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We heard a lot about famous luxury brands hosting exhibitions—from Cartier to Bulgari and Yves-Saint-Laurent—mixing historic heritage, craftsmanship, arts, the social and political scene, and charismatic personality to curate an exhibition that spans decades and continents. But it is more unusual that a plastic doll that you can find in the corner of a toystore can now be found on the wall of the prestigious (and very traditional) Les Art Décoratifs, in a wing of the Palais du Louvre. There is only a thin line between product and Art, and the separation is getting smaller…
With this exhibition, Mattel is offering a full retrospective of the Barbie story, and of what makes the brand so iconic and unique. The story of Barbie and barbies, obviously, but also the history of dolls and toys, of fashion designers and haute couture, of popular culture and societal representations throughout the ages. Like postcards showing the evolution of a city through the decades, Barbie’s brand shows us the evolution of our society from the simplest level of projection, “What do I want to look like?”, to the more complex, “What do I want to be?”. By entering at Les Arts Décoratifs, the brand has reached a new level of storytelling. Beyond impacting and being a part of people’s lives since 1959, the brand has now reached official historic status and entered the archives of our society.
With this exhibition, Barbie demonstrated more than its heritage. From its creation, to its full reinvention to embody the modern spectrum of beauty standards with a variety of new shapes and sizes, the brand has proven that it is still relevant.But it’s becoming more and more difficult to remain relevant in a business race led by digital, where an iPad, rather than a new toy, is on every kid’s wish list—which explains the important decrease of Mattel sales for more than eight straight quarters. Since 2014, Mattel has been leapfrogged by the Danish toy company LEGO, which found a way to renew its brand through its Warner Bros. LEGO movie franchise, which contributed to the tripling of global sales.
Instead of a movie, Barbie chose an art exhibition to solidify its new brand position. But celebrating the toy this way was kind of a risky choice, and could be sending the wrong message about the iconic brand: Does Barbie’s place lie in museums, instead of kids’ rooms? The moderate success of its recently launched, realistically designed Barbie 2.0 does not fully support the company’s efforts to put the Barbie brand back on track.
However, with the announcement of its reinvention, the brand has proved its willingness to answer to its users’ desires and emotional aspirations, to be aligned with its buyers’ beliefs, and to stay connected with modern society’s evolving mindsets.
By staying authentic to its brand and defending children’s dreams and aspirations, by unlocking possibilities and promoting the “everything is doable” spirit, Barbie still has a crucial role to play. The Barbie brand can fit comfortably in a world where feminism, equality, and confidence are important parts of broader cultural trends, but also pose crucial questions for society. And staying rooted in this emotional territory helps Barbie‘s brand remain relevant. She can engage in conversations, as well as contradict, some of the greatest brands of all time by saying: “Yes, girl, you can.”