Charlotte Johnson: The Woman Behind the Wardrobe

Charlotte Johnson is hired by Mattel to design all of Barbie's clothes. Johnson is a teacher of fashion design at Los Angeles Chouinard Institute. (According to Ken, Ruth and Elliot's son, Charlotte looks a lot like Barbie.) Johnson is very particular and fussy about the final product of Barbie's clothes. In order to get her designs just right, she forces Frank Nakamura, a product designer at Mattel, to convince Japanese textile merchants to sell her fabrics in small batches. Johnson also has Nakamura acquire small clasps and buttons for her designs, and even manages to get zipper manufacturer, Yoshida Kojiko, to produce miniture zippers.

For Barbie's undergarments, Johnson uses pastel tricot. She refuses to allow Barbie to be sold without underwear. (Surprisingly, one of Barbie's first articles of clothing is a girdle.) Barbie's clothes are produced in factories by Japanese men who worked the machines. The men live in dormitories and are fed by the factory owners. Tokyo housewives are also hired to produce Barbie's clothing. The work is divided in half: first the clothes are sent to women to sew on the embellishments such as gold buttons, bows, lace, and flower appliques. Once this is done, the clothes go to the next team, who stitch the clothes onto the cardboard packaging. These women are known as "homework people" because all this work in done in their homes.

Johnson's designs are generally inspired by the high fashion women of the day, especially figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy. In later year, fashion designers use Barbie as a model to showcase their Parisian haute couture ensembles. In 1984, to celebrate Barbie's twenty-fifth birthday, over one hundred fashion designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and Perry Ellis created outfits especially for the doll.