Wednesday, September 12, 2012

History Lesson // Barbies


For me, a childhood without Barbies would have been endlessly monotonous. I spent hours each day carefully crafting my ballerina-pink room into its own seemingly self-sufficient plastic paradise. There was the mall, the pet shop, a few cars and a grocery store. Plenty of glitter, too. I would line my dolls up in a neat line, brush their hair, change their clothes and begin my own childlike narrative. But what was Barbie's story?

As wife of Mattel co-founder and mother to Barbara and Kenneth (that's not a joke), Ruth Handler was one of the few who had insight to both sides of the toy business- production and consumption. As she watched her daughter play with flimsy paper dolls, she noticed a gap in the market-- dolls that looked like adults as opposed to the ever-so-common baby doll. 

Ruth's husband Elliot initially rejected the idea, not willing to make such a bold maneuver into unknown toy territory. Upon visiting Germany shortly after her proposal, Ruth saw exactly what she was looking for: a successful doll for young girls modeled after an adult called Bild Lilli. She purchased a few and worked with a Mattel product developer to tweak the doll to appropriate American standards, and Barbie was born.

On March 9, 1959, Barbie made her debut at the American International Toy Fair. The date is also the official birthday of Barbie, whose full yet fictional name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Her biography states that she hails from Willows, Wisconsin and has younger sisters Skipper, Kelly and Krissy. It appears that Barbie has lived a well-experienced life, with over 40 different pets including dogs, horses and a zebra, and that she has dabbled in more than 100 occupations. She has a rocky romantic relationship with cutie Ken Carson with their last big break up released as a press report by Mattel in 2004. 

Barbie has become a cultural icon over the years, needless to say. She represents so much more than a childhood plaything and has served as a muse to a number of professionals across industries. Pop Art prince Andy Warhol added Barbie to his list of clients in 1985, creating yet another version of his signature multicolored portraits. Interior and graphic designer Jonathan Adler debuted his 3,500 square foot Barbie Malibu Dream House in 2009 complete with plenty of pink, velvet and "B" monograms. Project Runway mentor and author Tim Gunn created a small collection for Barbie earlier this summer with stylish separates and smart accessories (but who could expect less?). 



Oh, to walk in Barbie's shoes. She certainly gets the elite treatments. 

I'll admit- I still enjoy walking down the pastel pink Barbie aisle at stores, always amazed and slightly envious at what Mattel keeps coming up with. It undoubtedly brings back a multitude of memories. 

Sources: Original Barbie imageBarbie by Andy WarholJonathan Adler Malibu Barbie Dream House, Barbie Styled by Tim Gunn