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Did Jean-Louis Sabaji go in depth to represent the Barbie that we know in 2022?  

Read all the latest news of Jean Louis Sabaji X BARBIE’s Arab Fashion Week show and the deeper significance of the play doll figure.


Last night, Arab Fashion Week kicked off with Lebanese couturier Jean-Louis Sabaji leaving attendees humming, “I’m a BARBIE girl…” with a definite feeling of being in a BARBIE world! The one-of-a-kind collaboration with the diverse doll and the first Arab designer to work with the global icon took us back to childhood nostalgia of a world dipped in pink perfection, only this time with a Middle Eastern twist.

Opening the show was fashion model Ameni Esseibi, one of the first plus-size models in the MENA region. Strutting the catwalk with a hot pink bedazzled top and a transparent layered feather skirt, tied together with an 80s thick waist belt that had the original BARBIE logo, was a small hint that took away from the stereotypical idea of “slim Barbie” but shed light on body positivity.

Skin positivity advocate and role model Logina Salah were amongst the models walking the runway that furthered the idea of inclusivity in a world of BARBIE that for decades has been viewed as controversial for its lack of global and diverse female representation.

The collection and star-studded attendees included the likes of fashion model Baran and reality TV star Chanel Ayan from The Real Housewives of Dubai, with many more influential figures sitting in front-row seats. The collection featured a world colored in black and pink. Two shades that were solemnly present throughout the collection came in ranges of feathers, glitters, and overlaying patterns with the heart icon being the main symbol of the show.

The couture dresses featured on the runway leaned toward a more clean-cut, simple, and neat execution of a fashion collection. This is an unusual debut as it contrasts the industry’s runway sector which usually embodies over-the-top ball gowns, exaggerated shapes, bold experimentation, and diverse material construction.

Jean-Louis Sabaji most probably had one of the best icons to do a collaboration with, but we couldn’t help but question if the designer went deep enough to send a different message of “Barbie’s World”. We suggest otherwise, as the collection lacked complexity and was an open-book story that takes Barbie at face value without any challenging narratives to shed light on society.

The deeper significance of BARBIE as the staple play doll for every girl in the world

BARBIE has been around since the late 50s. Till today the play doll has a higher and broader awareness than mega influencer Kim Kardashian, where over 58 million Barbies are purchased each year in around 150 countries.

For decades, since its inception, the doll has been known for her unrealistic body proportions of having a tiny figure, tall long legs, blonde hair, blue eyes, and her love for pink. Which at the time of gender inequality reflected the era it was in, where women in society had to be well put together with a respectable image and feminine features of perfection. Nothing about the doll was imperfect, as a matter of fact, two of the most common criticisms were the unrealistic standards of beauty and the excessive materialistic mindset.  

Barbie’s excessive materialism is communicated through the doll’s lifestyle as it was sold with accessories that in real life would’ve reflected the stealth of wealth such as Cabrio cars, planes, houses, animals, and more, all of which were criticized for its idealization of wealth accumulation.

Multi-millionaire and mega-beauty influencer Kylie Jenner plays with the Barbie stereotype to convey the idea of living in a materialistic, plastic world, which is far from reality.

Although on a positive note, when the doll was released it was a scapegoat for many women as they credit Barbie with providing an alternative to restricting 1950s gender roles. Unlike baby dolls, Barbie did not teach nurturing. Outfitted with career paraphernalia, the doll was a model for financial self-sufficiency. (Barbie’s résumé includes, among other things, airline pilot, astronaut, doctor, Olympic athlete, and United States presidential candidate.) Nor was the doll defined by relationships of responsibility to men or family.

At the time, this was a great milestone for gender equality, although for many years afterward the doll did not further its goal of inclusivity of all women until 2015. Only 56 years later, Mattle, introduced new skin tones and different hair as a response to a 20% drop in sales between 2012 and 2014. Since then with its steady climb of growth, the brand also introduced different body types as well as even including Barbies of determination.

The story of Barbie as an idol, and figure to create awareness of values, which nowadays are so suppressed in a world filled with divided beliefs and suppression of race, gender, and class, could’ve been one of the best forms of storytelling through a fashion collection.

We wished Jean-Louis Sabaji challenged these ideals since it could’ve been a big juxtaposition in representing a Barbie of what we know today in 2022 through fashion as a materialistic element.  In utilizing one of the most criticized aspects of Barbie, Sabaji would’ve sent a strong message that fashion is much more than selling a materialistic dream, but is an expression of deeper messages and values.

Ultimately, Jean-Louis Sabaji did include some aspects of inclusivity, but 2 models out of a runway of 30 did not make the cut. Fashion and the play of stereotypes are two of the most exhilarating displays of storytelling and although the collection was beautiful, the deeper meaning of what we sought to question and the added value taken from the show was just not quite there to reflect the 2022 era in which we are living in.

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