Rain and wind attacking my face, only makes Copenhagen northwest neighbourhood look even more grey than it is. A sun-bleached pink Barbie sign hangs on the corner of Vibevej and is the only thing revealing the location of the museum. I knock on the basement door and a little lady named Lene Darlie Pedersen kindly invites me inside. Lene is a woman whom since 1989 has collected the world famous plastic doll, Barbie. Her passion and eagerness to share her knowledge is not to be mistaken. Her dearest possession has been open to the public since 1995, and includes dolls dating back to their birth in 1959, and up until today. The overwhelming collection in all colours, the soft carpet on the floor and the chalk-pink painted walls, suddenly makes the grey neighbourhood a whole other place to be. It’s an amazing contrast to walk from the trafficked, depressing street, into this universe of fashion and childhood memories. Lene’s collection consists of five rooms, with about 6,000 dolls, a number she no longer knows accurately. Here is everything from geisha, mermaid, movie stars , Elvis, astronaut, Colour-changing and Chocolate-scented Barbies. After only two minutes, Lene starts sharing her knowledge like a living Barbie Wikipedia.
“Barbie has her roots back to the German doll “Bild Lilli”. Bild Lilli originally started in 1952 as a comic figure in the German newspaper “Bild-Zeittung”, she was a little naughty lady. She becomes a physical doll in 1954 and is sold at gas stations, mostly for men as a kind of hate gift. So a lot of men where driving down the German highways with the lightly dressed doll in their windshield. A Lady from America, Ruth Handler, visits Germany and notices Bild Lilli. She buys a few dolls for her young daughter, because she knew how she loved playing with paper dolls.”
Ruth and her daughter figured out that Lilli could be a new modern 3D paper doll, and Ruth decided to buy the rights for the Bild Lilli Doll. Her two children were named Barbara and Kenneth, therefore the names of the most famous couple in the world became Barbie and Ken. Lene tells me that Barbie and Ken have a rather complicated relationship. If they had a real Facebook account, their status would be “It’s complicated”. They will never get married, and Matell announced in 2004 that they had decided to split up, but in February 2006 they were hoping to rekindle their relationship after Ken had a makeover.
“All the dolls are only wearing their original garments. A doll may miss a pink bra, and so it is, it’s only a doll standing with bare breasts. I don’t want to mix things together, because then I forget what the doll originally looked like.” It seems like the fashion part is a big part for Lene’s passion, and I quickly realize, that her love is greater for her older dolls, since it was a time when everything was made for perfection. “The clothes on the old dolls from the 50-60ies are handmade, all that is silk is silk, all that is fur is real fur. The designer at the time checked all the clothes through a magnifying glass, to make sure that everything was perfect and not a string should be in the wrong spot. All the dresses were handmade and sewn by skilled professionals. I think it’s genius.” French haute couture’s finest fashion designers have made clothes for Barbie. Over 70 well-known designers have over time dressed Barbie; Lene owns more of these creations, and shows me over to her Barbie with tailored Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Bob Mackie dresses.
Lene tells me how she can be incredibly annoyed by people, especially journalists who ask her if she plays with her Barbie dolls. “of course I don’t play with the dolls, I’m not a child, how could and would an elderly lady like me play with Barbie?” Lene is a woman born with a collectors’ gene, Barbie is not the only thing on her mind. She also has a large collection of pushpins at home. Lene sees her Barbie collection as a fantastic opportunity to show the history of fashion clothing and body ideals over the last 55 years.
If you want to visit the Barbie Museum in Copenhagen, you’ll need to make an appointment by calling Lene: 30 10 30 23.