What follows is an excerpt from a much longer piece by Chris that’s being offered as a beautiful downloadable for Barbie® Signature members! Already a member? Log in to get it. Not a member? Join now for instant access!
Muse. Pioneer. Icon. That’s Barbie® doll, a fashion model whose stride down an endless runway inspired an entire line of quality collectibles for an astounding 60 years! An elevation of design and fashion, Barbie® doll appeals to anyone interested in contemporary fashion trends. With her online presence, Barbie® also serves as a major influencer. Barbie® always encapsulates that intangible quality known as “style.” Under Mattel owner Ruth Handler’s influence and designer Charlotte Johnson’s tutelage, the world was first taken by surprise when Barbie® was introduced at the New York Toy Fair on March 9th, 1959, along with her pink fashion booklet.
From the beginning, astute collectors recognized the ingenuity and detail that had gone into the doll and her wardrobe, which began to grow along with Barbie® doll’s popularity. Today, those early tailored fashions are a veritable freeze frame of the era, reminiscent of Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Givenchy and Dior.
Many clever girls handled their precious Barbie® dolls with care, and that eventually marked the beginning of the very first Barbie™ Fan Club in 1961, which set the stage for more clubs where Barbie™ fans could gather and make new friends. There was so much to collect! Nothing stopped Barbie® from constantly evolving with hairstyles like Ponytails, Bubble Cuts, Mod hairstyles and an eclectic wardrobe that showcased the latest looks from smart suits, career outfits and go-go boots!
The Barbie™ world grew at a rapid pace, and so did the ranks of her devoted fans. Designers at Mattel acknowledged their die-hard Barbie enthusiasts and started to create special dolls for collectors.
Among the longest-lasting Barbie collectibles has to be the Dolls of the World series. This popular collection, begun in 1980, beguiles us with Barbie doll dressed in festive native fashions from different countries, starting with the hard-to-find original Parisian Barbie Doll. That same year, collectors held the very first Barbie convention in New York City. It was the first time an entire doll show was devoted to one doll: Barbie!
Dolls of the World Series Parisian Barbie Doll
Seeing the positive results of the first convention and the need for more dolls, the Barbie design team began conceiving a Barbie line with the adult collector in mind. This initiated Barbie doll’s rich legacy of working with popular fashion designers, beginning with Oscar de la Renta® in 1984.
Oscar de la Renta Barbie®
Oscar de La Renta’s evening gowns for Barbie would serve as a major win for Barbie doll’s burgeoning atelier. The advantage of showcasing his evening wear separately so all collectors could display them on their favorite dolls meant gaining name recognition with a fresh, young audience. This successful collaboration captured the imagination of the fashion world and two Oscar de La Renta Barbie Dolls were released, dressed exclusively by the designer.
Happy Holidays™ Barbie
At the end of 1988, that Happy Holidays™ Barbie became the most coveted doll during the holiday season, starting her own line of annual collectibles under The Holiday Series. The next year, 1989, Barbie doll’s 30th Anniversary was met with unprecedented surprises. New York City named Fifth Avenue “Barbie Boulevard.” Barbie doll’s amazing 30 years were also commemorated by Tiffany & Co. with a special custom-made sterling silver Barbie doll.
Barbie Pink Jubilee
Another special event was hosted at Lincoln Center to celebrate Barbie’s 30th Anniversary. As a gift, a limited edition of 1200 Barbie Pink Jubilee dolls was given to lucky collectors. The 30th Anniversary was also greeted with fanfare at FAO Schwartz with the special release of the exclusive Golden Greetings Barbie, the first of many successful partnerships between Mattel and FAO Schwartz.
Meanwhile, the diverse collections in the works at Mattel led up to the much anticipated 35th Anniversary in 1994 with special reproductions of the 1959 original Barbie Doll in a few of her most popular couture fashions under The Nostalgic Series. Also as part of the 35th Anniversary, Mattel released Gold Jubilee Barbie in a limited edition of 5,000.
Nostalgic series reproduction Solo in the Spotlight
Due to Barbie doll’s exquisite fashion sense, another major exhibit was mounted so fans could view Barbie in a new light. The exemplary showcase was set in Los Angeles and called Barbie on Rodeo with twenty dolls and accessories modeling creations by designers like Versace and Escada for a charity auction in 1996. “Why not?” asked Ron Michaels, president of the Rodeo Drive Committee, which sponsored the event, along with Mattel. “Barbie is the most fashionable girl in the world.
As the decade continued, a special 40th Anniversary Barbie Doll, wearing a gown reminiscent of Barbie doll’s original black and white striped swimsuit, was gifted to conventioneers at the 1999 40th Anniversary Convention. The convention doll was praised for her ingenuity by transforming the iconic swimsuit into a festive gown, making it an instant collectible.
The following year offered a chance to oooh and aaah over the new unprecedented Barbie Fashion Model Collection. The BFMC was introduced in 2000 and collectors had never seen any dolls quite so elegant. Created by designer Robert Best, they were called “Silkstones” and were created with a special combination of porcelain and vinyl. The Silkstones were an instant sensation with separate fashions specifically designed for their regal haute couture looks!
Debuting in 2004, the 45th anniversary year, were two exceptional dolls from the acclaimed Versace fashion house. The first Barbie doll was called Versace Barbie Doll. She was gorgeous, wearing a dramatic strapless taupe gown that billowed around her legs. The second doll, Versus Barbie™, sported a casual pantsuit in a royal blue and white asymmetrical design. The limited edition dolls were sold out shortly after their release.
With all the collectible offerings, the 50th Anniversary in 2009 for Barbie doll reached a fever pitch and every collector wanted to attend the convention. Old friends shared their new finds and new friendships began over simple things like memories of finding that special doll. Celebrations were held in Barbie clubs worldwide and Mattel debuted the beautiful 50th Anniversary Barbie doll created especially for collectors.
50th Anniversary Barbie Doll
In recent years, the Barbie Signature team has dreamed up even more extraordinary Barbie dolls. If the dolls of the past few years are any indication, Barbie is going in directions that signal all new adventures in the future. 2019 is already shaping up to be a banner year for the 60th Anniversary of Barbie doll! Collectors can look forward to quite a few jaw-dropping surprises! Here’s to more wonderful additions to your Barbie collection. Check out the 2019 line all available a click away at the Barbie Signature online shop!
It’s never too late to start collecting and with the fabulous retro-reproductions, you can start from the very beginning and work your way up to a collection that best reflects your taste. Remember, there’s a Barbie for everyone—all you need is a great imagination! Here’s a cool video for more inspiration for your special collection:
Now, it's your turn. Write back about your faves from the past 60 years of Barbie collectibles!