Monday, September 4, 2017

The Marvelous World of Shani and Her Friends

This image is on the back of the box of each original doll in the Shani collection.  Dolls included Shani (center doll), Asha (far left), and Nichelle, (box date 1991).
Designed by Kitty Black Perkins, former chief designer of fashions and concepts for Mattel's Barbie line, the Shani collection is Mattel's first line of African American fashion dolls.  All other African American Barbies had been included in Barbie doll lines.  This line was completely separate from Barbie's various collections of family and friends.  With facial features more representative of the ethnicity they represent, the other exciting feature about Shani and her friends, Asha and Nichelle, is each doll has a different complexion, which ranges from light (Asha), medium (Shani), to dark (Nichelle).  Asha's auburn hair color is lighter than Shani and Nichelle's darker hair.  Their varying skin tones, ethnically correct faces, different hair colors and textures were all uniquely new features for Mattel to offer.  Dressed in lovely gowns, each transforms into a different fashion.  Kitty Black Perkins went all out to provide features never before seen in fashion dolls.

The following text appears on the back of the original dolls' orange boxes:

Shani is the main doll in this collection.  She has a medium complexion, brown eyes, and black hair, the ends of which are wavy.

As illustrated in the right lower corner of her box, Shani's gown of purple, pink, and blue colors becomes a bathing suit and cover-up.


Asha's lighter complexion and hair color are illustrated in the above photo.

Her orange and gold gown becomes a mini dress and jacket as illustrated above.


Of the three dolls' head sculpts and complexions, Nichelle has always been my favorite.  I appreciate her fuller lips and demure, closed-mouth smile.  She has dark hair with less curl than Shani's.  Her eyes are brown.
Nichelle's fuchsia and yellow gown transforms into a ballerina costume.


In addition to the dolls, Perkins designed extra boxed fashions for the Shani collection. 

Shani fashion #1884 includes a yellow dress; fuchsia and purple sheer, full-length skirt, and faux suede brief case.  The dress can be worn with or without the skirt.

Extra boxed Shani fashions from L-R are #1872, #1884 (the one I own), #1896, and #1969.
The back of the packaged fashion #1884 illustrates four different ensembles that were available at the time the original dolls were released.  Like the original dolls' gowns, each extra Shani fashion can be worn two ways.


Jamal wears a yellow (sometimes referred to as gold) suit, the fabric of which matches the fabric used for the dress in Shani fashion #1884.  He has black sculpted hair and a painted mustache.  The back of the box illustrates Jamal with girlfriend, Shani, seated in a yellow convertible.
Shani's boyfriend, Jamal (box year 1991), was reportedly considered by the parents of some girls to be too masculine-looking for them.  (Newsflash:  He's just a doll people.)  Being highly sought after on the secondary market, Jamal, however, was a hot item in the minds of many collectors.




From Katti's Shani-line page (see link at end of post), she writes:

There were four sets of dolls in the Shani line:
In the first oval box the three girls [were] released in 1991* and the year after Shani's boyfriend Jamal joined them.
Beach Dazzle - the three girls only, box marked 1992.
Beach Streak - all four dolls, and the girls had the new body. Box marked 1993**.
Soul Train - named after a TV-show I think [correct], all four dolls dressed in HipHop style. Their hats are made of the same material as the African American Collection Asha doll had her dress sewn from later - she had Shani's face! Boxes marked 1993.

Sears also had a Special Edition with the Beach Dazzle Shani and two sets of clothes**.

*This dating issue has always been a mystery - the box is mostly dated the year before the actual release-date and brings confusion to it all.
**According to Michael Augustyniak's book The Barbie Doll Boom.
In addition to the original dolls shown above, I have some of the Shani collection Katti documented. Some of the dates she documents differ from the actual box dates, however.

The Beach Dazzle Shani (1991) and Beach Streak Shani (1992) lines included all three dolls:  Shani, Asha, and Nichelle.  I own Beach Dazzle Shani only.  She wears a gold and orange lamé two-piece bathing suit and gold drop earrings.  From the Beach Streak line, I own Asha and Nichelle.  Asha's two-piece bathing suit has a navy blue top and pink lamé bottom.  Nichelle's one-piece swimsuit is turquoise lamé and navy blue.  The Beach Streak dollsalso wear gold drop earrings.

1993 Soul Train Shani, Asha, Jamal, and Nichelle
As Katti indicated, the Soul Train Shani dolls are dressed in hip-hop-style colorful fashions.  This collection includes a clean-shaven Jamal.


After the Shani line was discontinued, Mattel continued to use the names, Asha and Nichelle for other dolls.

Not part of the Shani line, this dark scan from page 54 of my first book (The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls), illustrates, describes, and provides a 2003 market value for the Asha African American Collection Special Edition of dolls released by Mattel in 1994 and 1995.
See better online images of the Asha African American Collection here, here, and here.

