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Opening to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Barbie brand in 2024, the exhibition explores the story of the iconic doll through a design lens, including fashion, architecture, furniture and vehicle modelling. The show displays more than 250 items, including 180 Barbies, dating from 1959 to the present day.

Rare special editions

Highlights include a rare first edition of the very first doll released by Mattel in 1959 (‘Number 1 Barbie’), a Barbie that travelled to space last year, the first ever Barbie Dreamhouse from 1962 and costumes from Greta Gerwig’s film.

You can also see all 7 Barbies – presidential candidates, “Oscar de La Renta Collector Series VII” Barbie doll, “Yves Saint Laurent” Barbie doll with the iconic Mondrian dress, the “Donna Karan” Barbie doll and the “Richard Quinn” Barbie doll.

Two examples of 1992’s Totally Hair Barbi – the best-selling doll of all time – which sold over 10 million across the globe also form part of the exhibition.

Another interesting item sourced from Mattel’s archives in Los Angeles, is the original prototype for the very first talking Barbie from 1968, which had a transparent plastic torso so that retailers could see the mechanism.

Ken you believe it?

The Design Museum is also showcasing the friends of Barbie, including her first friend, Midge, and the much-loved Christie and Teresa; as well as the younger sister of Barbie, Skipper. There is also a section dedicated to Ken, demonstrating six decades’ worth of male dolls on show.

In addition there are examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name, as well as dolls that reflect today’s diverse, multicultural society.

Whatever you remember from your childhood, you will probably find something to connect with at the exhibition.

The world’s most famous doll

The show’s curator, Danielle Thom, pointed out that the design story of Barbie is a rich topic for the museum to put under the spot light. The Barbie doll may be small at 11.5 inches high but it represents a huge feat of engineering. Over the decades, its design has embraced pioneering technologies and manufacturing methods.

“Barbie is not a static object, it constantly evolves. It takes Mattel on average a year to design a new doll and put it into a mass production. Right now we are already working on 2026 variation of Barbie,” Kim Culmone, senior vice president of design for Mattel, said. She also emphasised on Barbie’s necessity of being timeless and timely. She hopes that people come away having learned how this legendary doll has come into being and managed to dominate the toy market for such a long period of time.

Barbie®: The Exhibition at the Design Museum, London, runs July 5 – February 23, 2025. More information can be found here.


Image credits: © The Design Museum, Mattel, Petra Rajnicova, Jo Underhill