Monday 16 September 2019

Sindy... the doll that designers loved to dress

Sindy dolls in their original incarnation
Sindy dolls in their original incarnation
The Vivienne Westwood designed outfit

If you were into dolls in 1970s Ireland, it was all about Sindy.

The little girls of the time had heard of Barbie, but she was too unlike us to have much appeal. Barbie was skinny, spiky and predatory. Sindy was marketed as "the girl next door". She was sweet, childlike, and much less overtly sexual. Sleepy-Time Sindy (1963) wore an innocent gingham nightie.

Her boyfriend, Paul (1965) had dorky striped pyjamas. He was said to be modelled on Paul McCartney, although never advertised as such, and shared the Beatles' dubious fashion sense. You couldn't really imagine Sindy getting up to anything, especially not with Paul. In contrast, a sexualised Barbie looked as though she and Ken would spend eternity frustrated by their lack of bits.

Both Sindy and Barbie were fashion dolls. Barbie was American, created in 1959 and manufactured by Mattel. In the very early 1960s, Mattel approached the English company, Pedigree Dolls and Toys Limited, and suggested that they might produce Barbie under licence in the UK. But English children were frightened of Barbie - in fairness she looks like she'd buy and sell you - and their mothers didn't approve of her brash looks.

The Vivienne Westwood designed outfit
The Vivienne Westwood designed outfit

Tammy, another American fashion doll, was more appealing. The manufacturers, Ideal, agreed to let Pedigree use the Tammy model under the name of "Sindy", even including the tag line: "The Doll You Love To Dress." In the end, Sindy outlived Tammy, who was discontinued in 1967.

"A lot of English mothers, including my mother, bought their daughters a Sindy doll, but we only had one because they were quite expensive," says Kathy Taylor, doll and teddy bear expert at Vectis Auctions in the UK. Vintage Sindy dolls are collectible and the most valuable are those wearing their original outfits and in their original packaging. Prices for a standard 1960s or 1970s doll start between €25 to €35, but can go up over €1,000. "A Walking Sindy, boxed, could sell for over €1,600, but they don't come up very often," Taylor says. Ideally, the doll and outfit sets should contain all the accessories as listed on the box, but this is unusual. Once the boxes were opened, tiny plastic shoes and sunglasses were scattered.

In terms of style, Sindy was a child of 1960s London. Her first outfit was designed by Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale, fashion designers with a shop off Carnaby Street. Weekenders Sindy (1963) wore bell bottom jeans and a red, white and blue matelot top. Their original designs showed incredible attention to detail with real stitching on the jeans while the stripes on Sindy's top were specially printed. Foale and Tuffin also designed three other outfits: Shopping in the Rain; Dream Date; and Lunch Date; and two separates: Cape and Leather Looker. Because some of the outfits were re-issued, collectors look for the Made in England (MIE) labels that date the garments to pre-1967, after which manufacturing switched to Hong Kong.

Typically, collectors are women who played Sindy dolls as children, and those that wished that they had. "It reflects on what you had and what you didn't have when you were children," Taylor says. "Sindy and her sister Patch both had ponies, with all the grooming kit. If you didn't have a real pony, you could pretend that you had one." Because this is such a personal area of collecting, it's not always the early dolls that are the most valuable. "At the moment, Sindy dolls from the 1980s are more fashionable than the early ones."

In 1985, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, designers of Lady Diana Spencer's wedding dress, designed a series of outfits for Sindy. They were lacy and flouncy in the extreme. Scarlet Lady Sindy wore a high-drama cape with a scarlet lining and over a ball gown. High Society Sindy wore a bright pink meringue. Romantica Sindy (1985) was famous for her yellow high heeled shoes (a pair of these was recently spotted on eBay, used but in good condition, for €32).

Sindy was produced by Pedigree until 1985, when the licence was sold to the American toy company Hasbro Inc. She was remodelled to look more like Barbie. "The technology involved in making plastic dolls had improved a lot," Taylor explains. "The Hasbro Sindy wasn't any more realistic, there were more nuances in the design. She had bendable limbs, moveable wrists and elbows, and was generally more desirable to children of the time."

In the early 1990s, Sindy celebrated her 30th birthday (she still looked 13). For the occasion, the PR manager for Hasbro organised a party. Sindy wore an outfit designed by Vivienne Westwood - a sateen dress with corseted bodice and padded skirt, a crown-style hat over elaborately styled hair, and pink ballet wedge heels. The party was held on a glass-roofed venue in London and was attended by Vivienne Westwood and her muse, Sarah Stockbridge, who wore a real-life version of the costume. They made a small outfit for Sindy, but it never went into production and only two were made. One, with a shoe missing, was sold at Vectis where it fetched £260 (around €290) in 2017. The other is in the V & A Museum of Childhood in London.

Sindy dolls can be identified by the markings on the back of their head but, for more detailed information, Taylor recommends Colette Mansell's book, The History of Sindy: Britain's Top Teenage Doll 1962-1994 (2002).

See also vectis.co.uk.

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