It is known that originally "Bild" Lilli was conceived as a pin-up novelty item, but she evolved into a toy for children, and after having been banned in toy shops in Austria she would later be found everywhere as a toy with less sexy, more playful garments. Fab-Lu Ltd., (Luften Ltd. and also known as Farber-Luft, Ltd) located at 133 West 28th Street, New York, NY, would around this time manufacture and also market themselves a doll called Babs, a complete knock-off of Barbie and made from Lilli moulds minus the earrings and shoes. Up to this point, it is believed they just manufactured the dolls, with the heels and earrings, for other distributors. They joined in on the band wagon and jumped on poor Lilli’s back, so to speak. Perhaps not for the first time, that is to say, ardent men jumping on her back, Lilli’s pursed lips are justified.
She had a boyfriend, (or was he a pimp? her beard? or worse, a “john”?) a Ken doll copy called Bill, (whose packaging made him look like a gay twink in the photo and a strident overly-confident gay male Mad Men hooker himself in the drawings - after all they claimed he was an "escort") and little sister (who looked like she had Down's Syndrome in relation to the other dolls) named, of all things, Randy, which was a complete, if only physically sculpted copy of the Tammy doll by Ideal (as was Sindy of England by Pedigree, the difference being it was under licensed authorization from Ideal Toys). The Randy shown in the catalogue was actually a real Tammy doll with an ink spot on her cheek to legally worm her way out of a lawsuit from Ideal Toys, which ultimately occurred in any case. All of these dolls’ wardrobes were identical copies of German Lilli’s, Barbie’s, Ken’s, Ideal’s Tammy and Pedigree’s Sindy doll clothing. However, interspersed with these clothes were other garments which still reflected the “hard woman," “Lolita," and “Queen of Outer Space” aesthetic.
All of the costumes had intriguing, overtly sexy titles and the “pseudo” fashion angle was constantly made present. It is hard at this time to know if the original "Bild" Lilli doll was ever presented at Toyfair in America, although it is believed that it was at some point as it is a fact that the German "Bild" Lilli doll was imported into the United States. Marshall Field’s department store sold a “Bild” Lilli imported from Germany in the usual ovoid clear celluloid tube marked “Lilli Marlene” and it was the famous toy company Brio in Sweden who imported the German Lilli to that country. The catalogue is different from the German ones and quite graphically clever. While the German Bild Lilli and very soon after the Bild Lilli first version “Hong Kong” Lilli was used as a base to create a souvenir doll for the French Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 (She was dressed as Marie Antoinette of all people. From giving “head” to losing head all in one doll’s lifetime - imagine!), it is known that Fab Lu-Ltd. did present at Toyfair and that it was their explicit intention to create a Barbie doll copy to appeal to frugal parents and less-monied clientele.
Thus we can find a lot of mint-in-box Babs outfits, (many of which are not illustrated in the only known booklet and some which are the same outfits but in completely different fabrics then those mentioned in the booklet -and for which they themselves pointed out - they had the right to do without consumer notice) and the booklet, just like the famous Barbie booklets, is an intriguing testament of the less refined, slightly more racy teenage fashion doll of the early sixties. Babs was sold in England through Chad Valley (the famous British dollmaking company). Small changes, such as changing Randy's name to Mary Lou, were the only difference, made for the English market. This particular change was necessary due to the ironic fact that the expression "randy" is British slang for the American english equivalent of "horny" and considering Bab's look and Lilli's sexual inuendo origins, this change was essential to create a more commercial venue for the doll. You couldn’t have a fat faced doll, whose “sister” and “cousins” had clearly the reputation, rather admittedly, of that of hookers, named “Horny” on British toy shelves...could you? That would be too real and certainly too weird, for comfort.
Anyhow, Babs of yet another type of hard plastic and strung (with elastic) like early 20th - century dolls (and like "Bild" Lilli in all of her versions), had her first collection of clothing along with her boyfriend and sister, comprising in total of 66 “complete ensembles fashion-inspired by World-Famous Couturiers in Paris, Rome, and New York.” What an exaggeration! It was like saying Zsa Zsa Gabor was the Queen of England. Her catalogue remarked:
The reality of the Babs wardrobe left a lot to be desired. It was incredible how poorly the doll was made, and one only wonders, since the outfits were a dollar each and often copies of Barbie clothing while Barbie’s outfits were only two or three dollars, why most people did not opt for the finer quality of Barbie or other dolls. I imagine most did.
