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Eckhaus Latta VETEMENTS Hood By Air MarquesAlmeida Barbies
Jacquemus, Eckhaus Latta, VETEMENTS, 69, Hood By Air and Marques’Almeida Barbies by Ava Nirui and Alex LeePhotography Regine David

HBA, VETEMENTS and more get their own DIY Barbies

Bored of Barbies in baby pink, Ava Nirui and Alex Lee are designing dolls for the gender-blurring fashion generation

Our childhood dolls are having a bit of a moment this year. There’s Vee Filez, the official VFiles Bratz doll that sat front row at their MADE fashion show, @SocalityBarbie, the inanimate hipster who posts snaps of her sausage legs and coffees to her 1.6 million Instagram followers with the hashtag #liveauthentic, and of course Moschino’s SS15 collection, complete with its sell-out mirror iPhone cases.

Reimagining the typical stick-figured, perennially pink clad Barbie for our new gender-blurring fashion generation are duo Ava Nirui and Alex Lee, who, inspired by a rare Calvin Klein Barbie scored from eBay, have taken to creating their own designer dolls. By showcasing Barbie in clothes from boundary-pushing brands including Hood By Air, Eckhaus Latta and VETEMENTS, the project seeks to turn the hyperfeminine, gendered connotations of the iconic toy on their head.

What are your memories of Barbie from childhood? 

Ava Nirui: When I was about six, I began collecting Barbies and I remember finding the clothes they came with to be unexciting. I would take their existing clothes off and make them really shoddy ballgowns and sets out of Kleenex tissues and scotch tape. I’d see clothes I liked in music videos and movies and would try to replicate the silhouettes on my Barbies – I liked the idea that I could make them look unique. 

Alex Lee: I remember all the Barbies I saw as a child being naked or topless. They’d belong to sisters of friends and I remember being freaked out by them. I thought the texture of their skin was gross. I also never understood why every Barbie was blonde, and I still wish there was more diversity in Barbie world. For this project, we tried our best to use Barbies with a variety of physical traits, including both vintage and modern ones.

What do you think about the way we gender and sexualise toys for children?

Ava Nirui: I always thought it was messed up how Barbies were explicitly targeted to girls, and how it was perceived as ‘odd’ if a young boy was interested in playing with dolls. Particularly growing up, I found that the clothes Barbies wore were overtly sexy. Most young girls see Barbies as a reflection of the ‘perfect’ female – something that is unrealistic and unobtainable. Through this project we wanted to fuck with the traditional Barbie doll and make it more gender-neutral to reflect how the general public is transitioning toward more progressive and open-minded values. If our Barbies were on the shelves, they would be called Realistic Barbie

Alex Lee: I think as companies begin to desexualise children’s toys and erase gender separation, these Barbies fit right in as products that aim to reverse the traditional toy maker / toy buyer outlook.

“These designers represent a part of the fashion world that aims to make us second guess everything we thought we knew about who’s meant to wear what. They challenge gender norms and refuse to make clothing that is traditionally sexy” – Alex Lee

How did you pick the designers you wanted to use?

Alex Lee: Firstly, these are all designers we love. Secondly, and just as importantly, these designers represent a part of the fashion world that aims to make us second guess everything we thought we knew about who’s meant to wear what. These designers challenge gender norms and refuse to make clothing that is traditionally sexy. Many of them make pieces that are unisex, or they use males in their ‘womenswear’ campaigns and shows. These are the designers that interest us. They're the ones we think are worth celebrating.

Ava Nirui: The designs we chose to replicate are the antithesis of anything a traditional Barbie would ever be caught wearing. In that sense, we hoped to give the project an element of humour. I feel like many of the silhouettes we chose manipulate the female form and are quite avant-garde, particularly those of Jacquemus and Eckhaus Latta. We honestly just picked designers we think are cool and that think outside the boring fashion box, since we wanted to make our Barbies look cool, too! 

What's the response been so far?

Alex Lee: People have been really excited about it. Our friends are super into it, and we can't keep track of all the people who have reposted the Barbies on Instagram – especially the VETEMENTS Barbie. Michel Gaubert reposted that one. The designers seem really psyched about it, too. Eckhaus Latta and 69 regrammed them, which was sweet. I like to think of the Barbies as fashion fan art. Normally fan art would take the shape of an illustration or a painting. We're giving that idea another dimension.

Ava Nirui: I think people appreciate this Barbie collection not only because it’s a unique art project, but because we are giving an iconic children’s toy an unexpected and eccentric spin. Let's hope the positive response continues as we make more realistic Barbies!