Designing Barbie

The iconic doll’s designer and stylist, Jim Holmes, begin a busy month in Palm Springs

Barbie at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, CA.

Courtesy Steven Henke

After years of weekend escapes to Palm Springs, Jim Holmes finally became a resident. Holmes has been the designer of Barbie’s fashions for 15 years and is bringing the popular doll with him to Palm Springs — and the timing could not be better.

Barbie Does Palm Springs, a photo exhibition by Palm Springs photographer Steven Henke, runs Oct. 20-31 at Savage Gallery. The show features 40 limited-edition prints of Barbie and Ken dolls situated in different Palm Springs locations.

Barbie Does Palm Springs will also include an online auction at It will feature several one-of-a-kind items, including the P.S. I Love You Barbie and Ken dolls designed and donated by Holmes. All proceeds benefit The LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

How did you begin designing Barbie dolls?
For 12 years I honed my design skills with New York fashion industry icons, including Arnold Scaasi, the late Frank Masandrea, and Albert Nipon. In 1992, I joined Lanz of California as principal director in Los Angeles. From 1994 to 1996, I served as a divisional design director for Carol Little before launching Jim Holmes, Inc., my signature line of attendant/occasion dresses in 1996.

In 1997 I joined Mattel, Inc., eventually becoming a principal designer for America’s first supermodel: Barbie. Throughout my tenure, my primary focus was Barbie fashions — with the occasional stint on celebrity girl brands, such as Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. For the past three years, I’ve transitioned into Barbie Consumer Products as creative lead.

How did Barbie's original outfits affect California fashion? Have her fashions set any particular trends?
At any given moment in history, Barbie is a reflection of the times and always culturally relevant. She is on trend, without being trendy, classic without being outdated. She is distinctly, unapologetically Barbie. And with that, comes her California heritage that was part of a design revolution, which was recently celebrated at museums across California. In fact, Mattel donated an original 1959 Barbie to the permanent collection of LACMA.

What prophetic or important designers have inspired Barbie's looks? Does she have a favorite designer?
Barbie’s unparalleled sense of style has served as inspiration for more than 150 leading fashion, beauty, and design houses, whether they’ve brought their real-size fashions to doll size with a Barbie Collector doll, “dressed Barbie in a one-of-a-kind creation, used her as creative muse or collaborated with the Barbie brand for co-branded apparel, accessories and beauty products.

As model or muse, Barbie has relationships with more than 75 of the biggest names in fashion. From Calvin to Cartier, Benz to The Blonds, Gucci to Galliano, Versace to Vera, Barbie has a wardrobe that would make any girl — or woman — tickled pink.

How has her fashion sense evolved through the decades?
From the moment Barbie hit the scene 1959, a fashion star was born. She has always been a snapshot of style-in-the-moment, giving girls a guide to glam, license to dream and allowing them a way to make a personal fashion statement through play.

Who designs Barbie's hair and make-up, and does it change for each outfit?
Barbie isn’t just another pretty face. She actually has a lot of pretty faces — seven different skin tones to be exact. And, with a team of talented hair stylists and makeup artists, the beauty of Barbie is constantly refined so she’s always picture perfect for every outfit and every occasion.

Barbie’s hair comes in seven different shades of blonde, woven together in various combinations to achieve highlights or lowlights. Her legendary locks are rooted with a special sewing machine called a “Dolly” and then professionally trimmed and styled, strand by strand, to create today’s chicest styles. After her hair is rooted, brushed and styled, Barbie is placed in a customized heating machine to set her hairstyle – much like how a dome hair dryer is used in hair salons.

What influence do color and fabric have on Barbie's fashion?
Since she is always au currant, through her designer relationships, and being the icon that she is, color and fabric simply hold hands with the trends of the moment --- which, of course, she is always wearing. But, there is her signature color, Pantone 219, which is forever paramount when myself and the other designers create her looks from season to season.

Does Barbie have any fashion advice for fall/winter 2012/13?
"Yes! Think Pink!"

What’s your connection to Palm Springs?
I became a California boy 19 years ago. Before ever meeting my Malibu muse, I was whisked away to Palm Springs for a romantic weekend — and have been in love with its swaying palms and surreal sunsets ever since.

How does Barbie feel about her presence here?
Barbie is a California girl through and through, and she loves the myriad of experiences that come living here: riding with Ken in her convertible through Napa, skiing up north, surfing on the beach, or shopping in Beverly Hills. But like most celebrities, she loves a languid afternoon around the pool in Palm Springs.

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