But Babs outfits were sassy, fast girl-named, and had the cheapest accessories possible moulded clumsily in injection moulds. A certain class and milieu of teenage girls must have loved this creature. She was hot stuff and because of this evident fact, the entire effect is an extremely important social message. The outfit names were dead giveaways which alluded to the golddigger, brassy tart look of the doll.
To name just a few, such as Golden Charmer, Beach Beauty, Let’s Go Formal, Date Bait, Light of Love, Rip Tide, Cummerbund Cutie, Aint She Cute?, FloraDora, Sugar and Spice, Peek-a-Boo, Big Bertha, Bare Midriff, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Femme Fatale, Blaze O’Glory - Blaze O’Glory and Blaze Starr were famous strippers of the era!- and Cream Puff made her intentions quite clear. Wedding Day was incredibly vulgar yet described as “a rare and exquisite creation.” But, one may ask; What sleazebag gave these names to doll clothes? Well, they all were keeping with the hooker theme of the first Lilli doll, one supposes.
High fashion looks were described as haute mode which was not only an incorrect use of the French language but quite an inaccurate description of the rather tawdry mood of the overtly sexy clothing. Words like “daring," “tight-fitting," “filmy," “dainty" and “dreamy” were interspersed frequently in the over-zealous and self-approving snazzy text. There was also an omnipresent plastic orchid corsage which was placed with everything. You could expect to see it even with tennis and beach outfits! (only kidding, she wasn’t THAT grossly vulgar!)
Some of the outfits in Babs catalogue are identical to the original Lilli clothes from Germany, often in the exact same fabrics and colours. The patent leather-style belts were often the exact same ones, with identical buckles as the German-made ones as well. She well could go hitch-hiking from anywhere on the Autobahn to USA Route 66 in her shorty shorts, calypso blouse, chunky high heel pumps and vinyl hair lace.
Some of the Lilli dolls made in Hong Kong, with the moulded-on heels and asterisk earrings - painted plastic or not, found in Europe have some of the original Lilli clothes styles actually sewn on the doll (without snaps of any sort) as well, these are identical “Bild” Lilli clothes made in the exact same fabrics, notably cotton twill and knit jersey. Go figure it out!
Many outfits for Babs nonethelesss were simply Barbie doll clothing knock-offs. Some of the most obvious were “Queen of Hearts” and “Sugar ‘N’ Spice" a copy of Barbie’s “Cotton Casual” (No. 912) from 1959 - 1962, “Let’s Go Formal" a copy of Barbie’s “Country Club Dance” (No. 1627) from 1965, “Light of Love” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz" blatant copies of Barbie’s various lamé sheath dresses such as “Golden Girl" (No. 911) from 1959 - 1962 and the darker lamé sheath called “Lamé Sheath” from 1963. Barbie’s well known “Let’s Dance” dress (no. 978) from 1960 until 1962 was the inspiration for, “Let’s Sit Down”...no, only kidding...it was for the outfit awkwardly named “Cummerbund Cutie" It was identical in cut and color although the seams left a lot to be desired. Bulky, bulky, bulky! It should have more aptly been called “CUMBERSOME CUTIE”!
“Shopper Stopper” was the copy of the Barbie outfit called “Busy Gal” (no 981) from 1960 until 1961. The famous “Solo in the Spotlight” (no. 982) from 1960 to 1964 for Barbie, in itself a copy of a French haute couture creation of the 1940s, was featured in the Babs catalogue as nothing less than “Femme Fatale" although a little shorter in length, of course! The tulle fishtail was a skimpy wisp of cheap net on the Babs version. “Big Bertha” for Babs was a copy of “After Five” (no. 934) from 1962 until 1964, and “Movie Date" (no. 933) for Barbie in 1962 and 1963 was interpreted as the ultra-sleazy sounding “Cream Puff” for Babs.
“Pert and Pretty” for Babs was a copy of Barbie’s “Garden Party” (no. 931), 1962-1963 and “Sun-Back Sensation” for the Babs doll was a copy of “Suburban Shopper” (no. 969) from 1959 until 1964 for the Barbie doll. Babs outfit called “Slim Sheath” was a copy of the “pak” item “Silk Sheath” for Barbie in 1962 and 1963. Other separates available for the Barbie doll, known and promoted by Mattel at the time as “fashion pak” items, were copied as well. Notably “Date Bait” ( as in “hook and bait, as in “hooker”) was Babs version of “Gathered Skirt” from 1962 and 1963.