updated 24 Dec 2010, 06:22
user id password
Fri, Nov 26, 2010
Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Barbie: 50 years of independence
by Kumi Matsumaru

Since Barbie made her debut as a dress-up doll in 1959, she has charmed girls and women alike not just in her home country of the United States, but around the world--including here in Japan. Her facial expressions and fashionable outfits have changed with the times, always reflecting the concerns women had about fashion, as well as their political and professional aspirations.

"Everybody knows Barbie, and many women in Japan played with her when they were girls. But Barbie's history isn't particularly well known here," says Ikue Nakamura, spokeswoman for Matsuya department store in Ginza, Tokyo, which will be hosting a retrospective called Barbie & Ken 50th Anniversary.

"We'll be looking back over her 50-year history with 400 dolls and related items in four different sections. The exhibition will pay particular attention to Barbie's 'mod period' with about 150 items from the era," Nakamura says. "That was the period that really began to see her associated with current trends."

The period between 1967 and 1976 -which was named for the 1960s mod scene in Britain-saw Barbie with a fresher, more youthful look than she had previously sported.

"Wild 'n Wonderful" Barbie is clad in a geometrically patterned minidress and shocking orange boots. "Lamb 'n Leather" Barbie is seen in a gorgeous white fur jacket and matching cap, with a hint of a plastic pink outfit peeking out from beneath. Even more colorful is the "Groovin' Gauchos" Barbie: a red-headed Barbie wearing gaucho pants replete with psychedelic patterns.

Barbie models from the preceding 1959 to 1966 era--the "Vintage Period" section--are more conservative and nostalgic, with their heavier makeup and well-formed eyebrows. They often appear in outfits befitting Hollywood starlets, such as long pencil skirts, long form-fitting coats or A-line dresses with distinctive head-dresses.

"After establishing her position as a fashion leader during the mod period, Barbie truly entered the workforce in the 1980s," says Nakamura, referring to a collection of profession-based outfits, including that of a nurse, rock musician and athlete. Her selection of careers reflected the growing opportunities in the workforce for flesh-and-blood women. Throughout her working life, Barbie also has been an astronaut and even a boot-camp drill instructor.

Last winter, Mattel Inc.--the company that makes Barbie--held an online vote for what the doll's next career should be. Visitors to the Web site were given a choice between architect, anchorwoman, environmentalist, surgeon and computer engineer.

The company says it received more than a half million votes, with computer engineer winning among women and anchorwoman among the girls. Mattel has since released the new computer engineer Barbie, complete with a binary-code patterned T-shirt, glasses, a Bluetooth earpiece, a smartphone and a laptop.

"Japan's Licca-chan doll likes to be with her friends and family, but Barbie is an independent woman," says Nakamura. "That is part of the reason Barbie has had such a variety of professions."

Barbie & Ken also highlights the doll's impact on fashion. Top names from the world of couture have contributed outfits for the fashion doll. In fact, according to Nakamura, it is not that unusual for designers to approach Mattel in the hope of designing clothing for the best-dressed figure.

Among the big names are "Christian Dior Barbie," which features her in a white jacket and black skirt, topped off with a brimmed hat that evokes the fashion house's early years; "Kate Spade Barbie" is outfitted in a sporty colorful pink coat with green pants--the brand's signature color-and accessorized with a basket trimmed with leather handles: one of the US brand's most popular items.

"Armani Barbie" comes with an evening gown adorned with the gorgeous embroidery for which Giorgio Armani is known.

"This event will mark the Japanese release of the 'Louboutin Barbie," a 66,150 yen package of three Barbie dolls with heels and boots designed by topnotch footwear designer Christian Louboutin," Nakamura says.

Nakamura adds that you now even can purchase a set that includes a Barbie doll and matching hair color, lip gloss or nail polish for the doll and yourself.

According to Nakamura, the 400 items will be displayed in different ways. At the center of the venue, Barbie will be shown walking the runway, while elsewhere, visitors will get a glimpse of her home life.

Visitors to this exhibit will come away with a new appreciation of Barbie: She not only changes her clothes, she changes with the times.

"Barbie & Ken 50th Anniversary" runs Dec.8-27 on the eighth floor of the Matsuya Ginza department store in Tokyo. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (until 9 p.m. Dec. 17-24). Admission is 700 yen for adults, 500 yen for university and high school students. For further information, call the department store at (03) 3567-1211 .


More stories:

Black is the new pink for Barbie
First ever collection of Barbie apparels from Jaspal
Tattoo Barbie provokes parents
Barbie fashion show
Barbie the quintessential fashion icon
Fabulous at 50


more: barbie
readers' comments

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.