Balmain and Barbie recently collaborated on a collection that includes three NFT’s, as well as physical products. Barbie parent company Mattel has previously worked with Gucci on a limited edition set of physical Hot Wheels cars. But are luxury fashion toys in the metaverse the future of collectibles?
The craze for fashion toys is not new. For example, Japanese brand Medicom’s collectible Bearbrick toys, launched in 2001, took on the brand identity of 10 different designers in 2014. They included Kenzo, Lanvin, Carven, Undercover, Marni, Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs, Thom Browne and White Mountaineering. The collectibles now sell for as much as $2,500 on platforms like Stock X. As brands get more comfortable in the NFT space, some are seeing the similarities between the physical collector space and the one-off, digital artworks created for the metaverse.
“Connecting to culture is a core component of Mattel’s Playbook, and Barbie is a globally recognized icon in fashion and pop culture, which creates an interesting intersection between the brand, art and collectability,” said Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel. “Through Barbie’s collaboration with Balmain, we’re harnessing the power of our mutually innovative heritage to invite all fans to experience the art, fashion and culture that both brands offer, in a unique way.”
Last week, fashion brand Balmain announced a limited collection of physical, Barbie-sized Balmain clothing styles and accessories, a 50-piece collection of women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, and three one-of-a-kind NFTs of Barbie and Ken. The NFTs will be up for sale this week on Mint NFT, a premium NFT marketplace. Coming from collectors platform Mattel Creations, the toys function like blank slates on which outside artists are able to display their work, in the same way that Bearbricks display the works of collaborating artists.
The nostalgia-filled RTW collection echoes the Balmain brand identity and incorporates Barbie’s classic designs. Barbie’s logo from ’90-era packaging and the signature Pantone shade “Barbie pink” are featured with Balmain’s signature marinière and Labyrinth patterns on oversized Balmain capes, bags and kimono suits. The 50-piece Barbie x Balmain ready-to-wear and accessories line will be available for purchase at Balmain stores, on balmain.com, on the Mattel Creations online store and at a pop-up in Neiman Marcus’ NorthPark Dallas store beginning on January 13.
Oliver Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, said in the press release, “This collection rejects any arbitrary gender limitations — this is an almost 100% unisex collection. Today’s Barbie makes [it] clear that there’s nothing holding us back anymore!” The legacy aspect of the Barbie doll makes this more than a one-off collaboration, pushing a historical toy into the digital realm.
Mattel clearly sees the opportunity in digital collectibles. Dickson believes that, “through proven partnerships like this, toys will become just as important as other fashion accessories to fashion brands and ignite a whole new audience and business of the future.” It’s the pioneer in the space, having launched three NFT collections across its range of brands since last year.
Its first NFT collection of three unique NFTs from the Hot Wheels NFT Garage Series, came out in June of 2021. Next came an NFT Uno card collaboration with VeeFriends created by Gary Vaynerchuk. Surprisingly, other toy creators have not ventured into the NFT space; Mattel was first to make the connection between the commercial success of its products and the growing community of NFT creators and buyers.
“We view the collector space as being ready for innovation, and fashion and toys together are going to be a whole new business. The pandemic has showed us that the human need to ‘play’ at every age is very real, and we don’t see that letting up,” said Dickson. “The passion for our brands has always been uniquely ageless, which gives us a runway to deliver our brands in fun, reimagined ways for adult fans.” As luxury fashion brands test the field of NFT’s, toy collectibles could serve as a means of joining legacy brands across industries in earning renewed interest and attention.
Both the Hot Wheels NFT collection and the Balmain x Barbie NFT collection were auctioned on proof-of-stake blockchain systems, making them less energy-intensive. The latter used Flow, which previously hosted Crypto Kitties and the NBA NFTs. Some in the fashion space have remained hesitant to get involved in notoriously energy-intensive NFTs, as so much of the industry’s focus has been on sustainability. The more that industry leaders focus on proof-of-stake mechanisms for NFT and blockchain projects, the less hesitant brands will be to immerse themselves in the space.