LEGO Friends is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The real-world theme originally focused on girls, to bring more children into the creative world of the LEGO brick – but the company had tried to do that several times before…
While LEGO Friends may be the longest running theme intended for girls, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, it wasn’t the first time the LEGO Group had entered into the world of gendered toys. There have been several themes in the past that have tried to appeal to girls, though managed the success that Friends did. Indeed, it was the failure of some of these themes that taught the designers about what Friends really needed to achieve.
So, what were these precursors that would pave the way for Friends? Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, is jumping in the brick time-machine to take a look at the toys time forgot…
Trying to get girls to play with the brick isn’t a recent concept for the LEGO Group at all. In 1971, before the minifigure even existed, the Homemaker range was introduced. The sets were inspired by doll-houses, which were popular at the time. The first few were very basic, only including furniture in the primary colours available at that time. Of course the designers must have realised that furniture on its own wasn’t that exciting unless you had dolls to play with it, so the sets were got updated in 1974 with maxi-figs (nothing like a minifigure). This type of real-life role-play would go on to be featured in Friends, with another similarity being the unique mini-dolls.
Blocks celebrates 10 years of Friends with an exclusive interview in the next issue. To get the LEGO magazine for fans every month – at a discount and earlier than the shops – order a 12-month or 24-month subscription. Direct debit payment options are available too; to find out more get in touch via email@example.com.
After that came LEGO Scala in 1979, a jewellery line made out of bricks. If that sounds familiar then it should, because DOTS is the modern equivalent. What started out as cute bracelets and necklaces quickly changed into a theme most fans would rather forget. During the late 1990s and early noughties, a time when the LEGO Group wasn’t succeeding financially, Scala was turned into a cast of dolls. They came with plastic dogs and horses, along with different fabric clothing options and massive doll-houses. The reason Scala didn’t particularly do well is that it was no longer about the brick and seemed to be trying to compete with Barbie. It was cancelled in 2001 and perhaps the only thing that it taught Friends was to always put bets on toy horses.
Out of all the historic themes that have set the stage for Friends, the closest in style comes from the 1990s. Paradisa was a sub-theme of Town, used a lot of pastel pink, and was basically a sunny, seaside utopia. There were horse stables, beach cafés, yachts and fancy homes, a lot of which can be found interpreted in today’s Friends sets. While only 18 sets came out of Paradisa, its use of actual minifigures and exclusive elements made it quite popular, and it’s still collectible with fans.
If the late Scala sets were then combined with Paradisa, they would lead to Belville. This theme managed to run up until as recently as 2008, only four years before Friends was introduced. Again it focussed a lot on urban utopia, but there were also princesses, magical castles and witches this time, as the LEGO Group didn’t yet hold the Disney licence. The figures were yet again unique to the theme, although were a little reminiscent of Playmobil, but more detailed facially and with fabric accessories.
LEGO Friends learned from all of these predecessors. It took elements that worked from each of these themes, along with consumer research into what modern girls wanted to play with, and it has worked for a decade. Only Belville managed to survive longer than that, whilst other recent efforts like Elves and DC Girls were short-lived. Slearly, LEGO Friends does have some special formula – you can find out exactly what that is in Blocks magazine Issue 88.