Barbie is turning 60 - and still going strong

Barbie prototypes (above and below) at a workshop at the Mattel design centre in El Segundo, California. Every prototype is made by an army of experts - from sculpting the doll with state-of-the-art software and 3D printing to painting the face, styl
Barbie prototypes (above) at a workshop at the Mattel design centre in El Segundo, California. Every prototype is made by an army of experts - from sculpting the doll with state-of-the-art software and 3D printing to painting the face, styling the hair, choosing fabrics and crafting the clothing patterns. The entire design process for a new Barbie can take up to 18 months.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Barbie prototypes (above and below) at a workshop at the Mattel design centre in El Segundo, California. Every prototype is made by an army of experts - from sculpting the doll with state-of-the-art software and 3D printing to painting the face, styl
Barbie prototypes (above) at a workshop at the Mattel design centre in El Segundo, California. Every prototype is made by an army of experts - from sculpting the doll with state-of-the-art software and 3D printing to painting the face, styling the hair, choosing fabrics and crafting the clothing patterns. The entire design process for a new Barbie can take up to 18 months.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Doll remains a favourite with girls as she evolves with the times

EL SEGUNDO (United States) • She is turning 60 this year and still does not have a single wrinkle.

Blonde or brunette, slender or curvy, black or white, princess or president, Barbie is a forever favourite among young girls, even if she has caused controversy over the years.

The iconic doll has evolved to keep up with the times - check out her Twitter feed.

And despite fierce competition in the toy industry, 58 million Barbie dolls are sold each year in more than 150 countries. "In an industry where success today is three to five years, 60 years is a huge deal!" said Mr Nathan Baynard, director of global brand marketing for Barbie.

Around the world, Barbie is as well known as Coca-Cola or McDonald's, Mr Baynard said during a recent visit to Mattel's design studio in El Segundo, a suburb of Los Angeles.

In all, more than one billion Barbie dolls have been sold since she made her debut at the American Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.

She was invented by Ms Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, who was inspired by her own children to create the doll.

  • 58m

    Number of Barbie dolls that are sold each year.

  • 150

    Number of countries where the doll is sold.

"Her daughter Barbara was limited in the choices of her toys - the only ones were baby dolls," Mr Baynard recounted. "The only role she could imagine through that play was caregiver, mother", whereas Ms Handler's son "could imagine being an astronaut, cowboy, pilot, surgeon".

Barbie is, of course, a shortened version of Barbara.

The doll was supposed to teach girls "that they had choices, that they could be anything". "In 1959, it was a radical idea!" Mr Baynard said.

Barbie was an instant success. In the first year, 300,000 dolls were sold, he added.

At the start, Barbie's pin-up measurements did not immediately seem all that feminist, or like they would spark criticism for decades to come. "In 1959, her body structure was exaggerated to match the aesthetics of the time and the fabric available," said Barbie designer Carlyle Nuera.

Since the blonde beauty first hit stores, and after a torrent of complaints over what was seen as unrealistic proportions, Mattel has made many changes - introducing multiple body types and dozens of skin tones.

In 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Barbie became an astronaut. In 1968, the first black Barbie doll, a friend named Christie, hit store shelves.

Ms Lisa McKnight, senior vice-president and global general manager for the Barbie brand, said that today, 55 per cent of the dolls sold around the world have neither blonde hair nor blue eyes.

Mattel has over 100 people working in the El Segundo design studio. Designers begin with a simple sketch. From there on, every bit of a prototype is made by an army of experts - from sculpting the doll using state-of-the-art software and 3D printing to painting the face, styling the hair, choosing fabrics and crafting the clothing patterns. The entire design process for a new Barbie can last 12 to 18 months. Then the prototype is sent from the California workshop to factories in China and Indonesia for mass production.

Barbie is not only a toy store success - she has a massive social media presence, and is something of an "influencer", with millions of followers.

She has an actual identity: Barbie Millicent Roberts, who hails from the made-up town of Willows in the Midwest. And now, she speaks directly to girls about her life, and important current topics.

Last year, the brand launched a sweeping campaign to help young girls close the so-called "Dream Gap" - using Barbie to teach them to believe in themselves, and not to buy into sexist gender stereotypes.

So, does Barbie have it all as she hits 60, but remains forever young, single and without kids (so far)?

"The narrative of the Barbie brand is that she's a young woman and she's independent and pursuing careers," Ms McKnight said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2019, with the headline 'Barbie is turning 60 - and still going strong'. Print Edition | Subscribe