Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tiny Little Fedora

When Barbie designer Robert Best was a contestant on Project Runway, I spent the whole season commenting repetitively to Guy, "Why is he even on this show? He already has the best job in the world!" I mean, designing clothes for Barbie, what more could you ask for? She's an American icon who never gains weight, gets old, overdoses, or throws diva fits.

Recently, Robert got to design the Mad Men-themed Barbie dolls, and it sounds like his only complaint was that they couldn't come with tiny martini glasses...and that really is too bad, but it's Mattel, and they have certain standards. Barbie does have an image to protect:

Earlier this year, Mattel, Inc., Lionsgate and AMC announced the upcoming release of four Barbie Collector Mad Men dolls. No one has had a bigger hand in the project than Barbie designer Robert Best. AMCtv.com talked with the former Project Runway contender about how his latest undertaking -- both how it began and what challenges it presented.

Q: Where did this idea come from?

A: Well, first of all, of course, I'm a huge fan of the show as are many people at the office. Serendipitously, an opportunity came up to partner with Lionsgate, AMC and the show... so the next thing you know we were showing Matt Weiner and Janie Bryant our whole vision and idea. We invited them to the Barbie design center, gave them a tour and had an initial brainstorm.

Q: The Mad Men dolls are the first in the Fashion Model Collection. Why is that?

A: I think because it seemed like such a natural fit. The era of the show, the fantastic details and style fit within our Barbie Fashion Model aesthetic. All the dolls in the BFMC are inspired by the ladylike 1960s.

Q: What was it like working with designer Janie Bryant? How much was she involved?

A: That was awesome. Janie is such a great character, she's really fun and she has so many great ideas and also from working with Matt she has a very keen attention to detail, and is actively involved in every aspect of the costumes. For Barbie, the details are important particularly for collectors. She was so gracious and gave me access to her huge costume closet. She pulled multiple outfits and props for me to design from so it made the whole process very easy and gave us that access we needed to be very authentic.

Q: How involved was Matt Weiner?

A: He was very articulate and clear about what he wanted. He added things we wouldn't have thought of. He suggested Roger have a monogrammed cuff on his shirt, and changed the color of Don Draper's raincoat lining, things we might not have thought to be important, he let us know that they were important.

Q: Did you meet any of the cast?

A: Yes. We met Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks and that was incredibly exciting for all of us. Katie [Barbie Collector Marketing Manager] was kind of speechless when she met Jon Hamm. I was in awe of Christina Hendricks because I love her. And I took a picture with her and became like a squealing teenage girl, "Oh, my God! It's Joan Holloway! Let's get a picture!" Not one of my finer moments.
Q: Why did you pick Don, Roger, Betty and Joan?

A: We wanted it to be a nice grouping of characters that were representative of the show, both in terms of costume and in terms of the look of the doll. Of course, since it's Mad Men, it's a very male-heavy cast but it was important for it to be more than Don Draper surrounded by Barbie dolls and I thought that Roger was a really nice yin to Don's yang and they represent two distinct looks which is nice for the collectors and fans of the show. They don't want two dolls that seem too similar. And for the women, that was easy, the only downside was that we haven't done Peggy. Yet.

Q: Which of the four was the most fun?

A: Probably Joan because she's such a visual... the hair, the sassy attitude, the little pen around her neck, the curvaceous figure and again, she's kind of a personal favorite so, I love that one.

Q: Are there any accessories you couldn't include?

A: I wanted them to come with a bar cart and lots of liquor but clearly that is not something we'd like to promote and not very Barbie at all! Of course, everyone wants the office set, which I want as well. There are a lot of great details: Betty has a working evening clutch that has a working frame, and compact and lipstick... Don has a fedora, a trench coat.

Q: One last question: Do you ever get recognized on the street from your stint on Project Runway?
A: Oddly I do, because it feels like a lifetime ago. Most people think they know me from some random thing, like they saw me at a wedding. They say "Don't I know you?" No, it's probably from the television show.

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