Fashion dolls plot to edge out Barbie, 50

February 6th, 2009 - 11:33 am ICT by IANS  

Nuremberg (Germany), Feb 6 (DPA) Barbie, the original fashion doll, turns an ageless 50 next month and must fight off a string of equally skinny challengers vying for attention from the world’s little girls.Mattel, the world’s biggest toy company, is planning celebrations all year marking the anniversary of the March 9, 1959 appearance at the New York Toy Fair of Barbie, who has since developed separate African-American and Hispanic identities and dozens of doll friends.

During the Nuremberg Toy Fair, which opens its doors Thursday for a six-day run, live models with outrageously long false eyelashes are showing 50 years of Barbie fashions. The company is celebrating Barbie as a role model who opened up new careers for girls.

Barbie came out in astronaut clothing in 1965, as a dentist in 1997 and dressed as a US presidential candidate on three occasions.

Fashions change, but fashion dolls, which enable young girls to fantasize about what it will be like to be grown up, never go out of date in the toy shops of the world. As if to emphasize that this really is just fantasy, the newest crop claim magical powers.

Among the hopefuls at the fair is Wayne Jacobs, a South-African- born toymaker offering his first-ever doll, Princess Petal.

Sold with her own storytime book for the 3-7 age range, fairy Petal can flutter her wings when touched with a magic wand.

The wand contains a magnet which activates a battery-powered motor inside the doll’s body. Lithe-limbed Petal is part of the Sparkle and Friends series which all have “magic” abilities.

Jacobs, who originally set up his business in Sydney, Australia, moved a year and a half ago to Hong Kong, the centre of the world toy industry. “My dream was to take this worldwide,” he said in an interview in Nuremberg, where he was looking for distributors.

Giochi Preziosi, an Italian firm that says it is the world’s fourth largest toy company, is this month to launch another long-legged fairy doll, Tinker Bell, who dresses in skimpy clothes.

Manufactured under licence from the Disney Fairies franchise, she is being sold as a tie-in with the computer-animated, direct-to-DVD film Tinker Bell, which was released late last year. Disney is set to release three sequels, one per year, into 2011.

Claudio Macchi, brand manager of the company, which is based near Milan, said Giochi Preziosi would follow up this summer with fairy dolls that can variously move their wings, release pixie dust (actually a puff of fine glitter) and even blush.

In the Tink and Terence two-doll pack, 23-cm-tall Tink’s cheeks glow red whenever she is brought close to male fairy Terence.

Giochi Preziosi is in the process of winding up its distribution in Italy of Bratz, the line of US fashion dolls which were hit by a lawsuit at the end of last year, and is glad of a replacement series that little girls can collect.

Once wildly popular among little girls, the sexily-dressed Bratz dolls face an uncertain future after Mattel won a court case in California against the manufacturer, MGA Entertainment, alleging copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Despite the new competition from Petal, Tink and their fairy friends, Barbie, who has been available for ages in a fairy version with wings that flutter, reigns supreme among girls aged three to eight in much of the world.

Stockton explained that Barbie today is more than just a doll: it is a brand.

“If you look at every euro spent on the brand, roughly half is spent on the Barbie toy and nearly half is spent on Barbie-brand products: fragrances, backpacks and so on. So the brand is an important part of girls’ lives,” he said.

That appeal continues right through to young professional women in Asia who enjoy wearing the Barbie look.

In “another first for the brand,” the House of Barbie Shanghai retail store, a clothing and accessories boutique for young women, is opening in China. Its most expensive item is a $15,000 wedding dress.

At 50, Barbie is as fresh as ever. Stockton said Mattel will continue to develop new Barbies that reflect changing dress fashions.

“Our job is to build on her legacy,” he said.

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