Thursday, November 11, 1999

Millennium Girl Tyler by Tonner

by Kathryn E. Darden    
As a new millennium dawns, one doll steps out of the vinyl throng to possess the spotlight and launch a new era; that doll is Robert Tonner’s Tyler.
     Robert Tonner has become a household name among doll aficionados for his award winning dolls and fashions. After graduating from the Parsons School of Design, Tonner’s career took off when he became the head designer for legendary Bill Blass (who recently announced his pending retirement) and had the opportunity to hone his skills as a fashion designer.
     In 1991, Tonner combined his fashion experience with sculpting and design talents to produce the beautiful dolls which have brought him to the forefront of the doll collecting world. “The first dolls I did were 16" porcelain dolls, jointed; they were very expensive,” Tonner told me in a recent interview. “Then I came out with a larger porcelain fashion doll for around $300.” These exotic porcelain beauties soon catapulted Tonner to the attention of discerning doll connoisseurs everywhere.
     However, porcelain divas are not all that Tonner creates. The Robert Tonner Doll Company also captures the magic of classic childhood characters such as Orphan Annie, Betsy McCall, Superman, and Lois Lane. A doll collector himself, Tonner has his fingers on the pulse of the doll collecting world and sculpts and designs dolls ranging from high fashion models, to storybook fairies, to sweet little girl dolls. Tonner even has a line popular with Madame Alexander fans, the adorable Kripplebush Kids.
     In recent years, through an affiliation with the Knickerbocker company, Tonner designed a doll straight out of a Harlequin Romance, Julia. The concept was for a series of dolls based on a fictitious romance novel family composed of three lovely sisters, each with her own unique beauty, story and wardrobe from bygone days. Each doll was to have been part of the Kingston Chronicles, a romance novel packaged with each doll. Julia was created and marketed first, and at the writing of this article, there was a hold on any future dolls from the series. “They (Knickerbocker) are going through some changes and I don’t know where we are right now,” stated Tonner. “I am still interested in developing the Julia dolls.”
     Julia was greeted warmly by Gene collectors who appreciated Julia’s similar size and lines and more lifelike facial features, and like the first Genes, Julia had straight legs. The West Coast convention picked Julia for their convention doll in 1999 and Tonner partnered with Doris Mixon, a well-known doll fashion designer in her own right, to create a beautiful limited edition doll. “I chose Julia as the convention doll because I wanted to get a doll that I knew the public would want,” stated Doris Mixon who has been designing for fashion dolls since 1995.  “I always thought that Julia would look so much better in contemporary cloths than in the romantic era style that  she is portrayed in.  I chose the colors brown and beige to complement her eyes and hair.” Doris was correct about the contemporary look; Julia was breathtakingly lovely with an upswept braided coiffure and the champagne satin fitted sheath dress with matching belt and long opera coat of crushed brown velvet Doris designed for her -- a worthy harbinger of Tyler’s elegant mien.
     After the enthusiasm collectors showed for Julia, Tonner’s own manufacturing facility reached a point where he could pursue some of his dreams further. “I decided to do what I had always wanted to do, design a medium-sized fashion doll.  I wanted a doll with bendable legs and a hard plastic body. She just turned out to be 16". I was not trying to make her compatible or the same as any other doll. We were just at the point where I felt like we could step into the fashion doll arena and do it right.”
     And do it right they did. Tonner’s dream doll is Tyler, a 16" poseable vinyl doll with long rooted hair, bendable knees and a sophisticated look (somewhat reminiscent of Julia) much more proportionate than the large head and dominate eyes of Ashton-Drake’s popular Gene doll. She comes in blonde, brunette and redhead. Available for Tyler is an extensive wardrobe as well as a dress form and patterns to make designer outfits for her.
      I first had the opportunity to view two prototype Tyler's as well as meet the charming designer himself when Robert Tonner made the circuit of doll shows this years, bringing Tyler to a doll show in Nashville last spring. Tonner brought actual samples of the exquisitely detailed outfits as well as two doll prototypes: Party of the Season and a brunette Tyler. Needless to say, after seeing the resin prototypes up close and personal, I ordered my dolls immediately!  I was not the only one enthused.  “Before I went to the show I was beginning to think that I couldn't afford all of the outfits, but after I saw them in person, I knew I had to have them all!” exclaims Elaine Posanka who made the two-hour drive from Tullahoma to see the dolls. “I thought the fashions were stunning and was most excited to touch the beautiful fabrics on the costumes and learn they were the actual outfits, not prototypes.”
     “I think Tyler is a character doll that’s just starting to take off,” Tonner said. “I see friends, clothes, accessories. She is user friendly; that’s why I came out with patterns and a dress form for Tyler, and an extensive wardrobe for those of you who don’t sew. You are supposed to take her out of the box and play with her.”
