Hayley, a Gene clone, appeared on shelves briefly in 1998
© 1998 by Kathryn E. Darden
On the horizon of the doll collecting world, visible for a brief time, a small, bright star that quickly disappeared... was it Haley's comet? No, just Hayley.
During the first couple of weeks of November 1998, doll collectors who haunt the aisles of toy stores noticed a new girl on the shelves of a few select Toys ìRî Us stores. A few inches taller than Barbie, manufactured by the Soft Luv company, Hayley came in eight different outfits with three distinct facial styles. Those of us who are Gene aficionados immediately recognized the similarities. For those of you who have not been paying attention, Gene was created in 1991 by Mel Odom, an award-winning New York artist and illustrator. Ashton-Drake, an affiliate of The Bradford Exchange, began marketing the Gene doll in 1995. Since then Gene's popularity has soared as she has won numerous prestigious doll awards and has become the focus of many feature articles in collector magazines and on the Internet. Gene dolls retails for between $69 and $129; on the secondary market retired editions of the Gene are valued at up to $800 per doll with limited editions commanding up to $1,500 per doll.
For a clone, Hayley was of fairly good quality and sold for a lower price than Gene; the five casual Hayleys sold for $29.99 and the three formal versions sold for $39.99 compared to the average Gene price of $80. Hayley was the same size as Gene with a similar body construction, although Hayley featured a twist waist which Gene lacks and a more pronounced clavicle. Hayley's face bore a resemblance to Gene, but her three facial styles were quite distinctive from Geneís and lacked Gene's sultry, long eyelashes. Her eyes varied from Gene's aqua blue to soft brown "doe eyes." Slight differences in hair color and hair style were evident and her hair was considered by many to be thicker and more luxurious than Gene's. The stand, packaging, plastic head protector, ribbons and wrist card were certainly similar to Geneís, but the pale pink Hayley box was considered by many to be more attractive than the plain white Gene box, and Hayley's box featured an elegant sticker with the Hayley logo to hold the tissue together inside the box.
On the downside, Hayley's vinyl was of cheaper quality, showing more seam than Gene, and her twist waist was inclined to break. I also heard several reports of Hayleys cracking, especially the Blue Jersey version. Her jewelry has been described as "laughable" particularly the earrings made with beads and a straight pin. Gene collectors were polarized into two camps: ìlove herî and ìhate her.î Many Gene collectors felt Hayley was the ideal practice doll for customizing while others thought she was ugly: period!
Her outfits were quite different from Gene fare, although some of them had certain similarities. Certainly Blue Jersey looked somewhat like Midnight Romance, the Brown Check ensemble had a classic Gene look a la Hello Hollywood Hello, Good-bye New York; and Red was very much like Red Venus, especially the jewelry. Her Black Leather, Yellow, and Pink formal were totally unique, however, and the Leopard and Pink/White outfits, while reminiscent of the Gene era, had no direct Gene counterparts.
Hayley did not attract much attention as she sat on display at a Toys "R" Us Nashville. A few casual shoppers considered her, but there was no hurry to buy; Hayley wasnít moving. I picked up the Brown Check Hayley to add a little variety to my Gene collection, but I thought I would see if the dolls went down in price before I picked up the others. However, on the Internet something was happening. Gene collectors discovered that Hayley was not in all Toys ìRî Us stores; in fact, she appeared to be in only a handful of stores. This caused a minor stir and a few die-hard Gene collectors began to try to find Hayleys at their local Toys ìRî Us, and having no luck there, resorted to the world wide web. I decided I had better go investigate.
On Monday, November 23, the Hayley section was still overflowing at the Toys ìRî Us in Nashville. I asked the Toys ìRî Us assistant director, Robbie West, what he knew about these dolls. Robbie responded that all he knew was it was some kind of test market. This piqued my curiosity so spotting the director of the store, Carl Olsen, I asked him what he had heard about Hayley. He answered, ìNot much, just that we are one of three stores in the Atlanta district that is carrying them as a test market.î Carl informed me that there are 16 Toys "R" districts in the U.S., but later research revealed that only a few districts on the east coast received the doll. In Tennessee at least two stores received her, and I have heard through the Ashton Drake Gene forum that Hayley also turned up in Toys ìRî Us stores in New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
I wisely decided I really should buy a couple of more styles (like, one of each!), but when I rolled my shopping cart (full of Hayleys) to check out, an odd message appeared on the cash register screen when the clerk tried to ring up the dolls; "Hazard. Do Not Sell". The cashier called the director who referred her to the manager of the doll department who turned around and called the director back and asked him if he had received any Hayley information. Eventually the doll manager found a sheet she had received from the main office saying all Hayleys had been recalled due to a lawsuit and that Toys "R" Us would have to pay heavy fines if they sold them. Upon overhearing this discussion, one overzealous shopper literally tried to buy a Hayley right out of my cart and caused quite a scene until she was turned away. Later that day the Hayley shelves had been stripped bare except for a few boxes on the highest shelves, but the display case still featured all the Hayleys.
