Sun | Jun 7, 2020

Iconic Barbie fashion comes alive in vintage collaboration

Published:Tuesday | November 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Designer Katie Echeverry, seated right, join models from left: Tiffany Hendrix, Kelsey Elliott, and Lori Moran, wearing outfits from a Barbie inspired fashion line she created in collaboration with toy company Mattel.
Model Kelsey Elliott holds a Barbie doll while wearing a matching outfit.
Model Lori Moran holds a Barbie doll and wears a matching outfit from designer Katie Echeverry in New York


In time for her 60th birthday, Barbie has a new collaborator bringing her wide-ranging style to life for humans.

One of the largest sellers of vintage-inspired clothes, Unique Vintage, is working with Barbie parent Mattel on the first women's line to meticulously duplicate some of the doll's most iconic early looks. In the process, the company has also taken care of the one thing critics love to hate about Barbie - her very plastic hourglass physique, by offering the outfits in sizes XS to 4X.

The collaboration, Barbie x Unique Vintage, celebrates 1950s and '60s Babs. The company that sells online and in about 500 boutiques around the world, plans to go even bigger for Barbie's big 6-0 next year, offering key fashion moments from across the rest of her decades.

Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Unique Vintage Katie Echeverry said that she was a Babs fan as a girl, but was also a tomboy who loved to play softball.

During a recent round of media interviews explaining how the collab came about, Echeverry donned a Kelly-green shawl dress worn by Barbie in 1962, and done by Unique Vintage in a forgiving stretch fabric. Noteworthy was Echeverry's most definitely un-Barbie upper-arm tattoo, on proud display in the off-shoulder outfit, as she recalled her luck.

"When I emailed Mattel, I didn't think they'd actually reply, but they did, and I was thrilled," Echeverry said. "They ran with it. I couldn't believe they hadn't done it before."


Mattel Archives


Echeverry worked closely with Mattel but "they didn't dictate what I chose". Mattel opened its archives to her as she went about duplicating outfits, with adjustments to account for the real human form. She said that she chose looks that "spoke to me".

Barbie, the doll, first hit store shelves in 1959. That year, she stepped out in a swirl of gold and white brocade for evening. The dress was among those Echeverry picked and sells for US$118 on her website. The matching collar coat with three-quarter sleeves trimmed in faux fur goes for US$148.

Unique Vintage has brought Barbie fashion full circle, in a sense. It was a designer for actual women, Charlotte Johnson, who was hired to be the doll's first fashion creator. A Mattel team took over soon after Barbie's debut.

Echeverry's first Barbie go-around dropped in the spring. Social media fans of vintage and of Barbie took notice and sales have been brisk, she said. For fall, her prices range from US$88 for an A-shaped Barbie flare skirt in green with a white hem, to US$198 for the doll's red matinee sleeveless sheath dress and short jacket trimmed with calico-colored faux fur.

It was important to Echeverry to choose looks that have remained iconic throughout the years, but were wearable by women in the broad range of sizes she is committed to providing.

"I was like a kid in a candy store," she said. After the first season went on sale, Echeverry watched the response online, where nostalgia kicked in among fans who recalled favourite outfits, some gushing how they'd always wondered what it would be like to wear the looks themselves.

That goes a long way in explaining why Echeverry was more than a little dedicated to getting the clothes right.

"I went online and ordered every single vintage outfit myself. Mattel offered to lend them to me, but I was a little nervous about having some of their archives," she said. "In our fittings, we literally had the original Barbie dress next to the model. We moved Barbie. When I sourced fabrics overseas, I had Barbie clothes in my pocket, and I was making sure we got as close as possible."

She was also dedicated to the price points she knows her buyers are after.

"I know our customer and she doesn't want to spend a lot of money, and I understand that," Echeverry said.

Unique Vintage sells shoes, hats, gloves, sunglasses and jewellery to complement the Barbie outfits. The company offers a red pillbox hat, for instance, to go with Barbie's 1962 red flare coat done in a soft felt with the same swing and puffy three-quarter sleeves and bow the doll wore, down to the white lining done in a white poly satin.

While noting Barbie's evolution as a "strong kick-ass woman" over the years, Echeverry said she was ready for a bit of her own reality after her recent promotional go-around.

"It's unusual to find me in a dress," she said. "As soon as this interview's over, I'll be putting on my jeans and my T-shirt and be back to the regular Katie."