Bar­bie gets real(ish)

Hands up if you’ve ever felt un­easy let­ting your child play with a blonde, busty, im­pos­si­bly-tiny-waisted Bar­bie. Well, the girls’ favourite as we know her has had a dra­matic makeover. Anna Hart is granted rare ac­cess to Mat­tel HQ to meet the next gen­erat

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS -

We’re seated in a Pan­tone 219-pink-walled board­room at Mat­tel HQ in a retail park in El Seg undo, Los An­ge­les. Two wall­mounted clocks re­lay the time in LA and Hong Kong, and posters of Bar­bie cam­paigns and fash­ion tie-ins adorn the walls: Bar­bie’s re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion with Moschino, the 2014 Karl Lager­feld Bar­bie (cur­rently fetch­ing $4,000 on eBay af­ter orig­i­nally re­tail­ing on Net-a-Porter for $200), plus dot­ing por­traits of Bar­bie in var­i­ous guises, from as­tro­naut to pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. But all eyes are on a 12in stand on the board­room ta­ble, draped with a candy-pink veil. What I and four other jour­nal­ists are about to wit­ness is the cul­mi­na­tion of a highly se­cre­tive 18-month op­er­a­tion co­de­named Pro­ject Dawn: the de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of 33 new Bar­bie dolls that mark a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, im­prob­a­bly-pro­por­tioned doll we know and love – or hate. Or love to hate. Kim Cul­mone, vice pres­i­dent of de­sign for Bar­bie, and se­nior de­sign di­rec­tor Robert Best ad­mit that it has been tough con­ceal­ing Bar­bie’s new look from their friends and col­leagues at Mat­tel, trans­port­ing pro­to­type dolls around the build­ing in sealed con­tain­ers. We fve re­porters have signed non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments and sur­ren­dered our smart­phones; the se­cu­rity mea­sures at Mat­tel HQ make get­ting into MI6 re­sem­ble crash­ing a stu­dent party.

Blonde bomb­shell Bar­bie is so much more than a pretty face. She’s a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar em­pire; over a bil­lion of the dolls have been sold world­wide in more than 150 coun­tries, and Mat­tel es­ti­mates that three Bar­bies are sold ev­ery se­cond. She’s a cul­tural icon, painted by Andy Warhol in 1986 ( Bar­bie,

Por­trait of Bil­lyBoy*), star­ring in the Toy Story movies, and in­spir ing col­lab­o­rat ions wit h fash­ion de­sign­ers from Os­car de la Renta (1984) to Chris­tian Dior (1995) to Diane von Fursten­berg (2006). And as a her­itage toy brand, Bar­bie is per­haps the most uni­ver­sally recog­nised 11.5in of plas­tic ever as­sem­bled, with Mat­tel claim­ing 98 per cent brand recog­ni­tion glob­ally. ‘Right now when you say “Bar­bie” to some­one, a very clear im­age of a blonde-haired, blueeyed, slim doll comes to mind,’ says Cul­mone. ‘In a few years, this will no longer be the case. We’re ex­plod­ing a sys­tem that’s been in place for 56 years and a her­itage that’s been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.’ Tam­per­ing with this win­ning for­mula was an ex­er­cise that could only be un­der­taken be­hind locked doors.

As the satin veil is whipped of, there’s a gasp in the room. It’s a line-up of black Bar­bies, tanned Bar­bies, white Bar­bies: seven difer­ent skin­tones in to­tal. There is afro hair, curly red hair, tou­sled blue hair and jet-black straight hair; 30 colours and 24 styles and tex­tures. There are blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes. Plus there are three new body shapes or ‘archetypes’: a smaller doll, a taller doll, and the one ev­ery­one reaches for frst – a Bar­bie with solid thighs, a waist able to ac­com­mo­date vi­tal in­ter­nal or­gans and bi­ceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling. I pick up big­ger Bar­bie by her grat­i­fy­ingly sturdy waist and sur­rep­ti­tiously nudge up her skirt. Bar­bie has had her most rad­i­cal makeover ever – and I can ex­clu­sively re­port that the thigh-gap is of­cially gone.

No­body at Mat­tel would ar­gue with the fact that at the ripe old age of 56, Bar­bie needed to have some work done. She kept a pink-lip­sticked smile plas­tered on her plas­tic face, her hair re­mained im­mac­u­late, and stress never took its toll on her skin, but in re­cent years, Bar­bie had let her­self go. In 2014 she was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ousted from the top-sell­ing girls’ toy spot (by Frozen’s Queen Elsa) for the frst time in over a decade, and al­though she re­mains the mar­ket leader in the fash­ion dolls cat­e­gory, sales are down for the third con­sec­u­tive year.

But Bar­bie – charmed as her life of pink Corvettes, de­signer garb and plas­tic man­sions may ap­pear – is no stranger to ad­ver­sity, and comes from hum­ble be­gin­nings. Mat­tel Cre­ations was founded in 1945 by El­liot and Ruth Han­dler, from the garage of their

I pick up big­ger Bar­bie by her grat­i­fy­ingly sturdy waist and sur­rep­ti­tiously nudge up her skirt – and I can ex­clu­sively re­port that the thigh-gap is of­cially gone

The shape – and size – of Bar­bies to come: dolls pe­tite, curvy and tall fank reg­u­lar Bar­bie (se­cond from right)

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