Carmen Villegas woke up in Soledad Saturday morning, applied some hot pink lipstick and gathered up the kids. By 6 a.m. they were zooming down the freeway toward Orange County.
She had seen on Instagram that a Barbie pop-up truck packed with retro merchandise had just left L.A. on a cross-country “Totally Throwback Tour.”
First stop: Irvine Spectrum Center.
What’s a mere five-hour drive when waiting at your destination is a rad holographic boombox Barbie tote and a pink faux leather Barbie cassette tape wallet?
“It’s a little too crazy,” Villegas’ 12-year-old daughter Alize said.
But if her mom is a little too crazy, she’s not alone. Hundreds of other Barbie fans lined up Saturday morning to score Barbie flip-phone cookies and fanny packs — or just to snap photos in front of the van for their Instagram feeds.
“I love the van,” said a wistful Villegas, 33, taking in the scene through her pink plastic sunglasses one last time before the long drive home.
So does Stephanie Yanez. The Orange County woman arrived wearing a Barbie-print jacket and stayed for several hours to bond with fellow superfans. She said she owns over 50 Barbies and was all about the “Barbie and the Rockers” cartoon back when she was a kid.
“That was my jam,” she said.
In fact she still sings the “Barbie and the Rockers” song — in music venues all over Japan, where she also performs her own J-pop and synth-pop.
“I just like being a Barbie girl,” she said.
That is what the throwback tour is all about: Barbie as a lifestyle. Most of the fans Saturday were grownups. And for many of them, Barbie is a lifestyle icon. They don’t play with her as much as they want to be her.
Barbie’s Instagram account has 1.5 million followers. And her @barbiestyle Instagram, which is filled with snaps of the doll on location (the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Globes) and as a social media influencer (wearing Vera Wang, skiing Park City), has 2.1 million followers.
“It’s for men and women of all ages, who can enjoy her in a fashionable way,” said Dave Marchi, director of global franchise marketing for Mattel.
The most popular item for sale is an acid-washed denim jacket with Barbie’s name embroidered in pink cursive letters — for fans to wear.
Lanyea Lee, who was there Saturday with her daughter Kailani, was debating whether or not to buy it. But she was definitely going home with the fanny pack.
“I was raised on Barbie,” said the 52-year-old from Inglewood.
So was I, full-disclosure. Around the same time, in the ‘70s, I spent hours, entire summers in fact, playing Barbie, so Lee and I had a lot to talk about.
We both had the pop-up camper. And the convertible Corvette. She had the Barbie house. I had the Malibu Barbie Beach Bus.
So while for some, Barbie is a fashion icon, for fans like Lee, she’s an old friend, who had a lot of really cool stuff that you could use to create whatever world it was you wanted to live in that day.
“She gives people that feeling of happiness,” says Urania Chien, an Orange mom who, along with her husband Charlie and their friend Allan Tea, teamed up with Mattel to launch the “Totally Throwback Tour” in celebration of Barbie’s 60th anniversary. “It’s a lot of, ‘When I was a kid…’ People want to remember.”
Even the younger fans.
“I used to play with her when I was little,” said seventh grader Sara Castellanos, who lives in Aliso Viejo. “I liked how you could move her arms and legs and, like, do her hair and cut her hair and brush her hair.”
If you’re suddenly feeling a bit nostalgic yourself, or are weeping right now because you missed the Irvine stop, don’t despair.
The truck will be at the Westfield shopping center in San Diego Dec. 7 before rolling around the country for the next three years.