|The Real Deal|
|Written by Stephanie Finnegan|
|Thursday, 01 August 2002 00:00|
For more than 40 years, Barbie has embodied a world of infinite possibilities, of countless choices. WheÂÂther decked out in blue jeans or a navy power suit, starched lab coat or a lacy tutu, the curvaceous trendsetter has always looked specÂtacular while leaping over her playÂful competition. Itâs not surÂprising, then, that the ponyÂtailed teen, who has been a candy striÂper, a veterinarian and a NASA astronaut, has orÂbited into a billion-dollÂar collectible giant. BarÂbie has had a tremendous imÂpact on our pop culture, our lanÂguage and our art, but weâthe contemporary collectors of AmerÂicaâhave likewise had an effect on the Mattel mascot.
The influence of the present- day United States on Barbie is quite striking in the 2002 line. True, Malibu Barbie, a re-creation of the 1971 long-legged, sun-kissed, buxÂom CalÂifornia blonde, is back, but in her current incarnation she is wisely accompanied by a bottle of SPF-30 sunscreen. This L.A. lass may spend her days lounging on a yellow beach blanket, clad in a clinging aqua bathing suit, with pink specs perched on her head, but sheâs smart enough to face down the rays and plan for a healthy futÂure. It may not seem like much, but that little bottle symbolizes Barbieâs and Mattelâs awakening to new rules and changing ideals.
Rather than sending out a treadmill of Stepford Wife-like Barbiesâone blue-eyed party-dress wearing blonde after anotherâ Mattel has wised up to the fact that the American woman comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and dimensions. There are blondes, brunettes, redheads, Caucasians, AfÂrican Americans, Egyptians, Hispanics and Asians in this yearâs launch. And there is also Kayla, identified by Mattel as âa multiethnic combination of races and nationalities. She is whatever a girl wants to see in it.â Kayla is a beautiful rendering of what the all-American girl is evolving toward: a lovely mosaic of the best this country has to offer.
âThis doll is really grounded in reality,â says Karen Kirschbaum, a childrenâs book editor who has worked with the Barbie character in chapter books, coloring books and activity games. âMore and more, little girls are going to the playground or theyâre standing with classmates in their schoolyards and theyâre meetÂing children who are of mixed heritage. Theyâre making friends with children who have incredible dark eyes and olive skin and silky long reddish hair, and you canât immediately say, âOh, that child is Irish or German or Italian.â You canât make a snap judgment. You have to get to know the child and her family, and learn about her background. That is a great thing.â
Todayâs collectors seem open to embracing all shades of glamÂour. The modern marÂketplace isnât all black and white, like the original 1959 Barbie swimÂsuit. Nowadays there are varÂiaÂtions and gradations. DOLLS magazine recently inÂterÂviewÂed several collectors and reÂtailÂers about which new editions are the most desired, the most delectable, the most wanted. The anÂswers are as diverse and dynamic as this yearâs line.
According to Judene HanÂsen, proprietor of Dream Dolls Gallery, in West Palm Beach, FlorÂida, âEverybody wants to get their hands on âAll That GliÂtters Barbie.â Sheâs part of the Diva Collection, and she is so stunning. Her outfit is absoÂlutely trendy and she has so much attitude in her face. She looks just like a winner on an MTV award show. She is just so, so real.â
Thereâs that word agÂain: âreal.â People want their dolls to be glorious and mesmerizing, but yet somehow real. Thatâs why HanÂsen feels âRadÂiant RedÂhead Barbieâ is also a sure bet. âI think this doll represents Bob Mackie returning to his roots. He is a show business designer and he made his reputation doing costumes for TV and stage. He went away from what he does best when he was doing these fantasy interpretations of other counÂÂÂÂtries and other times. His new âRadiant Redhead Barbieâ is sophisticated and it really looks like a movie star on the red carpet. She looks like a cross between Rita Hayworth and Nicole Kidman. Sheâs old-fashionÂed Hollywood and sheâs modÂern. I know collectors are going to be impressed by her.â
The âRadiant Redhead Barbieâ does manage to straddle the bygone days of Liz Taylor and the modern days of Liv Tyler. Her costume is so impeccably fashÂioned that you can easily imagine Joan and Melissa Rivers descending upon her to chat, gab and gossip.
