Things began to feel a little surreal just before Christmas when Rebecca Floyd found herself packing up a doll to send to Oprah.
A decade earlier, she was a new mother with a young son and time on her hands. The transition moving to Richmond from New York — where she'd earned her living photographing book covers — was accompanied by the adjustment of having a baby. As gifts for her son rolled in, she was struck by how every toy had a smiling face.
"All smiles. I got tired of the big, plastic smiles on everything," Floyd says.
Her response was to make a sad, frowning doll out of gray socks. "I know it sounds a little strange. In the beginning, the idea was to create an empathetic doll that kids could relate to when they were feeling sad." She envisioned parents using Frowny Face Dolls to help children too young to vocalize sadness understand that everyone feels that way sometime.
Soon friends began asking her to make their children Frowny Face Dolls and a web-based home business was born with the tag line, "You're not happy all the time. Why should your dolls be?" The classic Frowny Face Doll is available with braids, a fringe of hair under a cap or just a stocking cap, with eyes and frown being embroidered on the face.
Then a friend whose mother had just been diagnosed with cancer asked for one and Floyd became convinced that there was an even greater need for empathetic dolls. Her organized home studio got messier with additional supplies everywhere as she increased output.
"I was told one man died holding his," she says. "That was sad, but it made me feel good."
Last year, she noticed that one of her sock dolls bore a striking resemblance to Melania Trump. It was enough to inspire her to start an Instagram celebrity page — @frownyfacedolls — and motivate her to make a celebrity sock doll every day.
"Instagram has been a truly amazing outlet for me because I can actually reach untouchable people using tags," she says.
Once she began creating dolls for people like Mo Rocca, Michael J. Fox, Maria Shriver, George Stephanopoulous and Lady Gaga — even porn star Ron Jeremy rated a likeness — some of the celebrities began contacting her back, eager to own Frowny Face Dolls that resembled them. Debra Messing was so enchanted with hers that she made a video with it and went on record as saying that you weren't officially a celebrity until you had a Frowny Face Doll made in your image.
Floyd sees celebrities as needing a sad outlet just like the rest of us.
"It doesn't matter how thin, rich or beautiful a celebrity is, they still get sad sometimes," she explains. "And celebrities get that it's funny to see a sad version of yourself on a sock."
Once Instagram boosted the dolls' profile, custom orders began coming in. Rosanna Arquette ordered one in her likeness wearing a "Fuck Trump" T-shirt. Once the Insta masses saw that, it became one of Floyd's best-sellers, as is the frowny Ruth Bader Ginsburg doll. With quiet understatement, she acknowledges, "It turns out that adults really dig them, too," while acknowledging that perhaps we live in frown-inducing times, too.
Business has been augmented by custom orders from noncelebrities, too. The all-girl, private Spence School in New York contracted her to make 68 Frowny Dolls of its graduating class. When a woman sent Floyd a photograph of herself and her girlfriends, she re-created each woman's ensemble, from dress to jewelry to hats. Floyd laughingly admits to spending a lot of time at Diversity Thrift sifting through old jewelry for pieces to use.
"If someone wants a doll of their mother and they tell me she always wore a shell-shaped gold necklace, I'll go so far as to go get the clay, sculpt it and paint it gold," she says. "That's the most fun."
In addition to the classic, celebrity and custom dolls, Floyd also makes Faerie Frownys, complete with tulle wings and colorful flower appliques. When her husband's uncle was headed to the World of Faerie Festival in Chicago, he asked her to make 20 frowny faerie dolls to market and sold out the first day.
Frowning, it seems, is in. No word on how Oprah liked her doll, but Bo Derek and Charo both admitted to loving theirs.