Rare first edition Barbie™ amongst 180 dolls to star in Design Museum’s major new exhibition!

The Design Museum has announced details of more than 250 objects to be displayed in its major upcoming exhibition, Barbie®: The Exhibition, including over 180 remarkable dolls, dresses and Dreamhouses.

Opening to mark the 65th anniversary of the Barbie brand, Barbie: The Exhibition, in partnership with Mattel, will run from 5 July 2024 to 23 February 2025 and feature over 180 remarkable dolls, with rare, unique and innovative Barbie dolls and accessories — plus one of the earliest editions — amongst the highlights announced today.

Visitors will come face-to-face with important and distinctive dolls, from the first Barbie to ‘move’ to the first Barbie to ‘talk’, and will explore Barbie’s changing appearance in relation to evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation. It will present exclusive, behind-the-scenes insights into Mattel’s design processes, and will offer a detailed exploration of the Barbie doll as a technically and materially innovative creation.

Highlights will include some of the most recognisable and best-selling dolls, including the ‘surfer girl’ Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971 and which was one of the most popular of the decade, and the ground-breaking Day to Night Barbie from 1985 that was designed to reflect the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s, and which saw Barbie’s work-attire pink suit transform into a chic evening gown. There will also be two examples of 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time which has sold over 10 million across the globe.

LONDON – MAY 10, 2018: Design Museum London interior

There will be examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name on display, as well as dolls that reflect today’s diverse, multicultural society. These will include the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first to be designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape.

Many friends of Barbie will also be shown — including her first friend Midge — and the much-loved Christie and Teresa; as well as the younger sister of Barbie, Skipper.

There’ll also be a section dedicated to Ken, which will see six decades’ worth of Ken dolls charting his evolution from his introduction in 1961.

Barbie®: The Exhibition will be an expansive journey into the Barbie universe. It will show how it has been shaped since her creation by a huge variety of playsets, vehicles, houses and other accessories which collectively have helped ‘design’ the universe in which she exists.

Another major highlight of the exhibition will be the first object that visitors will encounter as they enter the Design Museum’s gallery: one of the earliest first edition Barbie dolls.

The doll — known by collectors as the ‘Number 1 Barbie’ as it was the very first model released by Mattel in 1959 — is now extremely sought after.

Hand-painted and featuring Barbie in a black-and-white bathing suit, the doll on display is an especially rare first edition that features holes in Barbie’s feet where it would have been fixed to a stand.

The Design Museum has announce today that it has acquired this Number 1 doll for its collection. Purchased with the support of the Conran Foundation, it is thought that this example is now the oldest Barbie doll in a museum collection in the UK.

Across the exhibition, there will be dozens of original Barbie outfits which will both highlight Barbie’s origins as a fashion doll, and her impact on the wider history of modern dress. This includes outfits such as ‘Poodle Parade’ (1965) — a life-size replica of which was worn by Billie Eilish when she performed at the 2024 Grammy Awards this month — and a 1985 outfit by Oscar de la Renta, the first of many designer collaborations with the brand.

Visitors will be able to trace the changing silhouettes of mainstream fashion over the last 65 years through the exhibition, and they will see the influence of designers — from Claire McCardell and Christian Dior, to Nolan Miller and Zac Posen — on Barbie fashion choices.

The final section of the show will spotlight the enduring role Barbie has as a pop culture icon, looking at her impact on design in all its forms, from fashion to film, as well as the Barbie brand’s forays into social advocacy. This section also will include original costumes worn by actors in the 2023 movie, Barbie, as well as other items that explore Barbie’s status as a cultural figurehead.

Barbie®: The Exhibition will be the first time a major UK museum has held a major show dedicated to Barbie. It’s been made possible through a partnership with Mattel Inc, allowing the Design Museum to draw on Mattel’s Barbie archives in California for a number of key loans, as well as utilising the expertise of brand historians and archivists.

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