The story behind the confusion at Toys "R" Us is that Mel Odom, creator of Gene, and Ashton-Drake, the distributor of Gene dolls, filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court in Chicago to stop Toys "R" Us, Inc. from selling and distributing clones of Gene. In addition to the request for an injunction, the lawsuit asked the court to award Odom and Ashton-Drake compensation for copyright infringement and to order Toys "R" Us to turn over all profits realized through the sale of Hayley.
Odom and Ashton-Drake state in the law suit that Hayley is a "blatant copy" of Gene. In the lawsuit, Ashton-Drake said that Toys "R" Us approached Ashton-Drake on more than one occasion asking them to sell Gene dolls to Toys "R" Us. When Ashton-Drake refused, Toys "R" Us entered into what Ashton Drake is calling an unlawful agreement with the Soft Luv company to manufacture and distribute Hayley. Toys "R" Us, according to the suit, created the Hayley clone "to unfairly trade on the success of 'Geneí and in so doing Toys 'R' Us willfully infringed and violated the rights of Mel Odom and Ashton-Drake in the 'Gene' doll's copyright and famous trade dress."
In a court hearing on Friday, Nov. 20, the Federal Court entered an order in which Toys "R" Us agreed to stop selling and producing the Hayley dolls while the suit is pending. By Monday morning when I went to buy my Hayleys, the powers that be at the main Toys ìRî Us office had already programed all store registers to post the ìHazardous. Do not sellî message.
After my foiled foray into Toys ìRî Us, I began to hunt for a few Hayleys on the Internet. Everywhere I went, the common suggestion was ìTry Chevyís web site.î Chevy Anz from Knoxville, Tennessee, has collected Gene for over a year and has one of each Gene doll and one of each costume except convention items. Citing her favorite Genes as Monaco, Blue Goddess, and White Hyacinth Chevy was encouraged by her husband to invest in Hayleys and sell them on the Internet through a web site he created for her. ìHe even dashed out to a TRU trying to beat the news of the court order for me while I was in New York City,î says Chevy.
Due to the success Chevy had with her site, she became a reluctant "expert" on Hayleys. "This whole thing started with me wanting a couple of Hayley outfits and posting that I'd like to split one with someone on the Ashton Drake board. I received nearly 100 emails that day with people wanting to do the split with me, and the first two emails got the nude dolls. Everyone else begged me to run down to TRU and pick them up. After two days of this it turned into a 24-hour-a-day adventure, and I turned my house into a shipping department and was making lengthy road trips to get what everyone wanted."
Chevy let her customers purchase their choice of NRFB Hayleys, nude dolls, outfits, or shoes only. She found the most popular Hayley was Blue Jersey "for her hair and face, not the dress." The most popular outfit was Leopard, but Chevy preferred Brown Check and Pink "as long as you replace the tacky jewelry." Chevy said she thought all the Hayley's clothes were "kicky" and Gene looked "cool" in them," so she was keeping one of each Hayley outfit to dress her Genes in. "The clothes were well made, but some of the fabrics were cheap. The shoes are completely fabulous, and they stay on Gene's feet better than her own shoes!"
Chevy tracked Hayley to the TRU's in Knoxville, Kingsport, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as two stores in Queens NY, and a store in Phillipsburg NJ. She estimated the Tennessee stores got about 60 dolls, and the store in Middle Village, Queens, seemed to have over 100.
In Knoxville stores Chevy saw many Red and Yellow and very few Brown Check, White/Pink, and Leopard. In Queens she found they seemed to have equal numbers of each variety. Chevy reported an odd phenomena that was shared by other Hayley seekers; most TRU stores didn't even know they had Hayleys in the store.
"I think Gene collectors are the ONLY people who would be interested in Hayley," stated Chevy, who decided not to keep a doll for herself after providing me with her last nude, a broken Leopard.
Marcia Friend in Matawan, New Jersey, also qualified as a Hayley expert after writing an article for the ìFashion Doll Sceneî newsletter. After providing me with a NRFB Leopard and a Red Hayley, she shared some of her experiences. Marcia purchased her dolls at TRU in New York City (where they cost 10% more than elsewhere) and in four New Jersey locations: East Brunswick, Hazlet, Freehold and Woodbridge. She selected the Blue Jersey, Red, Black Leather, Leopard, Yellow, and the Pink gown. ìI decided against the White/Pink suit because the pink stitching on the suit looked really cheap.î Altogether she purchased about 20 dolls and sold the extras, keeping four for herself.
Marcia agreed with Chevy that the Leopard outfit ìwins hands-downî as the best outfit and her favorite doll was a toss-up between Blue and Pink. ìI bought the Leather one for the clothes. I did not like the Red one at first, but when I realized how long and luxurious her hair was, I decided to get one.î
The cheap quality of Hayley, especially the rough seams, are a drawback for Marcia who thinks Gene has a much more sophisticated expression (partially due to the eyelashes) and better skin tone. ìI think Hayley's hair and shoes compare favorably to Gene's. The clothes are closer to a "Fashion Avenue" quality, but I really like the Leather outfit, the Leopard jacket and Leather dress, and the green pants from the Yellow outfit. I was impressed that they had real pockets.î
While Marcia also found most employees didn't know who or what Hayley was, one manager told her that Soft Luv toys is owned by TRU and they make a lot of the exclusive doll lines for TRU. Another manager told her that a woman had come in a few days earlier and purchased $1500 worth of the Leather and Leopard dolls.
