Q&A With Carol Spencer: Dressing Barbie

Q&A With Carol Spencer: Dressing Barbie

Book: Dressing Barbie

Photos Courtesy of Carol Spencer

Author: Carol Spencer

Author Bio:

"If you've ever had a Barbie doll, or you know someone who did, chances are that Barbie was dressed in one of the thousands of designs created by Carol Spencer during her unparalleled reign as a Barbie fashion designer spanning more than thirty-five years.
Published in commemoration of Barbie’s sixtieth anniversary, Dressing Barbie is a dazzling celebration of the clothes that made America’s favorite doll and the incredible woman behind them.
Carol Spencer worked for several years as a fashion designer and illustrator in the apparel industry before beginning her illustrious career at Mattel as a fashion designer for Barbie in 1963.
For thirty-five years, eight months and 28 days Carol designed for the iconic doll and watched as Mattel grew from a small business into a multinational conglomerate staying up to date with the latest trends and technologies. From seeing Paris fashion shows to running the Hong Kong design group in the 1980s, Carol has been around the world with Barbie.
Carol began her career in 1955 winning the coveted “Guest Fashion Editor” position with Mademoiselle Magazine where she was formally presented to the Fashion Industry at a cocktail party held in the fabulous New York penthouse apartment of Helena Rubenstein.
At the end of 1998, Carol retired from Mattel following almost 36 fun-filled years-creating dreams for children of all ages with the Barbie doll.  In February 2017, she was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY in the inaugural year of the Women In Toys Emeritus Program.
"Carol Spencer - Doll & Doll Fashion Designer - Carol built her career at Mattel for over three decades as their premiere fashion designer for Barbie, including Totally Hair Barbie which broke sales records. Additionally, she worked on other lines like Big Jim and the original adult collector line for Barbie as well as both large and small dolls..."
Carol's dream of writing a memoir centered around the Barbie is fulfilled with DRESSING BARBIE at the time of the 60th Anniversary of Barbie Doll."


1.  How has the Barbie brand changed most since you first started?

WOW! Where do I start, in 1963 the world was far different from that of 2019?  Technology has come to the forefront changing the way we communicate, our jobs, play toys, recreation and more. It has changed the Barbie play patterns.  One doll with an entire wardrobe of fashions and play situations has evolved into many dolls each with specific situations. There are electronic games specifically for the Barbie doll. 

In the early years, we would create open-ended play situations for each Barbie doll and fashion allowing the child to think, dream and plan.


2.  What do you think is the most iconic thing about Barbie?

I began thinking of Barbie doll as an icon during the 1980s decade as she became famous via the start of many books written about her.  Before that, Barbie made news for over two decades, but it was at this time that she took on new roles and became more diverse.

The plan for Barbie doll set up by the Handlers in the 1960s gave the child the opportunity to explore both life and careers through play as the Women's movement began. Each person playing with Barbie doll does it in a different way becoming attached to her through their private thoughts, dreams and expectations, planning and hoping for the future.


3.  What do you want readers to take away from Dressing Barbie?

In addition to recognizing and enjoying the dolls, fashions and photo-centric photography of the four decades of my career, I would like readers to understand that by persistence, fortitude, diplomacy, and continual education they can achieve their dream; be it a career, family, sports activity etc.  

Creative positions create challenges and competition that must be woven into everyday life to achieve fulfillment and happiness both at work and at home.


4.  How difficult was it for you to condense almost 60 years of work into 160 pages?

My book proposal outline had almost 100 pages.  My original vision delved into more detail presenting information I researched in Japan and Europe.  

Starting as a memoir it then segued into the decades I spent designing for the Barbie Family of Dolls, large dolls, small dolls also working with Boys Toys designing the Big Jim doll's fashions.

As I am a fashion designer, a creator, not a professional writer, I worked with two ghostwriters, the first one was a scriptwriter for TV and documentaries, the second a fashion writer.  Also, with editors whose focus guided me towards the final book. I am thrilled that my Barbie book Dressing Barbie is so well received.


