Barbie -- and creators -- feel her age at 50

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 5, 2009 at 4:10 AM EST

She doesn't have a streak of grey hair, her breasts remain unnaturally perky, and she has endless outfits -- but Barbie is feeling miserable ahead of her 50th birthday.

Not only is she accused of promoting anorexia among young girls, but her sales plunged 21 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and for seven years she has had to deal with Bratz, a sassy rival hot on her high heels.

Born Barbara Millicent Robert on March 9, 1959 in Willows, Wisconsin, the 29-centimeter (11.4-inch) beauty wowed the world when she made her debut at a New York toy fair, leading to sales of 300,000 that same year.

With her long legs, love of pink-tinged glamour, and hair made for combing, she was a world away from the baby-like creatures cradled by girls of previous generations.

Today she is at the center of the Mattel company empire. She has inspired dozens of fashion designers, become a presence on Facebook and MySpace, revolutionized playtime for young children -- and forced untold numbers of reluctant parents to reach for their wallets.

New York Fashion Week this month will fete her 50th with real-life leggy models.

"Fifty designers will be coming together for the first time in history to celebrate Barbie as an iconic figure in fashion. Presenting as a three generational fashion show (Past, Present and Future)," a statement from the organizers announced.

So far, organizers have only confirmed the participation of French shoe designer Christian Louboutin.

However, there's already a special wedding dress by Vera Wang that will be on sale for 15,000 dollars. For Barbie owners, or those without that kind of money, the same thing is available in miniature for 159.99 dollars at Toys R Us on New York's Times Square.

Mattel has also signed a contract with the Council of American Designers, led by Diane von Furstenberg, who describes Barbie as "a confident and independent woman with an amazing ability to have fun while remaining glamorous."

Glossy publisher Assouline is putting out "Barbie" with a 500-dollar price tag and pictures of the doll wearing Prada, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen.

Certainly, Barbie has no shortage of clothes.

She has outfits for 108 separate professions and a total of a billion items of clothing spread across the globe, according to her website.

In the 1960s, she went through the Grace Kelly period, then got a hippy look in the 1970s, a business woman makeover in the 1980s, and in 1989 a Pentagon-approved military uniform.

In 1992 she ran for the White House and in 2004 she caused an uproar in the doll world by breaking up with her notably sexless partner Ken.

The biggest life change for Barbie though has been the appearance of her nemesis seven years ago, the Bratz fashion dolls. The big-eyed, wild-haired beauties have eaten steadily into Barbie sales.

Mattel last year successfully sued to prevent MGA Entertainment from making or selling Bratz, after a court ruled that its creator had conceived of the idea while he was still employed by Mattel.

However, the court granted a reprieve for Bratz so that the dolls can remain on sale through this year.

Then Barbie and her makers will have to brace themselves for the publication of "Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel," a book which promises to reveal the doll's dirty secrets, including the sexual shenanigans of her original creator, electrical engineer Jack Ryan.




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