Monday, April 22, 2024

S: Shani


#AtoZChallenge 2024 letter S

"'Shani' means marvelous in the Swahili language and marvelous she is. ..." So began the tagline for The Marvelous World of Shani. Though it was a separate series, Shani (pronounced SHAW-nee) and her friends are retroactively considered friends of Barbie. Shani and her girl friends are the same size as Barbie and her boyfriend the same size as Ken, so they can share clothes. Shani was Mattel's attempt at creating an ethnically correct African American doll line. Previous AA dolls were criticized as having more Eurocentric than Afrocentric features, as many used the same head and body molds as their Caucasian counterparts. Kitty Black Perkins, who was responsible for designing the line, had also designed the Black Barbie doll in 1980. The video below talks about the creation of the Shani dolls and their releases and media reception:

The first wave of Shani dolls in 1991 featured the lead doll and her two female friends, Asha and Nichelle, in convertible gowns. Shani's gown transformed into a bathing suit and cover-up; Asha's into a mini dress and jacket; and Nichelle's into a ballerina outfit. Each one had a different skin tone, facial feature and hair texture. Four different fashion sets were also sold, and the packaging stated that the clothes fit Barbie, too.

(from left) Asha, Shani and Nichelle
in the first year of release.

For the second year, the girl dolls came in two-piece bathing suits (the Beach Dazzle series), and Jamal, Shani's boyfriend, was introduced, wearing a convertible yellow tuxedo. Originally, Jamal had a mustache, but was clean-shaven in subsequent releases. Three more outfit sets were produced, but none for Jamal. Shani's only accessory was also made: a gold-tone Corvette (pictured below), a repainting of Barbie's Corvette from the 1980s. Shani didn't last long enough to get a house or other playsets. 

The box back of the Beach Dazzle Shani dolls.
The bathing suits were made from material used in the dolls'
 first-year gown bodices, but Shani and Asha swapped material since
the original Shani already wore a swimsuit under her gown.

Jamal with mustache

Jamal's party tuxedo could be
converted into a casual outfit.

Two more waves of Shani followed. Another beach-themed line, known as Beach Streak, and a tie-in line to the hit music-and-dance show Soul Train, both with the now clean-shaven Jamal.

After Shani's own line was cancelled, she made one US appearance in the Barbie line as Sun Jewel Shani (below), the annual swimsuit series. She also appeared in the Jewel and Glitter line, sold only on foreign markets. A Dr. Shani doll shown in promotional catalogs was never released (an AA Dr. Barbie was made instead). 

Sun Jewel Shani was
 the last Shani produced.

Even after Shani disappeared entirely, reminders have popped up from time to time.  An unrelated line, Asha African American collection (not the same Asha who was Shani's friend), made in the late 1990s, was considered a spiritual successor to Shani. This doll named Asha used Shani's face mold, skin tone and hair texture. The head molds for Shani, Asha, Nichelle and Jamal have been used on other Mattel African American dolls, including Christie and Steven and AA versions of Barbie and Ken. The So In Style (S.I.S.) line from 2009 to 2017 is considered another spiritual successor to Shani. Like Shani, the Grace doll from S.I.S. was incorporated into the Barbie line after S.I.S. was cancelled. Also, the name Nichelle has appeared in the Generation Girl and Fashionistas lines. The Mystery Squad doll line had a doll named Shawnee, pronounced the same as Shani. Both Shawnee and Nichelle Generation Girl oddly used Asha's head mold. 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Jamal is indeed handsome!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I like posts about whatever I can think of, found you from the Challenge. And I love all things Barbie! New follower here

Liz A. said...

I was working in the evil toy store (now defunct) when these came out, and I do not remember seeing them at all. Interesting.

Elephant's Child said...

Another I knew nothing about.

My name is Erika. said...

So many Barbies. I wonder if anyone has the whole collection and how many total Barbies that would be.

Pradeep Nair said...

I missed many of your previous posts because I was travelling and didn't have time. But I shall definitely catch up. I didn't know this particular meaning of Shani. Interesting post.

Maria L. Berg said...

This was a really interesting post. I enjoyed the videos you included.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I like the dresses from the first photo!

Ronel visiting for S: My Languishing TBR: S

Jennifer Alison Jones said...

I don't remember these dolls at all. Of course, I do remember the Barbie. Visiting from the AtoZ Challenge Road Trip.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I don't remember these at all. But I guess I am not the market.
I AM glad I came back here, I had forgotten about your theme and now want to go back.
Tim Brannan
The Other Side,

Kristin said...

That yellow suit is way too big!