Barbie's (Real) Dream House


It was an invitation-only gala affair fit for a star. Celebs like Jet Li mingled with models, and cars filled with people eager to get inside were backed up in a traffic jam. The reason for the event, held on March 6: the grand opening in Shanghai of the $30 million House of Barbie, the iconic doll's flagship pink emporium featuring six stories of everything Barbie, from a restaurant to a runway.

The world's most famous doll turned 50-years-old March 9, and Mattel is working its way through a yearlong celebration. The store is part of Mattel's global strategy to turn Barbie, which saw global sales drop 21 percent last year, into a lifestyle brand for girls of all ages.

Richard Dickson, gm and senior vp of Barbie, says, "As we grow China as one of the future big markets within the Barbie portfolio, we're starting off the brand in a very exciting way. ... Previously, we might have just marketed dolls to little girls."

While the DNA of the Barbie brand is rooted in fashion -- Barbie Millicent Roberts was first introduced in 1959 as a fashion model, and designers such as Gucci, Galliano and Versace have dressed her -- it's grown to include a long list of line extensions, which the store showcases along with sections that document different phases of Barbie's "life." For instance, a "career wall" showcases the doll's various vocations throughout the years.

Located in a former movie theater, the new store took about two years from start to finish. It houses the brand's 45 different product categories, including publishing, sporting goods, apparel and accessories, entertainment and, of course, toys.

To bring Barbie's brick-and-mortar dream house to life, Dickson turned to Mattel agency Ogilvy & Mather and its strategic branding and design unit BIG to act as the store's brand steward. They helped develop the initial concept, conducted research and focus groups, designed the latticework that runs throughout the interior and selected the core creative partners. Slade Architecture designed the rest of the interior and the exterior; Chute Gerdeman, a strategic retail-design company, created the activities in the Barbie Design Center-where girls can customize their own dolls-and on the Fashion Stage, where they can participate in fashion shows of their own making.

Visitors enter the 40,000-square-foot store on the third floor, where they can buy a Barbie Passport to earn promotional rewards. The central element of the store's design is a three-story spiral staircase that displays more than 800 encased Barbie dolls and links the three retail areas for girls, women and dolls. The store also features the Barbie Cafe. Later this year, a full-service spa designed by Norman + Karen Design Studios will be added. Products include women-targeted makeup, luxury jewelry and even a $10,000 strapless wedding gown designed by Vera Wang.

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