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.
SHANI'S BOYFRIEND, JAMAL
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.
SHANI PROMOTIONAL VIDEO
SHANI 30-SECOND COMMERCIAL
OTHER SHANI DOLLS
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.