Barbie may be celebrating her 50th birthday this year, but until recently the gal never had a place to call her own. That changed in February when toymaker Mattel opened Barbie Shanghai, in Shanghai, China. The sparkling pink-and-white all-things Barbie showplace is the first-ever space dedicated to the iconic brand, with some 40,000 sq. ft. spread over six floors.
Although it carries the world’s largest collection of Barbie dolls and licensed Barbie products, Barbie Shanghai aims to be more than just a store. It follows in the footsteps of other experiential retailers, immersing shoppers in its brand and offering a range of activities. Girls can design their own Barbie, become a stylist and walk the runway in a fashion show. They can have their birthday party in an on-site themed restaurant and get their nails painted in the luxury spa.
“We see the store as a destination, a place where girls of all ages come to spend the entire day and walk out feeling thoroughly enamored with the Barbie experience,” said Mattel’s Richard Dickson, senior VP and general manager of the brand and the driving force behind Barbie Shanghai.
As to the choice of Shanghai, Dickson has called it the ideal choice for the inaugural Barbie flagship store.
“The city is cosmopolitan and outward looking, and brings together cultural influences from around the world,” he said. “What we’re doing in Shanghai is an indication for the future of the Barbie brand.”
Industry experts say that Shanghai also was appealing to Mattel because of Barbie’s cross-generational appeal to women there. Hence, the store’s strategy includes luring an older crowd. In addition to the spa, there is a bar serving cocktails, which, are, naturally, Barbie-themed.
Design: The store design is a sleek, playful, unapologetically feminine interpretation of the brand that plays homage to Barbie past, present and future. The experience begins on the facade, which is made of two layers: molded, translucent polycarbonate interior panels and flat exterior glass panels printed with a whimsical and feminine lattice pattern of Barbie-trademarked iconography. The two layers reinforce each other visually and interact dynamically as visitors approach the building.
Walking into the store, visitors are enveloped by the softly curved, pearlescent surfaces of the lobby, leading to a pink escalator tube that takes them to the double-height main floor where they can register for a Barbie passport and begin their experience.
The central element of the space is a three-story spiral staircase enclosed by 875 individually styled Barbie dolls. With the staircase and dolls at the core of the store, everything literally revolves around Barbie.
The stairway links the retail floors. The product mix runs the gamut from Barbie-licensed designer products for women to girls’ fashions and accessories (more than 1,600 Barbie products are featured). One floor is dedicated to the latest Barbie books, movies, dolls, toys and accessories. It is designed to be interactive, allowing girls to touch and feel the products and brand. A colorful mural, the Career Wall, is meant to inspire girls to become whatever they want to be. It pictures Barbie outfitted as everything from a doctor to a zoologist to an astronaut.
Attractions: There are four main experiential attractions: a design center, fashion stage, restaurant and spa. In the design center, girls learn how fashion collections are created. They get to become fashion designers for the day and create their own outfits for Barbie from a wide range of wardrobe choices, taking home their creations in custom carrying cases.
In the fashion stage, girls can take part in a runway show. They start by watching a special message from Barbie, who gives some modeling tips. They can practice their model walk in a mirror-filled backstage area, choose outfits from racks of dresses and shoes, and also receive hair and make-up treatments.
The participants then walk the runway, debuting on stage in the Barbie Fashion Cafe under the lights and in front of cameras as families and friends watch from VIP seats. A DJ mixes music in an adjacent booth. The experience includes a personalized fashion magazine cover and a fashion “look book.”
The Barbie Cafe, a pink-and-black restaurant and gelato bar on the top floor, features Barbie-inspired fare. The full-service spa offers services for women along with special treatments, such as face painting, for young girls.
Awash in pink hues, Barbie Shanghai is all-girl from start to finish. But there is one concession to boys who might find themselves dragged in with their sisters: A wall in a men’s room is adorned with 1,000 Hot Wheels cars.