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Bild Lilli - A History Catches Up

From gold-digger to money-spinner, a doll that will never go into the 'Pink'

Anne Zielinski-Old interviews Germany’s premiere collector of the Lilli doll, Inge Astor-Kaiser. Reprinted from Fashion Doll Quarterly.

AZO Paris, Rome, London are all historically renowned centers of fashion. France was the originator of the fashion doll as far back as the 14th century. What in your opinion are the reasons the mother of the modern fashion doll was created in Germany?

IAK In my opinion the following factors are responsible “for giving birth” of Lilli in Germany.

The Lilli doll is the outcome of the coming together of the great commercial artist, Beuthien and the highly skilled sculptor, Beuthien as a more or less happy accident.

Beuthien who lived in Hamburg was inspired by the emergence of the new type of women that was so different from the “rubble women”. Hamburg’s international flair led to a liberal life style that attracted teenagers and young women to come and live here. The cheeky sexy looking pin up girls were more present here than in any other German city. They came here to imbibe and inhale the American way of life.

The idea to market the cartoon girl as a fashion doll grew after it caused a flurry of excitement mainly by the male readers of Bild Zeitung. However, it wasn’t easy at all to transform that two dimensional drawing into a cheeky sexy looking pin up girl. That this intention succeeded has something to do with the long and successful tradition of doll manufacturing in Germany in general and with the sculptural skills, the motivation and the tendency to perfectionism of Max Weißbrod who was the leading sculptor of the Hausser company, Germany’s biggest toy manufacturer at that time. Before Max Weißbrod was offered the modeling several attempts by other artists failed.

AZ Can you tell us about Hamburg and the Reeperbahm, how this section of the city was viewed at the time through German eyes?

IAK The Reeperbahn was and still is in some way the Broadway like amusement quarter of Hamburg. It has been famous because of it’s many theaters, cabarets, saloons, pubs and brothels. Hamburg was appreciated as the gateway to the world from the perspective of the Germans and the door to Germany from overseas at the time when traveling by air wasn’t existing yet or still in it’s beginnings. Thus Hamburg has incorporated international flair with its attraction to many people for centuries, a new style of life in particular for the young generation of Germans. Very successful ancient German movies, i.e. “Great freedom No. 7” and “The nights are long in Hamburg”, focus on the Reeperbahn life. The Beatles and other musical groups as well as actors and and entertainers came here in the sixties before they became world famous.

AZO When was Lilli first created and by whom? Can you say something about the creators...who suggested a doll was created, who conceived her, who designed her, sculpted her, and manufactured her...?

Illustration: Anne Zielinski-Old
Photography: Patric Old