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62-year-old Barbie: the fashion icon and ultimate child empowerment doll

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By Euronews
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62-year-old Barbie: the fashion icon and ultimate child empowerment doll
Copyright  euronews   -   Credit: Dubai

Kim Culmone is the senior vice president and head of design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel. Her role within this world-renowned toy-making company is to set the global creative vision for the Number 1 girls’ toy. She started her career in the textile industry, before heading to Mattel in 1999 where she became a Barbie designer. She is passionate about the advancement of women and girls throughout the world. In an exclusive interview with euronews, Culmone discusses the evolution of Barbie over the years and why this doll is still popular 62 years after its creation.

Barbie just won a Fashion Icon Award at Arab Fashion Week, why is Barbie such a fashion icon?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Barbie has always been at the centre of fashion and pop culture and that's when she's at her best. You know, we are a reflection of what goes on in the world around all of us and that's the key to Barbie's evolution. Her success is staying right at the heart of what's going on in the world and fashion is a part of that."

Barbie has also inspired a big line at Moschino and its creative director, Jeremy Scott, ispresenting that. What should we expect?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Get ready to be wowed. This is an incredible, an incredible collection. I was lucky enough to be in Milan with Jeremy and the team the first time that this was presented. Jeremy has worked with the brand for a very long time since Barbie's 50th, actually and she's always been an inspiration to him and he's very dear to us as well."

Barbie is 62 years old this year and she has come a long way hasn't she?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"She has come a very, very long way. Like I was saying, the key to the staying power is evolution, constantly changing and making sure that we're at the centre of everything that's happening in the world."

You've done a lot of research with neuroscientists about how Barbie can empower young girls through doll play. Can you expand on that?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"I can, yeah. So there's been research done at the University of Cardiff in the UK and we've always known that playing with dolls helps kids develop. But now we have data that shows that it actually helps develop empathy and social processing skills regardless of gender, regardless of if this is group play or individual play. Children benefit from playing with dolls like Barbie."

Barbie has this perceived history of promoting unrealistic body types to young girls. How have things changed?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"It's very important to us on the brand that we're reflective of the world that kids see around them and that includes the doll herself. So we have spent a lot of time working on the evolution of Barbie. Now Barbie is the most diverse doll line in the world, so we've made great progress."

Is it important, when creating these dolls, to be realistic about the world we live in and what's around the children?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Yeah, reflective of the world around us is critical. It's very important for people and children to see themselves played back in media and culture and in toys. So now Barbie has every ethnicity in the world. We have seven plus body types that we use consistently. She has been in a wheelchair, she has a prosthetic limb, dolls with vitiligo... So there are so many different dolls now where kids can see themselves reflected in the line."

You've also just done a collaboration with the European Space Agency. Can you describe that?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Yes, absolutely. So beyond fashion, right, Barbie also has had over two hundred careers. What's most important and what she does is that where women are underrepresented, especially in areas like STEM, it's important that kids can see women achieving in all areas of business and art and culture. So we are very proud of the partnership that we've done and the dolls that we've created."

What is important in your eyes for a global brand campaign?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Look, we are a global brand, but it's also important to be able to localise. This is my first time in Dubai and they see so much opportunity in the Middle East for Barbie. So while we're global being able to develop products and lines that are reflective and connect with people in particular parts of the world is very important to us."

Everywhere you go you must take a little bit of inspiration from the places you visit. What will you take away from this first visit to the Middle East?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"I mean you get inspiration from everywhere. But I would say the biggest impression that I have had since coming to Dubai is the incredible hospitality. Everyone has been so gracious and it’s been an incredible trip for me so far."

You started in the textile industry and then you moved into corporate America. You've worked on both sides. What advice would you give to women in particular who are wanting to get into business?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"You know what, you should go for it! Like Barbie, you know, we're all about limitless potential, so you have limitless potential. What I would say actually is to women that are already established in business, help other women get ahead. So I've reached a certain level of success in my career and it's important to me to inspire the next generation of female leaders."

You've obviously seen the industry transform over the last few years, but no more so than with the impact that social media. How does social media affect your industry?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Yeah, well, it affects our industry greatly. Barbie has a fantastic presence in social media, but also on YouTube, where we deliver content to children as well. We need to be where consumers are for both kids and parents."

What kind of research, R&D, goes into coming up with a product like this?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Well, we have an incredible consumer insights team. We couldn't do our jobs without spending time with children and parents. My design team spends more time than we ever have before with children. Now, every two weeks, we have groups where kids come together, respond to our products, so they're essential. They co-developed the line with us."

What for you has been the biggest challenge over your career?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Oh, wow. You know, I have to say probably my own self-confidence has been the biggest challenge in my career and working hard to believe in myself and in the visions that I have is important for me."

That's really interesting, especially because you design a brand that is all about empowering young girls.

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"It's much easier to empower other people sometimes than it is to do it for yourself. So I need to listen to Barbie's messaging around my own limitless potential, I think."

What's been your favourite brand campaign?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Oh, wow, you know, that's so challenging. It's like when people ask me what my favourite doll is, right? But you know, frankly, the thing that I love is Barbie's core messaging around being able to be anything that we want to be in the world."

You mentioned social media. You've got YouTube, you've got the dolls themselves. But there's a big movie coming up. Can you tell us anything about that?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Yeah, I can. We're in pre-production now. We're intending to go into production in 2022 and hopefully slated for release in 2023."

What does the immediate future hold for Barbie?

Kim Culmone, Senior VP and Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls at Mattel:

"Yes, the immediate future is continuing to do what we've been doing. I'm very proud that we're the most diverse doll line in the marketplace, but also continuing to extend Barbie's reach beyond the toy aisle."