Through-the-ages Barbie visits Paris

CULTURAL TIMELINE: The Barbie exhibition at Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, which runs until Sept 18, will showcase at least 700 dolls.


    Mar 14, 2016

    Through-the-ages Barbie visits Paris


    FOR decades, Barbie has encouraged girls to reach for the stars, showing them through her endless reinventions that anything is possible.

    Now the iconic doll has brought a lifetime of fine outfits and accessories to the city's Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

    Though Barbie has lived a charmed life, she has also been dogged by controversy - notably because girls could never hope to grow into her impossibly slender body shape.

    Magazine covers from the 1960s and subsequent decades are juxtaposed with the Barbie of the day, showing how closely she has been in step with each passing fad.

    "Barbie was a mirror of her time," said the exhibit's curator, Anne Monier, adding that the show offers a "cultural timeline" through the countless iterations of the famous doll.

    It is not Barbie's first trip to France - in 1984, she toured the country aboard a high-speed train, wearing fashion creations by leading Paris fashion houses, including Yves Saint Laurent.

    The Paris exhibit, which opened on Thursday and will run until Sept 18, contains at least 700 Barbie dolls, the all-time bestselling product of US toymaker Mattel, dating back to 1959.

    The Barbie doll - which hit a billion sales in 1997 and is today bought at the rate of one every three seconds worldwide - has long come under attack as promoting an idealised notion of beauty.

    And although black Barbies have existed since 1968 and many ethnic variations have been added since, the iconic Barbie remains a willowy, blue-eyed blonde - as the one depicted in a Warhol painting that enjoys pride of place at the Paris show.

    But Ms Monier says critics are unfair to pick on a defenceless doll. "It's easier to attack an object than to attack society," she explained.

    This year, Mattel addressed the body image issue by rolling out three new silhouettes: tall, petite and curvy.The choices also include no fewer than 27 skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 types of hair.

    Barbie's special place in the fashion industry - many designers say she inspired their career choice - has helped keep her relevant amid declining sales.

    Vintage Barbies and other special editions are prized by collectors, who are thought to number around 100,000.

    Mattel, the world's largest toymaker, suffered eight consecutive quarters of declining sales before recovering in the fourth quarter of 2015 with a net profit of US$215.2 million (S$295 million), a jump of 44 per cent.

    However, its net profit for the year, at US$369.4 million, was down 26 per cent.