A Doll's House: Barbie Lovers Rejoice at Being in the Pink

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A Doll's House: Barbie Lovers Rejoice at Being in the Pink

Jeong Yoo-ran handed me a notebook and said, "Read this." The notebook was barely bigger than my hand, and it was pastel pink. On the cover, Barbie - the doll to end all dolls - smiled that famous, alluring smile. Her perfect blond hair was, well, perfect. It was a fitting notebook for the contents: a brief history of the Barbie Cafe, scribbled in an angular, wispy hand.

The Barbie Cafe opened last December with 220 dolls from the personal collection of Ms. Jeong's older sister, Jeong Mi-ran. In March, the elder Ms. Jeong founded the Barbie Club, an Internet group devoted to Barbie. Barbie Club members, which number 1,500, gather offline once a month at the Barbie Cafe to discuss Barbie news and purchases, and to customize their dolls with new faces and hairdos.

Barbies. They are a craze that is gaining momentum. Another online club in Korea, Barbie Korea, lists 4,000 members. Pusan will welcome a Barbie Cafe in a few days. Barbie Club members donated 150 dolls for this new venture.

The Barbie hype does not end with the new cafe. The cafe in Seoul is hosting a Barbie masquerade in December. Hopeful partygoers have to apply, and 39-21-33 measurements are not required, cafe staff members assured.

The Mattel company began producing Barbies in 1959 and has since sold more than one billion dolls. It was supposed to be a simple toy, but America, and the world, latched on to the plastic plaything. She has become an icon associated with youth and beauty. Her face has changed over the years - it's rounder now, for instance - and her followers have grown from children to adults to grandparents. Her fame rivals that of human stars, and collectors hail from around the world.

Jeong Mi-ran's infatuation began when she was a high school student. Her uncle brought back a Barbie doll from a business trip to the United States. The doll, wearing a pink outfit, was supposed to be a gift to his daughter, but Ms. Jeong intervened. "I liked her so much," Ms. Jeong said.

She and a friend started competing with each other to see who could collect the most. "If you have one, you want 10," Ms. Jeong said. It's a passion she shares with her sister and daughter.

On another Barbie community board, she read about a high school student who could not afford the admission fee to a Barbie exhibition. The story prompted her to open her collection to the public.

A hot pink signboard announces the cafe's location just outside of the entrance to Ewha Womans University. Dim lights brighten the pink walls and a staircase that leads downward. China cabinets filled with vintage Barbies, plush velvet miniature sofas, miniature convertibles and miniature pets have transformed a basement into a collector's dream.

One corner of the cafe is devoted to Barbie paraphernalia, discounted 30 percent from department store prices. On a counter, a laptop lists Web sites devoted to Barbie.

It is not unusual to see visitors leave their seats to walk around taking photos. Is she beauty or is she kitsch?

For Barbie lovers, there is no difference.

Hello, Dolly !

Phone number: 02-313-9843

Web site: www.barbiecafe.co.kr, under construction

Barbie Web site in English:

www.barbie.com, this site includes a virtual closet filled with clothes. You can choose outfits for Barbie.

by Joe Yong-hee

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