It’s the first week of the new year, but the competition to win the 2022 fashion collaboration game, that ever-growing race to find the most mind-blowing and counterintuitive brand pairing, has already begun.
First to leave the gate: Balmain, the French high fashion house, and Barbie, the plastic doll par excellence. It could signal the official breaking through of the next great frontier of fashion: the world of toys. Although the marriage of Mattel iconography and material iconography is not exactly what you would expect.
There is no doll involved: instead there is a 50-piece Barbie-inspired collection for adults. It is fashioned from avatars of different races and will include three NFTs of unique looks to be auctioned online, each of which comes with a physical design the size of a doll, thus extending Barbie’s reach into the digital collectible space.
And best of all, both the collection and the NFT looks are unisex: Barbie clothes that erase the Ken-Barbie divide.
After all, even in the era of the first female vice president, when Barbie and all the antiquated female stereotypes that she can represent seem irrelevant, the collection is of a disarming charm. It was designed with a hint of irony filtered through pink glasses and the giant smile of a boy who once felt he didn’t have to play with dolls and now had carte blanche to reimagine the most popular in the world.
“Having Barbie in my Balmain army, making a collection inspired by her where there are no boy or girl clothes, is my little revenge,” said Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. “I think Barbie represents a joyful dream world. There is nothing wrong with a dream. But let’s push the dream and we don’t dream of the 50s or 60s, but 2022. For me it is much more than just a commercial project. It’s very exciting. “
He was talking, he said, from personal experience – “As a kid, I used to play with Barbies, and I felt some rejection for it” – which was why he was interested in taking his relationship with Mattel beyond dressing-up. – doll phase
Mr. Rousteing previously made looks for Claudia Schiffer Barbie and, in 2021, invited a CGI Barbie and Ken to the Balmain digital fashion show. And he’s just one of a long list of designers who have made clothes for the doll, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg, and Karl Lagerfeld.
In 2009, for her 50th anniversary, 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 awarded in precedence to Michelle Obama and Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood.
But this collection takes its influence and the concept of inclusiveness to an even greater level.
As to why Mattel was interested, well, according to Richard Dickson, Mattel’s president and chief executive officer, the company believes 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,” said Mr. Dickson. 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 which, priced at $ 120 each – sold out within minutes, according to Mr. Dickson.
Prices for the Barbie x Balmain collection are higher. It ranges from $ 295 for a tee to $ 42,494 for a designer dress, which is a lot more than the usual Barbie prices, but less than the classic Balmain, where a basic logo tee retails for $ 495. (Nobody knows. how much NFTs will cost in the current gold rush climate of digital collectibles; the auction runs from Jan 11-14.) The point, Dickson said, is that just like those who can aspire to a Chanel bag can start with a bottle of Chanel No. 5, anyone who dreams 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 this by definition.” That the same definition can be applied to fashion is one of the points of convergence.
And it is true that it is difficult to look at the Barbie x Balmain collection and not giggle, despite the mawkish sweetness of the color palette, which ranges from fuchsia to chewing gum (in other words not far away), with some whites, blues and yellows inserted as accents. .
There are giant soft bags with Balmain Paris scribbled on top with curved Barbie lettering underneath the ’70s Balmain logo and clear plastic shoppers reminiscent of Barbie doll boxes; baby pink silk satin suits with kimono jackets and short striped pajamas; sequined mini disco dresses and a strapless mermaid dress. And again, dungarees and sweatshirts and bouclé jackets with sharp shoulders with golden buttons.
Pure, silly kitsch meets pop culture meets couture combination works surprisingly well.
It adds lightness to Mr. Rousteing’s gritty ’80s shoulders and turkey lace-up dresses, which can sometimes feel overcooked, and raises the bar for collaborations. Like Balenciaga’s “Simpsons” episode, it makes social and cultural commentary part of the value proposition.
And in doing so, he gives credence to Mr. Dickson’s prediction that the fashion toy industry complex will soon “be a whole new business.”