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Barbie exhibition at Design Museum will display 180 dolls and clothes from film

A major exhibition will exploire the design evolution of Barbie dolls (yaeantho - stock.adobe.com)
A major exhibition will exploire the design evolution of Barbie dolls (yaeantho - stock.adobe.com)

The first ever Barbie doll will be among 180 going on display in a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum exploring the “design phenomenon” behind the hit film.

The Barbie exhibition will trace the toy’s history and reveal an unlikely link to the influence of London style on the all-American creation.

Visitors to the Kensington museum will see the first talking Barbie, the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name, as well as the first Barbie with Down’s Syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair and dozens of examples showing how it tracked fashion trends and changed with them over the years.

Curator Danielle Thom said: “Barbie obviously is a global brand and this year is the 65th anniversary of the launch of the first Barbie doll, so it’s timely in that respect, but more specifically from the point of view of this institution, I think it’s valid to see Barbie as a design phenomenon.

Mattel’s 1959 first edition Barbie (left) and Margot Robbie (ES Composite)
Mattel’s 1959 first edition Barbie (left) and Margot Robbie (ES Composite)

“We are not just talking about the doll itself but the world of Barbie, the universe of Barbie, and the design of that has a really interesting story to tell in terms of how it relates to the design of our own world or as the film put it the real world.

“If you trace the design history of Barbie it’s basically the design history of the late 20th and 21st centuries in microcosm.”

Among those changes is the first major redesign of the doll from 1967, which brought it up to date with contemporary fashion, complete with an English friend, Stacey, marketed as “Barbie’s British chum”.

That swinging London style in also shown in a 1969 Barbie family house that will go on show.

Exhibition curator Danielle Thom stands among Barbie dolls (James Manning/PA Wire)
Exhibition curator Danielle Thom stands among Barbie dolls (James Manning/PA Wire)

Ms Thom said: “It’s very mod, it’s very late sixties and it’s got a little decorative sign hanging on the wall that actually says Carnaby Street so Barbie’s fashion designers at this point in the 1960s and early 1970s are very consciously looking to London as a source of inspiration for her wardrobe and wider universe.”

The show, which opens on July 5, also has “a small but dedicated section for Kens” and items of clothing from the film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

Also on show is a first edition Barbie, known as Number 1 Barbie to collectors, which was released by Mattel in 1959 and can change hands for thousands of pounds and which the museum has bought for its permanent collection.

Among the outfits on show is a 1965 Poodle Parade – a life-size replica of which was worn by singer Billie Eilish at this year’s Grammy Awards.

1965 Barbie doll wearing ‘Poodle Parade’ (left) and Billie Eilish (ES Composite)
1965 Barbie doll wearing ‘Poodle Parade’ (left) and Billie Eilish (ES Composite)

Tim Marlow, Director and CEO of the Design Museum said: “Design has been at the heart of Barbie’s story ever since her creation 65 years ago. And as we’ve seen recently, her impact has also evolved with each new generation.

“Visitors to our timely exhibition will come face-to-face with some of the most important and recognisable iterations of Barbie from across the past six-and-a-half decades, and we hope it will be a joyful, fascinating, inspiring, illuminating and even perhaps nostalgic experience for generations of Barbie fans.”