Not all 18″ play dolls need to be expensive: despite my preference for the Gotz and Kidz n Cats level of doll, I’ll never turn down a pretty face. Back in 2011 Argos spotted a market niche and came up with the Design a Friend range, made by long-established toy manufacturer Chad Valley. The clever marketing idea (which still applies today) offered you a doll, outfit and accessory pack of your choice for a discount on the individual price, and dolls with blonde, brunette and red hair, along with the Alesha doll with her darker skin and cascading dark curls. Each doll has its own name and a different outfit, though based on a simple tunic and leggings idea, with shoes. The range also includes new fashions introduced each season, and new accessories such as a bed, a carrying case, even a make-up set.
So, meet Lindy – here she is newly unboxed in her original outfit of long cerise tunic, black leggings and pink shoes. Also shown are the various boxes for her extra outfit which was a blue striped jumper, leggings and beige knee high boots and the accessory pack of underwear:
Its a great example of how to emulate the expensive dolls like American Girl but on a budget, and despite only costing £20 for a doll they are very well made. The dolls come in a cardboard box, in candy-stripe pink with the Design a Friend logo on the outside and the doll wrapped in a single sheet of tissue paper within. The box is quite thin card but sturdy enough to be re-used for keeping the clothes in, for example. I also like the way the outfits are packed, in their own pink candy-stripe boxes and wrapped in tissue paper, like high end fashion choices – such a clever and attractive way of doing things rather than a blister pack or some other toy-like packaging.
Each doll comes with a charm bracelet for the new owner to wear, and each outfit includes a charm to add to said bracelet, thus encouraging collection.
The dolls themselves are the ubiquitous soft body with vinyl limbs type – jointed at hips and shoulders, the head also moves from side to side though does not tilt, and the plastic eyes are fixed, not sleep-eyes. The body is shaded the same as the skin tone of the limbs. The stuffed body is not as firm as other cloth-body dolls, probably to give the doll some shape – in the image below you can see she has a clearly defined waist, rather than being a solid up and down shape as is more usual. It has the added effect of making the doll quite cuddly, but means she doesn’t stand up too well on her own.
She’s s little out of proportion, with very slender limbs compared to the head size, and quite skinny legs, though this is less obvious depending on the outfit. Some of the pants/tights therefore are a bit tight on other 18″ dolls, though in the main she can share clothes with them all. The doll is suprisingly well made for this price point and should stand up to a decent amount of play from a child, the outfits too are generally of good quality, attractive designs, well cut and securely sewn.
There are several Ebay sellers creating clothes specifically for the Design a Friend range (which will also fit Gotz, Kidz n Cats etc) which makes them a good choice for a child – new outfits won’t break the bank!
Here Lindy is wearing a dress from one of the Ebay designers, along with tights and shoes from Frilly Lily. I love the hair on this doll, its full and luxuriant and just flows down so well, and looks good loose or pulled back by a head band (that’s actually a pearl necklace doing double duty). Its perhaps the hair that makes this specific doll look so good, the other Design a Friend dolls generally have straight hair, great for styling but not as eye-catching to my mind.
The Design a Friend outfits work well on the more expensive dolls – as shown in the photos below.
Lindy’s blue spot dress, cardy and sparkly shoes set was in the original range of outfits from Design a Friend, while Jessie wears the jumper/leggings outfit I got along with Lindy. Flat cap by Nellie Rose.
I think Katy looks quite glamorous in this long pink satin dress with white wrap and silver sandals. There’s usually a ball gown type design in the Chad Valley range, in varying colours each year.
This red cocktail dress with sparkly sandals and matching satin hairband didn’t look quite right on Lindy but suits Helene a treat. Her escort in back is Alex in a Nellie Rose suede jacket and his original outfit jeans and boots.
For me, she straddles the line nicely between “doll” and “little person” and doesn’t seem too out of place with the other girls, especially when dressed nicely. That’s Katy (Gotz), Helene (Kidz n Cats) and Jessie (Zwergnase Junior) with Lindy above, all of them costing 3 or 4 times as much.
Lindy posing with Bree from The Dolls House.
I think the Design a Friend dolls and clothes are a triumph of budget design, and as they are still going strong after several years it seems other people agree with me. This year, Chad Valley introduced a boy doll, Josh, to the range, and also two little sister dolls – and both Josh and the youngsters already have avid Ebay designers sewing away to provide a wardrobe of clothes, there being as yet no offical outfits for same.
I’d not swap Lindy for Katy or Maru but she fits in nicely with the gang, and holds her own against them, despite the price difference. And I love this snap I took of Lindy with Alice (Gotz Happy Kidz) and Katy.
Images of pink boxes © original owners (found at random via google)