Midway through the convulsions brought on by Museum Collection Barbie® (see it here if you dare) we came upon this fresher hell: significant cultural landmarks have been channelled through the special aesthetic vision that can only be described as Barbiesque®. As reported by MoT‘s only news source for all things Barbie®, Barbie Collector, Barbie® commemorates the 30th Anniversary of Dolls of the World® collection with the Landmark Collection®, featuring Barbie® dressed in gowns inspired by famous architecture (no “®”–architects do not enjoy such rights over their creative property as designers of plastic dolls).
The broader framework represented by the World Culture Barbies® is a project that reveals the global reach of Mattel’s objectification of women. The “ideal” is defined by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Beauty Queen-Computer Scientist-Racecar Driver-Cheerleader from Malibu. Mattel allows some variations from this standard to reflect differences of ethnicity (as long as they’re not too ethnic, of course): Barbie® doesn’t have to be blonde (like Diwali Barbie®); she might even have textured hair (like Nigerian Barbie®); occasionally she may have dark skin and dress like a hippie (like Kwanzaa Barbie®). But most denizens of the Barbieverse® stick pretty close to the exemplar. Even the All-Purpose Asian (“Oriental” in Barbie-speak) is not overly-ethnicized. Still, the greater number of World Cultures deemed worthy of Barbification® leans heavily toward the Eurozone, but in highly caricatured versions. Barbie française is cancan-ready (in a progressive move, the more recent France Barbie® Doll wears better-fitting shoes and stockings than her thirty-year-old mother, Parisian Barbie®); Scandinavia is represented not by a contemporary Ikea manager with excellent maternal-leave benefits, but instead as Princess of the Vikings. MoT‘s house ethnographers are rather fond of Italy Barbie® Doll, mostly for their theory that (1) she is modeled on Giada de Laurentis and (2) could probably take any of the blonde Barbies in a fight. A curious representative for America almost looks like a progressive political statement, until one realizes that cross-dressing George Washington Barbie® is just a weird and possibly misguided exercise in patriotism.
It is within this rich cultural milieu that Barbie® makes her homage to world architecture through the Landmark Collection® collection, although the results (not surprisingly) don’t really live up to their advertisement. The dolls wear clothes that are inspired by architectural things, but not exactly architecture–i.e., buildings. All of their sources are recognizable in a tourist-post-card kind of way, and decent enough examples of what they represent, but they’re not all really the most extraordinary landmarks out there. Once again, Mattel reaches for the low fruit on the inspiration tree. Although–or maybe because–drawing fashion inspiration from architecture is not a new idea, the lackluster way these exercises mimic and parody cultural landmarks is kind of a joke.
Sydney Opera House Barbie® is the only doll in the collection that is tricked out like a whole real building, although it is a structure with only limited visual interest as a one-note achievement. The mildly daring and definitely expensive structural shells of the Opera House are translated into paper plates that have blown off a picnic table and stuck to her bodice (we suspect Vegemite). Her skirt is colored like the harbor over which the opera perches (“ocean blue chiffon,” we are told).
Only two points about her design keeps MoT from falling asleep: (1) the fact that her hair is not just sprayed from here til Tuesday, but is meant to be perpetually windswept, like she’s by the water. (Get it? Get it?!) And then there are the shoes. MoT is impressed by the shoes. Do they come in size 8.5, for real people, perchance?
Even with these small items of interest, Sydney Opera House Barbie® is a pretty indifferent interpretation of the only vaguely relevant architecture from this little nation. Sorry, Australia, we’re just not that into you.
The closest-to-right Barbie® in this collection is the French offering. Eiffel Tower Barbie® actually reveals some real inspiration from her monument–along with some significant missteps that sort of ruin it all. MoT can really do without the cheap earrings and definitely would scrap the oversized charm bracelet that looks like Barbie® could not bring herself to say non, merci to the tschotske hawkers on the Champ de Mars. And then there’s the print on the dress: sacre bleu, another giant picture to say I AM A MONUMENT (suddenly we are inspired for Robert Venturi Barbie®). All this is very sad when the profile of the dress already echoes the graceful curve of the building, and the actually clever detail of the fish net sleeves recall the metal latticework of the original monument while still being like clothes. And although the actual thing is a tired and nasty sort of brown-bronze, they just went black and white here. As if a designer did this work.
The Dolls of the World® Landmark Collection® Collection is disappointing as a lost opportunity for something fun and interesting and clever to happen with architecture in popular culture. Although the problem is probably shared between the somewhat lackluster models chosen for inspiration and their interpretation by somewhat lackluster designers, perhaps some blame should be laid at the tiny feet of the doll herself. It coud not hurt to get a new doll. Perhaps one should not call in a plastic princess to do an Empress’ job.