If I don’t get one of these dolls, I will simply die

Once upon a time, the annual Tonner Convention was a big event that I shared with my mother and looked forward to for months. In the early 2000’s, we traveled to Orlando, Chicago, and beyond, soaking up the excitement of an event that only other overly enthusiastic doll fanatics can truly understand. We would typically tack on a couple days to our adventure to see the local sights. One of my favorite memories of my mom is going on a Segway tour of Chicago with her during a picture-perfect June day in 2007.

segwayBut of course, the only constant in life is change. Mom no longer recognizes either me or her beloved dolls, and I have not attended the annual Tonner Collectors Convention for five years. Besides my mother not being there, some of the luster of that event has faded for me. Tonner fashion dolls were much more in vogue then, and Tyler and Sydney reigned supreme. Those girls got me into serious collecting in the first place, and I’m one of the old-timers who look back with nostalgia on the early 2000’s as Tonner’s heyday in the fashion doll world. Being among the first to glimpse those coveted centerpiece and souvenir dolls of Tyler and the girls of the Chase Modeling Agency–some of the best dolls Tonner ever created, IMHO–made me and my mom giddy with excitement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd those were the days of truly limited editions. Tonner only produced enough dolls for the collectors present–if that many–and there was real suspense over who would be lucky enough to “win” the very-limited centerpieces–which were always huge, over-the-top, and fabulous. (There was actually a time when “winning” was defined as getting the centerpiece for free. Such things actually happened in the doll world pre-recession.)

Today, Tonner makes available excess convention product to the general public a few days after the convention ends. Whether this is a good thing is subject to debate. For me, it’s a bad thing. It takes away a big reason I attended the conventions to begin with. Back in my day, we worked for those convention dolls. We paid for pricey airline tickets, stayed in expensive hotels, and emptied our wallets to ship our hauls back home. Those dolls represented one hell of an investment. And I cherished them all the more for it. And they accordingly fetched a pretty penny on the secondary market–which they should.

When you remove from the equation that giddy suspense of seeing and possessing some of the most deliciously exclusive fashion dolls of the day, you fundamentally change the nature of the event. If I can get the dolls without having to shell out for transportation, lodging, and meals, why go? Tonner knows this, and in response, I see the company making a bigger effort to make their conventions more about being there. They invest in entertainment; fun, interactive games; and silly activities. They may not have as many attendees as they once did, but those they do have seem to be having one hell of a good time (if the videos and photos that end up on Facebook are any example).

But for me, Tonner Con has lost its luster. While I can definitely appreciate their artistry, some of his new doll lines leave me cold. (She may have a great wardrobe, but the permanently stoned expression and jazz hands of Deja Vu just don’t do it for me.) My mom, of course, does not attend any longer, and neither do my closest doll friends–who have mostly moved on to resin FBJDs.

BUT!

This year’s Tonner Con produced some gorgeous and original dolls that have stirred in me some of that original excitement I felt for my first Tonner dolls. There are four in particular that I think are major triumphs. The others are lovely too, just not to my personal taste. And Tonner gave us the most comprehensive convention coverage yet this year. His photographer documented each event blow-by-blow, releasing photos of each souvenir doll as it was revealed to convention-goers, along with descriptions, edition numbers, and prices. It was as close to being there as you could get without actually making the trip.

The biggest objects of my desire to come out of the convention is the Ellowyne group. They are straight out of an instruction manual on how to be the perfect 50s housewife and hostess. They scream “Lucy and Ethel.” Their outfits are well-thought-out, and the fabric combinations work to great effect. Their hairstyles are elaborate and period-accurate. I. Want. One. But I couldn’t possibly tell you which one I like best.

Vintage Tea Ellowyne

Vintage Kitchen Lizette
Vintage Baker Prudence

My second choice is no surprise. It uses the “Kit” sculpt, one of my favorites from the Chase Modeling line. She wears an adorable “rockabilly” themed square dance outfit. Love the execution. Love the hair. Love her.

Dixie

Other dolls included another Rockabilly-themed fashion doll, several child dolls from the “Patsy” line, and Evangeline. The convention doll was a Marley Wentworth gift set, complete with two outfits and two wigs. It’s great to see Tonner offer a gift set again, and Marley’s black coat dress looks lovely and original. But I don’t think I will ever warm up to Marley’s stern expression. She just looks pissed off–nothing like the wholesome, healthy beauty that her sister had possessed in her early years. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Tyler wouldn’t survive in this world of harsh, eternally angry fashion dolls. Sybarites seem to have set the tone for the age of The Angry Fashion Doll, and now she is everywhere. Perhaps her face reflects the cynicism and frustration of a post-recession world. I don’t know. All I do know is that I miss her sister.

