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‘Barbie: The World Tour’ (Book Review)

Written by Margot Robbie and Andrew Mukamal
Photography by Craig McDean
Published by Rizzoli

 

When I was 13 years old, in 1972, I sent away for the Famous Artists’ School Test. You know, the one Norman Rockwell advertised on the back cover of nearly every comic book ever made up to that point. What can I say? Advertising works.

One of the lessons presented a drawing of a naked woman and you were supposed to design a fashionable, practical, outfit for her.

I had never thought about that.

In superhero comic books, the good guys always wore the same outfits. The bad guys, too.

But what about Lois? Or Mary Jane? Or Alicia? Or for that matter, Betty and Veronica?

I was stuck. I doodled around for a while, staring at the naked lady on the page. Well, okay, yeah, I was 13, I probably spent more time staring than anything else. Still, I had to come up with something!

Finally, in desperation, I copied an outfit from an issue of Marvel’s Chili that had been in one of those three-for-a-quarter coverless packs that used to be everywhere.

Decades later, I sheepishly told this to Chili artist Stan Goldberg, who admitted that he wasn’t designing her outfits, either, but rather copying them from teen mags and catalogs.

Which brings us to the new book, Barbie: the World Tour.

I’m sure most of you have heard about last year’s mega-hit Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie. Well, this book is a celebration of Margot Robbie on her Barbie press tour.

Beginning in the 1970s, there have been scores of books that consist mainly of photographs of Marilyn Monroe with little to no text. Although the intent was just to make some easy money by selling photographs of an iconic, beautiful woman, many of them are quite lovely for what they are. Barbie: the World Tour reminded me of them (I have a half a dozen in my own library!).

The major differences here are that Margot Robbie is very much alive, this book is built around a specific theme, and, best of all, there’s a fascinating text piece that opens it all up. That piece consists of a transcribed conversation between Ms. Robbie, fashion stylist Andrew Mukamel, and Margaret Zhang, the editor-in-chief of the Chinese edition of Vogue. It was Andrew who worked consistently with Margot throughout the press tour and who, I presume, writes the lion’s share of this book’s behind-the-scenes information. The conversation part is best, with the rest of the book’s text a little too self-interested in name-dropping names of folks with whom I have no familiarity at all.

But mainly, this is about the photos.

Even the film’s director Greta Gerwig, in an Afterword, praises the looks Mukamal and Robbie came up with. For the most part, those looks consist of having our star wear actual life-sized Barbie outfits at various press tour stops! There are lots of photos of Margot, who is, of course, stunning, and in many she’s doing her best to look blank-eyed in the way of actual Barbie dolls.

There are a lot of photos of those Barbie dolls, as well, all contrasted with the real life embodiment of the character. They come in a mixture of fancy, artsy design and just plain portrait shots. There are quite a few images as well reflecting the work of the various designers, with closeups of purses or jewelry as well as the actual outfits.

All in all, it’s a quick read, but as someone with no background or experience in designing women’s clothing beyond that long ago pilfering, I feel I learned quite a bit here. Too late now, though. I flunked that test back in the day and now they’re out of business.

Barbie: the World Tour won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like fashion, pretty ladies, or vintage toys…

Booksteve recommends!

 

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