Barbara Mansfield Sindy Fashion Designer 1974 to 1985

Valerie Sanders who designed Sindy’s first outfits in the 1960s is very well-known. It was she who adapted the original sketches from Tuffin & Foale, and subsequently from Mary Quant and Hardy Amies into Sindy and Paul original outfits, as well as adding a number of her own designs. When she left in June 1965, her assistant Lillian Oxford took over and she in turn added to the designs that Valerie had created before her departure. It is unknown when Miss Oxford, as she was called, left Pedigree but we know that in 1974 Pedigree sold a number of Mego designs repurposed for Sindy. Sindy’s 1974 wardrobe would have been assembled in 1973 so perhaps at some point Pedigree didn’t have a dedicated designer for Sindy’s clothes. Certainly, in the early 1970s what was shown in the trade catalogue and style leaflets didn’t always match what was sold.

 

What is less well known, is that from 1974 onwards Sindy’s wardrobe was designed by a young woman called Barbara Mansfield. Here’s her story:

After studying fashion and design at Canterbury College of Art, I worked for Marks & Spencers, where I designed lingerie and made the samples. I was based in Whitstable, but I travelled to London a fair bit to the headquarters in Baker Street.

In 1973, my mum saw an advert for an assistant to the soft toy designer at Pedigree. I applied and I got the job. We designed teddy bears and various television characters including Rupert the Bear, the Wombles and Bagpuss. Soon after I started, the company decided to expand the fashions for Sindy and I was asked to do this. I didn’t really have a title; I was just part of the Research & Development Department. I worked with lady called Sharon who designed the clothes for other Pedigree dolls and toys, and in the early 1980s Julie joined to help us both with the workload.

The brief was only that Sindy should be trendy, but appeal to young girls rather than be high fashion. The Sindy catchphrase became ‘the doll you love to dress’. To me Sindy was around 17 years old, out to work, but young enough for girls to relate to.

Shown right,  the 1976 Pedigree Trade Catalogue showing the new catchphrase.

Top Shop in Oxford Street 1975 

© London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)

I got my inspiration from looking round at what young people were wearing, looking at fashion magazines and wandering round the shops. All the fashion shops of the time were visited. This included trips to Oxford Street to visit the famous clothing stores such as Selfridges, John Lewis, and especially Peter Robinson which became Topshop. I visited all the well-known young women’s fashion chains Chelsea Girl, Dorothy Perkins, Etam, Miss Selfridge and Wallis, as well as independent boutiques. Fashion shopping was really exciting then, as there were so many new trends and styles.

I would also watch what was worn on TV programmes such as Top of the Pops, Tiswas, and of course Charlie’s Angels from America.

It was a time when everything was changing for young people so I thought about what I would wear as I was only 21 at the time, and like most young women I loved fashion and music.

In the office we had a large selection of fabrics. Our fabrics were brought in by fabric reps, and I would also visit markets and haberdashers. Fabric has always inspired me. I still do lots of sewing and it’s the fabric that gives me the ideas. The designs would just come. 

Sometimes I would find inspiration from a suggestion from a colleague but mostly from my head. I’m still like that to a degree. I picture what I want to make from the fabric.

Every year there were a number of outfits which had to be included in Sindy’s new wardrobe: a wedding dress, an evening gown, casual wear, night clothes and underwear. Everyday clothes that anyone would wear. Leisure clothes were also important such as riding gear, beach wear and dancing/exercise clothes. The rest was pretty much left to me. 

Throughout the year there were regular meetings on the next releases, they didn’t all involve me, but the brand manager would always be popping into my office to let me know what Pedigree were thinking. I would make-up dozens of designs for each garment for Sindy’s new clothing collection.

From these, perhaps 3 or 4 for each outfit would be chosen as a first selection for consideration. I think the big production meetings were probably twice a year. I would bring whatever I had been working on, and anything they particularly wanted would be discussed. Once the final choices were decided, I would make up a dozen or so of each design to go to Hong Kong. They would have to be exactly how the original design was so that the manufacturers could copy them exactly. 

Once the samples had gone to Hong Kong, it was out of my hands and the bosses dealt with any problems with the manufacturing. Normally the first samples that arrived back from Hong Kong for approval matched pretty well with what I had designed. But sometimes we found on manufacture that the approved fabrics had been substituted and there were sometimes raised eyebrows at a particularly unsuitable choice, so my manager would have to step in and reject the garment.

The photography for publicity, trade catalogues and leaflets were done by professional photographers. Sometimes in London, but other places as well. I guess cost came into it a lot. I would go with samples made by myself. I would help to set the dolls up and position them. The idea was that they should look as human as possible, so a lot of cheating went on. Dolls were sometimes bent and broken to look good and loads of pictures were taken (shown right 1981 ‘Mix n Match’ from the 1981 Trade Catalogue).

Every year, Pedigree also attended all the trade toy fairs in the UK (London, Birmingham and Brighton) and internationally such as the very large one in Neuremberg. Our job was to set up the shows before they opened which was always great fun and a lot of hard work!

I can’t remember having a particularly favourite outfit, mainly because I was designing what I would wear anyway, but I did enjoy designing the ball gowns and wedding dresses because they were a little different and I could be a little more artistic.

But, I do remember ‘Seaside Special’ very well (sometimes they had such corny names) because I remember thinking I need something like this for my own holidays!

In about 1978, two girls called Charlotte and Julie wrote into Jim’ll Fix It. They wanted to see where their Sindy dolls were made. They were given a tour of the factory and they had designed outfits which I made for their dolls, and also as a surprise, a full size one for them. 

I appeared on the show in the film clip, and with my boss in the studio to present them with their outfits. I bought a new dress from Wallis (which I absolutely loved) for the show.

As a result of this I went to meet the Emmanuel’s at their studio in London. They designed some lovely evening gowns for Sindy.

Probably the most memorable moment for me was the Princess Diana wedding dress. I had to watch the 1981 Royal Wedding very carefully and try to scale down the dress to fit Sindy. I was really pleased with the result. The dressed Sindy was shown a trade toy fair (I can’t remember which one, but my husband thinks it was Brighton). It had its own display spot complete with diamonds and a security guard. I don’t remember it going into production.

Princess Diana’s wardrobe had a huge influence on fashion in the 1980s and I would have been mindful of that when designing Sindy’s formal outfits and gowns. Although her wedding dress never made it into full production, the style certainly influenced bridal gowns and this influence can be seen in some of Sindy’s bridal outfits of the time (shown right 1983 ‘Beautiful Bride’).

Fashions of the 1980s were always interesting with some very vibrant styles. The music scene was very exciting too and also influenced fashions. There were a number of styles which we could adapt for Sindy, particularly from music movements like the New Romantics, female pop stars and girl bands. All of these shaped our high street fashions, and so all these trends were also incorporated into Sindy’s outfits.

I was made redundant in 1985 when the Pedigree factory closed. I was very sorry to leave, I had loved my job and working with the friends that I had made. As you can see, I still sew and I remain very interested in fashion and all the trends.

Like many I did grieve about the loss of the Canterbury factory and our Pedigree Sindy, and I am very glad that I am now able to add to her story.