Major Barbie Exhibition Launches At London’s Design Museum 


The Design Museum in London has unveiled a major exhibition titled “Barbie: The Exhibition,” celebrating the 65th anniversary of the iconic Barbie brand. Opening today in partnership with global toy company Mattel, the exhibition features over 180 unique Barbie dolls and accessories, including rare and innovative pieces that have shaped Barbie’s legacy.

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter significant dolls from Barbie’s history, such as the first Barbie to move and the first Barbie to talk. The exhibition runs until February 2025 and explores Barbie’s evolution through cultural shifts around diversity and representation. It offers exclusive insights into Mattel’s design processes and highlights Barbie as a technically and materially innovative creation.

Barbie, the Design Museum, London July 2024

Curated by Sam Jacob Studio, the exhibition showcases over 250 items from 1959 to the present day, charting 65 years of Barbie’s design evolution. Notable dolls on display include the famous ‘Sunset Malibu Barbie’ from 1971, the transformative ‘Day to Night Barbie’ from 1985, and the best-selling ‘Totally Hair Barbie’ from 1992. The exhibition also features the first Black, Hispanic, and Asian dolls named Barbie and the first Barbie with Down syndrome, in a wheelchair and with a curvy body shape.

Among the highlights is a unique prototype of the first Talking Barbie from 1968, on loan from Mattel’s archives in Los Angeles. The exhibition also includes Barbie’s friends, such as Midge, Christie, Teresa, and her younger sister Skipper, alongside a section dedicated to Ken dolls, showcasing six decades of his evolution since 1961.

One of the first objects visitors will encounter is a rare first-edition ‘Number 1 Barbie’ from 1959, featuring a hand-painted face and a black-and-white bathing suit. This doll, acquired by the Design Museum with the support of the Conran Foundation, is one of the oldest Barbie dolls in a UK museum collection.

Barbie, the Design Museum, LondonJuly 2024
Barbie, the Design Museum, London July 2024

Another major attraction is a unique Barbie doll that orbited Earth on the International Space Station in 2022. Modelled after European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, this Barbie participated in a mission to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. The exhibition includes video footage of Cristoforetti and the Barbie doll floating in zero gravity, on loan from the European Space Agency.

“Barbie: The Exhibition” offers a comprehensive look into the Barbie universe, featuring playsets, vehicles, houses, and other accessories that have shaped her world. Visitors will see the first Barbie Dreamhouse from 1962, her first car, and her first campervan, reflecting the tastes and trends of their respective eras.

Fashion is a significant theme, with original Barbie outfits highlighting her origins as a fashion doll and her impact on modern dress. Outfits include ‘Poodle Parade’ from 1965, a life-size replica worn by Billie Eilish at the 2024 Grammy Awards, and a 1985 Oscar de la Renta design. The exhibition traces the influence of designers like Claire McCardell, Christian Dior, Nolan Miller, and Zac Posen on Barbie’s fashion choices.

The exhibition’s final section examines Barbie’s role as a pop culture icon and her influence on various design fields. This includes an original costume Margot Robbie wore in the 2023 “Barbie” movie and items exploring Barbie’s status as a cultural figurehead.

Barbie at the Design Museum, London
Barbie at the Design Museum, London

Tim Marlow, Director and CEO of the Design Museum, remarked, “Design has been at the heart of Barbie’s story since her creation 65 years ago. Visitors will come face-to-face with some of the most important and recognisable iterations of Barbie from across the past six-and-a-half decades, and we hope it will be a joyful, fascinating, inspiring, illuminating and even perhaps nostalgic experience for generations of Barbie fans.”

Danielle Thom, curator of the exhibition, added, “The Barbie universe is expansive and exciting, thanks to the meticulous work of talented designers over the past 65 years. Barbie is arguably one of the most globally recognised examples of world-building through product and graphic Design. She has inspired many designers and artists to respond to her history.”

Kim Culmone, SVP of Design for Mattel, commented, “Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has become an international icon and inspiration that continues to spark conversation, creativity, and self-expression worldwide. This exhibition tells the story of Barbie through a design lens, including fashion, architecture, furniture, and vehicle design, which are all spaces where she has left a mark on culture during her remarkable 65-year career. We can’t wait for fans and audiences to experience this exhibition with the renowned Design Museum.”

“Barbie: The Exhibition” is open at the Design Museum from July 5, 2024, to February 23, 2025

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