Who is the most iconic and renowned woman in the world, according to both millions of young girls and grown-up women? Of course, without any hint needed, the answer is unanimously Barbie. Born in 1959, the 11-inch-tall toy doll was designed by a woman named Ruth Handler who, after seeing her daughter more excited to play with paper dolls of adult women rather than baby dolls, decided to create along with her husband what shortly after became the first mass-produced toy doll in the world: Barbie.
Since 1959 Barbie has always been praised and celebrated in the entertainment industry, from fashion (does anyone remember Karl-Lagerfeld-inspired Barbie?) to Disney’s movies. One of the latest Barbie’s homage has been directly paid by MUDEC (the Museum of Cultures of Milan), where an exhibition, called Barbie – The Icon, aims to glorify Barbie’s intricate fashion, cultural and anthropological aspects. If there’s one toy through which we could analyze an entire society, that’s indeed Barbie.
Curated by Massimiliano Cappella, who also worked as the 2013 Venice Biennale’s curator and wrote a book about Versace, the Barbie exhibition in Milan consists of 5 different sections, and includes all images, objects and videos that made this 11-inch doll a ‘living’ legend. Starting from the very first section, we are immediately introduced to Barbie’s world, which is cheerfully made of Barbie’s friends and family members, Barbie’s different professional roles and nationalities, which above all prove once again her cosmopolitan nature. Moreover, in the second section, children will be even able to access a reproduction of their favorite doll’s house.
The exhibition, which is luckily meant for both adults and children, includes also a “Queen, diva and celebrity. Barbie as a global icon” section, where the doll personifies various women from different cultures and times, such as Caterina de’ Medici, Madame Pompadour and Queen Elizabeth I, giving the entire exhibition a strong girl-power touch. Those who are specifically looking for Barbie’s ties with the fashion industry won’t be disappointed: the exhibition includes some of the most unforgettable creations made for Barbie by some of the most internationally renowned fashion designers, such as Versace, Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Valentino.
Peter Bottazzi, the man behind Barbie – The Icon set, recently stated that, “this exhibition represented an unexpected challenge and a great occasion. It enabled me to work at the creation of an exhibition path which I consider unique in its category. It’s unique also because rarely set designers have the chance to display and tell a single element, which is always the same in terms of size and shape, recreated in uncountable variations and colors, but always in the same module.”
Creating a Barbie-themed exhibition, Bottazzi and Cappella managed to portray at least four generations of dreams, expectations and fashion styles into one single object which, whether we like it or not, is undeniably iconic. Barbie represents not only an era, but also a whole culture, which cannot be defined as exclusively ‘Western’ anymore. Available from October 28 to March 16, 2016, Barbie – The Icon exhibition in Milan is definitely an interesting artistic and cultural experiment that will make anyone daydream.
Photos courtesy of WWD