Introducing Takara's Jenny by David Hammon
Takara proves there is life after Barbie
Click on the pictures to see a larger image, photos by Barry Sturgill.
Most Barbie collectors are familiar with the "those unusual Barbies
with the big round eyes" produced for the Japanese market from 1982 through
1985 by Takara Co. Ltd. of Japan. Not so many collectors are familiar
with the end product of this unusual Mattel/Takara alliance, the Takara
Jenny. Late in 1985, when it was announced that Takara would lose
their rights to use the name Barbie due to a licensing disagreement with
Mattel, many doll collectors were set to mourn the loss of the Takara Barbie,
a unique and beautiful fashion doll. All was not lost, however, as
Takara still retained the rights for their doll but only needed a new name
to suit her. In an overnight transformation, the Takara Barbie became
Jenny and the Takara Ken became Jeff. Early in 1986 Takara
Barbies suddenly appeared on store shelves with stick-on labels proclaiming
that Barbie was now Jenny.
Takara launched a new advertising campaign for Jenny and created a scenario to explain Barbie's strange metamorphosis. It seems "Jenny" was merely a character that Barbie had portrayed in a play. The play, coincidentally titled "Jenny", was so successful and Barbie became so associated with her role as Jenny that she felt compelled to assume her character's name. Happily, they explained, with the run of the play at an end, Jenny could now resume her life, busy at work and at play, as schoolgirl, fashion model and "typical" all around 17 year old American girl from Los Angeles. Jenny was born and her life as Barbie was diminished to that of a forgotten dream.
In the summer of 1986 new doll friends were introduced to the line as
Jenny's "Cosmetics Club Members". Barbie's old friends
now became Jenny's friends. Barbie's very blonde friend Ellie got
a face lift, became a brunette and appeared in fresh new outfits.
Barbie's friend Flora had her blonde hair bobbed short.
Jenny now had it all, world class designers, new clothes, new friends,
her own boutique plus lots of clever accessories to make her world complete.
By the end of the year Jenny sales were off and running. The "maba" Barbies, produced in Japan from summer 1986 through 1987 by Mattel/Bandai, proved to be strong but short lived competitors. Takara initiated a lawsuit claiming the "maba" Barbie looked too much like Jenny. The courts mediated an agreement between the two companies and the "maba" Barbie was soon retired. Meanwhile Jenny dolls were appearing everywhere in Japan, dressed in the ever popular schoolgirl uniforms, floral print summer dresses and striking dress kimonos.
New series for 1987 included the "Romantic" series, a throwback to the Barbie days, featuring Jenny in long Victorian gowns with floppy hats and matching parasols. In the "Fantastic Travel" series, Jenny appears in lacy white summer dresses with each style representing a different port city in Japan. Both the "Romantic" and "Fantastic Travel" series made use of Takara's distinctive acrylic display tubes in their packaging. A new series of dressed dolls was created casting Jenny in the roles of "Musical Movie Heroines". Jenny portrays Eliza at Ascot, Dorothy from Kansas, Jo Stockton from Funny Face, Julie from Daddy Long Legs as well as Mary Poppins and Cinderella. These dolls sported distinctive hairstyles, and elaborate costumes as well as especially articulated bodies which allowed Jenny to turn her head and torso in all directions.
1988 was the year that Jenny came of age. Two new series of Jennys
were introduced using a new body and head mold designed to give Jenny a
more mature and adult look. The dolls produced for these series,
called "Jenny Eighteen" and "Roppongi", presented a Jenny with a slightly
smaller head and legs that were slightly longer. Her new feet had
high arches designed to fit her new spike heels. She wore eye shadow
and red lipstick to compliment her more mature wardrobe. The "Roppongi"
Series, titled after the fashionable and upscale Roppongi district of Tokyo,
featured Jenny in refined cotton sheath dresses in bright summer colors
with white bowler hats. The "Jenny Eighteen" series presented Jenny
in elegant cocktail dresses with lace overskirts as well as smart two piece
suits cut from dark velvets and bright moiré silks. Two other
series of merit were introduced this year featuring the standard Jenny
doll. These included "Poodle Club" Jennys in winter fur-trimmed outfits,
boots, fur hats, complete with pet poodle, and "Color Palette" Jennys dressed
in colorful suits and sun dresses in colors designed to reflect the current
season. Of less merit but still of interest were the glittery "Starlight
" and "Gold Night" series which feature Jenny in bright and sometimes flashy
ball gowns and cocktail dresses.
