Design Dive: Barbie Pink
My exploration of the dream house hue accidentally turned into a true crime documentary.
The Grim History of Barbie
As we near the summer of Barbie movie magic, a certain shade of pink appears everywhere. Bubblegum shades and hot pink hues have taken over this summer of 2023, driving decor and fashion trends.
I don’t mind it one bit.
Whether you are sick of the pink trend or can’t get enough of it, the story behind the creative process of Barbie’s origin might capture your attention. It reads much more like a true crime story than I anticipated. Buckle up for a sixties tabloid drama. Drugs, guns, and castles included.
We have to start with an ongoing, ugly power struggle between a man and a woman who have two VERY different sides of the story.
Let’s start with Jack Ryan.
Jack, a Yale graduate, wielded his engineering prowess to create specialized missiles during the Cold War. The Pentagon eagerly purchased his groundbreaking creations. Yes, THE Pentagon.
But Jack's career took an unexpected twist when he joined the toy startup, Mattel. His space-age technology expertise and innovative mindset earned him the trust of Ruth and Elliot Handler, the founders of Mattel, who appointed him as the head designer.
Leading a brilliant team, Jack's creative genius gave birth to iconic toys like Hot Wheels, Barbie, and Chatty Cathy. He held the position of Vice President of Research and Development and even holds the original patent for Barbie.
Jack led a life far from the broadcasted family values at Mattel. Behind closed doors, he lived a life immersed in the elite and scandalous world of Hollywood, all within the walls of his very own castle. Yes, you read that right—a real-life castle served as the backdrop for his extravagant and debaucherous adult parties, fueled by the presence of cocaine and various other drugs.
Marriage was no obstacle for Jack, as he walked down the aisle a total of five times, with a revolving door of girlfriends throughout his life. It's worth noting that his first wife's name was Barbara, an intriguing coincidence considering his role in shaping the iconic Barbie.
However, Jack's controversial actions go beyond his multiple marriages and endless string of relationships. He is accused of attempting to mold his partners into real-life versions of the famous doll. Tragically, one of his ex-wives even succumbed to a heart attack, brought on by the pressures of anorexia she developed while striving to maintain Barbie's unrealistic proportions. It was reported that she pushed herself to the limits, trying to keep up with Jack's grueling three-day-a-week fitness regimen solely to achieve Barbie's legendary legs.
In a disturbing turn of events, Jack went as far as offering reconstructive surgery to one of his girlfriends, all in an effort to sculpt her into what he considered a "Barbie figure."
This darker side of Jack's life reveals a troubling narrative that clashes with the innocence and joy associated with the beloved Barbie brand. It serves as a stark reminder of the damaging effects unrealistic beauty standards can have on individuals and the tragic consequences that can arise from pursuing such unattainable ideals.
The couple behind Mattel, Ruth & Elliot Handler, had massive financial success with Jack’s help — yet Ruth resented Jack.
She originally brought Jack the inspiration for Barbie from a European vacation. Ruth embarked on a trip, where her daughter, also named Barbara, discovered a captivating doll in a German shop. This doll, with its blonde locks and curvaceous figure, ignited a spark within Ruth's mind. She immediately shared her find with Jack, urging him to bring this doll to life.
However, as Barbie skyrocketed to success, Jack basked in the limelight, garnering attention and acclaim. Meanwhile, Ruth found herself simmering with a mixture of disgust at Jack's playboy lifestyle and perhaps a tinge of jealousy towards his growing notoriety.
It's understandable. After all, the doll was Ruth's brainchild, and yet Jack Ryan enjoyed the attention and praise. Maybe Ruth had reached her limit with men receiving credit for her ideas, or maybe she grew weary of Jack's extravagant lifestyle, which clashed with the very essence of the brand she and her husband were tirelessly building. But then things took a perplexing turn.
In the 1970s, Ruth decided to sever ties with Jack, removing him from the company and putting a halt to all royalty payments. These payments, had they continued, would have amassed into millions of dollars.
Mattel then vehemently denied any association with Jack Ryan and rejected any claim that he was the true inventor.
Downhill, we go.
Jack, with pre-existing drug addictions, took a turn for the worse. His financial situation took a toll on his health and intense paranoia surfaced.
One girlfriend vividly remembers a disturbing incident when she was abruptly awakened by Jack, who brandished a shotgun and insisted they investigate the attic together, convinced that there were people hiding within the walls.
