Monday, 9 May 2016

Jesi Max

Barbie blooms in Paris

For the first time, Barbie, the doll who is now 59 years old, is featured in a major exhibition in a French museum, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, until Sept. 18.

“Barbie is more than just a toy; she is also a reflection of the mores of the times, and of their evolution.” It seems that she continues to evolve and reflect what is considered important from the time she was launched until today. She has adopted all the faces of the world. The exhibit shows unseen material from Mattel’s archives as well as Barbie’s historical legacy.

People may either love or hate Barbie’s silhouette, but she is a designer’s delight. She is into the latest fashion, new causes, multiple careers and numerous sports. She is photographed in glamorous events like Fashion Week, the Oscars, many celebrity evenings, with accessories created specially for the occasion.

Barbie was the idea of Ruth Handler and her husband Eliott. They met in Denver in 1932 and were married six years later and moved to Los Angeles. Ruth’s entrepreneurial spirit and Eliott’s creative talent complemented each other. While the idea of a doll that looked like an adult and with clothes and coiffeurs existed in France in the 18th century the poupées Barbie was outfitted according to the imagination of the young girls who owned her. Indeed, Barbie became an expression of a consumer society, even acknowledging that children were consumers themselves.

In 1945, Eliott Handler established Mattel, with a former colleague, Harold Matson. Despite the lack of supplies after the war, they began manufacturing furniture for dollhouses in wood and plastic. But it was the businesswoman, Ruth, who marketed Barbie within an industry dominated by men. Introduced in the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, Barbie was an immediate success. Due to many admirers, Mattel packaged her in Hollywood style, complete with a fan club.

Barbie had a major “body” change in 1977, to match Barbie the Superstar, reflecting the fashion world’s supermodels (1980-1990). In the year 2000, Barbie had a Britney Spears-like “adolescent” body, the dream of every young girl to have. Also, the Barbie princesses were launched, at the time when superheroes were very popular. Even Andy Warhol was inspired by her, acknowledging the fact that she is, indeed, an American icon, along with Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and the Coca Cola bottle. Since then, Barbie has reflected the interest of the times, whether it is Mad Men, The Wizard of Oz, James Bond, Hunger Games and many more. She is always the free and independent young woman, rather than a married woman with children.

One realizes that a huge team and a lot of work go into the conceptualization and the eventual creation of every Barbie. For more than half a century, designers, sculptors, hair stylists, graphic designers and many others have pooled their talents to create and reinvent this doll.

And what a delight to see Barbie, in all her glamour and glory, presented in Paris!

Jesi Max

About Jesi Max -

A writer and entrepreneur who works on the marketing and strategy side of fashion. In particular, her writing and professional work focuses on the art of narrative marketing and branding as it applies to fashion and luxury. She also is the author of, a new blog that looks at fashion from an intellectual perspective.

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