Barbie dolls and accessories brought Mattel Toys about a quarter of a billion dollars in retail sales last year, so Mattel could afford to spend a bundle on a black-tie throng of 400 buyers, staffers and reporters -- and Andy Warhol -- at a dinner tonight at the Waldorf.
And to sign up Oscar de la Renta to whip up four ruffly concoctions and entice four minor celebrities (Cathy Lee Crosby, Suzette Charles, Genie Francis and Rebecca Holden) to model them.
And to fly in Mattel's top brass from California to prattle on about how Barbie is "a woman of the '80s" and "a positive role model."
"She's today," said Mattel president Glen Hastings.
"She's on the fast track," said Jill Barrad, vice president of category management worldwide.
"She's perfect, the dream girl. She's Miss America," gushed de la Renta, sounding like Ricardo Montalban.
Andy Warhol didn't say anything.
You wouldn't think Mattel would need a laser-and-smoke show to hype a doll that's already been sold to 265 million little girls in her 26-year reign. Even though Masters of the Universe toy sales eclipsed Barbie's last Christmas, she's still the most popular fashion doll in the world.
But Mattel marketers are never complacent. They constantly revamp her wardrobe -- she wore miniskirts in the '60s, designer jeans with her own name narcissistically patched on her rear in the '70s, Fonda-like leotards and leg-warmers last year -- and her persona.
They were out in force tonight to point out that Day-to-Night Barbie (coming this spring to a retailer near you) has a computer terminal and an attache' case, an American Express card and a copy of The Wall Street Journal, and a yuppified suit that converts to something sexier for after-hours wear.
The Barbie doll, of course, may be the most formidable barrier to contemporary women's self-esteem prior to the advent of Morgan Fairchild. Those who grew up expecting to look like Barbie one day can never feel entirely at ease with their own chests, their hair or their clothes.
Would most parents like their 4- to 9-year-olds (the target consumers for Barbies) to adopt her values? Take commitment. She's been hanging around with Ken for 26 years, buying wedding gown after redesigned wedding gown (it's perenially Barbie's most popular fashion item) and she still hasn't married him.
She's obsessively acquisitive: Over the years she's owned various homes (but unloaded her vacation cottage a while ago before the treasury department's tax proposals), a Corvette, a Jacuzzi and a motorbike. (Who knows what she'll latch on to now that she's packing plastic.)
Then there's the matter of her friendships. Remember Midge, "Barbie's best friend" from 1963 to 1967? Barbie dropped her like a hot potato after a couple of years of general adulation. ("We liked to say Midge just moved away," demurs Candace Irving, Mattel manager of marketing public relations). And what about Barbie's black friend, Christie? There's a relationship that barely outlasted radical chic; Christie was introduced in 1968 and disappeared in 1970. Ditto Stacey, Barbie's unconventional British chum. The only members of her family Barbie still acknowledges are friend Tracey and sister Skipper.
Mattel, of course, won't hear a discouraging word about Barbie. Feminists come and feminists go, but Barbie is, apparently, forever.
"We do a lot of research and 95 percent of the people are very supportive of her. It's always the vocal minority," Irving said. "She has been a doctor and an astronaut. She's independent. What woman do you know who has her own home and spa and motorbike?"
And now her new designer wardrobe. His motivation for designing doll clothes, de la Renta acknowledged, was "money. Absolutely. I am educating my future customers. Little girls from now on will know there is an Oscar de la Renta and when they grow up they will look for me."