|So long, girls. The Era ends with you.|
If you've had a pulse on the AG community for any time since about January to March, you'll have heard whispers of both Samantha's return and the retirement of Marie-Grace and Cécile. Many people saw the end coming through whispers, catalog scans that didn't include the others, and jabber from personal shoppers. Finally in May, AG officially stepped up and said that Marie-Grace, Ruthie, Ivy, and Cécile are going into the Archives. This is in preparation for the launch of BeForever--a rebranding of the Historical characters to focus on the main AG characters and appeal to girls again. This includes new clothes, the return of the emphasis on girls being the same in essence through history, using new ways to appeal to old ones--aw yiss, apps and nets--and rumors that include removing illustrations from the books to appeal to older children.2 This does not include their best friends or the NOLA Girls. There's several articles that have been published on news sites and around discussing how this removes the only black character that hasn't been a slave and the only Asian-American character in the lineup. I'm not going to knock them in any way. They're right in saying that with Ivy getting booted, we don't have a Asian American character represented in history anymore--and that Cécile is the only well to do pretty princess we've had that was black. But neither girl really got a chance to hold down the fort herself, and the best Friends Line was a poor way to put both of them in.
For the most part, the Best Friends Line did not do much for AG's bottom line or their appeal to the historical characters, and the one time it touched the moddies it tanked hard. While the Best Friend Line had its appearances of successes, it also had its problems--lots of them. I do kind of like the idea of best friends and two girls sharing an era, and a lot of my historicals have theirs. Edith has Dorothy, Kimmy has Tyanna, Addy has Sarah, and Felicity has pretty brunette Elizabeth. I'm even debating finally creating Charlotte's stepsister/close friend from Caroline.3 And the most technical sense, I have several of the Best Friends: Nellie, Cécile (though she's not a best friend, she's a split collection--more on that later), Kimmy ("Ivy"), and Sonali. A lot of people will talk about the good of the line. But I feel like the AG community and the purchasing population at large didn't really feel the Best Friends Line, and that it going down is going to overall be a good thing.
If you haven't clicked onto this, this is all my perception. I'm not a marketing mogul, I've never worked for AG in my life, and I majored in English. These are just my opinions as someone who came into AG at the small start of the Best Friends Line, and saw how things came--and now, how they're going, along with things one of the members of the forums has observed and I'm alright with passing along. You're not here for numbers. You're here for my opinions, education, snark, and to learn better about the kyriarchy and how to tear it down.
Let's start the same way AG did: with Samantha and Nellie.
2004: Samantha and Nellie: The Start of Something New
|Let me tell you bout my Best Friend~!|
And so, on June 18th 2004, Nellie O'Malley was officially introduced to the American Girl Public at a special sold-out party at American Girl Place in New York and made available for a preorder. She came out on the website proper that July, and appeared in catalogs by that fall. The idea--or rumor--was that after a limited time, much like the GotY, Nellie would no longer be available to buy. It was unsure when this would happen. But for now not only could you get Samantha, you could get Nellie--and they could come in a two-girl Best Friends Collection at a discount! American Girl had also decided to stick its feet into movies, and again, were taking the initial risk with Samantha and going to release a movie to television, Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. A retelling of the Samantha stories with AnnaSophia Robb in the role of Samantha,5 they also featured Nellie prominently.
Nellie was hyped by the AG community quite a lot--and in one completely jackassed ego trip, one collector thought she was the one who had finally gotten AG to make Nellie, even though girls had been asking to see Nellie for years and years and years. There was dissent, of course. Some people didn't like that she wasn't in the classic mold--she was the first white girl to have the Josefina mold. Others thought Nellie was too pretty, with her fancy dress, nice shoes, clean clothes, and upper class lifestyle even though the end of Samantha's series had her adopted by the Gardners, and they thought that a real Nellie needed mousy brown hair and grubby work clothes, not these fancy to do stuff.
Still, it was Nellie. She was actually in the stories (that people half read)! She was going to be in the upcoming movie that fall! She had Lydia, the doll that Samantha had given her in Meet Samantha! And she had a book of her own, Nellie's Promise, that continued Samantha's stories and told one of her own! The AG community in many ways was bouncing with this--and still bouncing when I stuck my toes in about a year and a half later--and many now-grown collectors who had been all over Samantha went and grabbed Samantha's bestie as soon as they could. Nellie was essentially an extension of Samantha's collection--and boy do people get crazy over some Samantha.
