In 1959 an 11 1/2 inch doll went on sale and in the 57 years since, more than a billion have been purchased for children all over the world. The doll’s name was Barbie. And I was one of those kids. I loved Barbie then, and as I found out last week it would seem that some 25 odd years later, I still do. Though it’s been a long time since I’d given Barbie much thought (I did buy one for my niece at Christmas but that’s been about the extent of it) last week at the Barbie Expo in Montreal I was transported back to being a kid, around 5 years old. I vividly remember going into my mum’s wardrobe to try on her high heels (my love for shoes also started young) when there she was, hiding in the cupboard (not very well it has to be said! Schoolboy error there Mum and Dad….), ‘Blizzard Barbie’! I didn’t know who Barbie was and I definitely didn’t know what the word Blizzard meant but by the picture on the box I knew she was for me and I knew I wanted to play with her. Oh 5 year old me knew that Barbie was indeed something special. However, Barbie I was also sure, was meant to be a present. I can’t recall if it was for my birthday or Christmas but I knew I shouldn’t have found her. I remember my mum reassuring me that I hadn’t ruined my surprise because I didn’t know what Blizzard Barbie actually was. (It turns out Barbie was kitted out in snow gear, perhaps a sign of where I’d end up living all these years later, and Blizzard was the name of her horse). I was obviously placated with this, though I didn’t forget about her. I knew she was hiding in there and I knew soon she would be mine and when she was, well that was that, my love for Barbie was sealed.
So all these years later when I heard there was a Barbie exhibition happening in Montreal my curiosity was peaked and I had to pay it a visit. It’s not just any exhibition either, it’s the largest [permanent] exhibit of Barbie dolls anywhere in the world. Located within the Les Cours Mont-Royal shopping centre in Downtown (1445 Peel Street) it is now the home of over 1000 Barbie dolls. The exhibition itself is open 7 days a week and is free to enter, though there is the option to leave a donation for the wonderful Make A Wish foundation. It is beautifully yet simply presented, with a stunning water feature in the middle of the room, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and shiny pristine white walls with glass cases full of exquisitely designed Barbies throughout.
There are three types of Barbie on display. The first being those of varying nationalities from around the world. The choice of dress for some of the Barbie’s representing each country I am a little dubious about, and as for ‘Winter in Montreal’ Barbie I would love to know where, during a Montreal winter, you can wear this outfit to. I feel my ‘Blizzard Barbie’ might have been more apt here, but I wont hold this against you Barbie.
Then there were the Public Figure Barbies – those designed to imitate the famous faces of the stage and screen we all know and love as well as some Royalty. My favourites in this section had to be the Hollywood Icon Barbies – Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
And finally there was my favourite section – the Barbies whose outfits had been designed by some of the world’s best and most renowned fashion designers (Zac Posen, Christian Louboutin, Carolina Herrera being just a few). I know maybe it’s wrong to be jealous of a doll but when she’s wearing Vera Wang I think it’s understandable. Barbie was the first fashion doll and although others have came since none have ever been able to replicate her success so it seems only right that she should be given the opportunity to wear clothes created by these world class designers.The intricate detail that went into some of these creations was remarkable and for me this was the highlight of the exhibition.
Barbie is of course though, no stranger to controversy, having provoked much debate over the years, much of which relating to her lack of diversity and whether this blonde haired, blue eyed beauty with such a teeny tiny “perfect” figure can really be a positive role model for children. Barbie’s creators have taken on this criticism, to some extent at least, and have adapted her over the years. Variations of Barbie are now available in over 40 nationalities, a variety of skin tones, hair and eye colours and Barbie’s waist measurement has also increased over the years (though us mere mortals can still only dream of a figure like Barbie’s!) Despite some people’s misgivings about Barbie she has also had over 150 careers, everything from fashion designer to rock star to doctor to astronaut, and so in that sense is showing young kids that you can be anything you want to be. I do understand the concerns but in the celebrity obsessed world in which we live I personally think Barbie’s perfection is a tiny issue in a much greater problem. Mattel who make Barbie claim that 3 Barbie dolls are sold every second so regardless of your opinion,you can’t deny its popularity. And if she can make children today as happy as she did that 5 year old me, then long may her reign as the queen of fashion dolls continue.
N.B. The glass cases, although displaying Barbie beautifully in person, do unfortunately effect the quality of some of the images of the dolls dependant on where they are situated