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Plastic Fantastic:
Darci and The Death of Fashion Dolls in the 1980s

By Bethany M. Sefchick

 

As soon as the original blonde, ponytailed Barbie and her main accessory,
Ken, were introduced to the toy world, other dolls were sure to follow.
Whether it was the cheap knock-offs called "Babs" and "Bill" or the fantasy
life of Tressy or the perfectly dressed and decidedly upper-crust
Littlechap family, the child of that day had a wealth of fashion dolls to
|choose from in all price ranges.

It was a trend that would continue in the toy industry for many years to
come, producing a rich history for the doll lover of later years to study
and enjoy collecting. While Barbie may have reigned as the Ultimate Queen
of the Fashion Doll High Court, there were other just as worthy Princesses
waiting in the wings. At no time was that more evident than
in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Where once no one could match Barbie in quality, there were now other
|fashion dolls by other companies that could not only compete with Barbie,
but actually surpass her at times in overall quality and design.

For some, it was the wholesome look of the fabulous Brooke Shields dolls.
Between her thick, stylable hair and a wardrobe that featured black velvet
cocktail dresses and perfectly accessorized riding habits, hers was a world
that rivaled the class and sophistication of the long since vanished
Littlechaps. She was clearly a step above the basic Barbie
and made no apologies for it.

For the child who could not afford the relatively high price of a Barbie or
Brooke, there were other choices for them too.
Mego began producing the Jordache doll, tying her in with the designer
jeans trend of the times. That same company also created the first doll to
bear the Candi name. The Fashion Candi and supersized Sparkle Candi were
tied in to the popular shoe brand and presented a doll that while was not
of superior quality did have a vast wardrobe of  well-made clothes and accessories.

Then came Hasbro. According to the esteemed A. Glen Mandeville, Hasbro had
no experience designing, producing and marketing fashion dolls. Here was a
company that started from scratch, using the same process Mattel once did.
The result of their efforts was a doll that simply left Barbie and all the
others in the dust. Her name was Darci.

Darci was a bit bigger than Barbie, standing at just over 12" high. Her
body had a more womanly sculpt with curves and proportions that made her
seem almost human. Larger hands and feet made not only dressing her
easier, but posing her as well.  The basic doll was offered in three hair colors with coordinating swimsuit and wrap in different colors as well. Darci's concept was similar to that of the original Barbie. Kids could buy a doll in a swim suit in their
choice of hair colors and then buy the extra fashions and accessories. And
oh, what fashions and accessories there were!

The Darci wardrobe offered everything from a basic outfit that came with
her five signature bracelets to a mid-level line with a few more
accessories to the deluxe fashions that were sold under a number of
different names. The mid-level and deluxe fashions had so many little
extras that it was impossible to keep track of them all. A western outfit
had a miniature silver gun while another had Darci sized sneakers that were
pink with white laces and a running visor.

For accessories, there was a modeling studio that really worked, a
motorized van, and a disco complete with spinning disco ball and pinball
game. Darci also had friends. Following Mattel's lead, there was Dana, an
African-American friend and Erica who had an exotic, slightly Hispanic look to her.

Unfortunately, Darci, Brooke, and the others, like so many other fashion
dolls before them eventually could not compete with the pink stranglehold
Mattel and their Barbie queen had on the market.

After only a year or two, many of the dolls were discontinued and the items
ended up in the clearance isle. One can list many reasons for their demise
and no one reason has ever been pointed out as THE ONE that led up the
failure of these plastic beauties.

Hasbro did try again in the mid-'80s by introducing the Jem line. Jem, the
leader of an all girls rock band, used many of Darci, Dana, and Erica's old
molds. But she too, could not hold up against an onslaught of Barbie & the
Rockers dolls and other Mattel products.

The demise of Jem marked the Death of the Fashion Doll in the 1980s.
Barbie now had no competition and no company was brave enough to try again.
Overall industry quality slipped once again and it took the birth of the
fashion doll collectors mentality to bring back any semblance of
competition into a market that was then and still is dominated by the pink
Queen "B" of the doll world.

 

My View
By Bethany M. Sefchick

I had Darci/Dana/Erica and Brooke Shields and
Jordache and Candi dolls as a
child in all the hair colors and styles available. Still have them,
actually. They have a place of honor in my collection that no dolls can
ever replace.

To me, these dolls represent from the past what I love about doll
collecting today, the choices and variety. It's no longer just Barbie on
the market. Nor should it be.

Darci is still, for me anyway, the epitome of a fashion doll done right.
She was beautiful, poseable, well made and had lots of options for a kid
looking to expend some imagination, whether it was in clothes choices or
what playset to use on any given day.

Were there problems with these dolls? Sure. No doll in and of itself is
perfect. But some, like Darci and her friends, were as close to perfection
as any company has ever come. Darci's biggest flaw was the rubber band
mechanism in her waist that allowed her to move so freely. The bands broke
very easily and I have come across a number of dolls at yard sales and flea
markets that are discarded by other buyers because of this.

For Brooke, the vinyl in her legs tended to pick up
lint and stick to her clothes,
making them difficult to get on. Candi and Jordache were just cheaply made
dolls, but their clothes more than made up for that.


However, their biggest problem and what contributed to their ultimate
demise was they simply weren't Barbie. They couldn't fit into her clothes
and they cost a little bit more in some cases.

In 1999, however, collectors now have a problem with these dolls that is
much bigger than any thing in the past. To put it simply, the lack of
availability. Many of these dolls never sold, even on clearance. In the
case of Erica, she was sold only at one Philadelphia department store.

The dolls that are for sale today, mostly on eBay or other auctions, go for
high prices, usually to the same group of three or four bidders who then
resell them on lists for twice the price or more. This limits the ability
of new collectors to "sample" these dolls to see if they fit in with the
current collection or taste of the individual collector.

So if you can find one of these dolls at a flea market or a yard sale,
don't simply pass them by because they don't offer the blonde haired, wide
toothy grin of Barbie. You might discover that they offer a little bit more.