Nellie O' Malley had caused a spark in the Historical line, and so AG decided maybe it'd be a good thing to continue this Best Friends thing for a while. And oh boy, did they.
2005: Felicity and Elizabeth: But She's....Blonde
|Elizabeth, oh Elizabeth.|
But AG didn't and in August 2005, some of her clothes started coming back. Then in September 2005, they brought her out with an all new look. Gone was Felicity's Rose Garden Gown--though available for a short time independently--and she was now in her previously Short Story outfit, the Traveling Gown, including changing her accessories to match.6 And coming with her was her best friend, Elizabeth Cole, straight out of the stories, along with her own book Very Funny, Elizabeth.
Well, straight out of the modified stories. Originally, Felicity's best friend Elizabeth was a small, brunette girl with brown eyes and a very quiet demeanor. But this doll, this character, this Elizabeth was different. She again had the Josefina mold (and theories were that this was to help distinguish best friends from their classic molded buddies). But she was not brunette and brown eyed at all. She had pale blond hair and bright blue eyes. AG stated that Elizabeth had been changed to her new look both to distinguish her from Felicity and to more closely match the actress in the upcoming movie, Felicity - An American Girl Adventure. They stuck to that, and like Nellie, she was an addition to Felicity's collection.
Elizabeth's clothes didn't downplay her fancy, though. She came in a bright pink and white party dress reminiscent of Felicity's holiday gown in cut and style (if not design as it was a one piece dress). She had pierced ears--with removable gold post earrings, a first in the line completely!--and fancier white party shoes instead of Felicity's black buckle slip ons. Her accessories were more for a upper class party look instead of day to day stuff, including pearls, earrings, a fan, and a pinner cap instead of a simple round eared cap or mob cap. She was frou-frou, Elizabeth, and she looked all the part of the pretty girl to Felicity's rough and tumble tomboy. The story illustrations had been modified as well, and the very text of the stories was retconned to describe Elizabeth as a blond. Her additional clothes were very pastel and designed more for high living, and the few accessories she had as her own--including her own doll--were also pretty up there in style. Even her cloak was different--fancy green velvet instead of the bluebird cloak she had been given. And in her story, Elizabeth was now playing jokes and being a problem to her parents in complete contrast to her original quiet meek self.
Elizabeth went over among collectors, from what I saw--and note I was only getting one side, with all their issues I'm still going in deep on--like lead paint in a baby's nursery. The fandom turned their nose up at this imposter. They called her BarbieBeth or BlondieBeth and basically said she was another sign of the Barbiefication of American Girl. My thoughts on comparing AG to Barbie are deep and best left for other posts. But I didn't like Blond Elizabeth. I have never had a hard on for blond dolls, and I liked brunette Elizabeth. That was the girl my tribade had fallen for, and I resolved to somehow eventually get one even if I had to customize her myself. When Felicity joined my gang in 2006, she remained without her lover girl until I got a custom Elizabeth.
Elizabeth didn't help Felicity's dragging sales, partially because she was a huge departure from the original stories. But hey, Marisol had revamped the GotY line! So AG kept going with the best friends line.
2006: Molly and Emily: Hey, That's Not Linda or Susan!
|English Friend? What the shit is this?|
They would not. Instead, AG went way out to left field and grabbed Emily Bennett, releasing her in September 2006 as Molly's English Friend. She was the quiet redhead to Molly's over imaginative brunette, and had the Classic mold. (So how's that whole contrast thing you sold us for Elizabeth, AG? Anyways.) She got her own book--Brave Emily--and in the movie, got a very prominent role, even getting to tap dance and spend the majority of the movie in Molly's circle of friends. Her hair was longer than before--and retconned in the books out of its bob--but she was essentially the same. Her meet clothing was simple and practical for the most part--even her recital dress was somewhat all right--she showed World War II from the English side some, and instead of a doll like the two previous girl she got Yank, which she had gotten as a pet in Happy Birthday, Molly! She was even briefly integrated into the camping set when Molly got a tent.