5.  You’ve worked with Barbie and Mattel for more than 35 years, which is amazing, what is your favorite design you’ve worked on?

I used to say the next one!  However, at this point in my life, I no longer design for Barbie doll.  There are several dolls and fashions that I consider my favorites; Benefit Ball Barbie Doll [the first doll to feature the designer's name on the package, mine], Golden Jubilee Barbie Doll [the only doll to have a signature imprinted on her body - my signature].

The My First Barbie Dolls and fashions [a line I created as the average age of the child playing with Barbie Doll lowered to 2 years], and Baby Sister Kelly Doll, now known as Chelsea [I created her when it became apparent that we need to bring the nurturing play pattern into Barbie fashion play]


6.  What was your writing process like for this book?

I presented the background information for the book including the stories and historical information.  I choose the dolls to feature. I began writing chapters over 20 years ago around the time I retired from Mattel so it wasn't hard to locate what to focus on.

When Harper Collins became interested and wanted a photo-centric book with over 100 photos I put my photography hobby to work using my training in the Ansel Adams method to photograph 43 photos of dolls for the book.  

I also scanned the scrapbook photos and fabrics from my collection. As everything had to be fact-checked I was happy that I had saved so many documents.


7.  If you could change one thing about Barbie, what would it be?

I wouldn't change anything, I like the group of dolls as they are evolving.  


8.  Barbie recently diversified its doll look for its 60th anniversary, what do you think of the new dolls and do you hope they continue to diversify?

I hope that the Barbie family of dolls continues to change as we change.  We began making the doll more lifelike by first adding bende legs, next a twist waist, then a voice and on and on.  

We also introduced a Black Barbie doll, a Hispanic Barbie doll, an Asian Barbie doll, and other nationalities. Recently, Mattel added 3 new figure styles, Curvy, Tall and Petite, I love each one and hope that the brand continues to follow the Handlers plan for her to evolve.


9.  What’s the best book you have read in 2019 thus far?

Dressing Barbie of course!


10.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?

Never give up - when the going gets rough, live a little!


11.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor before deciding.



Places To Find More From This Author:

Website: www.carolspencerdesigns.com


Get Your Copy of Dressing Barbie Today!

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My book “Dressing Barbie” finally came! I couldn’t put it down. In addition to the beautiful photography, her story is so interesting and full of talent, drive and tenacity well ahead of the time! Carol Spencer You Rock!!!

Jenna Burns

Carol Spencer – Your Book is truly amazing!
I sewed Barbie outfits for years . It was a dream I had as a
young girl growing up in Germany to sew for Barbie! I still
sew for her now in my 50’s. Thank you so much for sharing
your adventures! I love it!

Karin Freeman

Dear Carol,
Congratulations on your wonderfully written book. It was a delight to read from page 1 right thru page 160. It was a pleasure reliving all 35 of your years at Mattel. And there was lots to learn, even for us old Barbie hands (Big Oil! Who knew?). The pictures were perfectly selected and are glorious. My favorite is the one featuring all of the Color Magic fabrics. Equally fascinating were your description and photos of the 30 years “before Barbie”. You have had a very interesting life. Thanks for being so generous as to share it with all of us.

xx, Joe

Joe Blitman

Dear Carol💗 It’s such an honor! I have to say THANK YOU! cause you the designer of my childhood dreams! You have no idea how important Is your work on my life and how much you have inspired me since i was a little boy 💗😍 i was lucky enough to have an open minded grandma who always gave Barbie dolls as gifts to me . And as a 90’s kid i grew up, played AND dreamed with the dolls you’ve designed and dressed. Totally hair Barbie Is my favorite Barbie doll ever you have no idea how much totally hair Means to me. I even have a 90’s Barbie tattooed on my arm. So THANK YOU. You are such a talented person . I wouldn’t be the person i am today without your work!

Thank you so much for telling me. I am thrilled that in some small way that Barbie doll and I inspired you. Barbie love, Carol Spencer.

Manuel LaBouff

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