The 1960s - this was the decade when teenagers claimed the catwalk for themselves; the idea of high fashion transferring to the high street was really quite new but it was just what was needed to help stage the brave new era – the swinging sixties.
By 1960 teenagers wanted the latest fashions in bright colours and newly invented fabrics - and this desire was soon taken up by the pre-teen market.
Enter Barbie with her intriguing independence and endless supply of fashion outfits and accessories. Barbie had a swinging lifestyle, she was always ‘going on holiday’ with snappy matching suitcases, designer sunglasses and skis. Barbie allowed young girls to ‘live the dream’ and by 1961, that dream included Ken. She had siblings and made friends easily and Midge, Skipper, Skooter and Ricky were soon part of the Barbie set - on sale with matching lifestyle accessories.
Barbie had been introduced to the market by Ruth Handler (1916 – 2002) who, at the age of nineteen, had married Elliot Handler - partner in Mattel, a West Coast American toy manufacturing company.
Ruth Handler developed the concept of Barbie by watching her young daughter, Barbara, playing with a plastic dressable figure - Bild Lilli (made in Germany and brought back as a gift from a trip to Switzerland).
The first Barbie doll was manufactured in the USA, in 1959. Perhaps the most iconic Barbie image is the girl with the long curly blond hair wearing the original floor length pink chiffon evening dress (with white sash bow) manufactured in that year. The doll was so popular that the Barbie range soon became a global success for the manufacturer and Ruth Handler eventually became President of Mattel Inc.
As time moved on, political trends reacted against the stereotypical Barbie - and the manufacturers responded by introducing a wider set of cultural images and also by altering the over-emphasised bust/waist/hip ratios of the earliest designs – attempting to more accurately represent the real world.
It seems that, with the invention of Barbie, Ruth Handler was the first modern commercial toy designer to create an adult doll specifically to enable pre-teen girls to play-out their future roles and over the years this has included Barbara Millicent Roberts working as a dentist, a police officer, a chef, an astronaut, a cowgirl and a paleontologist.
In 2009, Barbie turns 50 – and enjoys the same success and controversy as ever. The dolls are highly collectable and major collections attract global attention.
Armel Rood has been collecting Barbie dolls, wardrobe and accessories for twenty years - concentrating on the Barbie Golden Era of 1959-1972. The collection includes a memorable list of Barbie merchandising with delightful items including Barbie Diaries purses, keyrings and memorabilia from the Barbie Fan Club.
Armel exhibited valuable and unusual pieces from her wonderful Barbie Collection at the International Collectors Fair on the 18th and 19th April 2009. The display included the Barbie shop and highly collectable Barbie clothes as well as the vintage Barbie Aston Martin and ‘Twiggy Barbie’ (1967).