Margie Price, a colÂlÂector from Louisville, Kentucky, is extremely partial to this russet-haired Mackie. âSheâs a contemporary doll and sheâs a good-looking doll. I could never fit into any kind of outfit like that. I would never bare my tummy, but itâs not outlandish to see her dressed that way. She doesnât have big feathers in her hair or any oversize cape or headdress. Sheâs just elegant and gorgeous.
âThe other dolls I like this year are the Maria Therese bride doll and the African American Lingerie Barbie,â Price continues. âTheyâre both Silkstone dolls and I canât wait to add them to my collection. I donât keep them in boxes. I tear them out immediately and I try on different clothes. Itâs like Christmas when they arrive.â
Irene Michon, a customer service represenÂtative for the Ontario, Canada-based Browns Gallery, seconds Priceâs enthusiasm. âI have taken so many requests already for the Lingerie Barbie number 4 and number 5. The African American one (number 5) is especially being sought after. Sheâs the first black doll in the Fashion Model Collection, and everyone wants to own the first in a series. Collectors hope that sheâll have extra value down the road. She is a beautiful doll, and itâs easy to sell her. People see her picture in the catalog and they want her.â
A serious doll collector herself, Michon jokes that her paycheck from Browns âjust goes right back into the store. I donât think Iâm paid in cash. I think Iâm paid in Barbies and Genes.â Sheâs a recent convert to the Silkstone Fashion Models. âI admit I still like to play with those dolls. I donât just like to have them on a shelf. Thatâs why I like the Silkstone dolls from Mattel. I think they were made with the knowledge that collectors were going to be taking them out and undressing them and putting them into new outfits. Thatâs the thrill of having a doll. I work here in a doll shop and I think Iâm good at my job. And thatâs beÂcause I believe in what Iâm doing. I couldnât sell Avon or aluminum sidÂing. I wouldnât be able to conÂvince you, but dolls are different. I love dolls.â
The ardent doll lover recommends the âCountry Bound Barbie Fashionâ ensemble and the âConÂtinental Holiday Barbie Giftsetâ as must-haves for 2002. âCustomers seem to be going for the Country Bound outfit. I think itâs the color and the whole feel of that outfit. Itâs very pretty and sweet. And the âContinental Holiday Giftsetâ is a great choice for people who like to play with their dolls and for people who just like to display them on the shelves. It comes in a window box and the doll and her clothing are really nicely shown inside. You can just put it on a shelf and people will comment on it.â Of course, Michon would never let it languish for long. She truly believes in the power of playing, an almost magical call to unwrap and unwind!
âThere is something whimsical and iconic and timeless about Barbie,â says Liz Krenek, a product manager for Barbie Collectibles. âShe does have a special place in peopleâs hearts, and thatâs why we chose to dress her this year as Samantha Stevens from TVâs Bewitched.â
Krenek, who has fallen under the spell of Barbie, has a Barbie as Wonder Woman on her desk at Mattel headquarters. âSamantha Stevens, Wonder Woman, Barbieâthey all seem different on the surface, but they have traits in common. They all represent really strong, identifiable characters. You have a response to them. And itâs a positive one.â Krenek and her Mattel peers recognized how successful Bewitched had become on Nick at Nite and on TV Land. âAfter September 11, people have really wanted to return to happier, safer days. Nostalgia, which was big before, has grown even bigger in popularity. Thatâs why we have such a need for dolls like the Lucille Ball or the Marilyn or the Elvis. People want to remember what makes them feel good.
âWhen we decide to do Barbie in the role of a legend, we have to think long and hard. We want to surprise collectors with what we come up with, but we donât want to shock them. Itâs got to be a perfect match. Barbie and Samantha seemed made for one another. Samantha was a beautiful, smart, clever woman; she was a witch, but a good witch. Barbie is perfect in that role. She looks great in the costume and she is going to turn TV viewers who have never bought a doll before into first-time buyers.â
Now thatâs what we call magic.
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