1989 proved to be a banner year for Jenny and her friends. The "Roppongi" series was expanded to include new outfits and dolls. "Jenny Eighteen" became "Eighteen Boutique" and fur coats, new accessories and outfits were added to the line. New series for this year included "Jewelry Date" Jennys with dark velvet dresses tastefully highlighted with glitter and rhinestones, "Leather Collection" Jennys in suedes and fur, and "Cute Bear Club" where Jenny wears a real knit sweater and holds her own Teddy Bear. Other series introduced this year included "Rose Dream" featuring Jenny in colorful satin formals, "Noble Roman" with elegant ball gowns and "Charm Up" Jennys in pastel floral cocktail dresses. A special edition Jenny in porcelain was produced this year and a second Jenny Shop boutique was opened in Harajuku.
other events of special interest took place in 1989. This was the
year that Jenny got her own magazine, a slick colorful publication featuring
lots of color pictures of Jenny and her friends. In addition "Jenny
Magazine" contains lots of projects and patterns for making your own clothes
and accessories for your favorite fashion doll. The new magazine proved
to be the perfect medium for introducing the latest creations from the
Jenny line as well as featuring the latest special edition dolls and outfits
from the Jenny Shop boutique. Also this year Jenny faced off with
another competitor when a new Barbie was created for the Japanese market
by Bandai Co. Ltd. of Japan in conjunction with Mattel. These
new Barbies, know as the Bandai Barbies by collectors, had the big eyed
look similar to Jenny's, a look first made popular in Japanese animation
art. The Bandai Barbie was attractive enough but her outfits, consisting
of mainly ball gowns and wedding dresses, were uninspired and she never
really caught on despite her Barbie name. The Bandai Barbies were
discontinued in 1991 and Jenny's future was shining brighter than ever.
With all that has come her way what more could Jenny ask for? Well, more friends and more clothes for starters. In 1990 two more extensive lines of Jenny dolls were introduced which remain very popular to this day. The "Jenny Collection" line features the more conservative sundresses, business suits and kimonos, while the "Jenny Trendy" line is where Jenny is allowed to let her hair down and display the latest trends and fashions from the design capitols of the world. In the first series of "Jenny Trendy" dolls Takara made use of the more mature "Jenny Eighteen" body and head mold. These more adult looking Jennys proved to be unpopular with Japanese children and collectors and by 1992 Takara reverted back to the original and more familiar Jenny body and head mold that is still in use today. Occasionally the "Jenny Eighteen" body and head mold are revived to help emphasize a more sophisticated Jenny ensemble or to help characterize a special edition doll.
By 1992 Jenny's circle of friends had expanded to 24. Many of Jenny's friends come with their own separate outfits and accessories, most of which can be worn by Jenny. Jenny's wardrobe has increased every year and Jenny has been portrayed in just about every role appropriate for a "high spirited, fashionable American Girl". She is at home on the ski slopes as well as on the football field as a cheerleader or flying high as a Japan Airlines flight attendant. Of course there are always the omnipresent ball gowns, floral print sundresses, school uniforms and kimonos, but Takara always manages to bring them back each year with a new twist or accessory designed to keep them fresh and interesting. The height of Jenny's career as a fashion doll was probably reached in 1993 when she represented the Princess Masako in a special limited edition Royal Wedding gift set.
Today Jenny has more than 30 friends and new dolls are introduced every year. She has worn practically every hairstyle imaginable in almost every color of the rainbow. The 1993 "Happy Color" series featured Jenny in hair of pink, yellow and even blue. The Jenny doll of today is essentially the same as the old Takara Barbie. The basic Jenny doll retains the original face and cent-part blonde hair with bangs that first made the Takara Barbie popular. Jenny still has an articulated body with arms and legs reinforced with wire armatures which allow you to pose her in almost any position and she is still made with the all the quality and charm that we have come to expect from any product that is "Made in Japan". Consistent concentration on quality and attention to detail are what make Jenny truly exceptional in the world of fashion dolls. These two factors were also an essential part of the success of the early Mattel Barbies which were initially manufactured in Japan in the 1960's.
It is unfortunate that, with the rise of the Yen against the dollar, collecting Jennys can be a pricey proposition. But for those who seek quality and appreciate the reality of a fashion doll with subdued tastes collecting Jenny and her friends can be a rewarding alternative to the "pink" world of Barbie. At present Takara has no plans to market their line of dolls outside of Japan. It is hoped, if enough interest can be generated, Takara will one day be persuaded to bring Jenny home to America. Until then, collectors here must rely on pen pals, flight attendants and a handful of specialty dealers to obtain these truly remarkable fashion dolls.
This is the first in a series of articles devoted to the Takara Jenny. In upcoming articles you will meet all of Jenny's friends, see Jenny in a host of designer gowns and kimonos, plus be a guest at Jenny's wedding as she gets married, again and again.....
Acknowledgment and special thanks to Futaba Nakamura, doll authority and founder of the Modern Doll Association of Japan, for her assistance with this article.