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Dolls, dresses and Dreamhouses: London Design Museum exhibition celebrates 65 years of Barbie

Dolls, dresses and Dreamhouses: London Design Museum exhibition celebrates 65 years of Barbie

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The show presents 250 objects from Barbie’s world, including 180 dolls spanning seven decades.

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Whether it’s being a president, an astronaut, a fashionista or a doctor, Barbie has done it all.

A new exhibition celebrating the iconic doll’s 65th anniversary will open at London’s Design Museum on Friday 5 July for a seven-month run. 

The show presents 250 objects from Barbie’s world, including 180 dolls spanning seven decades – and Ken and friends also make an appearance.

“From the perspective of the Design Museum, what we really wanted to do is to look at Barbie through a design lens,” explained the show’s curator Danielle Thom. 

“[What] a lot of people don’t know is how these dolls come into being and why they come into being, and why they look the way they do. These things are not designed in isolation. They connect to popular culture in so many ways, and we really wanted to explore that.”

What is on display at the Barbie exhibition?

Kim Culmone, SVP of Design for Mattel, the company that masterminded the doll, explained why Barbie has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few years.

“She’s always been a part of culture, but in particular, now I think people realise, the depth and the elasticity of a brand like Barbie. She’s so much more than just a doll.”

The exhibition’s key items include an original 1959 Barbie in black and white stripe swimsuit, a 1968 prototype of a talking Barbie from Mattel’s archives, Peaches ‘N Cream Barbie from the 1980s, and astronaut Barbie which was made in the likeness of ISS’s first female captain Samantha Cristoforetti.

In April 2022, Cristoforetti took her Barbie on a 170-day mission on the International Space Station and the doll has never been displayed in public before.

Visitors will also be able to see ‘surfer girl’ Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971, the ground-breaking Day to Night Barbie from 1985 that was designed to reflect the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s, and 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time.

There are examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name on display, as well as the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first to be designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape.

As the exhibit has been in the making for five years, 2023’s “Barbie” film – directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie – got a slight nod in the final room.

“It didn’t change dramatically because we had always always thought of this exhibition as being quite a separate entity,” Thom said. 

“What we did introduce as a result of the film were and are a number of objects, props from the film, costuming and other things that reference the film. Because as I see it, it is only the most recent of a number of significant creative responses to Barbie.”

Barbie®: The Exhibition will run at London’s Design Museum until 23 February 2025.

Additional sources • J-Cut Productions



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