Doll Reader Magazine published an article about the Barbie Collector Design team entitled Barbie – a model citizen. I was interviewed along with my coworkers for the magazine. Here is an excerpt from the article:
California native Heather Fonseca could just as easily have been reared at the royal courts of England, Austria or Moscow.
Fonseca has been responsible for designing all of the princesses in the Dolls of the World Collection since its inception in 2001.
“Once you’ve worked with Barbie for a while, you get to know her really well. I know what sorts of styles flatter her figure and I have all sorts of tricks to make her look taller and slimmer. When I design the Dolls of the World, I try to take a particular world culture and fold it over Barbie so that she becomes a beautiful representation of that country. Or when I’m designing a glamour doll, I might be inspired by a piece of fabric or an image from a magazine. I always keep in mind that if Barbie were a real woman, she would really enjoy her vast wardrobe. I think she would have fun changing her look, her hair color and her makeup constantly.”
Associated with Mattel for a decade, Fonseca, who is a veritable chameleon with her sketch pad, craves normalcy and constancy in her private life. Married to her husband, Hugo, a grammar-school teacher, for seven years, and the proud mother of a two-year-old daughter, Sofia, she loves to unwind by remodeling and decorating her own dream house.
Barbie’s “Princess of The Nile” Costume – A Head-to-Toe Fashion Survey
I can see that designer Heather Fonseca did her research. She must have dug through a lot of New Kingdom Egyptian art, especially the well-known treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb, to put together this ensemble. (Here’s Ms. Fonseca’s concept art sketch for the doll on this Barbie fansite).
Crown: The colors are authentic, meant to evoke the gold, turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and colored glass (faience) commonly used in Egyptian jewelry and art. The Uraeus, a golden cobra, adorns the crowns of many Egyptian pharaohs. Barbie’s Uraeus is paired with a vulture head. Many Egyptian symbols memorialize the fact that Egypt was originally two distinct kingdoms, Upper (up-river) Egypt and Lower (marshy delta) Egypt, often represented by the vulture-goddess Nekhbet and the cobra-goddess Wadjet. I think Barbie’s uraeus-crown may be inspired by King Tutankhamun’s crown, which is duplicated on his famous golden mask and coffins. See this fabulous fan photo of the “Princess of the Nile” Barbie for a close-up of her crown.
Wig: Ancient Egyptians were very concerned about personal hygiene. However, in those days there were no bug sprays, and doors and windows didn’t seal tightly. To keep away lice, well-to-do Egyptians shaved themselves and wore wigs! They could add perfume, beads, or other accessories, or go bald on really hot days. The small, tight braids they favored were less likely to become messy and more likely to deter pests than loose hair.
Eyes:Kohl eyeliner was used by both men and women to accentuate the eyes and serve as a sort of greasepaint, dampening the intense glare of the Egyptian sun. It was made of powdered galena (lead ore, slightly poisonous!), powdered malachite or, more rarely, iron oxide [Source].(Photo Credit: Rama, Wikimedia Commons)
Necklace:Egyptian nobility dress up with wide beaded necklaces of faience or precious stones. Most mummies and portraits show a collar-like necklace of this kind, and you can still pick up cheap knock-offs in Egypt to this day. Egyptian Barbie’s beaded collar reminds me of a mummy portrait of Thuya, King Tutankhamun’s great-grandmother
Pendant:Barbie’s “pectoral” (from Latin pectus, chest/breastbone) ornament is obviously based on King Tut’s (left). Tutankhamun’s pectoral spells out another of his four royal names. From bottom to top, bowl-scarab-sun reads Neb-Kheper-Re, “[the supreme god] Re, Lord of Becoming.” Here’s a fine close-up of King Tut’s Pectoral.The winged scarab is a common symbol of the sun and creation in ancient Egypt, because real Egyptian scarabs roll balls of dung (yuck!) across the ground like the sun rolling across the sky. Scarabs lay their eggs in these balls, and after a time new beetles magically hatch from the ball. Egyptians recognized many symbols of life and rebirth, and weren’t squeamish about fertilizer.In fact, looking more closely, I think that the background of our doll’s pectoral has been altered slightly: instead of spelling out Tut’s name, it shows an ankh beneath the beetle, the looped cross (actually, a mirror) which is a hieroglyph meaning “life.”
Bracelets:I haven’t found any exact matches for “Princess of the Nile” Barbie’s bracelets, but they are obviously meant to be gold inset with lapis lazuli or blue faience. Their style is similar to King Tut’s scarab bracelet. Instead of a scarab, Barbie’s bracelets have an udjat, an “Eye of Horus” design, another common Egyptian motif.Photo Credit: Jon Bodsworth.
Gown:“Princess of the Nile” Barbie is wearing a fashionable New Kingdom Egyptian dress, the semi-transparent pleated linen garment favored by Egyptian nobles around the time of King Tut. The under-sheath is white in all the paintings I’ve seen; either I’ve missed a particularly ornate example, or designer Fonseca chose gold to help the body stand out (Egyptians did love gold, after all) and avoid the more traditional see-through effect. [Update: Ms. Fonseca confirmed to me via email that the gold underskirt is “pure Hollywood glamour!” I’m sure that Egyptian princesses of this period would have enjoyed the glitz if they could have found tailors to make it.]The two long panels or ribbons remind me of Queen Ankhesenamun’s gown (left), portrayed in a touching image of the young queen and her husband Tut on the back of Tutankhamun’s throne. Fonseca has added more Eyes of Horus to the bottom of the ribbons. (Here’s a slightly clearer picture of the back of Tut’s throne.)Photo Credit: Jon Bodsworth.
Approximate Date of “Princess of the Nile” Costume:I would say fourteenth century BCE, since she looks like a contemporary of King Tutankhamun. He died in 1323 BCE during what is called the “New Kingdom,” the last and greatest flowering of ancient Egypt before younger civilizations like Persia, Greece and Rome began to compete with and eventually conquer it. When Tut was alive, the pyramids had already been standing for over a thousand years.[Update] Ms. Fonseca adds that she was especially inspired by an exhibit of Amarna Period Egyptian art at the Met. The Amarna period is a beautiful phase of Egyptian art and costume that swept through Egypt during the generation before King Tut, and it continued throughout his reign. You’ve probably seen one of its most famous examples, the portrait bust of Tut’s stepmother Queen Nefertiti. To learn about King Tut and his family (with newly-discovered DNA evidence), see this National Geographic article on King Tut’s Family Secrets.