In the midst of a serious Barbie backlash, one L.A. fashion designer is taking Barbie's side — by attempting to bring back her pastel-colored, jazzercise-ready wardrobe of the early 1990s.
The new fashion collection, designed by the West Hollywood-based women's brand Wildfox, is called "Welcome to the Dreamhouse: At Home with Barbie," and it looks exactly like what you'd imagine: star-spangled leotards, mesh sweatshirts paired with acid-wash jeans, turquoise bike shorts with leg warmers and plenty of pink sweatsuits and swimsuits for every occasion. And yes, they're made to fit life-size, adult women.
Wildfox co-founder and creative director Kimberley Gordon says Mattel proposed the collaboration in an attempt to re-vamp Barbie's image and "get people our age thinking about it and make her cool." It's one of several recent Barbie fashion collaborations, including a line of Barbie tops and sweaters from Forever 21, a line of nightgowns and sleepwear from the New York-based retailer Lord & Taylor, and Jeremy Scott's high-fashion Moschino collection, which hit the runway at Milan Fashion Week in September with lots of blonde bouffants, bubblegum-pink rompers and polka-dotted prom dresses.
The collaborations hint at El Segundo-based Mattel's attempts to market Barbie to adult women by catering to the recent resurgence of retro 1980s and '90s fashion. The brand is badly in need of a sales boost, considering last month's report of a 21 percent decline in Barbie sales compared to the same quarter last year. Those sales woes are magnified in the midst of Barbie's growing identity crisis and the ongoing debate over whether she's an appropriate role model for young girls.
That debate was reignited with a new controversy this week. It started when writer Pamela Ribon discovered Barbie's disastrous I Can Be A Computer Engineer book, in which the title character isn't an engineer at all — she's a designer who relies on the coding help of her bro pals Brian and Steve.
Mattel apologized for the misstep, but not before real-life engineer Kathleen Tuite launched the Feminist Hacker Barbie app, which lets users rewrite Barbie's story with a feminist bent. Then there's the totally unglamorous Lammily doll, dubbed the "normal Barbie," which hit the market this week as an antidote to Barbie's unrealistic body proportions.
"I know there's so much controversy around her being a bad role model," says Wildfox's Gordon, a blonde 31-year-old who fondly remembers designing her Barbie dolls' taped-together outfits out of toilet paper. "I don't remember being a little girl and thinking about her body. I just remember her long blonde hair or the long black hair and the cute little smile and just having tiny clothes." The new Wildfox fashion line is intended as a reminder of that nostalgia, "about that time period that was so fun, and all about dress up."
But can fun adolescent dress-up translate to modern women's wear in 2014? Sure, if you're the type of woman who has the distinct privilege of spending her days climbing the Stair Master, juicing cucumbers, sipping cocktails by the pool or lounging in a jacuzzi with her BFF. These are all scenes from the "Welcome to the Dreamhouse: At Home with Barbie" fashion shoot, which features a model that could be mistaken for Malibu Barbie and another that looks exactly like Tyra Banks in the 2000 movie Life-Size, in which Banks plays a doll, fittingly enough.
While Moschino's Barbie-inspired line featured big-shouldered party dresses and sequined ball gowns, Wildfox's line is readymade for L.A. lounging.
"It's just like hangover clothes," Gordon says. "Our collections are always kind of like, you can throw it on and go out in it and look chic and feel like shit."
Which again raises the question: Who is this Barbie collection actually for? Maybe an entrepreneur, like Paris Hilton, Gordon suggests. "Barbie's done everything. She's a doctor, she's a lawyer," says Gordon. "She's a go-getter." And yes, sometimes she even gets hungover and just needs to lounge in her sweats like the rest of us.
To illustrate Barbie's "billion different jobs," Gordon designed a Wildfox t-shirt with Barbie's resume printed on the back. Maybe someday computer engineering might be added to that resume. Until then, there's always Feminist Hacker Barbie.
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