Under her spell
At this point, she’s earned that pink mansion. Barbie, the most iconic plastic female of all time, turns 50 this month. And middle age never looked so good. Despite arduous trips to the moon (Astronaut Barbie) and Kuwait (Desert Storm Barbie) and endless tanning under the SoCal sun (Malibu Barbie), she’s still wrinkle-free, wasp-waisted and trotting around on her tiptoes like a champ.
The Mattel doll debuted at New York’s annual Toy Fair in 1959, looking like a vampy Lucille Ball with curly strawberry-blond hair, dressed in a black-and-white bathing suit and tiny black mules. Before her debut, little girls played with baby dolls, and the tiny teenage fashion model (Barbie’s first career) was initially met with skepticism by toy buyers. But girls instantly went crazy for her -- and still do.
In the last 50 years, she’s been the subject of term papers, art exhibits, great debates, fashion collections and collector’s obsessions. But she’s taken it all in stride. She’s always been a woman of action, after all -- not sentiment.
For some of L.A.'s most successful fashion designers, Barbie and her perma-pink universe served as an initiation into sartorial realms. Below, they recount their fashion encounters with the pint-sized stunner:
Designer for Petro Zillia
I think Barbie was my introduction to the fashion world. My favorite outfit for Barbie [was] the halter top I made myself. It was the first piece of clothing I ever made -- basically a trapeze-shaped piece of fabric with four strings. But hey, when you’re 6, you think it’s genius. I can’t imagine growing up without my Barbie dolls -- they were practice for the future. Granted, I also thought that when you turn 18, you automatically looked like a Barbie. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
One of the 50 designers chosen by Mattel to present Barbie-inspired looks for a special birthday show held during New York Fashion Week last month
Barbie always captures the essence of any time in which she’s living. I played with Barbie and made clothes out of Kleenex and Scotch tape. It was very couture. . . . For the Barbie collection I used a lot of pink, and I also thought about my own made-up International Travel Barbie doll. I did a Jacquard logo trench, carry-on [bags]. It was very duty-free-glamour. . . . Obviously, there are people who have complete issues with the fact that she’s such a beauty. Why hate her because she’s beautiful? She can’t help it -- she was just made that way.
I remember getting a pink convertible Barbie car for my Barbie and dressing her up to go for rides with Ken. Dressing her up was my favorite part. I even remember having a Barbie closet for her with little plastic hangers.
Designer for Unhee
My most vivid memory of Barbie was making clothes for her out of paper towels. My Barbies were always scantily clad, but why not -- she had the legs! My favorite outfit consisted of these pink iridescent pants that were so tight, I had to put baby powder on her legs to get them on; an off-the-shoulder top I fashioned out of a Brawny paper towel, and her pink slide-on mules. I think my Malibu Barbie definitely influenced my mode of dress. But as a little Asian girl in a predominantly white neighborhood, I did wonder when I was going to look like Barbie -- and definitely felt bad that I didn’t.
Accessories designer who’s created collections inspired by Barbie and a doll in her likeness for Mattel
I think Barbie is an early feminist icon. She was the first role-play doll that had different careers and was stylish and grown-up. My Barbie car, dream house and all her accessories definitely inspired me to believe that I could do or be whatever I wanted when I grew up. . . . She gets a bad rap sometimes, and it’s unfair. I say don’t blame Barbie for your own insecurities -- she’s just a plastic doll who looks pretty good for 50!