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A Barbie Exhibition Is Coming To The Design Museum


More than two months on from the release of Greta Gerwig’s powdery pink, billion-dollar-grossing, hotly debated Barbie movie, Barbie fever shows no sign of dissipating. The film is gearing up to take 2024’s awards season by storm; the Barbiecore trend is still present on catwalks and on the front row (as evidenced by the likes of Florence Pugh, Andrew Garfield and Paris Hilton at Valentino’s recent spring/summer 2024 show in Paris); and now, a new doll-focused exhibition is on its way – great news for those of us who spent the past year dissecting the Barbie references in Margot Robbie’s press tour wardrobe, or pored over the film’s glorious credit sequence, which featured an eye-popping range of vintage dolls and advertising campaigns.

On 5 July 2024, the Design Museum will unveil Barbie, a thrilling new showcase exploring the history of the era-defining toy and brand in celebration of its 65th anniversary. Reportedly three years in the making, the exhibition will run until February 23, 2025 and focus on the doll’s design evolution over the past half a century. Thanks to a unique partnership with the brand’s parent company, Mattel, the museum has been granted special access to the extensive Barbie archives in California, meaning both familiar and never-before-seen dolls will be on display, alongside Barbie’s clothes from across the decades as well as her accessories, homes, furniture and vehicles. At the heart of the exhibition will also be the story of Ruth Handler (memorably played by Rhea Perlman in the movie), who was the co-founder of Mattel and created the doll in 1959 in a bid to give her daughter, Barbara, Barbie’s namesake, an adult-bodied doll to play with rather than the baby dolls that were ubiquitous at the time.

1985’s Day to Night Barbie. Photo: Mattel, Inc.

The two images released by the museum so far show that among the items on display will be Barbie’s 1962 Dream House, a brightly-colored oasis of mid-century modern furniture, complete with a vintage TV, miniature books, magazines and artwork, and 1985’s Day to Night Barbie, a version of the doll sold wearing a pink power suit which can be transformed into a showstopping evening dress. The latter was Barbie’s first ever day-to-night ensemble, a nod to the women’s workplace revolution of that decade. (Margot Robbie referenced both the doll’s day and evening looks during the Barbie press tour, naturally.)

Barbie’s Dream House from 1962. Photo: Mattel, Inc.

However, we still have more questions: will we get to see the original 1959 Barbie in her black and white striped swimsuit, as depicted by Robbie in the film’s opening sequence? Or Midge, played by Emerald Fennell, the doll who was sold pregnant and later “gave birth”? Or the mermaid Barbie, as portrayed by Dua Lipa? Or 1975’s Growing Up Skipper, the Barbie which grew when you swiveled her arms? And will Ken get a look in, too? Look out for more details in the months to come ahead of tickets going on sale next spring. Oh, and those Barbiecore looks you wore to the cinema? Make sure to hold onto them for your museum outing next summer.

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