this we’ve made a new kind of grill together called a “Slippin’” that folds around the enamel of the teeth and contrast the teeth with the metal.
Did you have any kind of training in jewelry design before going into this business? The grills that you create clearly stand out in their originality from the more clichéd form of dental jewelry.
I have my own jewelry brand which I actually share with Dolly but that is far more conventional. I was also a journalist and a photographer but I wanted to be able to find one project which could combine all my abilities. This is perfect because I take on the design aspects of the job, the press and looking after the clients.
When you design the jewelry do you think about them as objects away from the teeth? Independently they look so interesting and they are so well made.
Definitely, all of our grills are hangable on chains. We had clients who would lose their grills after a night out, so we came up the idea of being able to wear them as necklaces. We also always try and emblazon the idea of the client on to the piece; we want to have fun making them. For example, we had a client who wanted “Gaza” written on his grill, which in French means “bullshit.” We thought that if he wanted to be that aggressive he should have an AK-47 instead and he loved that idea.
Grills seem incredibly personal in the way in which they are custom made, not to mention later options for further personalisation They fit the customer’s teeth perfectly and wouldn’t fit anyone else’s. They are obviously very personal, too, in the sense that they are a commitment and a statement in a very new way. This reflects how you want to look in this very powerful style which could be seen as similar to tattooing or piercings.
Exactly, what we love about grills is that they change your attitude when you wear them. This is important to us because we think in our society today people lose themselves in their image. It is important to be able to come back to who you are.
How does it feels to have this foreign object in your mouth? Do you think your customers enjoy the feeling of wearing them?
The big thing about wearing the grill is that they make you so confident. They have been made for you and no one else. They make you smile; you want people to see what you are wearing. Smiling is such an intensely positive thing in our society. Especially so in Paris, people are so naturally bored and narrow-minded; when people see a young boy or girl wearing a grill and smiling it uplifts them. These people who may see someone smiling with a grill may not want one themselves but it sends out a feeling of optimism and kindness.
That is fantastic. It is such a slight gesture which is so powerful. Another thing that comes to mind is that a grill is worn inside the mouth; it is essentially hidden. It is such an ostentatious commodity which can be seen as only a detail at times. If you saw someone walking down the street you would have no idea that they would be wearing one.
It’s suggestion jewelry. When you smile little bits of light can reflect off the grill. As a woman it is really really nice to have men look at your mouth when you are speaking to you rather than anywhere else on the body. It gets people concentrated on what you are talking about. It is like that American saying, ‘Put your money where your mouth is.’ It suits this business so well. Our clients want to be able to say with their grill that they make their own money and that they’re successful.
As women working in Paris, have you seen a considerable change in the popularity of grills over the last few years? Do you feel that there is a new customer base growing? You are based in Paris but grills originate in Southern America. Is this change something that you are aware of?
We’ve made a clientele in Paris over the last four years. We are known in France and some of Europe. We have a feeling that this shift is starting now, when we started the business four years ago, we didn’t think it would take this long. Custom made and luxury business is the hardest to coin. Fashion always comes from the streets so we know that it will come to us. American people don’t really come to us because they don’t leave the country, but when artists visit Paris we always try to meet them and show them our work. But you need a couple of appointments to make the final piece, which isn’t always realistic for people who are only visiting for a couple of days. In the States it is different; it’s not a dental technician that makes the grills. The client would visit the grill maker in the morning and come back in the afternoon and the grill will be ready.
"…we had clients who would lose their grills after a night out so we came up the idea of being able to wear them as necklaces."
Goldteeth OXYDIZ€D, 6 teeth of the lower jaw in chromium cobalt and a Goldteeth CLA$$IC, 6 teeth of the upper jaw in chromium cobalt
Goldteeth CLA$$IC, 6 teeth of the upper jaw in chromium cobalt and a Goldteeth BARBE$, 6 teeth of the lower jaw in chromium cobalt
$NOW, 6 teeth of the upper jaw in chromium cobalt with Swarovski and a Goldteeth $, 6 teeth of the lower jaw in chromium cobalt
Surely the quality of what you are making is of a much higher quality than what is being made in America, then?
