Note: This post is very long and photo-intensive. I apologize, but I wanted to showcase my Candi Girl collection. Candi Girl was the first fashion doll that I started collecting as an adult, when I was working and earning enough money that I could buy myself dolls if I wanted to. Candi Girl rekindled my love of fashion dolls and started me on the path to adult collectible dolls, a path that I still follow today.
The year was 1994. Absolutely Fabulous, the wickedly hilarious British sitcom, was a cult hit in America on Comedy Central. Grunge was a popular fashion trend, thanks to bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And in the doll world, Candi Girl made her debut.
Candi Girl was the brainchild of Helena Hamilton, an entrepreneur who wanted to bring diversity to the world of fashion dolls. She had been sewing clothing for her daughter’s Barbie dolls, and got the idea to create multi-ethnic dolls in the 11-1/2″ size. The result was Candi Girl, an African-American doll that could give Barbie a run for her money. Candi Girl’s proportions were more realistic, with a bigger bust and hips. Candi Girl was sold by mail order only, advertised in doll magazines of the day. In the early days, Helena herself would answer the phone when customers called to place an order. Candi Girl came dressed in a black catsuit with pink heels. She wore her hair in a long high braid, and she had the bent arms typically found on Barbie at the time.
The catsuit was emblazoned with the “Candi Couture” logo.
You can tell from the box that the doll is from 1994 because the box design is so “AbFab.”
The box also explained Helena’s vision of multi-ethnicity in fashion dolls as a way to promote equality and understanding amongst our children.
After this initial Candi Girl was introduced, Helena launched a few more Candi Girls in 1995 featuring the same face mold, skin tone, and arms. You can see photos of these early issues here.
In 1996, Hamilton Design Systeme issued what have become known as the “Popular Price” dolls, so-called because they were basic editions that came dressed in simple tank dresses and shoes. The Popular Price Dolls consisted of a new African American doll, called No. 2 African American because the first Candi was No. 1, as well as two new face molds: Asian and Hispanic. The No. 2 AA came with earrings, the Asian and Hispanic dolls didn’t. I called these dolls the “Calvin Klein” dolls because the “Candi Girl” logos on the dresses reminded me of the CKOne ads by Calvin Klein in the mid-90s.
The Popular Price Dolls appear to be the first dolls produced in collaboration with noted Barbie artist Mikelman. Helena Hamilton teamed with him and his business partner, Barbie-and-fashion-doll dealer Paul David, to collaborate on several years’ worth of Candi Girls. Paul David became a major dealer of Candi Girls. According to Paul David in his catalog #158 (1998), it was he who paid for the new, straight arms, with hands that featured separated fingers, that the Popular Price Doll Candi Girls were now sporting. The Popular Price Dolls sported a wrist tag that read “Candi Couture.” But that would soon change.
In 1997 Hamilton Design Systemes introduced China Doll Candi Girl. She was a limited edition of 3000, with makeup by Mikelman. It was the China Doll that first brought Candi Girls to my attention.
I had never heard of Candi Girl dolls, but when I saw this doll I was smitten. She was beautiful, more beautiful than the creepy, large-eyed Barbie dolls that lined the shelves of toy stores in the ’90s. This doll was for grown-ups!
China Doll Candi Girl came in a turquoise dress, but when the factory in China ran out of the turquoise material, they substituted a red synthetic damask fabric.
Of the 3000 China Girl Candi Girls, 400 of them were produced with the red dress.
Also in 1997, Hamilton Design Systems and Mikelman introduced the Candi Couture Collection. Sold exclusively by Paul David, the Candi Couture dolls were more high-end than the previous Candi Girls. They originally retailed for $60 and came in marvelously detailed outfits, with accessories. They arrived in a stunning pink box that really made me feel like I was buying something special. When I received these dolls in the mail, I felt the same excitement that I felt as a child opening a new doll on Christmas day.
There were six initial Candi Couture dolls, each one a limited edition of 500. I bought four of them!
Promo pics of Misty Melon showed the original African American Candi with black hair, but Paul David discovered that half of the 500 Misty Melon Candi Girls came in the honey skin tone with red hair. He dubbed this one “Honey Dew.” I purchased the Honey Dew Misty Melon.
It’s interesting to note how Mikelman’s name is more prominent than Hamilton’s on the boxes. Even the wrist tags on the dolls sported the name “Mikelman” rather than the previous “Candi Couture.”
Also introduced in 1997 was the Candi Secrets line. This was the “lingerie line” that so many doll manufacturers come out with. The Candi Secrets line debuted two new face molds, Danish and Swedish. It was Helena Hamilton’s way of saying “thank you” to her many Caucasian customers.
