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Pink is the theme color at the first-ever Barbie Exposition to be held in Israel. Boasting a collection of roughly 100 Barbie dolls from myriad collectors, the show will immediately engulf visitors in glittery pink walls and exceedingly long rows of Lucite display cases.
"Love it or hate it," says coordinator Tal Bar-Lavie, "Barbie means something to everyone."
These were the sentiments that drove Bar-Lavie, a 29-year-old Jerusalemite, to devote all her time for the past eight months to organizing the exposition, along with help from her husband, producer Ron Turgeman. "Barbie is really the story about a girl who stopped traffic and made some kind of change," she says of the dolls' significance, adding, "I came up with this idea and I stopped traffic."
On entering the storefront set up in the Cinema City shopping mall, the visitor is immediately faced with the signature Barbie artifact of the exposition - an extravagant pink and black butterfly dress designed by fashion designer and Barbie collector Bob Mackie. Inside, the first portion of the display is a presentation of classic Barbies from the early 1960s. In fact, the first Barbie displayed is the second ever made - a 1960 Ponytail with brunette hair in her original black-and-white striped swimwear. The condition of this doll is so good, and it is so rare - her molded plastic body is solid (as opposed to the hollow version that followed) - that its value is estimated at between $5,000 and $10,000. The same doll fetched $25,000 at auction in its original packaging.
Another very special part of the collection is the extremely rare 1964 Platinum Swirl Ponytail in excellent condition. Amazingly, the doll is wearing an original 1959 "Plantation Belle" dress, complete with shoes, bracelet, hat, gloves and "even the underwear," Bar-Lavie points out with a girlish giggle. This specific combination of doll and dress is considered so special that Mattel, manufacturer of the entire Barbie franchise, put out a modern reproduction at a collector's request. Released in limited quantity, the duplicate version itself became a collector's item, and is exhibited as well.
There is a vast menagerie of Barbies on display in the long room with glittery pink walls. Another section includes a number of fashionable "mod" dolls from the late Sixties, including some of Barbie's friends - Casey, Midge, Stacey and, not to be forgotten, the token male, Ken.
"I've always loved American culture," Bar-Lavie states. She was first introduced to Barbie as a young girl while living with her family in Ithaca, New York, where her father completed his doctorate.
Bar-Lavie earned an master's degree in anthropology from Tel Aviv University. "I love history and I love culture," she says, adding that she feels the study of Barbie lends itself naturally to these disciplines.
"I see in my work how easy it is to say 'Barbie,' and doors open. It's an awesome brand. It's amazing how many people cooperated and lent their name to the franchise," she says.
Bob Mackie is not the only fashion designer to have produced his own clothes for the doll model, nor is the garish butterfly his only work in the exposition. Also included are designs by Christian Dior, Armani, Escada and Versace. Bar-Lavie points out that the Versace-clad Barbie looks suspiciously like Donatella Versace, the fashion house's chief designer.
Beyond the designers, there are also themed collections, such as movie Barbies dressed as Scarlett O'Hara, Marilyn Monroe and Sandy from Grease. In one case, Barbie stands next to Elvis, and in another she's a Bond girl fawning over a scaled-down super spy. The Bond tuxedo is by Brioni, and Barbie's dress is by the costume designer who worked on most of the Bond films.
In the back of the room, one Barbie stands out because of its African theme.
"I have a lot of favorites, but she's the most special," says Bar-Lavie. Designed by Byron Lars, the doll is the final in a series of five. "I've never seen eyelashes like that on any doll," says Bar-Lavie, pointing out other significant details such as a tattoo on the doll's arm and the gold bird-cage - complete with bird - in its hair.
Scheduled to run until November 15, the exposition costs NIS 33 to enter, but there are various discounts, including 25% off with a Cinema City movie ticket. Admission also includes entrance to a "Girl's Dream" play area that provides temporary Barbie tattoos. A Barbie store has also been set up, offering special collector dolls imported by Bar-Lavie and available for the first time in Israel. She was initially worried about the prospect of selling the collectibles, but said they sold out the first week. After she restocked, a man came to the store, Bar-Lavie recounts, and purchased a Versace Barbie for NIS 1,300. He said he would use it in proposing to his girlfriend.