Without a wrinkle, Barbie turns 60 in 2019: blonde or brunette, slender or stuffed, princess or firewoman, this doll does not stop seducing the girls of today, in a constant effort to stay current and despite the controversies.
“In an industry where success lasts three to five years now, 60 years is extremely important“said Nathan Baynard, director of global marketing for the doll.
Despite the increasingly fierce competition, 58 million copies are sold each year in more than 150 countries. It is a brand as well known as McDonald's, the executive explained in December, during a private visit to the design center of the Mattel group in El Segundo, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Since his presentation at the New York Toy Fair, on March 9, 1959, more than 1,000 million of these dolls have been sold.
In international: Why are horses the last passion of the new rich in China?
His “mother” is nothing more and nothing less than co-founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, who had the idea when looking to grow up and play their own children.
“Her daughter Barbara had a limited option for her toys, there were only baby dolls with which the only role she could play in her games was mother, housewife, while her son could imagine himself as an astronaut, pilot, surgeon … All these possibilities were beyond the reach of the girl in the toy industry, “described Baynard.
That is how she created “Barbie” (diminutive of her daughter's name), an adult doll with very feminine forms, to “show the girls that they could become what they want,” the executive continued. “In 1959 it was a radical idea!”
The success was immediate: In the first year, 300,000 units were sold.
“The problem is cultural”
His “pin-up” appearance, typical of the time, did not make Barbie a model of feminism. “His body structure was exaggerated to adapt to the aesthetics of the time“said Carlyle Nuera, one of the designers of the doll.
His unrealistic measurements have been revised since then by Mattel, but in general the Barbie, archetype of the Californian blonde, has been criticized over the years for projecting an image of a superficial woman, promote anorexia and distort the image of women from the youngest age.
But for M. G. Lord, author of the reference book “Forever Barbie”, it is a unjustified impression.
The Barbie “is what the girl wants it to be”, explained to the AFP. “How a girl sees a doll Barbie is part of how the mother feels about the idea of femininity, the problem is not a 28-centimeter doll, the problem is cultural.”
Barbie became an astronaut in 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, and his first black version was launched in 1968.
Nowadays, 55% of dolls sold “have no blond hair or blue eyes“said Lisa McKnight, general manager of the Barbie brand in the world.
In the center of El Segundo, in a little glamorous hangar located between the Los Angeles airport and a highway, a hundred people work tirelessly to create new prototypes.
From a sketch drawn by the designers, each step is meticulously done: the doll is created in a 3D printer, then the facial features are painted, hair and clothes are placed. The process can take between 12 and 18 months, before a new Barbie leaves the California workshops to be shipped to the Mattel plants in China and Indonesia for mass production.
“Sometimes you see it on the shelf and you remember: 'Oh yes, that I designed it'“, expressed Nuera.
Barbie not only battle for its sales success in toy stores, the brand is investing massively to convert it into “influencer” in social networks.
To feed the imagination of children and their range of products, the character has long been an identity and a family: Barbara Millicent Roberts, originally from the fictional city of Willows, Wisconsin, in the Midwest of the United States.
In recent years, He has been speaking directly with the millions of followers he has on social networks.
In her channel on YouTube for example, explained Baynard, she comes “talking about what is happening in her life, on key issues that she thinks are resonant for today's girls, of the trends”.
Barbie also has her own team, with hairdresser, make-up artist and photographer who travel “really” with her from the United States and around the world to take pictures for her Instagram account (@barbiestyle), with almost two million subscribers.
At 60, although she remains forever young, she has no children or husband. Is happy? “Barbie is a young, independent woman, looking to devote herself to different careers,” explained McKnight.
Some key dates in the history of the Barbie doll, which turns 60 in this 2019: