As Barbie turns 50 on March 9, a raft of celebrations are taking place, including a catwalk show at New York Fashion Week.
You beautiful doll
We've heard of tiny fashionistas, but this one takes the proverbial biscuit (though probably doesn't eat it). Weighing in at just 7.25 ounces and 11.5 inches tall, Barbie is about to hit 50, but that doesn't seem to be cramping her style. The plastic doll, adored by little girls and abhorred by feminists, has, over the years, been dressed by some of the top designers in the world, from Givenchy to Armani. Yesterday, at New York Fashion Week, she took to the runway for the first time, with a collection put together by 50 designers including Vera Wang, Donna Karan, Badgley Mischka, Calvin Klein and, of course, Christian Louboutin on shoe duty.
Those shoes came in classic Barbie pink (that's PMS 219), with an iridescent glow, and were worn by every model, while the standout dresses (which won't be on sale) included Patricia Field's black-and-white one based on the original Barbie's swimming costume from 1959; a classic white column dress by Calvin Klein; a black-and-pink 1950s-style cocktail dress by Peter Som; a pink wrap dress by Diane von Furstenberg, and a typically gorgeous wedding dress by Vera Wang. (Some might consider this tactless as poor Barbie has never actually made it down the aisle. Shame on you, Ken.)
Of course, for the fashion world, Barbie is the ideal model. Her extraordinary vital statistics (her recently widened waist means that, when scaled up to human size, she is approximately five foot seven and 30-19.5-31) are perfect for the catwalk; she never gets spots; her hair is always immaculate; she loves designer clothes; and she's outlasted all of the original supermodels. That's probably why it is the grown-ups who remain most enamoured of Barbie. After all, in the days of hi-tech games and Miley Cyrus dolls, it's no surprise that sales of the Barbie dolls dropped 21 per cent in the last quarter. This means that concentrating on collectable Barbies (Hitchcock Barbie, complete with crazed crows, anyone?) and Barbie clothes lines may be Mattel's wisest decision - especially when the new designer du jour, Jason Wu, also makes collectable dolls for Fashion Royalty.
Accordingly, Babs's 50th birthday has concentrated on appealing to the grown-ups, with a raft of branded events around the world, endorsed by some of fashion's biggest names, from a Barbie exhibition in the super-hip Paris boutique Colette to a shop-in-shop and window displays along Third Avenue at Bloomingdale's. Also at Bloomingdale's will be Barbie mannequins created by the famous mannequin manufacturer Rootstein (who previously modelled their dummies on the likes of Agyness Deyn and Twiggy) wearing some of the creations from the catwalk show. An exquisite coffee table book, featuring hand-tipped fashion plates showing Barbie wearing couture outfits in fabulous locations, has been produced by Assouline in a limited edition of 2000, each costing a mere US$500 (Dh1,836).
Perhaps fashion's search for gilded youth has got a little out of control. Now that the fad for 13-year-old models has made a welcome retreat, and women like Sharon Stone, Madonna and Michelle Pfeiffer are proving that 50 is no longer the age to get a blue rinse and carpet slippers, the unrealistic body model that Barbie was previously accused of presenting to kids now seems to be more of a danger to its grown-up fans, some of whom have resorted to cosmetic surgery to emulate the toy.
And are we not in danger of appreciating Barbie only for her looks? After all, this is the doll who has had 108 careers in her lifetime, run for president four times, acted as a Unicef ambassador and become an astronaut, a zoologist and a surgeon. Like many real women, her talents are often overlooked simply because she is beautiful. Actually, children seem to have a rather more robust approach to dealing with this gallingly perfect woman. The standard procedure, once the initial adoration fades, is to chop off her hair, scrawl all over her in felt-tip pen and then dismember her, limb by limb, starting with the head - a process that, according to a 2005 study in Britain, is normal (and better meted out on a doll than a rival at school). One of the researchers, Agnes Nairn, told the Associated Press at the time: "The meaning of 'Barbie' went beyond an expressed antipathy; actual physical violence and torture towards the doll was repeatedly reported, quite gleefully, across age, school and gender."
And people think the fashion world is vicious and back-stabbing?