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AEE 2020: Sex Dolls

by Rich Moreland, February 2020

Photos by Kevin Sayers

At this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo’s novelty exhibition, I wanted the inside scoop on a topic that I’ve seen evolve over the years: the manufacture and sale of sex dolls. Today’s dolls are more than party items and they don’t have that cheesy comedic look popularized in 1960s porn mags. In fact, sex dolls in their earliest forms go back centuries. For modern times, we have German businessmen to thank for bringing the public’s attention to the doll in the 1930s.

Putting aside the past, where are we today with the product? To find out, I talked with three companies that offered their artistic conceptions to trade show attendees.

*          *          *

XR Brands

Michael Guilfoyle, XR Brands’ Director of International Marketing and Business Development, was gracious with his time. Though XR has a broad array of intimate products and toys beyond sex dolls, the company has upped its game for the sex doll market.

“We’ve tried to meet various customer needs throughout the whole demographics,” Michael begins, and that includes both gay and straight males. Doll sales are doing “amazingly well for us across the board. Somewhat surprisingly, more than we anticipated.”

As for the technical aspects of doll construction, XR Brands is aiming for better opposability (movable parts). Most important, however, is “longevity, making them more durable long-term,” he says. “To some of our buyers, these are companions [that] are not to be kept in the closet” and the company respects that.

Who is your audience?

“It’s across the board,” Michael notes. Some male dolls are sold to female customers, but not surprisingly, most of the product is purchased by straight males. He mentions the film Lars and the Real Girl “about a young man finding [and] falling in love with a sex doll.”

But that’s the movies, what about real life?

“I saw a man in Australia having dinner in a restaurant with his doll and it opened my eyes to how much of a companion this truly is. I thought of it as something you hid in the closet. When you’re embarrassed by it you don’t want anyone else to see it. I don’t know if you’ve seen the memes online where they’ll rent out movie theaters and twenty guys will bring their dolls to go see the movie. These are rare occurrences, but they happen.”

Michael goes on.

“People have joked with us about buying one to drive in the HOV lane.”

That makes sense to me.

The marketing director mentions another use.

“In Sydney, Australia they opened a Bordello that was nothing but sex dolls. My thought process was, ‘Why? Where is that coming from? It’s a little weird.’ But their big pitch was ‘It’s the only way, you can be sure no one is being trafficked.’”

Certainly a social benefit Michael concludes. “We can think of these as opening avenues to less trafficking.”

How does XR Brands tackle the affordability issue?

“We still make components of dolls,” he says. That’s the “door opener” to further interest in the whole package. If the customer is fascinated by detached body parts, moving to the larger, whole product is less imposing.

“Being comfortable with ‘This is what I’m having sex with,’” is important,” Michael insists. The customers must “rise over all of the hurdles [they face] to get to the point where they’re going to spend the amount of money [necessary] on something like this.”

What I understand from Michael is this. It seems as if the psychological barrier is most important in grasping customer needs rather than the money spent.

*          *          *

Real Dolls

Mike Wilson of Abyss Creations, maker of Real Dolls, was next on my list. Mike is the firm’s co-owner and production manager.

First, I asked for the business’s backstory.

The twenty-two-year-old company has produced dolls for movies and TV shows, Mike informs me, adding that “we were made famous back in the early nineties by Howard Stern. He launched us forward.”

The company’s interest in “life-like mannequins” opened the business door. “We were contacted by several people that were willing to pay a lot of extra money to make them [the dolls] anatomically correct so they could have sex with them,” Mike says. Currently “we’ve been diving deep into artificial intelligence and robotics.”

How has sex doll manufacturing improved?

Over the years “we started making them out of different silicones” to meet affordability needs, Mike says. But the major moves forward have to do with “the internal structure of the dolls, the skeletons.” Then there is mobility. “All of our dolls are fully articulatable, meaning that every joint moves just like a real human joint, [in other words, they are] opposable.”

The craftsmanship is important, too.

“Every product is hand-crafted by well-paid artists here in the U.S.” Mike explains. “We don’t do any work overseas or in any other countries. Everything in San Marcos, California.” Company employees “are mostly special effects artists from Hollywood. So, we have that base knowledge of how to create things with hyper-realism and sculpting.”

For Abyss, sex doll robotics is the next move forward, Mike added.

What is a profile of an Abyss customer?

“Our audience is quite large. The majority of our customers are generally older. They have money,” Mike emphasizes. But he doesn’t rule out younger buyers.

“People these days are so trapped in their phones. I don’t know a single person under the age of thirty that actually can go to a bar and pick up a woman. That’s a time well passed. Everyone’s so insecure and has no personality skills that we all have to do it on our phones.”

But, he points out, prospective buyers “below the age of forty or fifty, with few exceptions, [don’t] have the money [to afford a doll].” Understandable. “Even the baseline dolls that are non-robotic, cost seven thousand dollars,” he adds.

Having said that, Mike delves into a concern that characterizes many buyers.

“The majority of our customers are looking for something. They feel like they’ve been burned in relationships [and] they don’t want to go back into the dating game. They just want something to find intimate connections with.

