The official and sweetened version tells that the romance between Barbie and Ken was born in 1961, almost clairvoyantly, on a television set, during the filming of an advertisement. "They say it was love at first sight," say the parents of the children, who are none other than Mattel , one of the largest multinational toy companies in the world. So they were both newborns: Barbie had come home in 1959 and her partner would do so two years later. That makes Ken turn 60 in 2021. Six decades in which the world has changed and that plastic figure has changed with him. It has been loaded with meanings, like a bellows, to release them again and take them again and again.
They are only 30 centimeters of raw material, but in them the doll with which to play and create has been concentrated by changing their styles and a symbol that has become an aesthetic and artistic reference, an icon of fashion or homosexuality. It came simply to "represent reality", because then only Barbie existed and "unleash the imagination of children helping them create a thousand stories and dreams," explains Céline Ricaud, head of marketing at Mattel, who remembers that its launch already It "caused a sensation" six decades ago. The secret that the manufacturer does not provide is the number of Kens who have been around the world at this time.
That first Ken was a dark boy (soon there was a blonde version), somewhat languid, with a red swimsuit, striped jacket, flip-flops matching and yellow towel. Soon she changed her clothes, grew natural hair (a hit in the eighties) and became a fashion icon. Status it maintains. “In 2006, he turned to celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch to vary his image. and in 2010, he made more than 50 costume changes in the movie Toy Story 3, ″ recalls Ricaud. The tape placed him in a different position by bringing him closer to the public and getting rid of him. During these years, Moschino or Jean Paul Gaultier have dressed him and, on this 60th birthday, Dapper Dan , Berluti or Manolo Blahnik have done it, who have designed moccasins for him.
“When I heard about this project, I thought it was the most fun thing in the world and I loved participating,” Manolo Blahnik tells EL PAÍS about the proposal to create footwear for the doll. “Over the years Ken has not been afraid to be daring, as well as effortlessly elegant. I wanted him to wear a design of mine that would fit him perfectly, and I chose the Laxtis model , a black loafer with a dramatic clasp, classic with an ideal twist, which fits Ken perfectly, ”says the shoemaker. If a man of flesh and blood falls in love with the doll's shoes, he will have to pay 885 euros.
Besides being an almost catwalk model, Ken has also been a canon of aesthetics. Its measurements have evolved over the years, adapting to the ideals of each decade. "And everything continues to refer to Ken," says the doctor of aesthetic medicine Paolo Facchinei, from The Beauty Concept , "especially the mandibular angle and facial symmetry." He has seen how many patients came to him with a clear idea: "I want to be like Ken", although now the aesthetic references go beyond the classic American standard and have been expanding. Facchinei affirms that Ken's face “is still perfect”, except for his nose, which is too small and more to the taste of the nineties.
In addition to beauty and style, Ken was also a homosexual reference, especially as a result of the launch in 1993 by Earring Magic Ken , a model with a transparent shirt, a lilac leather vest and a ring around his neck that reminded him of a gay sex toy. For Mattel, which prefers not to get wet in that puddle, it is simply an icon of diversity, of inclusion. A few years ago, photographer Courtney Charles reinterpreted it in a queer way, "trying to break stereotypes," as he advertised. He deconstructs and reconstructs Ken with real men's faces and clothes in bright fuchsia pink or latex.
Charles was visionary at the time and played with a Ken dressed in a lab coat or carrying a baby. Although his was a very pop aesthetic, today all that is normal for the doll, who has expanded his radius of action professionally. Also physically. Four years ago, one after Barbie, he modified his body (with two options, slimmer and stockier) and his face. "Today he has three body types, 18 heights, 13 skin tones, 10 eye colors, 27 hair and 20 different hairstyles," they tell from Mattel. Diversity is such a real bet that this year there is a new Ken in a wheelchair.
Ken, in a wheelchair.Mattel
Change has been long in coming, but there is no turning back. "The big brands were dinosaurs, it was difficult for them to evolve, but for a couple of decades they have been doing a lot of research and we see that they are ahead of society", explains Maite Francés, marketing director of the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers and who praises the effort by toymakers for inclusion, something that children demand and appreciate.
The game expert observes that the doll has evolved, but that it has always remained by Barbie's side. "It is the reflection of the great empowered women, such as Angela Merkel with her husband , the Queen of England with Philip of Edinburgh or directors of multinationals, with a solid partner behind them," he reflects. She predicts long years of life for the couple of dolls: “Dolls have existed since prehistoric times, children assume the roles that they see in their elders and they work a lot on the development of empathy. They are very universal games ”. Although Ken and Barbie officially broke up in 2004, they are part of the same family and group of friends, they tell from Mattel. The story is already less sweetened, more modern. Like dolls, like people