Slade Architecture & Mattel

Today, if you’re looking for an all-things-girl, modern Barbie experience, you’ll have to get on a plane. Mattel, the world’s largest toy maker, has opened its first sophisticated flagship store on one of the busiest streets in Shanghai, China, with 40,000 square feet of retail space.

“By capturing the essence of Barbie in a four-wall experience, we are showing girls that anything is possible,” says Richard Dickson, Mattel senior vice president and general manager, Barbie Brand. “Shanghai was chosen as a location for its rich, vibrant character.”

James and Hayes Slade of the New York-based Slade Architecture have made the store an unforgettable experience. Its façade of lattice-patterned glass, layered with 3-D molded, clear polycarbonate panels, echoes decorative architectural elements, jewelry and typical retail blister packaging.

And the store isn’t hard to find. The façade’s pink glow is like a magnet. “We took some of our inspiration from aviation and automotive design, and artist Jeff Koons,” says Hayes Slade.

Marketing research with Chinese mothers and daughters provided Slade with the ingredients to create a fashion forward environment, while also being sensitive to the Chinese culture’s high regard for learning. Apparently, how Chinese girls like to have fun is very similar to their American counterparts: Pretending to be mermaids or princesses and having real-life adventures are themes that Mattel found translate globally.

Illustrating that everything revolves around Barbie, Slade designed a three-story, white spiral staircase enclosed by a transparent curtain made up of 875 Barbies. Shiny, bright, colorful materials and pearlized wall paints flow throughout the store. The total environment is eye candy; it’s a bold, fantastic, and exciting sensory experience.

In a mix of reality and fantasy, girls can register for a passport when they enter the store and visit the Career Wall, where exposure to Barbie’s hundred-plus careers can propel them to dream and become whatever they want to be. A Barbie Design Center with a bank of computers gives girls free reign to design their own Barbie. With a huge selection of apparel, girls become fashion designers and walk away with a custom Barbie and keepsakes in a custom carrying case.

No detail has escaped the Slades’ drawing board. One store section has green carpet and flower-shaped Lucite clothing stands to enhance a garden theme. The Pink Café is an intimate space that offers light refreshments and chocolates stamped with Barbie logos, while the third-floor Barbie Café serves local comfort food and gelato. A Barbie Spa offers a variety of services for shopping-fatigued mothers and daughters.

“It feels like the Wild West, where there are infinite possibilities,” says James Slade. Mattel and its creative team wanted all the store’s design concepts to portray a unifying idea of what Barbie represents to the world. As the crowds at Barbie Shanghai grow, it’s clear they’ve succeeded.

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