     As soon as photos of Tyler were posted on the Internet, the limited edition dolls and outfits began to sell out  before the doll ever appeared on shelves!  Party of the Season Limited was a limited edition 2,500 with a suggested retail price of $169.99, and Millennium Ball, a limited edition of 3,000 with a retail value of $124.99. The Tonner Company sold out of both LE’s almost immediately, months before the dolls were due to ship.
     While Tyler comes with her own story, following in the footsteps of Gene and Julia, Tyler is a modern sophisticate and her story is one that is relevant to today’s collectors. Designer, heiress, businesswoman, Tyler’s active and versatile lifestyle presents many opportunities for fabulous outfits.
     The pictures presented of the first offerings of her extensive wardrobe prompted the outfits to sell rapidly in preorders, much like the limited edition dolls. The original wardrobe consisted of: Signature Style, a white cotton shirt and belted black wool skirt. Black sheer stockings, black pumps, and a single strand of pearls finish off the look. Party of the Season presents a fitted strapless gown of sage green and gray striped silk shot with gold and topped with a French lace overlay with a removable shrug of the same French lace. Finishing touches include a pin that matches her rhinestone necklace and earrings along with  gold evening shoes. Cashmere Noir finds Tyler dressed in a long fitted and flared black cashmere coat with shawl collar and deep cuffs. Black boots and jewelry complete the outfit. Collection Premiere is a chic suit of velvet laminate with a sleeveless silk and metal shell in tones of pale taupe and cream. Nude stockings, suede pumps, a gold structured handbag and a gold bib necklace of crystals and beads complete the ensemble. Gallery Soiree is a vivid red silk shantung cocktail dress with a beaded boa, sandals, a beaded necklace, and a matching silk clutch. Fragrance Launch is Tyler’s black-and-white houndstooth suit featuring a fitted double-breasted suit jacket with velvet portrait collar and matching cuffs, over a tailored skirt. A black tam, dark stockings, black pumps and a bottle of Wentworth #1 Perfume compete this set. Wake Up Call finds Tyler relaxing in a silk charmeuse robe over her two-piece tailored matching pajamas with a cup of coffee, a bagel, and an issue of Fashion Design Weekly. Fashion Design Weekly Awards is Tyler’s beaded floor length French lace gown with matching charmeuse stole.
     After the successful presale of these first wardrobe offerings, the Robert Tonner Company came out with two more limited edition ensembles. Urban Sport boasts comfort and style in a jersey mockneck, leggings with her taupe boots, a drawstring vest and quilted 3/4 coat, and Central Park Benefit Luncheon is an embroidered celadon silk shantung suit with rhinestone buttons, accented by a perky hat.
     Tyler captured a great deal of attention at the Gene convention in Philadelphia in October. The long-legged beauty was displayed in all her incarnations including basic Tyler, Party of the Season,  Corbett’s exclusive, and Millennium Tyler to the delight of Gene lovers from all around the world, many of whom are making room for Tyler in their Gene collections. Robert and his right-hand-gal Miss Nancy were on hand to greet convention goers and show off Tonner’s other dolls as well as Tyler.
     Another indication of the prenatal success of Tyler is the first  Tyler Convention planned for 2000. Sue Nettleingham Roberts has reportedly been planning this event for two years with the Robert Tonner Doll Company, before the doll collecting world even knew Tyler was on the drawing boards!  The show boasts a breathtaking limited edition convention Tyler as well as her new spring collection and will take place on March 31- April 1, 2000 at Double Tree Hotel, Jantzen Beach in Portland, Oregon. Pictures of the exquisite convention doll began to circulate on the web the last week of October, much to the delight of potential collectors.
     Sue Roberts, who previously has worked for both Vogue and Effenbee, said in a recent phone conversation, “I always try to have these events be for the convention goers where collectors can afford the event and have fun.” Roberts reports the first-ever Tyler convention will boast dealers, competitions, displays and a stage all in one huge ballroom for the convenience of collectors. She revealed that in addition to the beautiful convention Tyler, attendees will receive two sets of limited Tyler jewelry including a dainty year 2,000 bracelet, a Tyler paper doll, a Margaret O’Brien paper doll, the ubiquitous canvas bag sporting Tyler’s image, a special pin and other goodies she is choosing to keep a surprise. I know one of them; my lips are sealed but it sounds wonderful! One additional Tyler event is already planned for the Santa Fe Doll Art 'Albuquerque Experience'.
     If Tyler and her fabulous wardrobe live up to the elegance of the prototypes and the success of the preorders, it boggles the mind to imagine what the future holds for Robert Tonner and Tyler.
     Robert Tonner is the immediate past president of the National Institute of American Doll Artists  (NIADA) and his dolls have been featured in national and international media including People magazine, CNN, the Barbara Walters Oscar Night Special, Entertainment Tonight, and British Vogue magazine. A recent, and very special, honor was having another of his creations added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts at the Louvre complex in Paris. He recently won the first Best of Show collectors choice award at the Walt Disney World Teddy  Bear and Doll show for his one of a kind auction piece - "A Century of Fashion," a ten-doll (porcelain)  piece showing the fashions through the century, each doll representing one decade.

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