Barbie dolls are no strangers to fashion collaborations. Since 1959, the doll has been dressed by numerous fashion brands and designers creating limited editions that appeal to collectors worldwide. Balmain, Moschino, Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta and many others have had the privilege to dress this iconic character. The Karl Lagerfeld Barbie launched in 2014, for example, sold out immediately, and collectors can now only find her on sites like Ebay where the price exceeds 7,000 dollars.
Although these collaborations have usually involved international brands, in 2022 the Mattel brand decided to bet on a different type of collaboration to honour Day of the Dead reaching out to a Mexican designer. Would it be just as successful?
Co-branding strategies have grown stronger throughout the years. According to a study from Visual Objects, 71 percent of consumers enjoy co-branding partnerships. This is because these launches provide new product options, original creations, and products that solve unique problems or add value to their already loved products. Looking at this strategy from a brand’s perspective, a study by Partnerize showed that 54 percent of companies say partnerships drive more than 20 percent of total company revenue.
Co-branding and partnership strategies are even more appealing to younger generations. According to a survey by Statista in 2018, 67 percent of Generation Z respondents stated that they had purchased luxury items from collaborations. Meanwhile, 60 percent of millennials and 40 percent of Gen X also bought products from collaborations, particularly by fashion brands.
Culture, fashion and business success
The Day of the Dead Barbie isn’t new. In 2019 Mattel launched their first Barbie doll dedicated to honour Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), although the launch was tainted by criticism about cultural appropriation and using an old tradition for profit.
The Day of the Dead is an ancient belief that the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living is open for just one day, allowing the dead to visit their loved ones. This holiday honours those who have departed by celebrating their lives.
The 2019 Day of the Dead Barbie was designed by Javier Meabe, Barbie Signature designer, who wanted to portray his Mexican heritage on the doll, as well as his memories celebrating this holiday during his childhood years living in Mexico. He even said during an interview for The New York Times at the time that the doll’s dress was inspired by a dress his mother used to wear.
There were new versions of the Barbie Signature Día De Muertos Collection in 2020 and 2021 designed by Meabe, who used customs, symbols, and rituals as inspiration to represent this tradition. However, in 2022 the brand decided to shift its strategy. Instead, they invited a Mexican fashion designer to work with them for the first time. Benito Santos was the first Mexican fashion designer Barbie collaborated with on a Dia de Muertos doll.
In 2022 there were three special edition dolls, two designed by Meabe and one by Santos. The Benito Santos x Barbie doll sold out in only four minutes. The doll wore a bespoke black dress featuring white and crimson embroidered details, inspired by traditional charro outfits. The designer who created the iconic red dress actress Ximena Navarrete wore when she won Miss Universe in 2010, now dressed Barbie with a skirt that showcased a dramatic mermaid hemline and a cropped bolero jacket.
“Working with Benito Santos was a highly collaborative experience. What I loved the most about this collaboration was being able to bring Benito’s vision to life in a new way. He shared trend boards so we could understand what themes he was eager to convey and then we worked together to bring his creative vision to a Barbie scale,” said Meabe. “It was a passion project from both Benito’s team and the Barbie team. I’m thrilled to welcome Benito to the Barbie brand and share his vision of what it means to him to celebrate Día De Muertos with Barbie.”
The Benito Santos x Barbie doll wears black, red and white attire. Her white shirt has bright red buttons and a red bow. The layered mermaid-shaped skirt and fitted jacket are adorned in red roses embroidered with white leaves. The elegant design is combined with silver and red jewellery, as well as a red rose headdress.
Not only did this Barbie doll represent Mexican culture through her attire and make up, but also showcased the mariachi tradition that came from the designer’s hometown. This way the brand managed to steer away from cultural appropriation comments, while also having a successful launch through a new fashion collaboration.
This article was previously published on FashionUnited.mx