These unsettling events extended beyond his romantic relationships. Jack's daughters grew increasingly concerned about their father's well-being. They observed him pacing the halls of his castle, gripped by paranoia, clutching a firearm, and engaged in unsettling conversations with himself.
Things escalated when Jack held his twenty-year-old daughter hostage in his castle. The turmoil within Jack's life reached a breaking point when this distressing incident unfolded.
He had been heating shotgun shells on a pan and burner, a deeply unsettling behavior that raised alarm bells for his daughter Diana, prompting her to swiftly contact the police.
In the midst of the escalating situation, Ann, Jack's other daughter, arrived on the scene. The authorities urged her to communicate with her father and attempt to defuse the tense atmosphere. With immense courage, Ann pleaded with her father, imploring him to remove the gun pointed at her sister's head. After a harrowing ordeal, he finally relinquished the weapon.
The severity of the situation prompted the involvement of a SWAT team, who swiftly intervened and detained Jack, bringing an end to the immediate threat.
These harrowing events underscore the gravity of the turmoil that had consumed Jack's life, revealing the immense strain he faced and the profound impact it had on his loved ones.
After the Mattel court settlement, where settled for millions less than he was owed, he suffered a heart attack and a stroke. His daughter Ann, now 68, stated:
“My father put his heart and soul into everything he did for Mattel, which continues to benefit from his contributions.
“He never received the credit he deserved. They broke my father’s heart.”
Mattel’s team was working overtime to cover Jack’s scandals. And they cut every mention of him from the brand. Ruth was given all credit for inventing Barbie.
In 1977, Ruth was removed from the company after getting into deep legal trouble for incorrectly reporting finances. She pleaded guilty. Fines and community service ensued.
Despite the legal trouble, she remained the celebrated creator of Barbie until she passed in 2002. Nearly any search online yields a result of Ruth Handler being listed as the sole creator of Barbie.
Back to Jack. Here is the only thing Ruth said about him in her memoir:
“His development of the 'Twist 'n' Turn Barbie,' a major breakthrough that gave the doll natural movement by allowing little girls to bend her at the waist and legs, and twist her at the hips – with no visible joints. These technological innovations were among the few Barbie features we were able to patent."
His last years were bitter and broken. After watching a documentary about the creation of Barbie with no mention of his efforts, at age 64, Jack Ryan took his own life.
The Barbie Pink
The captivating hue known as "Barbie Pink" stands as a vivid testament to the doll's iconic status. This intense and vibrant shade of pink, with its striking presence, serves as a stark contrast to the doll's darker origin.
The credit for popularizing this specific shade of pink can be attributed to the marketing endeavors of Mattel, the company behind Barbie. Recognizing the power of color in capturing attention and creating brand recognition, Mattel strategically incorporated this captivating pink hue into its marketing campaigns, packaging, and overall brand identity.
The use of Barbie Pink has become synonymous with the doll itself, creating an instant association and evoking a sense of playfulness, femininity, and vibrant energy. Despite the doll's controversial aspects and the complexities surrounding its creation, Barbie Pink has successfully established itself as an enduring symbol of the brand's allure and recognition.
It’s unknown who on the Mattel team originally picked the hue, but assumed both Jack and Ruth had a say.
“While the original Barbie doll, meant as a high fashion toy, didn’t have pink marketing, in the 70s, Mattel made a push to market the doll to young girls, instead of adolescent girls, and used pink as the main color for the doll’s brand identity. Now, the doll is synonymous with the color and Mattel even has a copyrighted Pantone shade called Barbie pink (219 C), a deep and bright shade of the rosy hue.”
Pantone even released an official Barbie color in 2011 and with it a Pantone Barbie.
Get ready to immerse yourself in the captivating allure of the color pink! If you're drawn to the mesmerizing shade known as "Barbie Pink" and can't get enough of its vibrant charm, we've got something special in store for you. In tomorrow's newsletter, we've curated a selection of delightful pieces that will help you infuse your home with the perfect touch of pink.
From striking accent pieces that will add a pop of color to your living space to charming décor items that exude a sense of whimsy, our hand-picked collection has ideas for everyone.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to embrace the captivating power and Ken-ergy of pink in your home.
Keep an eye on your inbox for tomorrow's newsletter, where we'll unveil a world of pink-inspired possibilities that will leave you feeling inspired and ready to create your very own Dream House.
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