Barbie, a timeless icon

December 09, 2012

WASHINGTON, Dec 9 — While controversial silhouettes promoting unrealistic body images in the media are the targets of many angry parents, Barbie’s plastic perfection remains an undisputed favourite of girls around the world. Ruling the toy realm for 53 years, Mattel’s figurehead doll will once again top holiday wish lists and feature under many a Christmas tree in 2012.

“Barbie Photo Fashion”— AFP/Relaxnews“Barbie Photo Fashion”— AFP/RelaxnewsAccording to Franck Mathais, spokesperson for French toy store chain La Grande Récré, the Barbie Princess and Popstar Tori doll will be a bestseller this year — and so will other new products like the Barbie Photo Fashion doll, who comes with a digital camera to let children change the design on the doll’s T-shirt.

A toy star’s continual evolution

On March 9, 1959, at the New York International Toy Fair, Ruth Handler presented a doll created for her daughter Barbara, the toy’s namesake. Contrasting with the other toys for children of the time and the dominance of baby dolls, the adult-bodied doll made a splash. On the market, she competed with Bild Lilli, her German counterpart, commonly seen as the inspiration for Barbie.

Just a few years after its creation, the doll already showed her capacity of adapting with the times. In 1963, she became an astronaut as a nod to the first time a woman went to space. “Then there was this iconic moment when she became an airplane pilot, which conveyed the idea that women were able to do a man’s job,” outlines Frédérique Tutt, an NPD Group toy market expert.

Within a few years, the doll’s body changed, her résumé grew longer and her voice was (literally) heard. Two years ago, Mattel’s doll entered the realm of technology. Barbie was equipped with a camera allowing children to direct their own short videos. “Mattel reinvents the Barbie doll each year to keep on trend,” explains Tutt. And therein lies the secret of Barbie’s longevity.

A friend for life

Another key factor in Barbie’s enduring appeal is that “Barbie follows the evolution of a little girl as she grows up. The whole line was created to fit each age group,” notes Tutt. To fit with the evolution of her fans, the little plastic blonde switches jobs. Barbie, a gift suitable for 3-year-olds, dresses as a princess to wow the 4-5 age segment. Then she becomes a role model for the 5-6-year-olds, as she takes care of her little sisters, Skipper and Stacie. Ultimately, she becomes a beauty icon wearing all kinds of outfits, turning the rooms of kids aged 7-8 into fashion runways.

Each year, Mattel delights children with a string of new accessories, lavish houses, camping cars, yachts and trendy clothing. But above all, the brand thinks outside the box to constantly find new doll concepts. Dolls are the really strong performers in the Barbie line, according to Tutt.

A toy for all budgets

Barbie has been lucky enough to wear designer clothes by Christian Louboutin, Karl Lagerfeld and Paco Rabanne, but the Barbie line has a wide range of price points. Barbie adapts to all budgets. The lines traditionally start “with a bathing suit Barbie. The smaller the amount of fabric, the lower the price. Then you have the dolls with accessories, and above that, collectible editions,” Tutt outlines, adding, “Barbie’s strength is her ability to sell all year round.”

A hit since the 1960s, Barbie is associated with cherished childhood memories, with many grandmothers and mothers saving their precious dolls for their own offspring. — AFP/Relaxnews

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