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London’s Design Museum to host major Barbie™ exhibition

Opening to mark the 65th anniversary of the Barbie brand, Barbie: The Exhibition, in partnership with Mattel, a leading global toy company, will feature over 180 remarkable dolls, with rare, unique and innovative Barbie dolls and accessories.

1959_Barbie_No._1__Mattel_Inc_-_Copy.jpg1959 Barbie No. 1 © Mattel, Inc.

Visitors to London's Design Museum will come face-to-face with important and distinctive dolls, from the first Barbie to ‘move’ to the first Barbie to ‘talk’, as well as a vast selection of others that have been a part of the Barbie universe and have made an impact on culture throughout the decades.

The exhibition — which begins on 5 July 2024 and runs until 23 February 2025 — will explore Barbie’s changing appearance in relation to evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation. It will present exclusive, behind-the-scenes insights into Mattel’s design processes and will offer a detailed exploration of the Barbie doll as a technically and materially innovative creation.

1992_Totally_Hair_Barbie.__Mattel_Inc_-_Copy.jpg1992 Totally Hair Barbie. © Mattel, Inc.

The dolls will be showcased alongside a vast array of other items and accessories from the universe of Barbie, displayed together in a stunning exhibition landscape designed by Sam Jacob Studio. Over 250 pieces will be on show in total, dating from 1959 to the present day, and collectively charting 65 years of design evolution of the world’s most famous doll.

Highlights will include some of the most recognisable and best-selling dolls, including the ‘surfer girl’ Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971, which was one of the most popular of the decade, and the ground-breaking Day to Night Barbie from 1985 that was designed to reflect the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s, and which saw Barbie’s work-attire pink suit transform into a chic evening gown. There will also be two examples of 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time which has sold over 10 million across the globe.

1985_Day_to_Night_Barbie._Photo__Mattel_Inc_-_Copy.jpg1985 Day to Night Barbie. © Mattel, Inc.

There will be examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name on display, as well as dolls that reflect today’s diverse, multicultural society. These will include the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first to be designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape.

Special dolls on show will include a unique prototype of the very first Talking Barbie (launched in 1968), which is one of several rare items borrowed directly from the Mattel headquarters archives in Los Angeles. This prototype has a transparent torso, intended to display the doll’s voice mechanism — activated by a pull-string — to prospective wholesalers and toy buyers.

1980_Black_Barbie.__Mattel_Inc_1_-_Copy.jpg1980 Black Barbie. © Mattel, Inc.

Many friends of Barbie will also be shown — including her first friend Midge — and the much-loved Christie and Teresa; as well as the younger sister of Barbie, Skipper. There’ll also be a section dedicated to Ken, which will see six decades’ worth of Ken dolls charting his evolution from his introduction in 1961.

Another major highlight of the exhibition will be the first object that visitors will encounter as they enter the Design Museum’s gallery: one of the earliest first edition Barbie dolls. The doll — known by collectors as the ‘Number 1 Barbie’ as it was the very first model released by Mattel in 1959 — is now extremely sought after. Hand-painted and featuring Barbie in a black-and-white bathing suit, the doll on display is an especially rare first edition that features holes in Barbie’s feet where it would have been fixed to a stand.

1961_Austin_Healy.___Mattel_Inc_-_Copy.jpg1961 Austin Healy. © Mattel, Inc.

Barbie®: The Exhibition will be the first time a major UK museum has held a major show dedicated to Barbie. It’s been made possible through a partnership with Mattel Inc, allowing the Design Museum to draw on Mattel’s Barbie archives in California for a number of key loans, as well as utilising the expertise of Mattel’s brand historians and archivists.

Tim Marlow, Director and CEO of the Design Museum said: “Design has been at the heart of Barbie’s story ever since her creation 65 years ago. And as we’ve seen recently, her impact has also evolved with each new generation. Visitors to our timely exhibition will come face-to-face with some of the most important and recognisable iterations of Barbie from across the past six-and-a-half decades, and we hope it will be a joyful, fascinating, inspiring, illuminating and even perhaps nostalgic experience for generations of Barbie fans.”

1984_Peaches_N_Cream_Barbie.__Mattel_Inc_-_Copy.jpg1984 Peaches ‘N Cream Barbie. © Mattel, Inc.

Kim Culmone, SVP of Design for Mattel, said: “Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has become an international icon and inspiration that continues to spark conversation, creativity, and self-expression around the world. This exhibition will tell the story of Barbie through a design lens including fashion, architecture, furniture, and vehicle design, which are all spaces where she has left a mark on culture during her remarkable 65-year career. We can’t wait for fans and audiences to experience this exhibition with the renowned Design Museum this July.”

The Design Museum is the world’s leading museum devoted to contemporary architecture and design. Its work encompasses all elements of design, including fashion, product and graphic design. Since it opened its doors in 1989 the museum has displayed everything from an AK-47 to high heels designed by Christian Louboutin. It has staged over 100 exhibitions, welcomed over seven million visitors and showcased the work of some of the world’s most celebrated designers and architects.

If you or your group would like to enjoy a visit to the Design Museum to see Barbie®: The Exhibition as part of a tailor-made tour of London, please do contact our friendly team today. 

Tags: London  Barbie  Design Museum  

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