Twenty Questions (More or Less) with Robert Tonner

A while ago, Robert Tonner graciously allowed me to ask some questions about Ellowyne. I met him in the late 1990s when Tyler Wentworth debuted, and spoke with him frequently when I was writing my book, Contemporary Fashion Dolls: The Next Generation, which was published under my former name, Beth Owens. I learned that he is truly as nice as he is talented. It was my privilege to interview Robert for insights on his new Ellowyne Wilde doll.

Bethany) You made so many collectors—myself included—so happy with the new Ellowyne doll. What factors influenced your decision to bring her back?

Robert) Good question. There were a lot of things that influenced my decision to bring Ellowyne back. The first was that I never really wanted her to stop in the first place. However, the head molds, after many years, had worn out and I was going to have to do something. I did do a new head (before I switched to the fashion doll body) but was never happy with it. To make that head I scanned a vinyl head and tried to use that to make another mold. We did, but there were things I saw that bothered me with it. Then I tried the one with the fashion doll body but I don’t know if anyone was happy with that one. Anyway, after thinking about it, I felt that if I could make a new head that felt more like Ellowyne to me, It would be fun to continue with her. In addition, the body had some issues. I didn’t know if I would be able to fix them, but we did–so I just had to do it.

B) You have said that the new Ellowyne is closer to your original concept. Can you please elaborate on that?

R) I loved the first Ellowyne at the time, but I lived with her for so long, and my art has developed to a point that I thought I could get closer to what I had in mind–and to me, I accomplished it. She’s slightly younger and has a bit more of a “dreamy” expression.

B) How has 3D technology impacted the creation of the new Ellowyne?

R) New 3D sculpting technology has changed everything about how I create a doll. With the new Ellowyne head, I was able to scan the original head and start from there (my goal was to resculpt–not copy the old head)–it gave me a firm foundation to start with. With my 3D program, I was able to manipulate the original and work on it until I saw Ellowyne the way I thought she should look. I love the new head, but I was still a bit nervous about changing her. However, once I saw her wigged and painted, I knew it had been the right move. The new head looks like the first Ellowyne but still slightly different–to me, this is now Ellowyne.

B) How many face molds has Ellowyne had? I hate to say this, but the Ellowyne dolls on the RBT-101 body just didn’t seem like Ellowyne to me. They were more like Evangeline to me.

R) There were actually five molds. We re-did the mold before I switched to the RTB-101 body. It’s hard to tell that head from the original. I changed to the RTB-101 body because I thought that I could have Evangeline, Ellowyne and some of my character dolls share outfits. Sounded good in theory, but it just wasn’t Ellowyne. I do still like those dolls however. Actually it was the Ellowyne body that I was most concerned about. It was starting to have issues, but the factory really worked with me to get it back into shape so I wouldn’t be afraid to re-launch Ello. Production from overseas has become difficult and that fact can sometimes influence decisions. It’s not the factory–those people are the best and some of them have worked on Ellowyne from the start and they love her. It’s raw materials and labor shortages that are the main issues.

B) Interest in Ellowyne has skyrocketed. Some original painted eye dolls are going for close to $200 for a nude doll, and NRFB dolls are going for even higher. Interestingly enough, it seems that the demand is for original painted eye dolls. I don’t see the same demand with the inset eye or resin dolls. This is a good thing, of course, because having a healthy secondary market is vital to keep collectors interested. In fact, there are some collectors who never got an Ellowyne before the VDC. Sadly, there are buyers who will turn around, put a doll on eBay for an astronomical price. It’s frustrating to want an item only to find someone who didn’t want to collect get it. I suppose we will always have to put up with that. Is there a chance that at least some edition sizes will be increased so the speculators can’t sell them for quite so much?

R) That’s a very difficult thing to try to maneuver. If I make too many and saturate the market, that’s not good for anyone. However, over the years I’ve found that some collectors buy a doll, caught up in the moment, and then decide it’s not for them. Then the doll is put up for sale on Ebay and you know the rest. I guess there are people who buy dolls just to resell at a profit but it’s impossible to stop that. I know I’ve purchased event dolls or small edition dolls at a premium–not always happy about it but at least I get a chance to purchase it.

