At 58 years-old, Barbie is more modern than ever

I'm a birthday girl...

At 58 years-old, Barbie is more modern than ever

Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/PA Images

Barbie - Mattel's iconic doll - turns 58 today.

The toy manufacturer first introduced the iconic teenage-fashion doll at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959.

Created by Ruth Handler, she named it after her daughter after observing her playing with paper dolls.

Handler says she wanted a 3D model for girls to live out their dreams. And so far, that dreams seems to be coming true. Barbie has been transformed into any career imaginable; from an nurse, teacher and firefighter to a astronaut and president.

Most recently, Barbie embraced technology with the Hello Barbie Technology Hologram. Like an Amazon Echo for Barbie fanatics, holo Barbie hangs out in her box, answers questions, or dances on command to the music of your choice. With input from a mobile app, she can remember birthdays and her location (to provide the weather report), and even remind kids to brush their teeth.

To change Barbie’s look, just say “Hello Barbie, change my Barbie,” and a different character will appear in the original’s place. These will vary by ethnicity, skin tone and body type. Only female characters are available at this time.

Holo Barbie is expected to roll out in the States this autumn.

 

It's one of many innovations rolled out by the toy brand following rapidly declining Barbie sales. Two years ago, Mattel unveiled the revamped Fashionista line, with Barbies in a range of skin colors and hair colors plus flat feet (previously the feet were shaped like high heels) and less than 12 months after the company introduced “body diversity,” selling curvy, tall and petite Barbies, kicking off a major conversation in a culture that’s long been overly obsessed with a doll.

Mattel pushed to diversify its iconic doll away from its classic look, in an attempt to win back parents turned off by the impossible and widely-criticized beauty standard (skinny, white) Barbie.

“The brand was losing relevance,” said Lisa McKnight, a senior vice president at Mattel who manages the Barbie line. “We knew we had to change the conversation.”

It’s worked. Barbie sales rose 7% to $971.8 million in 2016, putting an end to four consecutive years of steep declines. 

In 2017, Barbie has moved away from gender roles, assuming the role of a construction worker fully equipped with a Mega-Bloks set. The company is also introducing an even more diverse range of Barbies, including a tall African-American doll with an Afro, a red-headed petite Barbie with a girl power T-shirt, and a mini-skirted blue-haired Barbie. In all there will be 10 skin tones, 4 body types and 15 hairstyles for Barbie.

The Barbie Builder Doll comes with Mega Construx micro-bricks and mini-blocks, along with instructions to build a beach house or a treehouse. Image: Mattel

Facts

  • Full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts
  • Original price tag for Barbie: $3
  • Most expensive Barbie ever sold: A Stefano Canturi-designed doll wearing a diamond necklace sold for $302,500 at a 2010 Christie’s Auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
  • Top mint condition 1959 Barbie Doll sold: $27,450
  • Best selling Barbie doll of all time: Totally Hair Barbie, which debuted in 1990
  • Best selling Barbie doll of 2016: A brunette Latina with a “curvy,” build and brown eyes from Barbie’s Fashionista line

2016's best-selling Barbie doll. Image: Mattel