Barbie and Balmain want to make toys the next big fashion frontier


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It’s the first week of the new year, but the competition to win the 2022 fashion The collaboration game, that ever-escalating race to find the most surprising and surprising brand pairing, has already begun.

First exit : Balmain, the French haute couture house, and Barbie, the plastic doll par excellence. This could signal the official break from fashion’s next big frontier: the world of toys. Although the marriage of Mattel iconography and hardware iconography isn’t exactly what you might expect.

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There is no doll involved: instead there is a 50 piece doll. Barbie inspired collection for adults. It is modeled by avatars of various races and will include three non-fungible tokens of unique looks to be auctioned online, each coming with a physical doll-sized design, extending Barbie’s reach into space. of digital collection.

And above all, the NFT collection and looks are unisex: Barbie clothes that erase the Ken-Barbie divide.

After all, even in the days of the first female vice-president, when Barbie and all the outdated feminine stereotypes it may represent seem out of place, the collection is disarmingly attractive. It was designed with a hint of irony filtered through rose-colored glasses and the giant smile of a boy who once thought he wasn’t supposed to play with dolls and now has carte blanche to reinvent the most popular in the world.

balmain barbie In an undated image provided by Rob Rusling, looks from the Barbie x Balmain collection. (Source: New York Times)

“Having Barbie in my Balmain army, doing a collection inspired by her where there’s no boy clothes or girl clothes, that’s my little revenge,” said Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. “I think Barbie represents a happy dream world. There’s nothing wrong with a dream. But let’s push the dream and not dream of the 1950s or 1960s, but of 2022. For me, it’s much more just a commercial project. It’s very moving.

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He was speaking, he said, from personal experience – “when I was a kid I used to play with Barbies and I felt a certain rejection for it” – that was why he was interested in take his relationship with Mattel beyond the doll dressing phase.

Rousteing has done looks for the Claudia Schiffer Barbie before, and in 2021 invited a computer-generated Barbie and Ken to the Balmain digital fashion show. And he’s just one of many designers who have created clothes for the doll, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg and Karl Lagerfeld.

In 2009, for her 50th birthday, there was a special “Barbie Fashion Show” at New York Fashion Week, and in 2019, Barbie received the Council of Fashion Designers of America Board of Directors’ Tribute, an award previously given to Michelle Obama and Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood.

But this collection takes its influence, and the concept of inclusivity, on an even broader level.

As to why Mattel was interested, well, according to Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson, the company believes that toys have the potential to be a credible fashion accessory, just like bags and perfumes. .

“When you combine the seriousness of high fashion with the fun of toys, it’s very powerful,” Dickson said. Mattel happens to have some experience in this area, having created a limited-edition Cadillac Hot Wheels with Gucci in October. The toy cars — 5,000 of them, priced at $120 each — sold out in minutes, according to Dickson.

barbie, balmain In an undated image provided by Mattel, the Cadillac Mattel Creations x Gucci, the size of a Hot Wheels. (Source: New York Times)

Prices for the Barbie x Balmain collection are higher than that. They range from $295 for a t-shirt to $42,494 for a signature dress, which is much more than the usual Barbie prices but less than the classic Balmain, for which a basic logo t-shirt sells for $495. . (No one knows how much NFTs will go for in the current climate of the digital collectibles gold rush; the auction takes place Tuesday through Jan. 14.) The point, Dickson said, is that just like those who can aspire to a Chanel bag can start with a bottle of Chanel n°5, those who dream of a Balmain dress can start with a Barbie x Balmain accessory.

“People are looking for optimism and joy, especially now that life is very heavy,” he said. “Toys are that by definition.” That the same definition can be applied to fashion is one of the points of convergence.

And yes, it’s hard to look at the Barbie x Balmain collection and not giggle, despite the sugary sweetness of the color palette, which ranges from fuchsia to bubble gum (in other words, not far from everything), with some white, blue and yellow thrown in as accents.

There are giant, squishy air bags with Balmain Paris scribbled on them in curved Barbie script below the 1970s Balmain logo and clear plastic shoppers that look like Barbie doll boxes; baby-pink silk satin suits with kimono jackets and striped shorty pajama sets; sequin mini-disco dresses and a strapless mermaid dress. Also, dungarees and sweatshirts and pointed-shoulder buckled jackets with gold buttons.

Pure, silly kitsch meets pop culture, and the couture jumpsuit works surprisingly well.

It adds levity to Rousteing’s iconic ’80s shoulders and tied-up turkey dresses, which can sometimes look overcooked, and raises the bar for collabs. Like Balenciaga’s “Simpsons” episode, it incorporates social and cultural commentary into the value proposition.

And in doing so, it lends credence to Dickson’s prediction that soon the fashion toy industrial complex “is going to be a whole new business.”

(This article originally appeared in The New York Times.)

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