As the world looks for ways to be optimistic and happy, the collaboration of fashion and toys becomes an inevitable match. Going back to our childhood is not just a source of comfort but also a minefield of ideas. Looking for that inner child and restoring one’s sense of wonder always helps designers to come up with new ideas for the runway. It’s also through toys, the fashion doll in particular, that many of them were introduced to fashion in the first place. Wasn’t Barbie always a best friend to have and to hold and dress up?
The fashion doll was made, after all, to reflect fashion trends—both a toy for children as well as collectibles for adults. The European courts in the 16th century used them to facilitate the sharing and production of fashion designs, which paintings nor words could not sufficiently communicate.
In a letter to his mother, Federico Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua, asked her to send a doll to the French court of King Francis I so that replicas of her style could be made available to French women.
Pandora dolls were used from 1715 to 1785 by milliners, seamstresses and fashion merchants. They fell out of fashion when illustrated fashion magazines arrived in the late 18th century and were banned by Napoleon I, who was paranoid that they could be used to smuggle secret messages. In the first half of the 19th century they came back and were used to show designs to clients until Charles Frederick Worth introduced living human models in the 1850s.
From 1860 to 1890, French bisque dolls with fashionable clothes became popular for children to play with.
The first American fashion doll, Cissy, came in 1955, followed by Barbie, which was inspired by the German Bild Lilli doll. Barbie would inspire many other dolls thereafter and even become the standard for beauty that living models would aspire to, causing controversies about body positivity and inclusivity. She remains the quintessential fashion doll, however, being dressed by the world’s top designers through the years, starting with Oscar de la Renta in 1985.
Sometimes, the doll is even transformed to human models like at Moschino’s runway show for SS 2015. Moschino’s toy fascination took another form in 2019 through a collab with The Sims’ life simulation video games, allowing you to shop within the virtual universe as well as IRL, and making it possible for the characters and their human controllers to “twin.”
Last year, GCDS, the Italian streetwear line, partnered with Bratz, the rebellious antithesis to Barbie created in 2001, with more stylized proportions and edgy fashion.
At the last Bench Ternocon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, guests were mesmerized by the exhibit of dolls in couture by Cholo Ayuyao. They no doubt did their fair share in promoting the wearing of the traditional Philippine dress.
For 2022, as fashion enters the metaverse, the collaboration between the French fashion house of Balmain and Barbie is not quite the same as the way it started in the ’80s. There is a 50-piece Barbie-inspired collection for adults, but the doll itself appears as racially diverse avatars that model the clothes, with three NFTs of one-off looks that were auctioned online, marking Barbie’s debut in the digital collective space. Although Barbie pink dominates, the collection and the NFT looks are unisex, making them available for both Kens and Barbies.
“Having Barbie in my Balmain army, making a collection inspired by her where there are no boy clothes or girl clothes, is my small revenge,” says creative director Olivier Rousteing, who as a child felt that he wasn’t supposed to play with dolls: “I did play with Barbies, and did feel some rejection for it.”
“When you combine the seriousness of high fashion with the fun of toys, it’s very powerful,” observes Richard Dickson, president and COO of Mattel, the toy manufacturing company that produces Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price, among others. They created the limited-edition Hot Wheels with Gucci last October, a toy car replica of the ’82 Cadillac Seville that sold out within minutes at $120 each.
For their SS2022 runway show, on the other hand, Gucci’s toys were for adults only—in the form of sex toys used as erotic jewelry. Of course, this is a niche market, but even their recent “all-ages” toy line, a collaboration with Xbox, is no less exclusive: laser-engraved GG gaming consoles contained in monogrammed vintage-style trunks are priced at $10,000 but also selling out upon release.
The Barbie x Balmain collection has grown-up prices as well, starting at $295 for a T-shirt to $42,495 for a signature gown—less pricey than classic Balmain where T-shirts go for $495, but definitely beyond the typical doll buyer’s budget.
As far as fashion toys are concerned, they just may be worth the investment. Oscar de la Renta’s doll-size garments for Barbie already go for $9,000 on Ebay. The Gucci XBox more than doubled to $23,000 just a few days after its release.
So even if toys are traditionally made for children, in the case of designer toys, it seems like it’s the adults who are at play and the kids may just never get their hands on them.