MONTREAL – Michelle Emond has 1,000 Barbie dolls at home, but she remains as impressed as ever with the iconic doll’s beauty and sense of style.
“What’s not to love? She can be anything she wants to be,” said Emond, who has taken 19 years to gather her collection.
Barbie has indeed embodied many styles since her creation in 1959, and many of those are currently on display in Montreal at “Barbie Expo,” a new 450-square-metre permanent exposition that celebrates the best-selling doll’s nearly six decades as a fashionista.
Emond and her daughter were among the Barbie fans who recently checked out the exhibit, which features more than 1,000 dolls, including special editions of stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Beyoncé, Kate Middleton and Grace Kelly.
Many of the dolls wear costumes from some of the world’s top designers, including Christian Dior, Versace, Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta.
“We specifically selected the Barbies that not only evoke feelings of nostalgia but also represent the fashion element,” said assistant curator Arianna Rabinovitch, who believes the exposition is the largest of its kind in the world.
One of the couture-focused exhibit’s displays is a Barbie fashion show, complete with a moving runway and backstage view of the changing room.
The dolls’ intricate costumes serve both as an illustration of the evolution of fashion and a testament to the labour of love it takes to recreate a Vera Wang wedding dress for a 12-inch plastic woman.
Rabinovitch said each costume can take hours worth of work, which can include meticulously placing jewels on ballgowns with tweezers or sewing layers of tiny petticoats for an Old West costume.
“You have to be like a surgeon,” Rabinovitch said.
“Can you imagine making fishnet stockings for a Barbie?”
Barbie has been a controversial figure over the decades, sometimes accused of presenting an unhealthy body image to young girls.
This year, its owner, Mattel, introduced dolls with different body types, skin tones and eye and hair colours to offer increased diversity.
Although Barbie sales have slumped in recent years, she remains one of the best-selling toys on the market.
According to some of the exhibit’s visitors, her appeal can be attributed to two main factors: fashion and nostalgia.
Lisa Mussgnug used to play with Barbie’s sister, Skipper, when she was a young girl.
READ MORE: Not everyone likes Barbie’s new body
Now, she said she enjoys making clothes for the dolls with her 9-year-old daughter, Olivia.
“We like the fashion that’s involved in it,” Mussgnug said.
“Sometimes we design and sew our own outfit for Barbie, so we have a lot of fun with that.”
She said she and her daughter especially enjoyed the exhibit’s vintage and celebrity Barbie dolls.
“We get to learn how fashion changes over the ages, it’s really neat to see,” she said.
The exhibit is located at the Cours Mont-Royal, 1455 Peel Street.
Admission is free but visitors are invited to donate to the Quebec Make-a-Wish Foundation.