This week, we take a deep dive into how the cult entertainment x fashion collaborations for “Barbie: The Movie” came about, and how their success could signal the future of brand marketing. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Fashion has a long history with Barbie. The classic doll served as designer Jeremy Scott’s inspiration for an all-pink Moschino collection in 2015, while Chanel designer Virginie Viard looked to Malibu Marbie when creating looks featured in the brand’s cruise 2023 show. In addition, brands including Céline and Dior have collaborated on collectible Barbies dressed in their creations.
However, it wasn’t until this year, with the launch of the Barbie film on July 21, that fashion has been able to interact with Barbie through entertainment-native marketing opportunities like red carpets. As for Barbie’s prior screen presence, there have been animated films like Mattel Entertainment’s “Barbie of Swan Lake” in 2003 and the Netflix series “Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse,” in 2012. But Barbie hasn’t experienced a real-life adaptation until this point.
Barbie was also one of the first big IP consumer products to get into gaming. The PC game “Barbie Fashion Designer,” introduced in 1996, allowed players to design outfits in the game that could then be worn by real-life Barbie dolls, after the design elements were printed out and glued together. This marked one of the first opportunities for consumers to see digital fashion on a physical example.
Ahead of the film’s announcement last year, Barbie was trending among fashion brands. For example, Balmain created a Barbie-inspired clothing line and NFT collection which were released in January 2022.
In a Glossy interview about the Balmain launch, Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Barbie owner Mattel, described Barbie as a connector between pop culture and fashion. “Connecting to culture is a core component of Mattel’s playbook, and Barbie is a globally recognized icon in fashion and pop culture, which creates an interesting intersection between the brand, art and collectability,” he said. Although NFT collectibles have waned in popularity, the entertainment and fashion mashup has not.
For the film’s release, Mattel has partnered with a number of fashion brands, including Aldo and Forever 21, as well as retailers like Bloomingdale’s. The idea, according to Mattel, is that these items are not just fashion pieces — they are instead collectible merchandise that connect fashion, Barbie and nostalgia. These brands and retailers have created exclusive clothing and accessories inspired by the film, some through the licensing model, others through Mattel collaborations. Mattel has offered a unique licensing model for the film, with brands either paying the company a flat licensing fee to use the Barbie name and logo or Mattel taking a 5-15% cut of the product sales.
On June 20, Bloomingdale’s launched a collection of Barbie-inspired products under its private label Aqua, which was promoted in store windows and displays. “As a brand founded on the concept of ‘retail is theater,’ Bloomingdale’s connection to pop culture and entertainment is an integral part of its marketing strategy,” said Frank Berman, evp and chief marketing officer at Bloomingdale’s. The retailer declined to disclose the financial arrangement between Mattel and Bloomingdale’s.
Collaborations between entertainment entities and fashion are on the rise, and Barbie has the added value of history and nostalgia. Netflix launched an online shop for its entertainment-linked fashion pieces in 2021, and its “Halston” series inspired a selection of gowns that were sold at Saks and Neiman Marcus in 2021. More recently, in April 2023, Lacoste launched a Netflix collection that took inspiration from some of its most popular shows. Fashion fans’ appetite for linking with the entertainment industry has been evident for years, with movie and TV viewers often entering heated discussions about on-screen looks, across Twitter, Instagram and Reddit chats.
Mattel is getting out ahead of the curve by joining entertainment, pop culture and fashion at an unprecedented scale. And it seems it’s just getting started. Currently, for the Barbie launch, Mattel is also collaborating with competitors including toy maker Hasbro. In addition, it’s signed first-of-its-kind, multi-year licensing agreements with competitors for other toys to reach wider audiences.
Aldo’s nostalgia-filled Barbie strategy
Canadian shoe brand Aldo took a subtle approach to its Barbie collaboration. When developing its 19-piece Barbie shoe and accessory collection, the 50-year-old brand chose to focus on nostalgia — specifically, Barbie’s signature plastic stilettos and accessories. The collection, priced $30-$120, launched on June 28.
“Our campaign itself was inspired by those moments of playing with Barbie’s accessories and wishing they were just a few sizes bigger so we could wear them ourselves,” said Daianara Grullon Amalfitano, Aldo chief brand and product officer.
The collaboration’s target audience, and even that of the PG-13-rated Barbie film, isn’t the kids currently playing with the dolls, but rather the adults who now reminiscing about their childhood love for Barbie. In fact, Mattel, Inc.’s first-quarter 2023 earnings showed a decline in kids playing with Barbie, with Barbie sales decreasing 40% year-over-year in constant currency.
The collaboration process between Mattel and Aldo first kicked off in July 2022, with the collaborative design process beginning in August. It took roughly 6-8 weeks, from start to finish.
“The pure nostalgia that this collection elicited in our team made it feel extra special, and you can tell how emotional and intentional the pieces feel,” said Grullon Amalfitano. “We had so many combined, meaningful Barbie memories to draw inspiration from, so we wanted to make sure that came across in the storytelling and design.” The shoe boxes emulate Barbie’s signature window box, and there are tiny Barbie charms that ornament the collection.
The Aldo team approached the product like a collectible, said Amalfitano. “We had to ignite what was iconic to Barbie throughout the entire experience,” she said. “That sentimentality had to be felt from unboxing to displaying it as a collector’s item on your shelf, to wearing the product in your everyday life.”
For the launch, the brand took a 360-degree marketing approach, inclusive of store signage, digital ads, paid media and social posts. Thus far, Aldo has received over 31 million impressions on its Barbie content on social media alone. The #BarbiexAldo hashtag has more than 20 million views on TikTok, fueled by partner influencers, as well as organic posts from shoppers.
And Aldo doesn’t see this as a one-off engagement with Mattel. “We may have some more magic cooking for next year, but you’ll have to wait and see,” Grullon Amalfitano said.