In response to Emily, fandom tilted its head like a cat macro and went "AG, the fuck are you doing." English Friend? WHAT? No one had expected both Linda and Susan, but Emily half felt out of nowhere. She had, by canon, only stayed with the McIntire family for two weeks while her aunt was laid up with an illness, and while she had called Molly out on some shit--no, playing bomb shelter is kind of fucked up, my house got bombed, could you not--she wasn't Molly's any kind of long span friend, and only really factors in that one book initially. I actually harbored no ill will towards Emily, even if I ultimately never got her because World War II is not my favorite era of History by a long shot. I liked that AG actually dipped out of the country for Molly's friend, even if the span of the collection made it look like Emily somehow packed four seasons of time with Molly into two weeks.
But many times you can't tell fandom shit, and fandom--digging on the books most of them hadn't read in years--insisted this was terrible and wrong and out of nowhere.
Alas, poor Emily. You tried.
2007: Julie and Ivy: No Clothes for Chinese Girls
|Hip and cool and funky and with 1/3rd of all the clothes Ivy ever got.|
Then Julie released in September and bam! It was two dolls at once--Julie and her best friend, Ivy Ling, a Chinese American girl who was all over Julie's series. I think--and don't hold me to this--that almost no one was expecting Ivy. Julie yes, but not Ivy. The pattern was that best friends came out with movies--that had happened twice, and that made it tradition if you knew an Aggie. So was Julie getting a movie? Was Ivy ushering in a new era of Best Friend freedom? Would we get besties without movies? Whatever, who cared, I didn't care because it was American Girl's first Asian Historical! She had Jess's face mold with some modifications to the eyes to make them more "almond shaped"--insert side eye here--and she too, was paired with her best friend in a purchasing collection. Ivy had pierced ears with removable earrings, accessories, and her Chinese New Year's dress she and Julie had picked up in San Francisco's Chinatown.
And that was it. Really. Where Emily, Elizabeth, and Nellie had come with two or three outfits at release--and pajamas to boot--Ivy had none of that. Not even sleepwear. Not even a mini-doll--not until 2011, four years after her release. And the way AG markets dolls, they weren't going to put Julie's clothes on Ivy in any displays. So Ivy was left out in the goddamn cold, and I for one was furious at the goddamn lack of anything. Ivy did gymnastics. She had outfits shown in her stories and in Julie's. Shit, most of the other girls had things that weren't anywhere in the books, that was AG's new mold of working. Ivy had come out with her best friend, they had planned this, so where was any thing for her to wear or do? We never got it. The only other thing Ivy saw, in all her years as Julie's best friend outside of her mini-self, was her rainbow romper set--something I like and will review because it reminds me so much of the 80s ones I wore.
Ivy got shafted and she deserved better. We all deserved better. But this is what we got--a half ass inclusion of an Asian American girl, as a tag along to the white girl, who didn't even get to have the sleepover that the others did cause she had no PJs. AG had seriously dropped the goddamn ball.
Le sigh. Who's next on this best friend roster?
2008: Kit and Ruthie: The Great Best Friends Depression
|Back to the white girls, I see.|
Ruthie had been all over Kit's series and her story, Really, Truly, Ruthie, actually gives her a huge part in Kit's family not getting evicted from their home. But Ruthie is what I'd call meh. Again, like Elizabeth she was the girly girl to Kit's tomboy, the fairy tales and fluff and money to Kit's reporting practicality and poverty. Except that Kit's collection then started taking on a notably rufflier look and her more boyish clothes were retired. So what did Ruthie add, except the continuation of best buddies with movies? Nothing. She got more clothes, and she helped promote the movie, and she led to Kit's collection girling out a lot. That's pretty much the bones of it.
Since I never really gave Ruthie much mind beyond getting her book and her pajamas that may or may not stay here, I don't have a lot to say on her. We'd been seeing best friends for years now at this point, it felt like an inevitability that she'd come with Kit's movie, and we were starting to really feel the plodding on of the line.
2009: Chrissa, Sonali, and Gwen: Crash and Burn
|I thought you said you weren't doing two best friends! Damn it!|
Around December, leaks of the new girl on the website came up, including a puzzle that intended to let people only see one bit of her at a time. It was retroflashed to find the image, and we could see all but the new girl's face. Then a catalog leak let the fandom let us know that not only would we get Chrissa Maxwell as our Girl of the Year, we were getting two more dolls--Sonali Matthews and Gwen Thompson. Both girls would come out in doll form and, since the message this year was about friendship and combating bullying, they featured in the movie. A movie? For a Girl of the Year? Whoa. This was a lot of firsts. A first movie for a Girl of the Year and two best friends. Maybe they'd get their own books, or small side collections, or something really cool to make the line stand out. AG was getting ambitious. Would this lead to better things for the Girls of the Year?
