Is there a more iconic doll than Barbie or a more recognizable living space than her Dreamhouse? Sixty years ago, the first generation brought the Dreamhouse into their homes — fostering creativity, teamwork and sparking imagination.
Barbies sold today reflect a variety of cultures, abilities, interests and body types. The Inspiring Women Series features dolls in the likeness of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Maya Angelou, Ella Fitzgerald, Ida B. Wells, Billie Jean King, Sally Ride and Laverne Cox. A Barbie Fashionistas doll can even be purchased to reflect the skin disease Vitiligo. Career Dolls lead eco-leadership teams, have art studios, teach, fight fires and work in labs.
While the house and its accessories have changed over the years (remember the Yuppie-inspired Barbie?) Mattel’s vision has remained the same: provide quality playtime products that appeal to the young consumer.
Antique Trader spoke with Bill Greening, Principal Product Designer for Barbie Design at Mattel Inc., to take a drive down memory lane to explore the last six decades of living the Barbie dream.
ANTIQUE TRADER: How did the concept for the first Dreamhouse come about? Would you happen to know how much the first ones were sold for in stores?
BILL GREENING: With Barbie’s rise in popularity in the early ’60s, Mattel was looking for new opportunities to expand her world and purpose. In 1962 Barbie bought her first Dreamhouse, before women could even open their own bank accounts, representing a symbol of independence and empowerment. The original Dreamhouse retailed around $8.
AT: How does Barbie’s approach to a dollhouse compare to or differ from similar products on the market?
GREENING: The first Dreamhouse was made of cardboard with furniture you assembled yourself. The house also closed into a type of “suitcase” shape making it portable and easy to store. It had mid-century modern décor reflective of the times, including a hi-fi stereo and slim-line furniture.
AT: What types of characteristics does Mattel look for in its Dreamhouse designers?
GREENING: Here at Mattel, we look for designers who have a positive mindset, creative energy and are tuned into the cultural zeitgeist. As a design team we are constantly innovating and testing new ideas to keep Barbie’s style timeless.
AT: Through the decades, there seems to be an evolution of style and decor to the houses: cottages, magic mansion, townhouse, etc. Was the company taking its cues from the trends and fads of the times? Maybe trying to offer homes that were relatable to the children playing with them?
GREENING: Barbie is at her best when she’s reflective of culture and this is seen in her Dreamhouse. The Dreamhouse very much reflects interior design trends of the era. The furniture, color pallets, even the artwork that serves as a backdrop for the interior, are updated to reflect those trends.
AT: Who was the target audience for Barbie Dreamhouse when it was released in 1962? How has that objective changed over time to be more inclusive to a range of abilities, interests and gender identities?
GREENING: The target market for Barbie has traditionally been girls ages around 3 to 12. Over the years, we have expanded the line to include more diversity to be better reflective of the world kids see around them, such as prosthetic legs and dolls in wheelchairs. The Dreamhouse has been updated accordingly to accommodate every Barbie. For example, once we added dolls in wheelchairs we adapted the Dreamhouse elevator to be wheelchair friendly. The Dreamhouse welcomes everyone. Currently, we have an ad running with a little boy playing with the Dreamhouse that I personally love seeing on TV.
AT: What is Mattel’s idea of what “playing house” means, especially for child development?
GREENING: The Dreamhouse has always been a backdrop for storytelling. I think children relate to “home” play as they see it every day with their own families. Playing with Barbie stimulates a child’s imagination and lets them be in control of the storyline.
AT: Can you mix and match pieces from different Dreamhouses?
GREENING: Since Barbie is traditionally 11.5 inches, it would be very possible to add vintage Barbie furniture to a modern Dreamhouse as the scale has not changed. I know I love adding mid-century pieces to my own home. I’m sure Barbie can do that too with her favorite furniture pieces over the years.
AT: From January 5, 2018, through April 21, 2020, Barbie starred in the Netflix series “Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures.” What was the goal behind creating a television show connected to the iconic Dreamhouse product?
GREENING: Barbie is the number one global toy property because she is everywhere kids are. Expanding Barbie’s world through a Netflix special was a natural channel to inspire even more storytelling in the Dreamhouse.
AT: Could you speak on the recent collaboration with Little People on the Barbie Little Dreamhouse Playset? It’s aimed at preschoolers, right?
GREENING: We’ve found that many parents are interested in Barbie products, but feel their young kids aren’t old enough to play with standard-sized Barbie Dreamhouse. The Little People Barbie Dreamhouse gives parents an opportunity to introduce their children to Barbie at a younger age, in a format that’s better suited for their dexterity and level of play.
AT: What’s the future of the Dreamhouse?
GREENING: The Dreamhouse is one of the most popular selling Barbie items and will continue to evolve in the Barbie line to be reflective of the times. It remains an annual favorite and is often a special purchase for a birthday or holiday.
AT: Do you have any interactive exhibits planned or any 60th anniversary events?
GREENING: This year we have been celebrating 60 years of giving dreams a home through a year-long partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, assisting with 60 global home projects. The immersive World of Barbie exhibit also opened in Toronto.
• Pay a visit to her iconic Dreamhouse, brought to life
• Chill out in her full size camper van, built by the world-famous West Coast Customs
• Travel to intergalactic destinations aboard Barbie Interstellar Airways shuttle
• Grab the mic and record their masterpiece in her Music Studio
• Revisit Barbie dolls and accessories from over six decades of fun
Stay tuned, as it will be traveling to different cities in the coming months.
To learn more about the company, visit www.about.mattel.com.
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