Iconic Barbie fashion comes alive in vintage collaboration
By LEANNE ITALIE
Tuesday, November 13
NEW YORK (AP) — In time for her 60th birthday, Barbie has a new collaborator bringing her wide-ranging style to life for humans.
One of the largest sellers of vintage-inspired clothes, Unique Vintage, is working with Barbie parent Mattel on the first women’s line to meticulously duplicate some of the doll’s most iconic early looks. In the process, the company also has taken care of the one thing critics love to hate about Barbie, her very plastic hourglass physique, by offering the outfits in sizes XS to 4X.
The collaboration, Barbie x Unique Vintage, celebrates 1950s and ’60s Babs. The company that sells online and in about 500 boutiques around the world plans to go even bigger for Barbie’s big 6-0 next year, offering key fashion moments from across the rest of her decades.
Until then, for fall, we caught up with all things Barbie x Unique Vintage in the swanky Jewel Suite designed by jeweler-to-the-stars Martin Katz in the Lotte New York Palace hotel on Madison Avenue. Katz paired a few of the looks with some of his own bling, from $36,000 button earrings in a rainbow of sapphires, garnets and tourmaline to a $48,000 cocktail ring of Bombay spinel cabochons and round diamonds.
All of the glam pleases Katie Echeverry. She’s the founder, CEO and creative director of Unique Vintage, an 18-year-old company with 60 employees based in Burbank, California. With her long blonde locks and Barbie-esque dimensions, Echeverry said she was a Babs fan as a girl but was also a “tomboy” who loved to play softball.
During a recent round of media interviews explaining how the collab came about, Echeverry donned a Kelly-green shawl dress worn by Barbie in 1962 and done by Unique Vintage in a forgiving stretch fabric. Noteworthy was Echeverry’s most definitely un-Barbie upper-arm tattoo, on proud display in the off-shoulder outfit, as she recalled her luck.
“When I emailed Mattel, I didn’t think they’d actually reply back, but they did, and I was thrilled,” Echeverry told The Associated Press. “They ran with it. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t done it before.”
Echeverry worked closely with Mattel but “they didn’t dictate what I chose.” Mattel opened its archives to her as she went about duplicating outfits, with adjustments to account for the real human form. She said she chose looks that “spoke to me.”
Barbie, the doll, first hit store shelves in 1959. That year, she stepped out in a swirl of gold and white brocade for evening. The dress was among those Echeverry picked and sells for $118 on uniquevintage.com. The matching collar coat with three-quarter sleeves trimmed in faux fur goes for $148.
Unique Vintage has brought Barbie fashion full circle, in a sense. It was a designer for actual women, Charlotte Johnson, who was hired to be the doll’s first fashion creator. A Mattel team took over soon after Barbie’s debut.
Echeverry’s first Barbie go-around dropped in the spring. Social media fans of vintage and of Barbie took notice and sales have been brisk, she said. For fall, her prices range from $88 for an A-shaped Barbie flare skirt in green with a white hem to $198 for the doll’s red matinee sleeveless sheath dress and short jacket trimmed with calico-colored faux fur.
It was important to Echeverry to choose looks that have remained iconic through the years but were wearable by women in the broad range of sizes she is committed to providing.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” she said. After the first season went on sale, Echeverry watched the response online, where nostalgia kicked in among fans who recalled favorite outfits, some gushing how they’d always wondered what it would be like to wear the looks themselves.
That goes a long way in explaining why Echeverry was more than a little dedicated to getting the clothes right.
“I went online and ordered every single vintage outfit myself. Mattel offered to lend them to me, but I was a little nervous about having some of their archives,” she said. “In our fittings, we literally had the original Barbie dress next to the model. We moved Barbie. When I sourced fabrics overseas, I had Barbie clothes in my pocket and I was making sure we got as close as possible.”
She was also dedicated to the price points she knows her buyers are after.
“I know our customer and she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, and I understand that,” Echeverry said.
Unique Vintage sells shoes, hats, gloves, sunglasses and jewelry to complement the Barbie outfits. The company offers a red pillbox hat, for instance, to go with Barbie’s 1962 red flare coat done in a soft felt with the same swing and puffy three-quarter sleeves and bow the doll wore, down to the white lining done in a white poly satin.
Barbie wore a cloche tweed hat with a rose with her “Career Girl” tweed pencil skirt set in 1963. Unique Vintage offers a black fascinator with a rose instead, for $22.
As for her afternoon of glam in the Martin Katz suite, with its shiny black grand piano and sparkling crystal ceiling decor on the 53rd floor of the Towers at Lotte, Echeverry was impressed.
“This is so glamorous. It’s so much fun. The view’s incredible,” she said.
While noting Barbie’s evolution as a “strong kick-ass woman” over the years, Echeverry said she was ready for a bit of her own reality after her recent promotional go-round.
