Barbie, the iconic figure that has long ignited the imagination of fans of all ages, is now for the first time living larger than life in South Florida, residing in a super-pink, playful, technology-driven parallel universe.
Barbie The Dreamhouse Experience opened Friday at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise. The interactive installation of 10,000 square feet is filled with several different rooms and loads of life-sized — and even bigger — wonders.
It’s the first such Barbie Dreamhouse Experience to open worldwide, with Berlin debuting next week.
Think of it as a new version of a high-technology, multimedia Barbie.
“The media component of a dreamhouse has to be there because Barbie, at the end of the day, is ahead of her time,” said Christoph Rahofer, president of Vienna-based EMS Entertainment, which produced the Dreamhouse Experience in collaboration with the toymaker that manufactures Barbie, Mattel.
“The dreamhouse has to be ahead of its time also, in terms of how pink, how fancy, how crazy, how unexpected it can be, and that also goes for the use of some of the technology,” said Rahofer, in a telephone interview from Vienna. He used his 8-year-old daughter as his muse in thinking up the dreamhouse idea, which was developed by a creative team in Vienna.
Live interactive doll experiences moved into public venues beginning in 1998, when the first American Girl Place store opened in Chicago. Thousands of girls across the country now take their dolls to tea and hold birthday parties at 14 stores nationwide. One opened at The Falls in South Miami-Dade last October.
While Rahofer had never heard of American Girl dolls until three months ago, both are owned by Mattel, which bought American Girl in 1998, and both are now part of the new world of experiential doll-playing in South Florida.
Yet some moms say Barbies are much more financially accessible than American Girl dolls, which cost $105 on average. Barbies begin at just a few dollars.
“It’s a big financial commitment,” said Lane Kiefaber, mother of a 4-year-old daughter, of American Girl.
Since Barbie was introduced in 1959, her popularity has soared in line with the fantasy world she sparked. Barbie, whose real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, rose to become the No. 1 doll sold. Today, according to Mattel, a Barbie doll is sold every three seconds somewhere in the world.
Yet while Barbie remains an icon to those to whom she has endeared over the years, to some, she is a sexist symbol.
In Berlin, where the dreamhouse will open in a large tent in an area nestled between a railway and old communist housing blocks, a grass-roots group of opponents has formed. The group has created a Facebook faction called “Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse,” which has drawn more than 1,000 supporters, according to the publication The New Age Online.
Yet Barbie gives girls hope of realizing their dreams, Rahofer said, as she has had dozens of professions over the years. “So it’s not a doll, it’s a concept, the concept of what can you achieve in life, how can you fulfill your dreams, and that is why it’s a dreamhouse,” he said.
Regardless, Barbie is no longer the doll you may have grown up with and played with alongside your friends, dressing her perfectly sculpted body in cute outfits.