The dolls, dresses and dreamhouses, which will be displayed in this summer’s Barbie exhibition at the Design Museum, have been revealed for the first time.

1959 Barbie No. 1 (c) Mattel

Opening to mark the 65th anniversary of the Barbie brand, the exhibition will feature over 180 dolls — including one of the earliest editions — and will explore Barbie’s changing appearance in relation to evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation.

There will be examples of the first Black, Hispanic and Asian dolls to bear the Barbie name, as well as the first Barbie with Down syndrome, the first to use a wheelchair, and the first to be designed with a ‘curvy’ body shape.

Special dolls in the exhibition will include a unique prototype of the very first Talking Barbie (launched in 1968), which has a transparent torso intended to display the doll’s voice mechanism — activated by a pull-string — to prospective wholesalers and toy buyers.

Over 250 pieces will be on show, dating from 1959 to the present day, and collectively charting 65 years of design evolution of the world’s most famous doll.

1980 Black Barbie (c) Mattel

There will be insights into the Barbie design processes, and an exploration of the Barbie doll as a technically and materially innovative creation will be offered. 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.

1993 Earring Magic Ken (also known as “gay ken”) (c) Mattel

The exhibition, Barbie: The Exhibition will open at the Design Museum on 5th July 2024. Tickets have gone on sale today from here.

Off-peak ticket prices:

  • Adults: £16
  • Children: £8
  • Concessions: £12
  • National Art Pass: £8
  • Family (1a + 3c): £34
  • Family (2a + 3c): £44

Peak ticket prices:

  • Adults: £18
  • Children: £9
  • Concessions: £13.50
  • National Art Pass: £9
  • Family (1a + 3c): £38
  • Family (2a + 3c): £49

First edition Barbie

Another major exhibition highlight will be the first object 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 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 managed to buy this Number 1 doll for its collection. Purchased with the support of the Conran Foundation, it’s thought that this example is now the oldest Barbie doll in a museum collection in the UK.

It will be on display in the exhibition.


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