B) Please tell me about Neema. The rumors are that she is East Indian and will have dark skin. Will she be released sometime this year?

R) I’m pretty excited about Neema. I am hoping she will be released this year; She’s a VDC exclusive so a kit of that will be up to Rachel. Actually, I’m still working on the story so I can’t say too much about that, but I can say she will definitely have dark skin.

B) Will we see any new characters in the line like Freddie, a SE Asian female friend, and maybe some other guys. A Black male friend, a SE Asian character? (I don’t ask for much.)

R) Wow, that’s some list! Due to production constraints, I can’t always do what I want to do. It would be nice to get Freddie out there though!

B) And let’s not forget Ellowyne’s other friends. Will any of them (please) be re-released? I feel hopeful because the stories on the VDC website that mention different friends. It is interesting that Penn and Amber are not mentioned, Hmmm.) The revamped character I most want to see is…

R) I have a real fondness for Lizette and Pru

B) Prudence. She has such a beautiful face but that great, big, round pumpkin head. I would love to see her in a slimmed-down head, similar to Ellowyne’s. I’m trying to think of how you could re-imagine Lizette because her face is so beautiful as is. Amber has a tiny face but toning down the big eyes might make a difference. Penn needs some guyliner and maybe smaller (painted) eyes. However, they are not mentioned in the doll stories so are they are gone for good?

R) None of the characters are gone (everyone is in good health:)) Again, who comes back depends a lot on factory capacity and collector demand.

B) And then there’s Rufus. I love that boy and would love to see him brought back. The story for Pedal Pushers seems to indicate that he and Ellowyne are finally a couple. Maybe there should be a “Requited” Rufus. It sounds as if Ellowyne has come to her senses and realizes that intelligence, kindness, and a sense of humor are more important than looks. I’d like to see him as a hipster: stubble on his face, fedora or knit cap on his head, and a man-bun. Would you bring him back? Please?

R) I’ve not thought about bringing characters back only if they’re reworked–but it’s not a bad idea. Rufus is one of my favorite characters in the Wilde world and I love that he’s not classically handsome but he’s a decent, smart, kind person. He might be fun to revisit!

B) A friend pointed out that on the VDC website, there is something about Ellowyne having a new story. Does this mean she no longer has ennui?

R) Ellowyne is back to therapy–that’s what I was referring to. Her story line remains the same–it will just develop.

B) What can we expect for the future? Will there be an inset eye version of Ellowyne or will she again? (However, to tell the truth, I like the new painted eye girls even more than the inset eye dolls.) Will there be any changes to her body like flat feet some of the time?

R) Due to production hurdles, I’ll have to take this slowly. I may do an inset eye Ello, but no plans quite yet. I do have a mold with flat feet that works, but no plans yet to bring it back (again, it’s the minimums to cast plastic parts-there would be a lot of flat footed dolls)

B) Will you sell separate outfits? Wigs? Shoes? Purses? Stands? Other accessories? Would you ever consider creating with the 3D printer shoes, sunglasses, or other items?

R) We are currently selling additional outfits and I’ll continue to do so. Wigs are coming later in the year and as far as the shoes and other accessories–probably. I am working on the stand and I may sell those separately. You may not know, but I do have a digital shop at Shapeways (a 3D printing company) I have a link on my website. I plan to add Ellowyne shoes and glasses and other accessories later in the year.

B) Last but not least—when can we expect the second wave of Ellowyne and her friends? I hope we have at least a little time to let our wallets recover!

R) There will be another group later in the year. Again, VDC will be selling those so keep a lookout on that site.

B) Thank you for your answers. More importantly, thank you—and Rachel–for bringing back Ellowyne. In my opinion as a veteran fashion doll collector, Ellowyne is the ultimate doll. Perfect for play, stunning to display. She is the muse for many collectors who want to customize her, sew for her, or write stories about her. I quit writing my blog during the pandemic because I wondered if collectors still cared about her. Now I know—collectors still love her. So do I. Again, thank you for your time and for sharing your creative vision with us all.