ìI think Hayley will be back,î Marcia claimed. ìThe most likely change in her will be her packaging.î Marcia thought Hayley would probably appeal more to Barbie purchasers than to Gene collectors.
Linda Fustini purchased all eight of the dolls from two stores in Connecticut, one in East Haven and the other in Milford. One manager, who only carried five styles, told her he had five boxes of Hayleys which she believes meant he had one case of each style.
Linda had to go to the security area at the back of each store and a clerk brought the Hayleys out for her to examine. The dolls were never displayed to the public in the two stores.
Other collectors had similar experiences. On Long Island, New York, Ellen Boisen found six different stores that carried Hayley. Not only did Ellen buy one of each style for herself, paying the regular $30/$40, but she also picked up some extras ìto ship to a few poor Gene fans on the West Coast who were Hayley deprived (or is it Hayley challenged?).î Originally Ellen bought Hayley to try doing repaints and to share clothes with Gene, she stated, pointing out one person she bought Hayleys for was a well-known doll designer.
True to form, the majority of the stores did not even know they had Hayleys with only two out of the six displaying the dolls in a case. In the others stores Ellen had to ask for them at the pickup desk.
Ellen felt that while Hayley's clothing was "fun", it lacked originality. ìYou will notice that all of the daywear that has a jacket and sheath dress seems to be made from the same pattern, with very little variation, but Hayley's shoes and handbags are great!î She shared the common disapproval of Hayleyís jewelry calling it ìuninspired and cheap.î She was also disappointed in Hayleyís baggy stockings and felt the only attribute Hayley might have over Gene was the twist waist, but added ìnot if it breaks.î Once again Blue Jersey and Leopard scored top marks along with Pink which she liked ìbecause it is nothing like a Gene outfit.î
Another collector, Vicki White from Illinois, purchased a nude Hayley for $15 on the secondary market since the local Toys ìRî Us in Illinois did not carry the dolls. Her motivation was to use Hayley as a mannequin for fitting new Gene designs. Vicki found the quality to be ìway belowî Geneís. ìI don't think I would pay even what the retail was for her knowing how the seams were not sanded, etc. I feel even Barbie's quality is superior to Hayley's.î
In Wisconsin, David Proto purchased several Hayley dolls prior to any legal actions at TRU and through the secondary market. TRU informed David that there were only two areas where Hayleys were being test marketed, New York and Atlanta. Armed with that information, David called the TRUs in those areas and ordered two Black Leather, two Leopard, and one each of Yellow and Pink, paying $29.99 for each one plus a reasonable amount for shipping. David was not able to find all of the dolls through TRU. ìI had also wanted a Blue Jersey, but by the time that I got around to locating one, the legal action had started and the prices were too high.î
David bought his first Hayley out of curiosity. ìBlack Leather was my first, and when I saw how cool Gene looked in this outfit, I decided to investigate the possibility of wardrobe raiding from Hayley for Gene. I do not sew, and simply cannot afford to pay the prices that are charged for Gene related items.î The shoes were a big hit with David. "If they would have made closed toed plastic pumps (that really looked like pumps), I would have bought every Hayley I could get my hands on just for the shoes alone."
Although David agreed there truly is no comparison between Gene and Hayley, he found some advantages to Hayley besides her great shoes citing that some of the dolls have more hair than Gene. "Gene's hair is obviously a higher quality material, but if you happen to be someone who likes to redo hair, some of the Genes show way too much scalp when one attempts to change the original do."
David, Marcia and Linda all expressed some puzzlement about the lawsuit. "Aside from the obvious attempt at copying Gene's makeup on two of the dolls that do not even have the same shaped face as Gene, there really is no comparison," said David. "This doll did not change my mind about collecting Gene, nor would I buy one instead of a Gene, nor did it confuse me as a Gene collector," Linda stated.
Although Pam Jordan lived near a Hayley test market area in New Jersey, she had no desire to buy one because she felt Hayley was "a cheap rip-off" of Gene. "The quality obviously was lacking in the photos I saw, and I would rather save my money to buy more high quality Gene dolls." Pam adamantly supported the Ashton Drake lawsuit because she felt Hayley was obviously a blatant copyright infringement.
Hayley's time was brief; she only stood on the Toys ìRî Us shelves for three weeks, but the supervisor at the main Toys ìRî Us customer service department and the doll manager at the Nashville store both say they think Hayley might well be back on the shelves once the lawsuit is settled. Now one forlorn Brown Check Hayley still stands in the case with her box alone on the shelf above the display, apparently holding the spot for the anticipated return of Hayleys once the lawsuit is settled. Much like the comet, avid collectors will certainly be looking for signs of her return. One thing is for certain, whether or not Hayley returns to the shelves at Toys "R"Us, she has already made her mark on doll collecting history.
Part of this article appeared in Barbie Bazaar magazine.
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