The Shani name was retired, but the Shani head sculpt was used in the Asha African American Collection Special Edition of three dolls dressed in afrocentric clothes.  This collection, with box dates of 1994 (1st and 2nd dolls) and 1995 (3rd doll), is not part of the Shani line, but is included in this post as a reference.

I was prompted to write this post just for my documentation purposes before I repositioned the items that were behind the bookcase where the Shani collection of dolls are stored.

Kitty Black Perkins designed dolls for Mattel for several years.  To learn more about her, please navigate here.

Reference:  Katti's Shani-line

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  1. This line was epic. I hope maybe we'll see the return of the Shani and Nichelle heads in the Fashionistas line, since that line appears to be bringing back old molds anyway.

    1. The Shani line was Epic, RM1987. We saw Nichelle a couple of years ago when Mattel released the college/university cheerleaders on nonarticulated bodies. I don't recall, however, seeing the Shani sculpt since the Asha African American Collection Special Edition of three dolls.


    2. the Shani face was used for one of the Barbie Birthday dolls 2016...

    3. Thank you for sharing this information, Viktor!


  2. Thank-you for sharing your pictures and information. What an interesting line. The dolls are beautiful but those convertible fashions are what caught my attention. It's already hard to make clothes so making them gimmicky is really going all out:)
    Debbie, please check your emails I sent you one that must be in your spam folder about some dolls you may want to check out :)

    1. Hi Maricha,

      Those convertible fashions were and still are rather innovative and useful.

      I just checked my email and saw a list of dolls for sale from someone who indicates they are downsizing. I have not sent a reply. Would that be the same email?


    2. No, that's not the one. I'll send you another one :)
      I'm using the email.

    3. I received the second email, Maricha and sent you a reply. Thank you again!


  3. The Shani dolls were the first dolls that I redressed early in my years of collecting. I have most of these dolls packed away. They will always be one of my favorite face molds.

    1. It's good you still have them, GG. I'm sure they were fun to redress.


  4. Thanks for sharing your lovely collection. I always liked Asha and Nichelle. Asha has gone on ... and on ... and on, lol. I can still find new versions of her to like. Nichelle's face mold has also been used for some Black Barbies - the 101 Dalmatians Barbie and the Avon Barbie in the yellow jacket.

    1. You're welcome, D7ana. I have the Avon Barbie that uses the Nichelle face. She's been used far less frequently than Asha, Asha, Asha.



  5. I'd like to send you the catalog photos that I've scanned from the 1991 JC Penney and Sears Christmas catalogs. The dolls pictured in them are probably prototypes, as they are a bit more elaborate than the Shani World of Beauty dolls that were actually released. You can email me at

  6. Thanks so much for this post!!

    I have always, always wanted to collect the Shani line ever since I learned they existed back in the 90s. It's also great have a better understanding of what was included across the line. Fascinating to see how much weight Mattel put behind the line. It's odd to think that with all that fanfare and what seems a really proactive step into the African American market it would be easy 2 decades later (up until very recently) to level criticism at Mattel of lack of diversity in their doll lines.

    All three dolls are gorgeous, trivia; Kitty Black Perkins named Nichelle for Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame which I though was pretty cool. Yes, Debbie you have definitely reinvigorated my desire to have the Shani dolls in my collection!! Love them. 😍😍😍

    Oh and En Vogue...does it get any better 🎶. As an aside I was just reading up on the group I never realised how bad the dynamic between members there was at the time right up until today, such a shame because even that little clip of them singing live definitely shows us how good they were!!

    1. This video confirms that Mattel called in the heavyweights to promote the Shani line. It is unfortunate the line did not remain around longer.

      Thanks for the reminder on Nichelle's name origin. That trivia had escaped my memory while writing this post.

      En Vogue was one of my favorite 90s groups. I had read about the dissension amongst members which led to Dawn Robinson's departure.

  7. I remember how pleased and excited I was when I saw these dolls hit the shelves at Walmart! I had just gotten out of my big adult doll collection resurgence (hit me at the end of the 1980s, and I bought red headed Midges and Steffie mold dolls at Toys R Us and ChildWorld), and then finally, after three or four years of naked self-indulgence, said, "No More Dolls for a While...". When I saw these dolls, they made me happy, even though I was not in buying mode at the time (too poor---downsized from a job, then got another for less pay), but I mentally bookmarked these dolls for the future. I liked their faces so much more than nearly all the other AA fashion dolls that had been on the market, and I loved how they had different skin tones, the way people do! Since that time, I resurged in late middle age to collect again...and have many of these head mold dolls. Just love 'em. My thing with dolls is: personality. I have to want to "know" that doll, if that makes sense. I found these ladies wanting to also know me...if THAT makes sense!

    1. It makes perfect sense to want to know your dolls or to even create personalities for them. I had not thought about whether or not my dolls want to know me, but it does make sense. If they have to be in my presence for the duration that I desire them to be, I'm sure they'll eventually know me, whether they want to or not. :-)



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