“It’s unusual to find me in a dress,” she said. “As soon as this interview’s over I’ll be putting on my jeans and my T-shirt and be back to the regular Katie.”
Disney’s Nutcracker: the latest movie to explore the dark side of fairy tales
November 2, 2018
Principal Lecturer in Media Cultures, University of Hertfordshire
Sylvie Magerstaedt does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Hertfordshire provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Disney’s latest offering, Nutcracker and the Four Realms comes with a warning for anyone who might imagine lighthearted, singing, dancing holiday entertainment. “The legend you know has a dark side.”. So be warned.
The film opens on a sombre note: the Stahlberg children face “their first Christmas without their mother”, It’s a curious twist, introduced presumably by the movie’s script writers, which appears neither in the original fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann nor Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, both of which inspired the film.
As if being losing her mother is not enough, heroine Clara Stahlberg soon faces a whole range of spooky creatures – including a wonderfully creepy Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger – bent on destroying the magical realms her late mother created.
It is a long way away from such Disney classics as The Little Mermaid (1989), which turned Hans Christian Andersen’s complex and often grim fairy tale into a cheerful children’s story with a romantic happy ending.
But this change of tone is right on trend. For the past decade or so, cinema has increasingly transformed well-known children’s stories into chilling adult fantasies. Terry Gilliam’s 2005 film The Brothers Grimm, for example, explored the dark reality and sometimes horror behind the familiar stories.
More recently, Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and its follow up The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) aim to draw on the popularity of action-fantasies such as The Lord of the Rings (2001-3) and the epic TV drama Game of Thrones (2011-19). Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) reimagines the eponymous lost children of Grimm’s original tale as gun slinging professional killers. A review in USA Today warned parents not “make the mistake of taking the kids to this blood-spattered revenge-fest”.
We’re seeing the same sort of thing on television, too. Netflix’ latest release, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina(2018), reimagines the popular 1990s sitcom, starring Melissa Joan Hart as the teenage witch, as “something a lot darker and scarier”. Rather than being concerned with the usual teenage romances and quick spells to help with make up and home work, the new Sabrina has to face satanic cults and evil forces that threaten mankind.
Dreams and fears
But what is behind this focus on the darker side of fairy tales? If looking closely at the core of most of these stories, we realise that they almost always have a rather dark core, where people are eaten, maimed or tortured.
In Grimm’s version of Cinderella, the ugly step sisters mutilate their feet to fit into the golden slippers, while the evil queen in Snow White is forced to dance herself to death in red-hot shoes. Yet, for a long time, cinematic representations of these stories tended to eschew the scarier bit and firmly focused on the happily ever after.
In his book, The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films, Jack Zipes, a well-known scholar and translator of fairy tales, suggests that for most children nowadays film adaptations of fairy tales “have become better known than the classical texts, which, in comparison, have virtually lost their meaning due to the fact that the films have replaced them”. Zipes suggests that this is especially true for the dark and complex fairy tales told by writers such as Andersen. It was a generation of fairy tales that expressed people’s darkest thoughts and fears, at a time when almost constant war, conflict and incurable illnesses plagued Europe.
Psychological studies on fairy tales have sometimes drawn a distinction between myth and fairy tale – noting that one has a tragic and one has a happy ending. But this generates problems with stories such as Andersen’s Little Match Girl or The Steadfast Tin Soldier, both of which have a sad and tragic ending (spoiler: the match girl freezes to death while the tin soldier melts down in a stove).
These fairy tales lack the final consolation that J.R.R. Tolkien called “eucatastrophe” – or sudden happy ending – in his influential 1939 essay On Fairy-Stories. Many of the recent cinematic retellings of classic fairy tales blur the already shaky boundaries between myth and magic. This is illustrated nicely in “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”, which turns the ballet’s fight between the Mouse King and the gingerbread soldiers into an epic battle for the survival of the magical kingdoms.
Growing up Grimm
Fairy tales are also often considered to reflect the challenges of growing up. If this is the case, then maybe these confusing modern takes reflect the challenges faced by contemporary children and young adults? The new Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) has been described as “woke” and a “feminist icon”, Hansel and Gretel turn their childhood trauma into a profession by becoming witch hunters for hire and for Clara in Disney’s new film, her grief for her newly deceased mother is processed through fighting a battle defending the realm her late mother created.
As growing up becomes more complex, so do family units, external challenges and relationships between characters.
Oral traditions of storytelling have always adapted myths and fairy tales to their respective times and places. The recent focus on the dark, confusing and threatening aspects of those stories no doubt reflects the challenges of our times. But not all is lost. Even this newer, darker and more epic retelling of The Nutcracker maintains the element of hope, happiness and Christmas cheer and so still has the power to enchant and console.