1997 also saw the introduction of the Mikelman Retro Candi dolls. Clearly a nod to the vintage Bubble Cut Barbies, there were four variations: Blonde, Brunette, Redhead, and African American. They wore either a red or a white swimsuit and came boxed in a slimline box with a removable cover, like vintage Barbie dolls. Once again, Mikelman’s name is prominent on the box, but the wrist tags are the “Candi Couture” tags.
Six vintage-inspired fashions were also produced.
For the holidays, 1997 saw the release of a Christmas doll, the second in the series, as well as the introduction of the Santa’s Helper Candi. She came in either blonde, brunette, or redhead. Being a redhead, guess which one I bought?
1998 saw a second line of Paul David-exclusive Candi Couture dolls designed by Mikelman, called the New York Collection. It was an ambitious line of ten dolls, all with a New York theme. But things seemed to sour between Paul David and Mikelman and Helena Hamilton. In issue #158 of the Paul David Catalog (1998), Paul David wrote of plans to collaborate on a second issue of Mikelman-designed Retro Bubble Candis, as well as Retro Ponytail Candis. However, when these dolls debuted, the name “Mikelman” was nowhere to be found. Instead, the name “Hamilton Design Systeme” once again was prominent on the boxes, after seemingly taking a backseat to the “Mikelman” name. I’m not sure what happened, but it appears the collaboration between Mikelman and Paul David and Helena Hamilton fell through. In his “Paul David Vents” columns from the 1998 catalogs, it appears there was some resentment about an article on Helena Hamilton in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Contemporary Doll Collector magazine which details Helena’s and Candi Girl’s rise to fame. Neither Paul David nor Mikelman are mentioned, and the article’s statement that the Candi Secrets line “debuted” at Toys R Us seemed to be a sticking point with David. In any case, the second series of Retro Bubble Candi, and the Retro Ponytail Candis, were issued with the name “Hamilton Design Systeme” once again appearing on the box.
The Retro Bubble II’s and the Retro Ponytails included the Honey African American skin tone rather than the original African American skin tone. The Honey tone, paired with red hair, is my favorite Candi. It was used on the Misty Melon Candi Couture as well as the Sweet Dreams African American doll. The Honey AA is the only Retro Bubble II that I purchased because I had all of the other variations in my set of Retro Bubble I’s.
As you can see, the Retro Bubble IIs came in a black-and-white-striped strapless bathing suit reminiscent of the first issue of You-Know-Who, which came in a ponytail rather than a Bubble. So it’s no surprise that the Retro Ponytail Candi’s also came in that swimsuit.
And this is where my Candi Girl collection ends. I stopped collecting her in 1998. At the time there seemed to be some issues developing with Candi Girl. The bad feelings between Mikelman/Paul David and Hamilton Design Systeme were one thing. There was also another Candi Girl dealer in Minnesota I was ordering from, with whom I had no problems with, that suddenly seemed to drop off the face of the earth for a time, leaving angry customers to complain online about lost deposits and unfilled orders. Prototypes of new dolls were announced, with photos, of a Tahitian Candi (was this ever produced?), as well as a line of Bettie Page Candi Girls (which was produced). I could kick myself for missing out on the Bettie Page dolls.
After the split with Hamilton Design Systeme, Mikelman partnered with Integrity Toys to produce his own fashion doll, Retro Charice (misspelled Charisse on early editions). Although the face used an Integrity mold, the hair, the bathing suit, and even the artwork on the box was identical to Hamilton’s Retro Candi.
In 2000 Hamilton Design Systeme licensed the Candi Girl name and molds to Integrity Toys, who hired a 16-year-old high school student from New York named Jason Wu to design the dolls. Intergity, best known as a manufacturer of ethnically diverse playline dolls, grew to become a major manufacturer of multi-cultural toys before turning its attention to adult collector dolls (still ethnically diverse). And the rest, as they say, is history.
My knowledge of Candi’s history after 2000 is spotty. The collaboration between Hamilton Design Systeme and Integrity Toys ended some time after 2001. By 2004, Hamilton Design Systeme became Hamilton Toy, and released a new line of retro dolls called Vintage Candi. The line consisted of seven dolls, with bubble cuts and swirl ponytails, in either black or white bathing suits. Vintage Candi fashions were sold separately.
Candi Girl disappeared for several years before returning a few years ago in 16″ form. I’m not sure what year Candi 16 came out. I purchased this Candi 16 redhead in late 2012 on eBay.
In 2011, Helena Hamilton and Jason Wu teamed up once again to create Candi International. Candi International saw the return of the 11.5″ Candi.
I really loved collecting Candi Girl. She was a breath of fresh air at a time when few other dolls were giving Barbie a run for her money. Today, the field of fashion doll collecting is diverse, both ethnically as well as artistically. Because there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, right Barbie?
Do you remember Candi Girls? Which one is your favorite?
And if there are other Candi fans out there who can add to my knowledge of Candi’s history after 1998, I’d love to hear from you.
Click here for a comprehensive look at Candi Girl’s earlier years, up to 1998.