Barbie doll and I have been friends since 1959 when she was first created by Ruth and Elliot Handler and released by Mattel. The Handler’s were in Germany and saw a Bild Lili doll in a storefront window, which planted the seed that led to Barbie’s birth.
How different she was from all my other chubby, big-eyed baby dolls that were dressed like toddlers, could make gurgling and cooing sounds and speak one-line sentences. Barbie was a silent siren whose wardrobe spoke volumes in its adult sophistication as it accentuated her somewhat over exaggerated bumps and curves. But her tiny waist and unrealistic proportions did not prompt me to starve myself so I would look like her. I knew she was a toy.
Marketed as a teenaged fashion model, she may have come across as a seductress to some instead. But I loved her and so did my friends — even if we were years away from becoming the adult she was. We would play for hours changing her outfits and imagining that we were as grown up as she was. To think that this doll, a toy really, that cost $3 back in 1959 would fetch over $10,000 US decades later was unimaginable, but for a while in the 1980s and 90s that was the case.
Of course, she had to be NRFB (Never Removed From Box) and in pristine, mint condition.
There were actually some visionary people who bought two of her when she was first released. The intention was to play with one and keep the other for future appreciation in case this buxom beauty became a hit. Well, she did.
Barbie has had many incarnations over the decades, some of which were not well received. Her original vintage look of the ‘50s and ‘60s changed radically in the ‘70s and ‘80s when she lost her look of sophistication and gained a goofy smile and enormous, starry eyes. I was not a fan of this look and had long left her behind for adult pursuits only to rediscover her in the mid ‘90s when I decided my daughter had to have a Barbie. Falling for this doll all over again, I bought one for each of us and it went from there to the point where I now have a room full of these beauties.
When I found out there is a permanent Barbie Expo at Les Cours Mont Royal downtown, wild horses couldn’t keep me away. I was not disappointed. This ageless doll, from 1959 to present day, is displayed in a setting befitting of her status as “the doll that started it all”.
Upon entering the exhibition, I marvelled at the beautiful flowers, crystal chandeliers and an elegant water fountain akin to what you would find in the lobby of a high-end hotel. There are countless walls of glass display cases featuring Barbie in just about every fashion ever designed for her. I could never afford to dress like this girl. She’s had every career from astronaut to zookeeper and has appealed to both little children as well as adult collectors like myself. Barbie easily falls into the category of one of those incredible inventions that has the ability to transcend generations and remain imaginative and relevant. Her popularity has had its ups and downs over the decades and many other companies have offered up Barbie knock-offs and other types and sizes of fashion dolls. Some of them have been extremely successful as well but it always has to be remembered that Barbie truly is the doll that started it all.
Whether you’re a fan or not, check out the free permanent exhibition at Les Cours Mont Royal. Like Barbie, it truly is a thing of beauty.