“My life as a Barbie doll designer”

Mum-of-two Stacey McBride-Irby talks about the new mixed race Barbie dolls and what it takes to be a doll designer

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Barbie has had a busy 50 years. Not content with flying to the moon before Neil Armstrong, and being everything from a racing car driver to a paratrooper, the glossy haired doll has had many different guises over her quarter of a century. From Malibu to chav, Babs has a reputation of being quite the style chameleon and with the turn of 2010, she is about to take on another look.

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Created by Barbie designer Stacey McBride-Irby, the new So In Style dolls feature four mixed race dolls with authentic looks from their facial expressions down to the clothes they wear. Reflecting on the times and making 50-year-old Barbie culturally relevant, the dolls strive to show little girls that not only can Barbie take on any career and be anyone she wants to be but also she relates to all cultures and race worldwide.

Following on from the first African American doll, Disney’s Tiana from the Princess and the Frog, the So In Style dolls continue in her stylish footsteps, keeping multicultural Barbie choices in the forefront.

In the midst of the launch of the Barbie retrospective in Selfridges, London, MFM caught up with LA based Stacey McBride-Irby to find out what inspired her to design the new dolls and what it’s like creating Barbie dolls as a day job.

How did you become a Barbie doll designer?

Barbie inspired me to be a designer. When I was a little girl, I loved nothing more than sitting for hours on end matching their pretty outfits. I had a huge collection – although I never did get the Dream house! I always felt so inspired when playing with my dolls, so it made me realise my dream of being a designer – and what better way to start than to create Barbie dolls.

Is designing Barbie dolls as fun as it sounds? Talk us through the average day at the Barbie design headquarters

It really is a fun place to work, I wouldn’t have it any other way as we’re all kids at heart pulling together to create dolls our children will cherish and be inspired by. We work from a blank canvas. I select every detail of the dolls from their hair’s textures right down the patterns and fabrics of their clothes. I always think about the personalities of the dolls and work from there, consulting with design teams in New York along the way who all contribute towards creating a truly unique Barbie from the hair right down to her shoes. The sample teams liaise with me about the fabrics and patterns of Barbie’s outfit and I think long and hard about the graphics on her clothing and even have her outfit tailored so it fits her perfectly. She is really spoilt. It’s a super job.

Where do you get the fashion inspiration? As Barbie has rocked some pretty awesome outfits in her years!

Thank you! Well, I communicate with my style teams and try to relate the doll’s personality to her outfit. It’s like when we dress ourselves, we put on clothes that reflect on how we feel that day – it’s the same with the dolls. I get my inspiration from checking out what the kids are wearing in the mall in LA and on the street, plus I scour through hair magazines and the internet looking for styling tips. I also look to celebrity role models like Tyra Banks and Beyonce. Barbie has the fashion world at her feet – she even has an accessories team in China.

What inspired you to design the new So In Style dolls?

After growing up with Barbie and then having children of my own (a 5-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son) I began to realise that my daughter couldn’t truly relate to Barbie as an African American. I want mixed race girls to know that dolls can also represent their career aspirations, hobbies and ethic backgrounds. Even though there are Barbie’s with darker skin on the market, I wanted to create something that represents the physical aesthetics of mixed-race women. There was a hole in the market. I wanted to create a doll who had three great, fun friends to hang out with but was all different, not type cast and was always themselves.

How did you start the process of the So In Style dolls?

I think personality is the key point of design and I really incorporated this in my dolls. I wanted to create a story behind the dolls so I brought them from Malibu to Chicago. Each of the dolls have their own distinct personalities. Jayla is a girly girl who loves science and cheerleading, whereas Kara has a passion for art and journalism. They have fuller noses, textured dark hair and darker skin tones, plus they are fashionable and cool, just like their fairer skinned Barbie’s.

We noticed the dolls have a boyfriend – Darren! Did you design him with your dream man in mind?

I created Darren in the same way I did the girls. I didn’t want to make him too hip-hop but I did want him to be cool. Well, nerdy but cool! He hasn’t got any facial hair, as I didn’t want to look too ‘street’ and old. He’s a clean-cut guy. The girls will have to fight over him like they did Ken! Although he has a little brother, Junior to keep him company.

Do your children play with Barbie’s like you did as a child? What do they think of their mum’s day job?

My daughter is really excited about the dolls. She loves them. She thinks I have the coolest job and sometimes tries to do it for me! Although her tips on styling and design definitely influence me, especially when she comments on particular hairstyles – she is my mini style advisor. She has a different eye to her mum and I find that invaluable. Oh and I have caught my little boy playing with the Darren doll, although he wouldn’t be too impressed if he knew I’d revealed his secret!

Has Barbie changed much with the last 10 years since you’ve been designing her?

Enormously! She has become an icon and now she is more culturally diverse, anything is possibly. It’s great to get excited about her again. We haven’t forgotten about Ken either as we have big, big plans for him in 2011!
 
If you could create YOUR ultimate Barbie – what would it be like?

I have to be honest and say that my So In Style dolls are my ultimate. They are beautiful and strong with brilliant personalities plus they are smart and follow their dreams – what more could you wish for in a Barbie?

If Barbie was to be portrayed in a Hollywood blockbuster film – who would you want to play her?

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Definitely Beyonce. She is a good representation of what Barbie is all about.

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