I'll pause for laughter. Because this is when AG fucked it up.
After so many years of being pushed to buy two-doll collections, AG now wanted us to buy three dolls within the span of a year. Furthermore, Sonali and Gwen came with the clothes on their backs, a book about friendship--the same one for both of them--and shit else. They were essentially large add-ons to Chrissa and if I thought Ivy's screw over was bad, this was especially egregious.
This was not going to fly, especially not with a recession starting to really take hold. I jumped all over Sonali--she had a new face mold and she was brown and pretty, and if there's one thing that I'll reach for in AG, it's a doll of color. I got her at midnight of release9 and itched and bounced for her to arrive. And then promptly told the rest of Chrissa's mediocre collection to take a hike.
Yes, Chrissa is the release that started to drag AG's Best Friends collection straight down. Chrissa's collection did terribly and she was a total flop in the Girl of the Year Line. Sonali was something new and clean, but Gwen was basically a common looking doll in a new outfit--she looked 100% like #12. Chrissa was bland and--besides her dipping lightly into arts and crafts--was more like a reactor instead of an actor. Most of what happened in her stories and in her movie happened to her, with little action from her.
Furthermore, AG had to deal with controversy in the new journalism media latching on to Gwen as being a homeless character. In the books, it's clearly explained that after Gwen's dad did the old skip off, her mother and her lost the house. However, Gwen is telling this as her past, after her mother and her have gotten a new place to live. The media dug their hooks into the whole "Homeless doll sells for $95" and a lot of flapping and squealing made AG look bad.
Chrissa sank like a stone. AG ended up selling many of her things as add-ons to the modern line (the first time this was heavily done) and was still trying to move stuff years down the line; I was able to pick up her meet clothes for a purchase with purchase, something I've never been able to do since, as well as Gwen's.
At least this later showed why Molly getting both Linda and Susan would have been a terrible idea.
2011: Marie-Grace and Cécile: Two Girls, Six Books, One Bad Idea
|Could have had it all. Instead we got half.|
Then the rumors started out again with the 25th anniversary of American Girl. They were releasing special limited edition minis--twelve of them. People can math, and there were only ten historicals, including the girls in the vault. It was clear that a new historical was down the pipeline, just like Rebecca had come out after Samantha was put away. Maybe it was two of them? We'd find out more at a special cruise for AG or something that no one I knew went on.
It eventually came out that our new Historical was upper class and black! Well, one of the two girls coming out was black. Wait, two in one era? So AG was going to try the launched best friend thing again, like with Ivy (who had finally gotten her mini-doll)? Yes. Yes they were. And this time instead of giving either girl full prominence in the series and making the other the best friend, both characters would be sharing the six book series. The books--back and forth--would be over the span of a year in 1853 New Orleans during the time of the yellow fever outbreak, written by collaborating authors for each girl. Marie-Grace Gardner and Cécile Rey would be a true best friends collection, each with their own meet book, and the two girls would be sharing a lot of their items, some clothing, and even their books! Won't that be fun? Maybe this would get the best friends to work if they were actually intertwined and one wasn't an add on to the other. Equal balance, equal billing, practically equal items.
Okay, first of all I'm not one to downplay history or any of the things that happened during it. Every era has something interesting to learn about. But this is not a prominent era that kids or most people are going to know. People know certain time chunks, even if they get their names wrong,10 and this was not a time chunk people knew. Granted, there's not many spots between the Louisiana Purchase and the outbreak of the Civil War to focus on the region, and AG was trying to tag onto the idea that as a historical left she'd be replaced with someone near the era that just went out. Antebellum South would have worked as a time just as well, but for some reason AG focused on the yellow fever outbreak. There's been a lot of historic epidemics in US history, but this one seemed strange to make the focus.
Meanwhile, many idiots in fandom mewled and puked that the idea of these Ebony and Ivory best friends was not realistic. There was no way this was historically accurate, because black people couldn't have been friends with white people before civil rights. They just weren't allowed. Segregation! Slavery! History! Yes, AG fandom is full of dumbasses, I've known that for years. Blacks and whites were able to connect without all blacks being slaves. And NOLA has been known for being a mix of people for a long time. When the Americans took the land and acted like segregation and separation needed to get into thicker lines, quite a few people looked at them like "the fuck you talking that shit, we have been doing pretty decent here for more than a little bit even with our issues, get your American shit attitudes out." I did my best to ignore that stupid and looked at something more pressing from my view.