The most common type of grills are the fronts, which hide your teeth. There are also the other class of gold teeth which are the ones like Kanye West’s or Lil Wayne’s. They will go to their dentist to make their pieces, which is better but so expensive.
Presumably these technicians and dentists don’t come from a design background?
They’re not into it! I know people who have gone to their dentists asking for gold teeth and they won’t do it. We’re supported by the dentist order of France; we wanted to make something really professional out of this.
What is your average customer like?
You have the typical rapper or punk from Paris or on the other hand you have people from the music industry and fashion journalists. It is always fun to have a meeting at our agency because we will meet four or five clients in a day and they will all be so different.
Your customers must have a good sense of their own personal style too.
Our customers use the grills as a way to embrace and show off their style. We also have men coming to us in their 40’s and 50’s who have wanted a gold tooth for years and haven’t been able to get them anywhere else, which is cool.
Do you have much competition in France?
We are the only people in France doing this. When we started the business, we sent out a press release to all the grill makers throughout the world that we knew to introduce ourselves.
Do you think working as women in this small but very masculine and relatively aggressive business has an effect on your business and product?
Having gold teeth is already such an aggressive statement, we didn’t need a man in our business to change that. It is true though that as women we had to make our business as good as we could and to the highest possible quality, because we mostly only work with men. Some men have a problem with paying women. At the beginning it was kind of difficult, but we’ve overcome that problem now.
Obviously in America the grill is a blatant symbol of wealth, but, from what you’ve said about your customers, it seems that those people may not be buying the gold teeth with that idea in mind. Do you feel that there is a similar market in France, where people want to look totally wealthy?
We’re getting there…There is a similar hip-hop-centric market here in Paris. We feel that Europe is the new place to be. A lot of people are telling us to go to London. This business has seen a slow progress but we are really seeing a new type of customer. We want to be able to make grills for all different sorts of characters.
I suppose if you think about teeth there isn’t a fashion that you can pin point to them. Having straight white teeth is considered normal and doing anything else with them is shocking. The mouth is such a sexual and sensual part of the body, but people just think about focusing attention on the lips.
Exactly, people get nose jobs, for example, and doing that effects how your mouth will look. The mouth is the most important part of the face and more attention should be paid to it.
In our society people are so hyper-aware of being, feeling and looking sexy, but the mouth is so unbelievably sexual, people don’t think about changing the inside of it.
Absolutely, another thing that has arisen since starting the business is that when we take molds of people’s mouths, we notice how much character there is in their teeth and bone structure. It really is incredible. We think having American-style, straight, white teeth is really boring. We love being able to make people smile.
Adorning the teeth in this way is such a contemporary modification. We all know about tattooing and piercing but fashioning the teeth in this particular way is so new; it can’t be related to any other kind of fashion or body modification of recent history.
It is still a taboo. The teeth represent death. In France, we call them ‘the bones that you can see.’ They remind people about what we will eventually all become. We made a lot of appointments with sociologists and therapists when starting the business to talk about peoples’ relationships to their teeth. We came to realize that it’s is a touchy subject in our society and that our business would take a while to take off.
There is certainly a negative stereotype of having gold teeth, similar to those of having a tattoo. They both can be represented as being seedy or scary or of bad taste. People associate people with bad teeth or having a gold tooth as being maybe a little sketchy, but what you are doing in glamorizing this area and showing it off.
We love being able to make people smile; it is something that is so satisfying within this job. We really want to be able to make grills for girls on the catwalk. We’ve actually been talking to Chanel for the last four years…That is where we want to go but it will take time. Using grills for models is difficult because we have to make each individual one for each models mouth which takes forever, but we have done it. People’s ideas are constantly changing about fashion, and so are people’s ideas about tattoos and body modification. Hopefully we can make people think about adorning this area. It hasn’t been straightforward but we’re getting there and we’re excited.