April 20, 2011

A Kentourage for Ken

By Pat Henry, Editor of Fashion Doll Quarterly

As we continue to celebrate Ken’s birthday as well as his reunion with Barbie in 2011, it is fun to look back at Ken through the years and his many styles of dress. Certainly, his place as Barbie’s consort meant a lot of coordinating looks. “Dreamboat” by itself is just a few pieces of sportswear, but putting Barbie and Ken in the roadster while Babs is in “Open Road” becomes an entire narrative.

Certainly, the matching cheerleader/football player is a classic, as is the costume party pairing of “Pierrot” and “Pierrette”, along with the fantasy driven costumes for the Little Theatre, like “Cinderella” and “The Prince”. But to me, the realistic and well made details of “The Yachtsman” or “Rally Day” reminds me of my own father’s wardrobe. The smell of after shave and soap, along with the classic lines of a striped tee shirt, or a driving cap and a Macintosh raincoat, combine to form a tiny time capsule of early sixties high style, when men (and women) still dressed for work and play with a certain sensibility.

Of course, Ken continued to stay abreast of the fashion times. After disappearing for a while during the sixties, Ken made the first of many comebacks with a brand new look. Now, he was “buff” and fit, ready to hit the beaches of Malibu as a blond, or take up extreme grooming with newly rooted hair and sideburns. His clothes stayed apace with Barbie’s; the prints became louder, the pant legs wider. Ken sported turtlenecks more often than ties, and left best bud Allan behind for Brad, a much hipper dude of color. Ken embraced rock and disco, sports cars and guitars.

At this time, I remember more of my male friends actually being allowed their own Ken dolls. Whether they wore their mothers down, or they just swiped their sister’s dolls, it didn’t seem like such a big deal to play “Barbies” with the neighborhood girls. (That may have been due to our stealing their G.I. Joes, but that’s another story for another time.) These dolls were no longer just Barbie and Ken, they were secret agents, astronauts, and rock stars, reflecting our growing interest in pop culture and the adult world around us.

Depending on your age, you probably have your favorite Ken. Mine was the first “Talking” Ken. I thought he was just dreamy. His dazzling smile and his groovy short-sleeved Nehru jacket was just fabulous! But there are so many other Kens for different times and different generations that must be represented, so I recently flew to Los Angeles and headed to El Segundo for a special photo shoot featuring the entire “Kentourage”.

Not only was it a thrill to work in Mattel’s photo studios, but also everyone had a favorite Ken and a story to go with it. Paul Jordan shot an amazing group photo that will become a centerfold spread in our special issue of FDQ, and the soundstage set looked like something from the MGM lot. Mary Jordan did the styling, placing each Ken perfectly on set, looking as though they were talking and interacting with each other. Lars Auvinen is the secret star of these shoots. He designs the sets, and molds and paints tiny pieces of wood and foam into the astounding miniature world that Ken resides in.

In an era where everyone assumes “it’s Photoshoppped”, it is truly a treat to see a full scale set with tiny phones, working doors and a boom camera hanging over the dolls’ heads as if they are actors ready to go on set. Make sure you get to see this amazing photograph in FDQ and on the Barbie Collector site. It’s part of Ken’s history and something to cherish.

Have a favorite Ken? Share him with us here!

Pat Henry is the publisher and editor of Fashion Doll Quarterly. She is a former fashion stylist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology in the Photography Department. Pat lives in NYC with her husband Hal and their fox terrier, Bo, and a large assortment of fashion dolls and action figures.

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