“Having a doll that you can come home to and talk to even if they don’t respond, there’s a lot to be said for that.”

But there’s more to consider. For some people a sex doll is a piece of “interactive art you can actually have fun with,” Mike says, adding “I see good friends that are really into cars and they just treat their cars better than they treat their girlfriends. The concept of us attaching ourselves to inanimate objects is not unheard of in any fashion. We do it all the time. You know?”

Looking into the future, Mike turns the conversation to nest systems and home security.

We have wireless cameras now, but the doll will do more.

“She could act as a security system. The app has got the intelligence and the brains.” In short, “the robotic, the doll itself, [is] the personality that exists within your wireless device.”

Finally, I ask Mike about his personal background.

“I was born in the Midwest. My father was an independent filmmaker (who) went into production design. I was home-schooled doing special effects art, light casting, sculpting, all of that. Went to college in Pittsburgh.

“I’m fascinated by the psychology behind sexuality and I’m also an artist, so, it was kind of a natural progression. What got me to California, where our company is located, was not Real Doll. I was working for the government doing hyper-realistic military training with medics.”

Then a career change came calling.

Real Dolls was looking for a painter. “I got hired,” he says, and brought “all my imagination and skill to the table.”

Also, Mike’s background in retail proved valuable and the rest is history.

“I love the sex industry. I love open minded things,” he says with an infectious smile.

 *          *          *

Dukes Dolls

Tucked away in an unpretentious booth on the novelty expo floor is Dukes Dolls and Toys.

The company is a fascinating story and who better to ask about it than owner Greg Charles.

“I started out with an adult cartoon comic website called dukeshardcorehoneys.com,” Greg begins. The site was developed from the adult illustrations he created back in his high school days and college years.

“I’ve always had a knack for drawing adult stories. My personal preference was curvy women, and, at the time, I didn’t really see a lot of content out there like that.”

Though his art work began as a hobby, Greg explains that he would post his images on “different websites [and] galleries” in cyberspace.

“I began to grow a following and eventually created a pay site, dukeshardcorehoneys.com. I started getting members.” As the work became more “taxing,” it also “became more fun,” he comments.

So here we have an artist who has taken his passion and turned it into a business.

Greg’s next move was to hire animators to do his stories and a new fan base emerged. Out that growth came the idea of sex dolls, “a fun thing [that is] very unique,” he declares.

How has that part of the business grown?

“Before it was more of a hobby,” he says, “if I made money, so be it. If it didn’t, I still had fun doing it.”

But everything has evolved.

“Now I’m looking at it as a revenue gainer and a business. I’m being more professional. My presentation’s better and the [product] quality is much better.

“I put more elaboration on the design. It’s more realistic.” He mentions that the newer designs are better proportioned with skeletons that facilitate ease of movement.

“I have more variation in designs also,” Greg explains, pointing out that the company offers dolls of different sizes and carries a line of “handheld collectible ones.” Refusing to rest on his current product, the New Jersey native plans to develop dolls with alien and monster themes.

Of course, there is the influence of a comic book artist in his work.

“That’s first and foremost, that’s where I’ve always been,” Greg beams. “Ever since I was a kid, I loved drawing comics.” Today, he continues to illustrate but with decidedly adult themes.

“So, at the end of the day, that’s what I like doing in my spare time, on my work time. If I’m sitting in meetings, I’m always drawing and sketching.”

My last question concerns his audience.

“Some people think, ‘Oh it’s some lonely losers that can’t get girl themselves.’ That’s definitely not true,” Greg says. “Most of my customers have been couples that wanted to experiment in threesomes but they didn’t want another woman screwing up their relationship.”

He talks about disabled military who are not confident they can find the companionship they want, “so they have a doll as a companion.”

And don’t forget the collectors and the artists.

“I’ve had artists that like to draw the human form” but using a live model is problematic, he suggests. “The sex doll is the answer for them because the metal skeletons are opposable (movable) which makes them perfect for artists. You can put it in any position and they hold it for you.”

All in all, Greg points out that the business has “different types of clientele and I definitely am proud of that.”

It’s worth mentioning that Dukes Dolls is minority owned. Greg offers a bit of his personal background.

“I grew up in Jersey City and it’s a kind of a rough area. Me and my friend Shawn, we grew up together, same area, went to high school together.” However, their college years separated them.

Getting Shawn’s take on the business of sex dolls

We were on “different paths,” Greg explains. “I was always an artist; he was always a video-audio guy. Our paths never crossed because I was doing comics and he was doing video and music.

“Once we began to work on animation, our talents started crossing and we began to work together in business. Sometimes it’s tough where we grew up. Not too many people understand entrepreneurship, let alone entrepreneurship on the internet. That’s alien, the concept of making money off the internet. When we try to explain it to people we know, they don’t understand. ‘Oh, you’re trying to goof off, why don’t you get a real job?’”

“Sometimes this fake job makes more money than the real job, you know?” Greg says with a smile.

Yes, I do, and good luck to you both.

*          *          *

Here’s contact information for the three companies covered in this article.

