Outlander: Talking With Robert Tonner as Jamie, “Dior” Claire Dolls Debut

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Outlander collectors, big news for you! We’ve had Jamie and Claire bears and Funko Pops. Sure, they’re cute, but if you want something in a high-end Outlander collectible, Tonner Dolls is where you want to look. In recent months, they’ve debuted two Claire dolls, and today, a new Claire and their first JAMIE! were released for pre-order.

The new 16″ Jamie doll is the companion to the recent “red dress” Claire, ready for the King’s lever. This is a beautiful doll. The face is well done – it definitely resembles Sam Heughan. The doll is articulated – you can move his joints to any (well, almost) pose you’d like. From Tonner: This portrait sculpt of Sam Heughan, by Robert Tonner and  authorized by the licensor, reflects Jamie in all his simmering bravado.  Jamie’s formal entrée to French society occurs when he attends the lever at Versaille hosted by King Louis XV wearing this monochromatic but elegant black suit and striking white dickie and cuffs, brocade vest, stockings and black knee high faux leather boots (THOSE BOOTS!!!). Tonner increased the production run for this item to 500 (Claire dolls are limited to 300).

The new Claire doll, also released for pre-order today, is in the iconic Dior-inspired “bar suit.” According to Tonner, “Claire and Christian Dior converge as she re-interprets 18th-century fashion with a version of Dior’s 1940’s “bar suit”.  The bespoke off-white satin jacket and floor-length black satin skirt are accented by sparkling faux diamond earrings, white gloves, stockings, family crested bag and bow-front black pumps.  The outfit also features a black straw hat which completes the ensemble.  Claire’s New Look is on the 16″ RTB 101 hard plastic/vinyl body and has a Robert Tonner portrait sculpt of Caitriona Balfe with mink saran hair color and ice blue eyes.” Each doll will retail for $235, and is set for a June/July release date, but as of today, you should be able to pre-order from your favorite doll dealer.

In the last few months, Tonner released a Claire doll in my favorite Outlander costume, the brown stable dress, for the MetroDolls Club in New Jersey. There are still a few available for public purchase, here. And more recently, the company put out a Red Dress Claire, which will be a beautiful companion for your new Jamie – but these are gone (a few had been available through the official Outlander store, but that site is showing they’re sold out).

I spoke with Robert Tonner this morning about Outlander, the process of creating the dolls, and his plans for expanding the company’s offerings for the show. He decided to pursue a license to produce Outlander dolls after having seen just one episode. “It checked all the boxes,” he said. “It was an ongoing series with the books behind it, really rich, so I picked it. I had watched one episode, just one. It was getting a lot of interest. Outlander has some really rabid fans out there. So I thought we need to get back into this.” He said he’s planning two or three more releases for this year, and “something really big for next year.” Of course, we know that you can’t watch just one episode! “I’m now watching the whole series, and loving it.”

One very important aspect to Outlander was the wealth of costumes available in such a short time. “You have all these different periods – the ’40s, the French era, the Scottish stuff.” Like another of Tonner’s favorite lines, their Gone With the Wind series, the costumes and the stars are beautiful. “We did something like 38 Gone With the Wind dolls,” he said.

“We started the process 2-1/2 years ago,” he said. “It takes a while to sign the agreement. Once signed, it all depends on the timing here at the company, when we can fit the product in. If everything is going right, it takes 2-4 months for the (head) sculpt to be done and approved, and another couple of months for the molding and costume design. Total development time is about six months, and another six months in production.” He isn’t sure if Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe saw their sculpts beforehand, but they were approved by Sony.

Why is the first Jamie doll not in a kilt? “Jamie has a very unique tartan, and trying to get that tartan in scale is very difficult,” he told me. But I think we can expect to see a Scottish Jamie and Claire pair! “I’m not happy – I’m thrilled! with how they’re being received,” he said.

Tonner didn’t start out to be a doll designer. Growing up in Indiana, he was originally interested in fashion illustration, but he didn’t know anyone in Indiana who did that. So he originally went to school for pre-med studies. But he went on a summer vacation to New York, and discovered the Parsons School of Design (if you’re a Project Runway fan like me, you know that name!), and took a class on illustration. He received a fellowship to return, but the illustration classes were filled, so he took a design class instead.

From his bio on the Tonner website, “his early interest in creating immaculately detailed drawings led to a career in fashion. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Tonner was hired by Bill Blass, designing the Blassport label for many years. Throughout his 7th Avenue career, Tonner’s spin on modern American dressing continually caught the eye of the fashion world’ s trend-spotters—his designs were frequently featured in Women’s Wear Daily, Town & Country, New York Magazine, The New York Times and Vogue.”

So how did he go from fashion design to dolls? He began to sculpt as a hobby – “always people” – and was asked to design a doll head for Lenox China. That design sold well, and it combined both his interest in sculpting and his fashion design career, and Tonner Dolls was started in 1991. “Little did I know!” he said.

The company has produced dolls for many other franchises, including a line of Disney dolls (Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland); dolls for many different films (Twilight, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games); and TV (Doctor Who, Firefly). Some of the dolls can be seen on the Tonner website (but the archive isn’t complete – for one, none of the Outlander dolls are there).

What do you think of the new dolls? Let me know!

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Erin Conrad