Mattel Hopes Barbie Facelift Will Show Up Younger Rivals

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- This was supposed to be the year that Barbie finally regained her tiara as the queen of the toy aisles.

After many false starts, Mattel Inc. thought it had found a way to make the iconic fashion doll once more a must-have for girls of all ages -- and to boost the company's flagging revenues as well. It is spending millions of dollars to promote its new "Fashionista" Barbies, even hiring a choreographer-to-the-stars to create a dance called "The Barbie" for a video that had its premiere on the "Today Show" and was posted on YouTube.

But the latest Barbie was beaten to the stores by two new dolls that could threaten her resurgence, industry insiders say. One comes from perhaps the hottest toy makers in North America, Spin Master Ltd. The other was created by designers with a grudge against Mattel, which wrested away their company's rights to the hit Bratz dolls.

And so a firefight is breaking out in the doll business that would put G.I. Joe to shame...

... Since her debut in 1959, Barbie had remained a fashion and cultural icon for girls, always clad in the latest styles -- from a brunette bob during Jacqueline Kennedy's White House days to power suits in the 1980s. When men landed on the moon, Mattel produced an astronaut Barbie, the first of 130 careers the 11½-inch doll would pursue in the company's "I can be" line.

Over the years, other companies tried to nibble at Barbie's sizable market share, but Mattel always battled back. With 45 different pink product lines, from bedding to luggage, Barbie remains a huge brand. But analysts estimate that world-wide Barbie sales peaked at $1.9 billion in 2002...

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