Marley Wentworth gift set

Marley’s angry predecessors:

What are YOU looking at?

So there you go–a convention review from someone who wasn’t even there.

Now excuse me while I wait for these new dollies to go on sale…

Adding my opinions to the mix…

The Tonner Doll Co. released images of the remainder of its spring 2015 line yesterday, and, like every other fashion doll collector on the Internet, I have an opinion about it.The fashion doll items were limited; out of 37 dressed dolls and fashion-only offerings, only 12 could properly be called “fashion dolls,” and that includes those from Tonner’s “Re-imagination” series. There were also four female superheros, although only one of those was ready for photography.

Does this mean that Tonner is moving toward primarily becoming a designer of child dolls and superheros? Patsy and Patsyette have been generously represented in the past few lines, and Tonner’s new child doll line, “My Imagination,” seems to be set up as a clear contender for American Girl fans, especially since the outfits appear to be designed to fit the AG body. Like many long-time Tonner fashion doll collectors, I yearn for the days of yore when Tyler and Company ruled the fashion doll market, and each line brought a bounty of different sculpts and fashions to choose from. Collectors rushed to get their orders in before editions as high as 1,500 sold out overnight. The stock market was up, times were good, and money was flowing. Of course, that was before we were all laid off in 2008.

That said, this line does see a return to the venerable House of Wentworth, although Tyler, Sydney, Esme, and friends appear to have faded into the annals of fashion doll history. Yesterday we were re-introduced to Marley Wentworth, Tyler’s all-grown-up sister. She has a strong angular profile and a colorful sense of fashion. One basic, two outfits, and three dressed dolls are being offered. I must admit that my first reaction to Marley’s sculpt was “What the hell pissed HER off?” She has a stern expression, with eyes set wide apart and lips that appear slightly pursed. But my reaction to new sculpts is often unfavorable at first–even with sculpts that I end up adoring. Even Sydney rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning. And now I have about 60 of her.

Rose Rouge Marley Wentworth

So I revisited the images of Marley throughout the day, and she did grow on me a bit. It does appear that this doll is still early in the manufacturing stage, as the sculpts appear a bit inconsistent. We probably won’t have a truly accurate representation of her until she is in stock.

Marley bears no resemblance to her 12-year-old self, but that matters little to me. Out of the four fashions pictured, two really appeal to me. My personal fashion taste favors bright, bold colors, and Marley seems to share the same aesthetic. “Skyline Blue” is a bold dress-and-skirt sleeveless ensemble that is a new, refreshing take on Tyler’s classic outfits. “Rose Rouge” has a colorful ’50s vibe with its full circle skirt and contrasting colors. On the other hand, I could do without the gowned doll “Positive Negative.” Other than its nod to No. 1 Barbie, I see nothing new or innovative–just a tired old one-shouldered gown. “Cool Chic” also does nothing for me. It seems recycled from past Cami designs, although it’s hard to really tell without being able to see what is underneath the coat.

My biggest problem with the Marley line is that it is presented in a vacuum. Clearly, these dolls are meant to be characters in an ongoing narrative–only, the narrative is conspicuously absent. There are plenty collectors who discovered Tonner’s dolls after the reign of the House of Wentworth. Who is Marley to them? Without a backstory, she’s some new doll with a weird name. I can’t understand why a company that goes to such pains to give backstories to some of its characters (Deja Vu came with her own book! Ellowyne keeps a diary!) completely ignores this vital element in other lines. I recall the days of Tonner’s portfolios, neat little booklets tucked into each doll box, describing and giving a backstory to each character and fashion. I understand that such little touches may no longer be economically feasible in today’s market, but how difficult would it be to write a little vignette on the website, filling us in on what Marley has been up to during the past ten years?

I can’t make the same complaint about Tonner’s most recent “Re-imagination” line, an enchanting reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Although this line is not to my personal taste, I certainly appreciate the artistry and creativity that went into it. Casting Alice as a male character with Lewis Carol’s given name is very imaginative, and the new Mad Hatter and White Rabbit are colorful and expressive. Sometimes I think that Robert Tonner is at his artistic best when conceiving and executing Re-imagination characters. One doll that I do possess from this line is “Sheehee,” a half-man/half-woman in the Sinister Circus. I love the playfulness of this doll, and it is executed flawlessly.

Sheehee

So that’s my take on the fashion portion of Tonner’s 2015 Mainline Release. I anticipate purchasing Skyline Blue Marley and perhaps Haddy Madigan. Take a look for yourself and see what appeals most to you. I’d love to hear your feedback!