NOLA has always had a free black population, and had for quite some time at this point in history. There was no reason that Cécile couldn't have held the era alone, or told the stories alone, with Marie-Grace as her best friend, and had all the books written about her. She had a lot going for her--she was rich, she was black, she was free and had been her whole life. She was French and educated. Her brother went to goddamn France just to paint. Yes, Marie-Grace had a new face mold and an interesting look, but she really felt like the white half to make the brown pass. And the division of the books didn't help either character out at all. We could have had a really good series about a free black girl in NOLA, and her white best friend if we had to have that. Instead we got half stories for both, and this made them suffer terribly.
From the time of release, Marie-Grace and Cécile plodded along. I--like Sonali and Kanani, who had gotten there that January--preordered Cecile, mostly to avoid having to get her right after work and to get the extra paper dolls, and when she got here I was squealing with delight. She's a beautiful doll. But she and Marie-Grace were released together, and they both failed to thrive together. The books were terribly illustrated, and the stories were weak with the division between the two. By that very fall, the NOLA girls had already been on sale quite a few times to move things--I got Marie-Grace's skirt set on sale in Denver in 2011, only a few months after release, during a 25% off sale. Prices went as low as 60% off for the dolls and collection, and the girls dropped down at one point to $50 each. This winter, their "holiday" clothes were quietly retired, and several items in the collections went on deep discounts and then were retired. I got many things for 25% to 50% off--most pressingly, Cecile's parlor desk--and even now, as we're looking at the end, many things are on sale still.
We could have had it all, rolling in the deep. Instead we got half, and both girls couldn't make it.
2014: Bye Bye Bye
|AG: Once again, asking Samantha to be the backbone to build something new.|
So here we are in 2014, looking at the end of the best friends line in about three weeks when BeForever launches--a relaunch to try and bring the Historicals back into the spotlight and relevance to get girls to love them again in a new time with different children and different focuses on history for girls of today. With, of course, Samantha to help pull her weight into this.
By August 28th, AG will have put Ivy, Marie-Grace, Ruthie and Cécile away in the vault forever, and AG will not do Best Friends ever again. I for one, am glad they're not going to. I like the concept of best friends and have made a few, and will continue to do so probably in my own collection. But the line didn't do what AG wanted, and that's make money. Mattel--like any company--is down for the bottom line, and people find two dolls a hard sell. Most children get at most one or two dolls before they're pressured to age out of doll time, and for those that keep going and stay collectors, they generally get one doll for an era.
AG is likely never going to do best friends again--certainly not with the refocus of BeForever. Ten years of best friends was a concept that tried over and over to take off, but the last two failures left it a broken bird, and several attempts were terribly executed. I especially feel that AG did both Ivy and Cécile wrong in making them have to hang on to white characters to come out. Ivy especially got fucked over and was hardly treated with the respect she deserved, never receiving anything close to the collections offered by her predecessors. Cécile was treated like half a collection instead of having her own, and in using her to try to breathe life back into the best friends line that was flopping along she didn't get a chance to stand alone. Caroline's release--and all her blond 1812 self--showed that there was no more best friends to be done, and AG is taking this revamp as a chance to end the Best Friends line that hasn't worked much for them. Nellie was probably the best hype from all of them with being the first--and tied to Samantha--but almost every other friend went over poorly.
A poster on AGC said a sentiment I agree with. The Best Friends line is done, and the sooner they fade away the better. The idea was a good one, but ultimately it didn't work. If you want best buddies, you're just going to have to make them.
Shit, it's what I had to do for Sarah.
1 90% of my Tumblr is hitting the reblog button, though I have my moments of actual posting things.
2 Are you gonna miss them? Maybe y'all should have been buying books over the years. Hie thee to the secondary market.
3 Which would mean making some fancy 1840s dresses. Ideas!
4 And now with the BeForever Launch, she's back. Things that make ya go hmmm.
5 She's now 20. Feeling old.
6 So a BeForever clothing remake before it was even on the radar. Everything old is new again.
7 I know, I know. I'm getting to it.
8 Y'all think I'm playing. I'm not.
9 Well, 10 pm at release. Time Zones.
10 EDWARDIAN EDWARDIAN EDWARDIAN.