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Lilli, the German girl who became Barbie

Lilli was a German cartoon character created by the artist Reinhard Beuthien in the late 1940s for the Bild Zeitung, an Hamburg-based tabloid.
Known as Bild Lilli, she was a comic character who got by in life seducing wealthy male suitors. She became so popular that in 1953, she became a little doll, sold as an adult toy, available to buy from bars, tobacco kioskos and adult toy stores.
Therefore, parents considered this doll inappropriate for children. Sha had indeed an impressive wardrobe, a wide range of outfits and accessories you could buy for her… And little girls began wanting her as a play doll, too. But Lilli still remained a successful adult novelty toy, especially outside Germany, where she was considered a “sex doll”.
During that period, Ruth Handler, the wife of one of the founder of the Mattel, was travelling to Europe and while spending some time in Locarno, Switzerland, she discovered and bought a few Lilli dolls.
Thanks to this doll, she began shaping her vision of Barbie, she re-worked the design and on March 9, 1959 Barbie debuted at the New York toy fair.
Barbie, like Barbara, the Handler’s daughter.
Mattel acquired the right to Bild Lilli in 1964 and the production of German doll ceased.

Then you know the rest of the story, don’t you? Who among us does not know it? And how many of us have their own history with Barbie!

If you don’t, go in our catalogue and discover the Barbie world in Polimoda Library
Rupp, Rebecca Ann. Treasury of Barbie doll accessories, 1961-1995. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1996
Tosa, Marco. Barbie. I mille volti di un mito. Milano: Mondadori, 1997
Beigbeder, Frédéric. Barbie. Paris: Assouline, 1998
Levinthal, David and Valerie Steele and Laura Meisner. Barbie Millicent Roberts, an original. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998
Germano, Ivo. Barbie. Il fascino irresistibile di una bambola leggendaria. Roma: Castelvecchi, 2000
Hall, Zoe Dare (ed.). The art of Barbie. London: Vision On, 2000
Barbie sogna Caterina De' Medici. Firenze, Polistampa, 2008
McDonough, Yona Zeldis. Barbie. New York: Assouline, 2010
James, Hillary Shilkitus. The complete & unauthorized guide to vintage Barbie dolls with Barbie & Skipper fashions and the whole family of Barbie dolls. Atglen: Schiffer, 2011
Capella, Massimiliano. Barbie. The icon. New York, London: Glitterati, 2015

Vogue Bellezza Flash: PFFFIUFFFUUUIIUU!!! Che Bambola! in Vogue Italia, 280/1975, p. 36
Fagnola, Daniela. Una Barbie oggi per salvare una donna domani in Vogue Italia, 567/1997, p. 34
D'Annunzio, Grazia. Barbie in Vogue Italia, 595/2000, p. 140
Fagnola, Daniela. Barbie De Luxe in Vogue Italia, 640/2003, p. 4
Vogue Italia 679/2007, cover by Steven Meisel, fashion editor Edward Enninful
Amadasi, Barbara. Barbie in Vogue Italia, 702/2009, p. 158
The Barbie issue: the forever icon, supplemento a Vogue Italia, 707/2009
Panoplies, photographes Giampaolo Sgura et Thomas Lagrange, réalisation Claire Dhelens et Célia Azoulay, Vogue Paris, 953/2015
Inspired by Ellen’s the real Barbie, photographed by Giampaolo Sgura, styles by Anna Dello Russo in Vogue Japan, 188/2015, p. 308-321
Global: Barbie’s charm is boundless, supplemento a Vogue Italia, 781/2015
Barbie Fashion Icons 2016 in Vogue Italia, 787/2016, p. 248-249 (Advertisement)
Ducci, Caro. Long life, Barbie in Vogue Italia, 793/2016, p. 246
Barbie Fashion Icons 2016 in Vogue Italia, 793/2016, p. 247-250 (Advertisement)
Panizza, Raffaele. Io gioco con le bambole in Vogue Italia, 811/2018, p. 406-409 (Intervista a Fabrizio Viti)
Aguirre, Abby. Hello Barbie! in Vogue, Summer 2023, Vol. 213, n. 5, p. 74-83, 138-140

From the internet
Meet Lilli, the High-end German Call Girl Who Became Barbie, 29 gennaio 2016 (accessed 11 March 2024)
Jones, Eileen. It’s Kind of Amazing That Barbie Manages to Be as Good as It Is, 24 luglio 2023 (accessed 11 March 2024)

[Marcella Mazzetti]