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London Design Museum Celebrates 65 Years of Cultural Icon – Barbie

23-07-2024   


A year on since Barbie mania smashed the box office the iconic doll is in the spotlight once again, this time to celebrate her 65th anniversary with a major exhibition at London’s Design Museum.

Opening from the 5th July Barbie®: The Exhibition features a rare first edition doll and over 250 objects. Synonymous with inspirational fashion and style, this unique exhibition designed by Sam Jacob Studio, encompasses the entire Barbie journey from her humble beginnings to world famous status. 

Take a glimpse into the world of Barbie dating from 1959 to the present day, Barbie has become more than just a child’s doll as she has evolved to reflect ‘of the moment’ representation. The exhibition presents exclusive, behind-the-scenes insights into Mattel’s design processes, and offers a detailed exploration of the Barbie doll as a technically and materially innovative creation.

Danielle Thom, Curator of Barbie®: The Exhibition at the Design Museum, said: “The Barbie universe is expansive and exciting, and it’s thanks to the meticulous work of talented designers over the past 65 years. Barbie is arguably one of the most globally recognised examples of world-building through product and graphic design, and in turn she has inspired many designers and artists to respond to her history. The design story of Barbie is a rich topic for our museum to put under the spotlight.”

Exhibition highlights include some of the most recognisable and best-selling dolls, including the ‘surfer girl’ Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971 and which was one of the most popular of the decade, and the ground-breaking Day to Night Barbie from 1985 that was designed to reflect the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s, and which saw Barbie’s work-attire pink suit transform into a chic evening gown. There’s also two examples of 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time which has sold over 10 million across the globe.

There are examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name on display, as well as dolls that reflect today’s diverse, multicultural society. These include the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first to be designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape.

The exhibition also includes the very first public display of a unique Barbie doll that has been into space. The doll spent six months orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station in 2022 as part of a landmark mission. The Barbie is a likeness of European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut and Europe’s first female commander of the International Space Station, Samantha Cristoforetti.

Many friends of Barbie are also displayed, including her first friend Midge, the much-loved Christie and Teresa, as well as the younger sister of Barbie, Skipper, and of course, there is also a section dedicated to Ken, charting his evolution from his introduction in 1961.

Fashion is a significant theme running through the show. Across the exhibition, there are dozens of original Barbie outfits which both highlight Barbie’s origins as a fashion doll, and her impact on the wider history of modern dress. This includes outfits such as ‘Poodle Parade’ (1965) a life-size replica of which was worn by Billie Eilish when she performed at the 2024 Grammy Awards in February and a 1985 outfit by Oscar de la Renta, the first of many designer collaborations.

Visitors can trace the changing silhouettes of mainstream fashion over the last 65 years through the exhibition, and will see the influence of designers from Claire McCardell and Christian Dior, to Nolan Miller and Zac Posen.

The final section of the show spotlights the enduring role Barbie has as a pop culture icon, looking at her impact on design in all its forms, from fashion to film, as well as the Barbie brand’s forays into social advocacy. This section also includes an original costume worn by Margot Robbie in the 2023 movie Barbie, as well as other items that explore Barbie’s status as a cultural figurehead.

Kim Culmone, SVP of Design for Mattel, said “Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has become an international icon and inspiration that continues to spark conversation, creativity, and self-expression around the world. This exhibition tells the story of Barbie through a design lens including fashion, architecture, furniture, and vehicle design, which are all spaces where she has left a mark on culture during her remarkable 65-year career. We can’t wait for fans and audiences to experience this exhibition with the renowned Design Museum.’

Barbie®: The Exhibition is the first time a major UK museum has held a major show dedicated to Barbie. It’s been made possible through a partnership with Mattel Inc, allowing the Design Museum to draw on Mattel’s Barbie archives in California for a number of key loans, as well as utilising the expertise of Mattel’s brand historians and archivists.

Barbie®: The Exhibition opens at the Design Museum, 224–238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG on 05 July 2024 and runs until 23 February 2025.

All images courtesy of the Design Museum London




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