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A look inside Canada’s life-size Barbie world

By Maddy Mahoney| Photography by Joshua Best
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

If the photos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling dressed up as Barbie and Ken while filming the Barbie movie made you drool, then I have some great news: the World of Barbie immersive experience is now open at Square One mall, and it’s serving full life-is-plastic realness. Presented by Kilburn Live, in partnership with Mattel, the interactive exhibit is 30,000 square feet of Barbie paraphernalia, giving guests the chance to live out their Barbie-girl-in-a-Barbie-world fantasy. It’s debuting in Toronto before embarking on a North American tour that includes New York, Chicago and Dallas. 

Barbie, the iconic doll created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, is experiencing a renaissance this year stoked by the upcoming movie and the appearance of Barbie-inspired fashion on runways around the world. Now, you can touch, you can play, and you can don your best Barbie-core to snap some truly amazing pics. Featuring fresh, trendy designs, this is not your grandma’s Barbie—but there’s also a hefty dose of nostalgia, so she’d probably get a kick out of it as well. She might also be pleasantly surprised to see how the brand has shifted in focus from the doll’s infamously slim waist toward a healthier image of femininity.

Here’s a sneak peek at Barbie’s world. Tickets to the exhibit will be available until the end of September.

Barbie Boulevard Guests are met by a white archway with Malibu-style sunlight peeking through. As you walk under, you’re hit with the full scope of the exhibit. It’s laid out as a California-inspired city block, replete with Barbie’s signature pink (duh). Upon entry, you’ll find yourself on Barbie Boulevard, a Barbie-fied version of the LA walk of fame.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Music Production Studio If you take a left onto Skipper Street, you’ll find the music production studio. It’s decked out with metallic walls, neon, and real instruments. That’s right, no Guitar Hero–style stand-ins. Guests can jam out to a surprisingly comprehensive list of songs on a guitar, a drum machine, and a karaoke-style microphone. 

A large part of the exhibit is spent highlighting Barbie’s past careers. “Honestly, the hardest part was trying to figure out which ones to represent,” says Julie Freeland, a senior director at Mattel. “Barbie’s had over 250 careers, right?” This emphasis is part of Mattel’s Dream Gap project, which aims to help young girls believe they can be anything.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Fashion Runway Next over is the first of two explicit photo ops, which invite guests to pose in life-size Barbie boxes. Talk about mint condition!

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Barbie Laboratory At the corner of Skipper Street and Nikki Avenue is the Barbie Laboratory, featuring actual microscopes for close-up looks at items like grains of Malibu sand. Science has never looked so hot (or pink).

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A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Barbie Interstellar Airways Left on Nikki Avenue is Barbie Interstellar Airways. Like the laboratory, there’s some real educational content here—guests can visit destinations like Mars or the moon and read about their gravitational pull, weather, and distance from Earth. But guests can also make a hyperspeed jump to Planet Barbie, which is known for its teal waters and tendency to rain cupcakes. Fun fact: Barbie became an astronaut in 1965, but this year marked her first trip to actual space as part of a partnership between Mattel and the International Space Station.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Barbie Dreamhouse This is where the full Barbie fantasy kicks in. Around the corner on Daisy Drive is the entrance to Barbie’s Dreamhouse. Done up in mod-meets-postmodern decor, it features a massive pink living room, an ocean view, and trendy pastel appliances, including a yellow coffee maker that’s always running. I knew that perkiness had to be caffeinated! The pink fridge is fully stocked (though with nary a carb to be found). The high, open ceilings really give you that dollhouse feel, and everything has a plastic sheen. I was literally waiting for a child’s hand to reach down and grab me.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

And, of course, a gigantic walk-in closet. I would expect no less from this fashion icon. After all, Barbie’s been styled by the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Bob Mackie, and Karl Lagerfeld. Then there’s the huge deck, just dying to be the site of a pool party. It also doubles as a ball pit. Kids will be begging to live here but, honestly, so am I. 

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Camper Van If you continue down Daisy Drive, you’ll find another highlight: the Barbie Camper Van. It was designed by Ryan Friedlinghaus of Pimp My Ride fame. Friedlinghaus says this was his first time designing a car based on a toy. (His closest prior project was designing a real life Mario Kart.) His team tracked down an original Camper Van and then slowly built it up into a life-size model. Despite its realistic appearance, it doesn’t drive—yet. “It was funny—when we were building it in the shop, we have a lot of people who come through,” says Friedlinghaus. “Everybody thought that thing drove. We’re hoping Barbie wants us to build them a driving one, because it would be really nice to see one of these driving down the street. I think every kid’s dream would be to have their parents get one or rent one. It’d be pretty awesome.”

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Barbie TV Centre Left onto Ken Lane are Barbie’s TV studios, where guests can host the Barbie Show. The cute pink mugs for water are an especially nice touch.

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A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Interior Design Studio At the end of Ken Lane is the second photo-op room, which invites guests to pose in a variety of miniature vignettes.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

World of Barbie Museum Turning left and back onto Skipper Street brings guests to the final room, which takes them through the evolution of Barbie and features one of the original Barbie dolls (which now go for a hefty amount on eBay). There are also more recent dolls modelled after Laverne Cox and Ida B. Wells. 

Freeland thinks that Barbie’s cross-generational appeal has been key to her lasting popularity. “I talk to people all the time who have their own Barbie stories, people of all ages, from different countries and different backgrounds,” says Freeland. “The number of people who are coming in and are going, ‘I have that house, I have that car’—I truly think that’s what has kept the brand so relevant.”

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

Outside the exhibit, there’s a gift shop that’s open to all. Here, you’ll find the usual branded fare (sweatshirts, water bottles) as well as the exclusive Barbie Dreambuilder, which allows guests to build a customized Barbie set from scratch. Don’t forget to also check out the bins full of tiny, individual Barbie shoes.

A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world
A look inside Canada's life-size Barbie world

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