I received a lot of curious feedback about Mary Astor and the Tonner Doll Company’s Toy Fair unveilings. Many folks wanted to know if Robert Tonner was simply going to visit the decades of film noir and long-ago, long-simmering Hollywood scandals. (Why not? The TV program “Feud” is mining the rift between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for all it’s worth.) The answer, however, is a definite no! Robert Tonner is always re-imagining his offerings, and this year it was certainly a bold new direction for his Toy Fair debuts. Though I have to admit, it was a physically smaller sampling than in years past, it was a clarion call that Tonner is refusing to create what is expected and will not play it safe. The number of dolls he brought along was much tinier, but what they said — they spoke volumes!
Back in August, Tonner’s marketing team sent out the following personal note from the doll artist. This e-mail blast that had tongues wagging at the time definitely sprang to mind as I surveyed his booth’s wares:
“I hope this exciting announcement finds you well and enjoying a wonderful summer. During 2016 we have been celebrating 25 years of Tonner Doll Company’s product legacy, while also revolutionizing our plans for the future. As you’ve experienced, the collectible market has undergone noteworthy transformations over the years, and we have always remained at the forefront of those changes. We are delighted to let you know that we are developing vibrant new product lines in conjunction with some very innovative partners and designers and you will see those new items in the first quarter of 2017, along with some new licensed items for Tonner.”
The collection at Toy Fair 2017 was heavily skewed toward this brand-new path that Robert is embarking upon. The Phyn & Aero dolls were definitely the divas of the day. They posed against a dramatic black backdrop, and there was nary an Effanbee or a Wilde Imagination doll in sight. That makes total sense because a later note from Tonner’s company advised all of us inquisitive doll collectors:
“A new company is being launched and it’s called Phyn & Aero. We will be introducing three new lines in 2017 in collaboration with innovative (and incredibly talented) new designers. I really feel it’s time to broaden our perspectives and see what some fascinating (and younger!) designers create for our collectors. I believe the collector market needs a major shake-up and I’m quite sure this will be it!”
Sure enough, spending time at the booth, hosting and talking with attendees in an upbeat and exuberant way, was one of these “innovative new designers.” Andrew Yang, whom I mentioned last week as the great-grandson of Mary Astor, will be one of the Phyn & Aero design mavens. His take on the future of doll making will complement Tonner’s evolving vision. Again, seeing the dolls in person makes the note from the Tonner Doll Company blaze to life:
“Currently, I’m spending a great deal of time learning (and hopefully mastering) some very new computer sculpting programs that, combined with state-of-the-art production capabilities, provide an entirely new method of creating dolls. I call it the ‘New Art of Doll Making™’ and I’m really excited about what we’ll be doing in 2017 and beyond. It’s also awakened a pioneering spirit in me again and I’ve decided it’s time to completely re-think what we offer to collectors. Therefore, although Tonner will continue to make all of our established licensed products such as DC, Gone with the Wind, Outlander, etc., all of our proprietary lines, as well as those of Effanbee and Wilde Imagination, are being discontinued.”
I must admit I felt a twinge of sadness for not seeing the tried-and-true lovelies that equaled a Tonner Fashion Model doll — tall, regal, fashionably coiffed and attired. I wish I had had a chance to say a proper “adieu” to Tyler Wentworth and DeDe Denton. I also had a close connection to the Déjà Vu line of dolls — having even written a novel and a novella about the heroines of that time-traveling epic. (You can still them discover them on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble: Love, Death & So On and No Time to Waste!)
The dolls that will now bear Tonner’s painstaking eye for detailing will mean collectors will have to adjust to a new storyline, a new backstory, and a new future of different materials, heights, body prototypes, and silhouettes. If Robert Tonner is secure enough, and dedicated enough, to find personal revitalization in Phyn & Aero, his collectors will undoubtedly prepare themselves to buckle up and follow along on an unexpected and incomparable ride!