Barbie and creators feel her age at 50
Barbie celebrates her 50th birthday with mixed feelings.
NEW YORK – She doesn't have a streak of grey hair, her breasts remain unnaturally perky, and she has endless outfits - but Barbie is feeling miserable on her 50th birthday.
Not only is she accused of promoting anorexia among young girls, but her sales plunged 21 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and for seven years she has had to deal with Bratz, a sassy rival hot on her high heels.
Born Barbara Millicent Robert on 9 March 1959 in Willows, Wisconsin, the 29-centimetre beauty wowed the world when she made her debut at a New York toy fair, leading to sales of 300,000 that same year.
With her long legs, love of pink-tinged glamour, and hair made for combing, she was a world away from the baby-like creatures cradled by girls of previous generations.
Today she is at the centre of the Mattel company empire. She has inspired dozens of fashion designers, become a presence on Facebook and MySpace, revolutionised playtime for young children - and forced untold numbers of reluctant parents to reach for their wallets.
In mid-February, New York's Fashion Week celebrated Barbie's 50th birthday with a catwalk debut for the famous doll.
A model displays a outfit in the Barbie Runway Show during the 2009 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York on 14 February 2009.
"Fifty designers will be coming together for the first time in history to celebrate Barbie as an iconic figure in fashion. Presenting as a three generational fashion show (Past, Present and Future)," a statement from the organisers had announced.
Organised under tents in Bryant Park, close to Times Square, the event drew throngs of fans of the fantastic plastic model, many of them young girls brandishing their pink invitations in a bid to cut through the crowd.
The event was a success, but two weeks before the event, organisers have only confirmed the participation of French shoe designer Christian Louboutin.
Success of Barbie
There is already a special wedding dress by Vera Wang that will be on sale for USD 15,000. For Barbie owners, or those without that kind of money, the same thing is available in miniature for USD 159.99 at Toys R Us on New York's Times Square.
Mattel has also signed a contract with the Council of American Designers, led by Diane von Furstenberg, who describes Barbie as "a confident and independent woman with an amazing ability to have fun while remaining glamorous."
Glossy publisher Assouline is putting out "Barbie" with a 500-dollar price tag and pictures of the doll wearing Prada, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen.
Certainly, Barbie has no shortage of clothes.
She has outfits for 108 separate professions and a total of a billion items of clothing spread across the globe, according to her website.
In the 1960s, she went through the Grace Kelly period, then got a hippy look in the 1970s, a business woman makeover in the 1980s, and in 1989 a Pentagon-approved military uniform.
In 1992 she ran for the White House and in 2004 she caused an uproar in the doll world by breaking up with her notably sexless partner Ken.
The biggest life change for Barbie though has been the appearance of her nemesis seven years ago, the Bratz fashion dolls. The big-eyed, wild-haired beauties have eaten steadily into Barbie sales.
Mattel last year successfully sued to prevent MGA Entertainment from making or selling Bratz, after a court ruled that its creator had conceived of the idea while he was still employed by Mattel.
However, the court granted a reprieve for Bratz so that the dolls can remain on sale through this year.
Then Barbie and her makers will have to brace themselves for the publication of "Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel," a book which promises to reveal the doll's dirty secrets, including the sexual shenanigans of her original creator, electrical engineer Jack Ryan.
9 March 2008
AFP / Paola Messana / Expatica