Meet the Californian Who Dressed One of the Most Iconic Figures in History

Her work inspired designers like Bob Mackie, Nicole Miller, Jeremy Scott and Jason Wu.

2019 marks a milestone for designer Carol Spenser’s most famous client … a 60th birthday. For nearly four decades she helped create fashions for this beloved figure admired by fans across the globe. She designed sheer “evening pajamas,” inspired by Barbara’s Streisand’s Oscar look, in the ’60s; bandana dresses for the ’70s; opulent ball gowns for the ’80s; and even an astronaut outfit with thigh-high boots.

Her client? Barbie, of course.

Now age 88, she lives in Los Angeles and enjoys retirement while keeping the Barbie fantasy alive with books and research. From 1963 to 1998 she was one of a handful of designers who worked at Mattel’s headquarters creating 125 Barbie looks a years. She recently talked to the New York Times about the serendipitous moment that took her from New York to the West Coast and a life with Barbie.

“In late 1962, Ms. Spencer spotted an advertisement in Women’s Wear Daily. “A national manufacturer who leads its industry with annual sales in excess of $50 million seeks a cost-conscious fashion designer-stylist for its suburban Los Angeles facility.”

She sent a résumé and heard nothing back. Still, sensing this mysterious job was her destiny, she and her aunt packed up their 1959 Ford Fairlane and drove across the country to California.

In April 1963, she saw an ad in the California Apparel News for the same job, and this time her application got a response. It was from Mattel, the toymaker already known for the postwar bombshell: Barbie.

Ms. Spencer went to the company headquarters for an interview and was asked to make a suite of outfits for this creature. She made a halter-top-and-boy-short bikini, a one-piece in the same shade of orange-pink. There was a cover-up and a wrap skirt. She got the job.”

Read more about Carol’s work with Barbie here.

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