Barbie Fashionistas thumbnail 1
Barbie Fashionistas thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at Young V&A
Imagine Gallery, Small Worlds, Case 2, Shelf 1

This object consists of 6 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

Barbie Fashionistas

2020 (manufactured)
Place of origin

Dressed male doll made from PVC. It has moulded mauve hair and wears a clashing check shirt, dark grey jeans and black PVC hi-top canvas trainers.

Object details

Object type
This object consists of 6 parts.

  • Doll
  • Shirt
  • Jeans
  • Trainer
  • Trainer
  • Packaging
  • Barbie Fashionistas (series title)
  • Ken (generic title)
Materials and techniques
PVC, cotton, polyester
Brief description
Doll, Barbie Fashionistas Ken, no. 154, PVC and other plastics, Mattel, 2020
Physical description
Dressed male doll made from PVC. It has moulded mauve hair and wears a clashing check shirt, dark grey jeans and black PVC hi-top canvas trainers.
  • Doll height: 305mm
  • Doll width: 95mm
  • Doll depth: 45mm
  • Box height: 325mm
  • Box width: 115mm
  • Box depth: 55mm
Production typeMass produced
Gallery label
AKA Barbara Millicent Roberts Barbie is a doll with lots of interests, friends and clothes. She’s even had over two hundred jobs. Ruth Handler designed her when she saw her young daughter Barbara give grown-up personalities to her dolls. For a long time, most Barbies looked similar, but now they have different skin tones, hair types and body shapes to represent more people in the world. [Young V&A, Imagine Gallery, Small Worlds, group object label](01/07/2023)
Historical context
Dolls have been a popular children’s toy for several centuries. In the past, they were seen as tools for girls to learn and practice motherhood skills, as well for their roles in imaginative play and early years companionship. Prior to the mid-19th century, the art of commercial doll-making was carried out by professionals in small workshops, usually utilising painted wooden heads and bodies (see Misc.49-1963), and materials such as leather for limbs. For families who could not afford to buy a doll, found objects such as animal bones and rags were used to make them (see Misc.12-1924). The popularity of dolls meant that they eventually began to be produced industrially in bisque and composition, with the finest examples being manufactured in France and Germany.

The ability to dress and redress dolls has long been one of their primary appeals, and they have tended to closely follow fashion trends throughout their history. During the 20th century, the spread of mass global culture through print, film and television enabled fashionable trends to spread wider. This, combined with new materials and manufacturing techniques, created a new wave of cheaper fashion dolls made from PVC and similar plastics.

In the mid-1950s, Ruth Handler had observed that her daughter, Barbara, usually assigned adult roles to her dolls whilst playing with them. At that time many dolls represented babies or toddlers. Spotting a potential gap in the market, Handler approached Mattel with a German adult-bodied doll called Bild Lilli. This doll was part of a franchise that had begun in 1955 and was initially targeted at adults, although it also became popular with children who enjoyed its wide range of fashionable outfits. After some persuasion, Mattel redesigned Bild Lilli and introduced Barbara Millicent Roberts, better known as Barbie, on 9th March 1959 at the American International Toy Fair.

In 1961, Mattel were sued by fellow American toy giants Louis Marx and Company for infringing several patents relating to Bild Lilli, whose rights they had recently licenced from German company Greiner and Hauser. The case was settled in 1963 and Mattel closed the matter by purchasing the copyright and patents from Greiner and Hauser the following year.

Since 1959, Barbie has taken on many appearances and has had more than 200 careers, including as a dentist, astronaut and video game developer. She has traditionally been accompanied by a circle of friends, including Christie and Francie, as well as her boyfriend, Kenneth ‘Ken’ Carson.

Barbie dolls have tended to divide opinion and have been criticised for giving negative messages about beauty standards and body image to pre-teen children. Mattel have received steady criticism over the years for a lack of diversity within the range, which they have tried to improve since the launch of the first Black Barbie in 1980. This doll was not the first in the range to represent an African American person – that is usually considered to be Talking Christie of 1968. Indeed, it was far from the first black doll, examples of which have been produced since the 19th century with varying levels of stereotyping. Shindana Toys, a contemporary of Mattel in the 1960s and 1970s, were more progressive in the drive for representative toys. They made dolls sculpted with African features and names derived from West African languages in an attempt to support discourse on race relations in America. However, the significant thing about Mattel’s doll is that it was the first time a Barbie doll with a non-white skin tone was named Barbie, which was a sea change for a major manufacturer.

Mattel launched the Fashionista range of dolls in 2009. The line originally focused on representing different personality traits but has gradually diversified to include more representations of ethnicities, skin tones, body shapes, disabilities, and conditions. At the time of writing, female Barbie dolls are available with 22 skin tones, 94 hair colours, 13 eye colours and 5 body types.
Subject depicted
Other number
154 - product number
Accession number
B.9:1 to 6-2022

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Record createdJanuary 6, 2022
Record URL
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