“I want to be like Barbie, that aunt had it all,” reads a poster superimposed in bubblegum pink on one of the nearly 5,000 photos found on Instagram if you search for the term. barbiecore, a new fashion trend that invites you to live life in pink, as Edith Piaf predicted. Celebrities like Megan Fox, Kim and Khloé Kardashian and her sister Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber or Dua Lipa have already worn the style in different formats, taking over bubblegum pink in some of their public appearances. The firms Giorgio Armani Privé or Versace are committed to a winter of this color, as the designer Pierpaolo Piccioli already anticipated for Valentino in the collection Valentine Pink PPwhich showed in March a total of 48 looks in fuchsia. The images of the shooting Barbiethe next film by Greta Gerwig, responsible for Lady Bird either little womenand starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, have finished raising a trend that no longer only focuses on fashion to a viral phenomenon, but on a whole lifestyle that reappropriates a color loaded with gender stereotypes and claims a doll that, despite having stepped on the moon four years before Neil Armstrong and having multiple and enviable properties, continues to be relegated to the archetype of traditional and cheesy femininity.
Perhaps the new look for which Gerwig is committed is not so novel if one looks at the origins of the most famous doll in the world. The forerunner of the Barbie doll was not a product for girls: she was a frivolous, foul-mouthed and gold-digging woman. Her name was Lilli and she was of German origin. Her first appearance was in 1952, at the launch of the newspaper Bild. She was not yet a plastic doll, but a character from a black and white comic strip signed by the graphic humorist Reinhard Beuthien. There was Lilli, a stunning blonde woman with a wasp waist and her hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting in front of a tarot reader, showing her a photograph of herself. The text read: “Can’t you get me the name and address of this handsome and rich man?” The cartoon was an immediate success.
Lilli was a product of the war: a hardworking and independent woman, a secretary in an office, but without enough money for her whims and aware of the effect she had on the men around her. Fun and irreverent. sexually uninhibited She used to flirt with whoever she was in front of her, she was always coming back or going to a new date and she was very sharp tongued. She wore pencil skirts or tight pants, white shirts, fishnet stockings, corsets, and high black heels. On occasion, she would appear directly in her underwear. In one of the cartoons, Lilli shows off her very short hair in front of a beauty salon, and the text reads: “I promised all my lovers a piece of my hair as a souvenir… this is the cut that stayed with me.” In another illustration, a police officer reprimands her for wearing a bikini, since two-piece swimsuits were prohibited in Germany at the time: “So, according to you, which part of the bikini do you want me to take off?” Another cartoon emphasized her party side: “Sunrise is such a beautiful thing that I always try to stay late at the club so I can see it.” In another of them she appears on a date at the cinema with a man, in front of them, on the screen, the actors are passionately kissing: “And what do you feel like doing after the cinema?” In 1955, the first Lilli doll was produced.
Bild Lilli, the official name of the doll, came inside a plastic tube and had a number of the newspaper Bild under her arm, she was dressed according to the fashion of the moment and, in addition to the characteristic blonde version, versions with brown or red hair were made. She had two sizes, 30 or 19 centimeters, and a somewhat high price for a toy. And it was not a toy for girls, but a collector’s figure for those adults who consumed the cartoons of the cheeky Lilli every week. Bild Lilli was born as a joke among adults and was sold in tobacconists, bars and kiosks. As reported by journalist Jennifer Latson in an article in Time about the inspiration of the most famous doll in the world, at that time, men bought their Lilli dolls as joke gifts at bachelor parties, it was common to find them on the dashboard of their car or see them hanging from the rearview mirror, and they were They gave their girlfriends as a suggestive souvenir. However, Bild Lilli was also a sensation among girls and preteens and, very soon, a whole market of accessories opened up so that the little ones in the house could change their clothes, put them in a car or put them in a little house.
One of these teenagers was American Barbara Handler, who was vacationing in Switzerland with her mother Ruth in 1956 when Bild Lilli caught her eye. Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, had already noticed how her daughter cut out figures from magazines to play with, leaving behind the rag dolls or plastic babies that, at that time, were the usual toys among women. girls. Although her daughter was too old to play with dolls, Ruth Handler listened to her still childish instinct. That summer she bought three Lilli dolls and brought them to her home in California. Three years later, in 1959, the world was introduced to the Barbie doll. Bild Lilli, her inspiration, was discontinued in 1963.
Barbie could seem like a sweetened version of Lilli, a girl who could have it all: a body 10, a boyfriend, a house in Malibu, a convertible and a multi-page resume in which she has worked in more than 120 professions, including find a veterinarian, a scientist, a pilot, a flight attendant, a fashion editor or the president of the United States. Her long, thick black eyelashes and crimson red lips remained in Germany, as did her fishnet stockings. The black and white that had been Lilli’s trademark turned Barbie pink, a color that, until the 1950s, was not associated with any gender, since babies used to dress in an always neutral white color.
Barbie did not invent pink, but she did appropriate the fashion of the moment: most historians date the association of pink with the feminine in 1953. It was during Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural ceremony as President of the United States that Mamie Eisenhower, the new First Lady, arrived at the ball in a pale pink, beaded gown. Mamie Eisenhower embodied the image of the perfect American wife and pink was her fetish color, to such an extent that the White House was baptized during her husband’s presidency as the Pink Palace, due to the amount of furniture and details of this color that They abounded in his home. When Barbie was born a few years later, pink was the color that embodied femininity and trend, and Barbie could not dress otherwise.
The demand for the figure of Barbie and its inevitable association with the color pink is cyclical. Three decades ago, in 1997, there was already a first glimpse of barbiecore. It was when the Danish group Aqua released their first album aquarium and used as the first single the catchy Barbie Girl, with which they sold more than eight million copies and which became one of the great hits from the end of the 20th century. In her video clip, Lene Nystrøm, singer of the group, played a flesh and blood version of Barbie in a world colored in pink. The catchy phrase before the chorus: “Come on, Barbie, let’s party” (C’mon, Barbie, Let’s Go Party) seemed to be a call to Lilli rather than her American sister. In 2004, with the premiere of Bad Girls, the high school comedy written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan, which showed a world of girls that resembled a jungle, returned to rescue the trend thanks to phrases such as “Beware of plastic” (in reference to the group of girls high school whose leader, Regina George, looked entirely like a doll) or “We wear pink on Wednesdays!” In 2016, after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, pink —gum, fuchsia and pastel— became fashionable again, this time in the form of a claim, flooding the streets of Washington in a massive march of women that was replicated in many other cities in the United States. Those responsible for the pink tide were the women of the Pussyhat Project, who encouraged the participants to take ownership of the color as a form of protest. Pink was no longer for girls, but for women.
Pink has shaken off the boudoir dust and pettiness to become a symbol of feminine power, and celebrities who decide to become flesh-and-blood dolls can afford to be foul-mouthed, flirtatious, funny, complex, or irreverent. Part of Lilli’s success also came from her imperfections, which managed to humanize her despite being an inanimate being of just a few centimeters: you could see the cracks, the seams and the hairpieces in the same way that you could see her faults and her ambitions and, even well, the public loved her. It may be that the new versions and constant revisions towards Barbie are nothing more than a return to the origins, an acceptance of everything that she was good from the beginning.