Rapunzel has nothing on Avery, a 25-centimeter injection-molded mall princess whose flaxen hair cascades to her knees. Rapunzel might also have envied Avery’s smart wardrobe and her arsenal of styling tools, from thumb-size lip gloss to a tiny curling iron.
One in a quartet of Moxie Girlz, Avery is among the latest in a phalanx of doe-eyed fashion dolls jostling for attention on toy shelves this season, their cutting-edge clothes making them hits with a nation of aspiring primary-school Rachel Zoes.
Zoe, the celebrity stylist, might herself have a field day with the dolls’ bright frocks and accessories — although she would probably sniff at the lack of glitz.
The Moxie Girlz, along with four Liv dolls and Barbie Fashionista, introduced in August, are more funky than flashy, their high-style, low-key personas embodying their marketers’ response to sober times.
They stand in contrast, especially, to the big-headed Bratz Dolls, whose sometimes provocative clothing and fabulous lives — accessories included hot tubs and limousines — made them a $1 billion franchise a few years ago. But Bratz dolls have vanished from toy shelves since Mattel won a lawsuit for copyright infringement against their maker, MGA Entertainment, last year.
“Bratz celebrated materialism; we don’t,” said Ben Varadi, the creative director of Spin Master, the Toronto company that makes the plastic Liv dolls, positioned as the anti-Bratz, decked out in denim jackets and tooling around on tiny motor scooters.
Moxie Girlz, too, made by MGA, have turned their backs on gas-guzzling Escalades in favor of a fuel-efficient smart car.
For better or worse, these new fashion dolls “reflect what’s in the culture right now,” Varadi said. “I don’t see Liv having a limo any time soon.”
What Liv and her cohort do possess are abundant locks — the better to crimp and to wave — articulated joints, back stories (Sophie, one of the Liv girls, is an aspiring celebrity stylist) and full social calendars that are documented on the Web. Their interactive features and fresh-faced looks, played up in television advertisements, have propelled them to the top of Christmas shopping lists at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon and Toys “R” Us, where they are ringing up impressive sales.
Friendlier, younger and more hip-looking than Barbie, the Liv and Moxie dolls are aimed at little consumers who mimic girls in their teens. One devotee, Ally Alessi, 8, who takes her style cues from Keke Palmer, who plays a fictional teenage fashion designer on the Nickelodeon network, already owns a Barbie. But the other day she had her eye on the Liv and Moxie dolls at the Toys “R” Us store in New York’s Times Square. “The Liv dolls have their own user names on little tickets that get you to go online,” Ally said raptly. “I know it because I saw it on TV.”
Liv is perhaps the most lavishly detailed of the new dolls.
“We wanted to create a collector-doll feel,” said Varadi, who gave the Liv dolls glasslike eyes, glossy hair, interchangeable wigs and 14 points of articulation that make them easy to dress. He aimed to make Liv pretty but approachable by giving her slightly plump facial features and contours softer than Barbie’s. “We went through five different sculptors” to create an alternative to Barbie’s chiseled cheeks and pneumatic curves, he said, adding, “We didn’t want Liv to look like she just came back from a plastic surgeon.”
Liv dolls wear the doll-size fashion equivalent of the clothes a teenage girl might buy for herself, he added. Although Liv costs a relatively affordable $20, the $20 price of a wig pack could buy her owner a fetching headpiece of her own.
Moxie is giving Liv a run for the money in part by appealing to girls’ creative sides: Some of the Moxies come with clothes that can be hand-colored and sheared. “In some respects, these girls are designing the clothes themselves,” Johnson, the analyst, said, “and that’s a strong part of the dolls’ appeal.”
Some child psychologists worry that the new dolls, which come with “necessities” from hair dryers to handbags, pose another problem. “You are robbing them of the opportunity to use their imaginations,” said Claudia Paradise, a New York psychoanalyst who works with children. “But that’s big business,” she added resignedly.
Both Spin Master and MGA say they are fostering self-expression by offering girls the chance to mix and match doll wardrobes as their whim dictates. To entice them, however, “you have to have the right types of clothes — the distressed jeans, the lip gloss and the shoes — those are crucial,” said Silver, the Timetoplaymag editor. “Little girls pay special attention to details like that.”
MGA is engaging the lollipop set with a hipsters’ wardrobe of denim jumpsuits and studded pink mini dresses for its Moxie Girlz.
“These girls remain immersed in a world obsessed primarily with looks and clothes,” said Susan Linn, a child psychologist in Boston and the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “The purpose of their marketers is not to sell the dolls so much as to sell the stuff that goes with them.”
Their proliferating wardrobes are catnip to 8-year-old Maria Modila. Checking out a begowned Fashionista doll at Toys “R” Us last week, Maria said: “I like her. But if I could keep changing her clothes, I would like her more.”
Just a few steps away in the Moxie aisle, Ally Alessi was tossing her mother a beseeching glance. Noticing the boxed satin dress that her daughter so obviously coveted, Angela Alessi tried to appease her. “If you get the doll now,” she promised, “Santa will bring you the other things later.”