Barbie and Balmain want to make play the next big fashion

It’s the first week of the new year, but the competition to win the 2022 fashion collaboration game is already underway, the ever-increasing race to come up with the most eye-catching and head-shaking brand pairs.

First out of the gate: Balmain, the French haute couture house, and Barbie, the perfect plastic doll. This may indicate the official violation of the next big fashion frontier: the gaming world. Although Mattel’s marriage of iconic and physical icons isn’t exactly what you might expect.

NO DOLL: Instead, there’s a 50-piece Barbie-inspired set for adults. It was designed with diverse racial avatars and will include three NFT variations of one-off looks to be auctioned online, each with a physical doll-sized design, thus expanding Barbie’s reach into the collectible digital space.

Most importantly, both the collection and the unisex NFT look: Barbie outfits that erase the Ken-Barbie split.

After all, even in the age of the first female vice president, when Barbie and all the old female stereotypes she could represent seemed irrelevant, the group is unduly attractive. It’s designed with a dash of irony filtered through the pink glasses and the giant smile of a boy who once felt he wasn’t supposed to play with dolls and has now been given the freedom to re-imagine the world’s most popular.

“Having Barbie in my Balmain Army, and creating a collection inspired by her where there are no boy clothes or girls clothes, is my little revenge,” said Olivier Rousteing, Balmain creative director. “I think Barbie represents a joyful dream world. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. But let’s push the dream not to dream in the 50s or 60s, but 2022. To me, it’s a lot more than a business. It’s very emotional.”

He said he was speaking from personal experience — “When I was a kid, I actually played with Barbie, and I felt a bit rejected because of it” — which was why he was interested in making his relationship with Mattel beyond dress-up doll stage.

Rosting previously looked for Claudia Schiffer Barbie, and in 2021, CGI invited Barbie and Ken to Balmain’s digital fashion show. And he is only one of a long list of designers who have created clothes for the doll, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg and Karl Lagerfeld.

In 2009, on the occasion of her fiftieth anniversary, there was a special “Barbie Fashion Show” at New York Fashion Week, and in 2019 Barbie received the honor of the Board of Fashion Designers of America, an award previously given to Michelle Obama and Cecil Richards of Planned Parenthood.

But this group is taking its influence and the concept of inclusivity to a broader level.

As for why Mattel is interested, well, according to Richard Dixon, Mattel’s president and chief operating officer, the company believes toys have the potential to be a reliable fashion accessory, just like bags and perfume.

“When you combine the seriousness of couture with the fun of gaming, it’s very powerful,” said Mr. Dixon. As it happens, Mattel has some experience in this area, having created a limited edition Hot Wheels Cadillac with Gucci in October. The toy cars — 5,000 of them, at $120 each — sold out within minutes, according to Mr. Dixon.

Prices for the Barbie x Balmain set are even higher. 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, where the basic logo emblem retails for $495. (No one knows how far NFTs will go in the current climate of the gold rush for digital collectibles; the auction takes place January 11-14.) A Chanel bag can start with a Chanel No. 5 bottle, and those who dream of a Balmain dress can start with a Barbie x Balmain accessory.

“People are looking for optimism and joy, especially now when life is so heavy,” he said. “Play is so by definition.” The possibility of applying the same definition to fashion is one of the points of convergence.

True, it’s hard to look at the Barbie x Balmain range and not laugh, despite the saccharine sweetness of the palette, which ranges from fuchsia to bubble gum (in other words, not far off at all), with some white, blue, and yellow in accents.

There are giant Balmain Paris squishy puffy bags in ’70s Balmain-themed Barbie curved text and plastic shoppers that look like Barbie doll boxes; Light pink silk satin suits with kimono jackets and short striped pajama sets; Embroidered mini disco dresses and strapless mermaid gown. Also, overalls, sweatshirts and bouclé jackets with golden buttons.

Massive and silly kitsch meets pop culture and couture mix works surprisingly well.

It adds strength to Mr. Rosting’s signature ’80s shoulders and embellished turkey dress, which can sometimes seem overcooked, and heightens the collaboration. Like Balenciaga’s “Simpsons” episode, it makes social and cultural commentary part of the value proposition.

In doing so, it gives credence to Mr. Dixon’s prediction that the fashion-toys industrial complex would soon “become a whole new business.”

Leave a Comment