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The London Design Museum celebrates the 65th birthday of the Barbie icon with an exhibition. Over 250 rare and innovative dolls showcase Barbie’s development since 1959.

She has been around since 1959. For some, she is an object of desire, while others treat her with contempt. She either embodies stereotypes of femininity or is stylised as a model of female emancipation. The model doll caused a stir last year in Greta Gerwig’s Hollywood comedy with musical numbers. Now, from 6 July to 23 February 2025, the London Design Museum, in collaboration with Mattel, a leading global toy manufacturer, is dedicating a large-scale exhibition to the design development of one of the world’s most famous dolls: Barbie®. More than 250 objects, including rare, unique, and innovative dolls from 1959 to today, will allow visitors to immerse themselves in the Barbie universe. On the 65th birthday of this adaptable doll, “Barbie – The Exhibition” views Barbie’s history through the lens of design.

Highlights include a rare edition of the very first doll released by Mattel in 1959 (Number 1 Barbie). The exhibited piece is hand-painted and shows Barbie in a black-and-white swimsuit; the holes in her feet indicate where she would have been attached to a stand. Other highlights are a prototype of the very first talking Barbie (launched in 1968), the groundbreaking “Day to Night Barbie” from 1985, and the best-selling Barbie of all time, the “Totally Hair Barbie” from 1992, which sold over 10 million units worldwide. Also on display are examples of the first black, Hispanic, and Asian dolls named Barbie, as well as dolls reflecting today’s diverse and multicultural society, including the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first designed with a curvy body shape. Barbie’s friends and her sister Skipper will be introduced, and Ken dolls from six decades will be showcased. The Barbie universe will also feature dream houses, vehicles, and furniture, including the very first Barbie Dreamhouse™ from 1962.

Additionally, dozens of original Barbie outfits will be displayed, showcasing both her origins as a fashion doll and her influence on modern clothing history. These outfits include “Poodle Parade” from 1965; a life-sized replica was worn by Billie Eilish at the 2024 Grammy Awards. The influence of designers from Claire McCardell and Christian Dior to Nolan Miller and Zac Posen on Barbie’s fashion choices will be discussed, as well as Barbie’s role as a pop culture icon. Finally, original costumes worn by actors in the 2023 “Barbie” film will be exhibited. The exhibition architecture was designed by the Sam Jacob Studio.

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