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Celebrating 65 Years of Barbie at the Design Museum

1984 peaches ‘n cream barbie


As Barbie turns 65, celebrating her eternal youth opens at the Design Museum. An exhibition charting the 65-year design evolution of the world’s most famous doll will feature over 180 remarkable dolls, including rare, unique, and innovative dolls and accessories, plus one of the earliest editions.

Exhibition Highlights

Iconic Dolls

Visitors will come face-to-face with iconic dolls, from the first Barbie to ‘move’ to the first Barbie to ‘talk,’ as well as a vast selection of others who have been a part of the Barbie universe and have made an impact on culture throughout the decades.

1992 totally hair barbie

Cultural Shifts and Representation

The exhibition explores Barbie’s changing appearance with evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation. It presents exclusive, behind-the-scenes insights into Mattel’s design processes and a detailed exploration of the Barbie doll as a technically and materially innovative creation.

Design and Accessories

The dolls are showcased alongside various other items and accessories from the Barbie universe, displayed together in a stunning exhibition landscape designed by Sam Jacob Studio.

Special Highlights

Recognisable and Bestselling Dolls

Highlights include:

  • Surfer Girl Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971 is one of the decade’s most popular dolls.
  • Day to Night Barbie from 1985 reflects the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s.
  • Totally Hair Barbie from 1992, the best-selling Barbie of all time, with over 10 million units sold globally.

Diversity and Representation

Examples of the first Black, Hispanic, and Asian Barbies and dolls reflecting today’s diverse, multicultural societies will be displayed. These include:

  • The first Barbie with Down syndrome
  • The first Barbie to use a wheelchair
  • The first Barbie was designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape

Rare and Unique Items

Special dolls on show include a unique prototype of the very first Talking Barbie (1968), borrowed directly from Mattel headquarters in Los Angeles. This prototype has a transparent torso intended to display the doll’s voice mechanism.

Friends and Family of Barbie

Visitors will also see:

  • Friends like Midge, Christie, and Teresa
  • Barbie’s younger sister, Skipper
  • A section dedicated to Ken, highlighting six decades of Ken dolls since his introduction in 1961

Early Editions and Playsets

First Edition Barbie

The first object visitors will encounter is one of the earliest first edition Barbie dolls, known by collectors as the ‘Number 1 Barbie,’ released by Mattel in 1959. This doll is now extremely sought after.

Barbie’s Universe

A huge variety of playsets, vehicles, houses, and other accessories have helped design the universe in which she exists. Highlights include:

  • The first Barbie Dreamhouse (1962)
  • Barbie’s first car (1962)
  • Her first campervan (1971)

These items show how Barbie and her accessories have always reflected the tastes and trends of their times.

1961 austin healy

Fashion Influence

Barbie’s Fashion Evolution

Dozens of original Barbie outfits highlight her origins as a fashion doll and her impact on the wider history of modern dress. Notable outfits include:

  • Poodle Parade (1965), a life-size replica of which Billie Eilish wore at the 2024 Grammy Awards.
  • An outfit by Oscar de la Renta from 1985.

Influence of Designers

Visitors will trace the changing silhouettes of mainstream fashion over the last 65 years and see the influence of designers like Claire McCardell, Christian Dior, Nolan Miller, and Zac Posen on Barbie’s fashion choices.

Exhibition Details

Barbie®: The Exhibition

Dates: 5 July 2024 – 23 February 2025
Location: Design Museum

Visit the Design Museum for more information and to plan your visit to this exclusive exhibition celebrating 65 years of Barbie.

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Picture of Pendle Harte

Pendle Harte

Pendle Harte joined Zest in 2012 as launch editor of Absolutely Notting Hill, Zest's first London title, and then became launch editor of Absolutely Home magazine in 2018. Now she edits the London portfolio, sourcing content on all things London related, from food to culture via fashion, interiors and health. Pendle is a lifelong Londoner whose interests include books, clothes, theatre and spelling. She lives with her partner and their two teenage daughters in north west London.
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