New York, Feb 12: You`ve got to be at the top of your game to be a one-name model: There`s Iman, Naomi, Gisele — Barbie.
The 11.5-inch plastic doll is still on top as a high-fashion muse as she approaches her 50th birthday, and will make her New York Fashion Week catwalk debut on Saturday in 50 outfits by the country`s top designers.
Barbie`s life-size stand-ins will strut in a red carpet-worthy gown by Marchesa, a hot-pink wrap dress by Diane von Furstenberg and an outrageous green party dress by Betsey Johnson.
The fact that Barbie is just shy of her 50th birthday — officially marked on March 9 — doesn`t seem to matter in a fashion industry that worships youth. (Being made of plastic, she can even avoid the indignities of Botox.)
"There`s been an epic display of unity around Barbie as a muse," says Richard Dickson, general manager of the Barbie brand at Mattel. "Barbie is 50. What`s the next chapter?"
Hello Kitty is also getting her own Fashion Week party, but there`s little doubt about who`s top doll. Barbie even knocked down the Bratz girls last year, resulting in a legal decision that essentially will end sales of the edgier tween dolls.
"A majority of designers have had some run-in with Barbie," says Carmen Marc Valvo. "She`s an American icon, and there has to be an interesting association between play and Barbie, and creativity and fashion."
Valvo insists he`s never had his own Barbie, but he was surrounded by his sisters` as a kid, and his very first design was a Barbie dress — a Renaissance gown for a school project. It`s proudly displayed in his office, even though the dress is lacking properly cut armholes, a skill he did not yet have.
Valvo`s new life-size Barbie dress is a frothy black strapless cocktail dress with pleats that reminds him of Barbie`s early wardrobe of gowns. This one will be worn with hot-pink Christian Louboutin shoes: "It looks like a Bon Bon."
Nicole Miller`s checkerboard trapeze dress and swing coat is the third outfit she has done for Barbie, filling a childhood void from a time when her French-born mother wouldn`t let her have one of the dolls.
"I always envision Barbie in that `60s mode — I made her mid- to late-`60s mod," said Miller. It`s a version of a dress Miller put in her very first runway show, worn by Linda Evangelista. "It was the season she was a blond. I immediately thought of that outfit."
Tommy Hilfiger, who will put Barbie in a hand-beaded white minidress, sees her Barbie as an American pop-culture icon that translates to other cultures and countries. There have been countless Barbies produced in the traditional dress of faraway lands, including a Korean bride in a hanbok and a Kenyan doll wearing wooden bead necklaces.
The dark-skinned Barbie even boosted the self-esteem of a young Rachel Roy, a designer with mixed Dutch and Indian heritage. "It helped me understand that brown was beautiful," she says.
Many of the Barbie styles are headed straight for Bloomingdale`s flagship store — but they`ll be on display, not for sale.