Virtual Doll Convention/New Ellowyne Review

I had planned to write a review of the new Ellowyne—and the Virtual Doll Convention–weeks ago. First off, never ever update all of your computers or software at the same time. I’m practically on a first name basis with Microsoft customer service over Office for Mac. Additionally, I’ve had some lingering health issues post-COVID and some particularly nasty fibromyalgia flares. When I haven’t been curled in a ball, covered with an afghan and at least one cat, I’ve been playing. There’s one Ellowyne who has the lioness’ share of my time and I seriously can’t stop dressing her or putting on new wigs.

First of all, kudos to Rachel Hoffman for getting this convention together. She had a ton of work to do and handled it with aplomb. Thank you so much, Rachel! You are appreciated!

This was my first—but NOT last–experience with the VDC. It’s been going on for a couple of years now but I didn’t pay attention until I heard that a new Ellowyne was going to debut. I loved the format—exciting yet casual–and I appreciated how I could watch events live or see the videos I missed online. I can even access those videos today! The events/videos I liked the most were teddy bears and dolls that I don’t collect. There’s something to be said about admiring a collectible without having to actually own it.

That’s not all. There were paper dolls to print and dress, a coloring page, patterns, and sewing videos—all for Ellowyne and other dolls. Convention camaraderie was possible via the VDC’s Facebook pages. Attendees are still posting pictures of the dolls they bought or dolls that they just want to share. The only thing missing was a glass of wine to be sipped on while watching the videos. Next time I will be prepared!

Now, about those new Ellowynes! I was beyond thrilled when I saw pictures of them on Facebook. Okay, it was love at first sight. The process of acquiring the dolls, however, seemed as daunting as trying to schedule a COVID vaccine. Thoughts of sniping on eBay and having to hit refresh, refresh, refresh, and refresh constantly nervously danced in the background of my mind. When the dolls were up for sale, I didn’t get a notice. It turned out that I was looking on the wrong FB page! Adrenaline surging, I messaged my dear friend Jeanne Grandchamp, who virtually held my hand, I was able to get two Ellowynes—Pedal Pusher and Taking Shape—and the Face Time outfit. The process turned out to be easy peasy, and far less painful than the COVID shot. Next time, I’ll know what I’m doing! I missed out on Baby Doll and Puff Piece but I figured I didn’t need them. Yeah, right!

The dolls were not going to be sent for several weeks after the convention ended. Tom Petty was right: The waiting is the hardest part! But the dolls were worth the wait. I thought it was impossible to improve on perfection but the new Ellowynes prove just that. The face is thinner, with an angular chin, and I think she looks more mature than previous Ellowynes. The bodies seem slightly heavier. So far, the dolls’ hips are tight and there’s no loose left leg, a problem that plagues most earlier Ellowynes.

The dolls did not disappoint. However, there was a hiccup in that the mass-produced Taking Shape doll had different hair than the prototype, which had sleek red hair. The production doll had a gorgeous mess of curly red hair that took her from a ten to a fourteen! I’ve been collecting fashion dolls for thirty years, and I have seen changes from prototype to production in Barbie, Gene, Tyler, Ellowyne, and others.

Something else that I like about the new Ellowynes is that they look so good with other Wilde dolls. With her smaller face, she looks perfect with her painted-eye friends Rufus, Lizette, and Amber. Unfortunately, she doesn’t look quite as good with pumpkin-headed Pru. I would love to see Pru come back with a smaller head. Her face sculpt is so beautiful and it would be nice to see her updated. (Robert Tonner DOES listen to his collectors!) And of course I’d like to see a new Rufus, preferably with some facial hair and a man-bun. Who knows what Mr. Tonner will do in the future?

Anyway, I ended up getting Puff Piece and Baby Doll Brunette on the secondary market. They were both worth what I paid. Baby Doll is quickly becoming my favorite play doll. I amassed a bunch of wigs for her, and have dressed her in everything from handmade streetpunk wear to official Ellowyne outfits to jeans to hard-to-find gowns. Puff Piece looks like she could be fun to redress.

Once again, a huge shout-out to Robert Tonner and Rachel Hoffman and who brought our girl Ellowyne back. Thank you!!

Well, no more words. Time to look at pictures! (Is it obvious that I have a favorite?) As always, thank you for reading!