XR Brands

Real Doll

dukeshardcorehoneys.com

 

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AEE 2020: Hard Core at the Hard Rock, Final Curtain

by Rich Moreland, February 2020

Photos by Kevin Sayers.

*          *          *

Call it the end of an era or the final curtain, but never suggest it’s a swan song. The Adult Entertainment Expo and the Hard Rock Hotel are no more, but the trade show is not going into retirement.

Here’s the story. The talk around the Hard Rock this year was what to expect in 2021. What is going to be new and different? Well, as it turns out, not a whole lot. The Hard Rock is going under a name and branding change.

“We are signed with the Virgin Hotel through 2023 already. They are thrilled to have the AVN Awards and Expo at their property,” Dan Miller, managing editor of the AVN, told me. The only real change is the name because the venue remains in place. Next year fans and industry people will meet and greet at the new Virgin Hotel on Paradise Road in Las Vegas, the same location that carried the impressive guitar logo of the Hard Rock.

Enough said on that. Let’s take a look at what this year offered.

Networking

The Expo’s opening day on the collective floors of Artist Hall, Muse Hall, and The Joint is much appreciated by media people. A modest number of fans are just getting into the swing of things. The bulk of them will arrive Thursday and Friday so movement around the three adjoining facilities is less crowded which means many of the stars are conveniently accessible. For an industry writer, corralling porn’s finest for a short interview or brief chat is hassle free.

Simply put, this is orientation time, if that’s what I may call it. Find out where the talent agencies have their girls, scope out the best times to visit the booths of the major studios, and check the layout of the novelty expo. For veterans like yours truly, the day is filled with networking and renewing old acquaintances before everyone’s schedule becomes too hectic.

My photog Kevin and I stopped by ATMLA’s (Adult Talent Managers) signing area to pass a few moments with a favorite I interviewed last year, Ember Snow, and one of the industry’s most likeable MILFs, Sarah Vandella. We first met her on a Girlfriends Films set a couple of years ago.

Sarah Vandella

Stopping by Adult Time in late afternoon, I congratulated Tommy Pistol on another productive year. I congratulated him on a superior performance in one of the year’s top comedies, Love Emergency, but didn’t stay long because a couple of fans showed up and they always come first. Then I dropped by Foxxx Modeling to set up an interview with newcomer Paris Amour.

Tommy Pistol

Taking a few seconds of conversation with AINews editor Steve Nelson at the Foxxx Modeling booth

One of the fascinating aspects of networking day is an impromptu chat with a performer I’ve never met, but am familiar with her work. Early in the day I introduced myself to Victoria Voxxx, an AVN award nominee for a shoot she did with Kink.com. Very personable and I mentally put her on my list of talent to interview if time allows.

The Press Room

Kevin and I have learned that the best way to take a break from the hyperactive pace of the trade show floor is to retreat to the press room. Everything there is calm, bottled water is available (we are in the desert, after all), and talent comes and goes in response to interview requests.

We had some informal time with Cory Chase, whom we interviewed last year, spoke with Bree Mills as she passed through and with Seth Gamble whose acting talent is unmatched in the industry. Even offered a brief “hello” to Lauren Philips as she waited for someone from the media.

Lauren Phillips

Good-natured Tim Williams and Jill Hagara are the bedrock of the room, checking people in and keeping everyone informed. If anyone needs anything, they’re the ones to ask.

Tim and Jill

During the week, Kevin and I networked in the room and, as we did last year, enjoyed our conversations with Captain Jack who knows every performer in the business (or seems to).

Later in the week, I reconnected with Jillian Janson whose porn comet is rocketing into the galaxies of stardom. She was sitting on a couch waiting for her interviews (she had a couple lined up).

Jillian’s no longer that skinny kid I remember from a few year ago. Lamenting that I did not get a scheduled interview with her for this show (it’s tough, she’s in demand), Jillian gave me a hug and we made informal arrangements for next year.

Getting back to the floor, Kevin and I spent a few moments with John Stagliano of Evil Angel early in the day and later with veteran actor Dick Chibbles who was holding down a spot at the AVN booth.

John Stagliano

Dick Chibbles

No Vixen

In summarizing our sweep through the show’s major venues, three thoughts crossed my mind. First, some kiosks were cleverly placed among the signing tables available to talent. That was particularly helpful for fans in The Joint where corridors are narrow. The facility is a really a theater with tiered seating and a stage where the AVN Awards show is held. Traffic flow was much less congested so fans could move more freely from one girl to the next for momentary conversations and signed photos.

Second, more performers were there on the first day than I remember from the past, a boon for fans eager for a selfie with their favs. And lastly, director Greg Lansky’s Vixen Media Group was absent this year. Lansky sold his business shortly before the show to pursue other interests. In the recent past, Lansky’s presence was a focal point for meeting talent.

Sex Dolls

On a final note for the day, Kevin and I invested significant time getting an overview of the novelty part of the AEE, something we had done only cursorily in the past.

This year I had an interest in an up-and-coming topic: sex dolls. My knowledge of what constitutes a sex doll was limited to TV skits and off-color jokes. As someone in the press room mentioned to me, “who would buy one of those things?”

I was determined to find out and that is where we go next!

 

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