April 16, 2016

Remembering the little girl I was...

How can you create an exhibition of a 57 year old doll and give her a platform usually reserved for the greatest artists of our time?

Well, the answer is simple: her name is Barbie and she has accompanied millions of girls through their childhood years.

However, only Paris could pull this off with so much style contemplating the success of this iconic doll by contextualising her within a cultural and social history of the 20th and 21st century.

Located in the Palais du Louvre's western wing, the entrance of the Museum des Arts Decoratifs was grandiose and, oh, so Parisian. At the top of the grand staircase stood a bright pink door inviting my Flaneuses friends and I to enter the magical world of Barbie.

Two of us were clearly enchanted the minute we entered the exhibit since we lost ourselves in reverie right in the first hall standing in total awe surrounded by an object which had taken over a good part of our lives between the ages of six to twelve.

We watched two wonderful documentaries about the history of Mattel and learned that the company's name is derived from Harold "Matt" Matson and Elliot Handler, who founded the company in 1945. Matson soon sold his share to Handler due to poor health, and Handler's wife Ruth took over Matson's role.

Much to my surprise I learnt that the success of not only Barbie but also Hot Wheels (little toy cars which my little brother and later my son would spend hours and hours playing with) were thanks to this creative and innovative husband and wife duo and not just streamline products of the huge company Mattel is today.

We waded through Barbie models from 6 different decades, spotted familiar models on the big "Family rainbow tree" - all I could remember were Skipper and Ken - and admired the real life couturier dresses the Barbie dresses had been inspired by.

Who remembers the Spice Girl Barbies? Or the Marie Antoinette one? Ever seen the Andy Warhol or Audrey Hepburn version? The stewardess, the vet, the architect and of course the princesses were all on display.

The absolute highlight was a 10 meter wall covered in Barbie clothes. Thousands of outfits had been carefully and creatively pinned on a black panel in perfect colour coordination ranging from pink (obviously!) to dark blue.

I walked out of the exhibition elated and a bit overwhelmed with all the memories of my childhood that had come flooding back. I could still see myself at my best friends' home sewing miniature clothes for our dolls and playing with the biggest acquisition I had ever made until then: a Barbie swimming pool!

Four decades later Miss Pink is still my best friend eventhough we don't live in the same country, I just wish we could have shared this special moment. Her memory is so much better than mine!

Pavillon de Marsan's magnificent staircase

Barbie's most famous portrait

La Barbie Parisienne

The Dior Barbie

Can I get a copy of that ski suit?

My prince has come along with many pairs of shoes

My most cherished acquisition at age 10

Christian Leboutin's dedication to Barbie's 50th birthday

Three Christian Dior dresses with Barbie size replicas in the background

I'll have one of each of these outfits please!

1980 Aerobic Barbie... remember the multi-coloured leg warmers?

A collage of thousands of Barbie outfits

Close-up of the collage in PiNk, of course!

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