Inside the House of Barbie: Designer Robert Best

By: Rick Andreoli

When talking about Barbie Collector, one of the most well-known people among the design team is Robert Best. Fans know him as a Principal Designer who has worked at Mattel for 15 years, while many mainstream Americans recognize Best as one of the 15 designers in season three of Project Runway. Regardless of where you fit, here are some fun facts about the man behind the beauty:

•He’s designed numerous TV-inspired Barbies, including the Bewitched Barbie Doll and the I Dream of Jeannie Barbie Doll.

•He’s designed such celebrity dolls as the Audrey Hepburn series, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe dolls, the Grace Kelly dolls and Barbra Streisand.

•He created the “Barbie Fashion Model Collection,” which celebrates Barbie as the ultimate fashion model and is considered the new gold standard in the Barbie Collector line.

After two great interviews with Barbie Collector designers Linda Kyaw and Bill Greening, we wanted to close our collection in a chat with Best himself.

Did you grow up loving Barbie?
I always loved Barbie growing up, and I had a sister— so of course we loved to play Barbie. My parents were extremely cool and never really had any issues with me playing with dolls as a kid.

You were in New York working for designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Anne Klein and Donna Karan. What brought you from there to Los Angeles and the House of Barbie?
Barbie was the reason I moved to LA. I left New York for the job at Mattel. It’s not every day you are offered the opportunity to design for the most famous doll in the world, so how could I say no?

I sent my portfolio to the head of design at Barbie and was contacted for an interview. I was offered a job [with Barbie Collector] the same day I interviewed and accepted it on the spot. It all happened very fast and I didn’t really have too much time to question my decision or change my mind. But 16 years later I think I am happy with my choices.

Your design sketches are such great pieces of art that they often accompany doll photos in the Barbie Collector catalog. They were also published in 10 Years: Barbie Fashion Model Collection Book. How did that come about?
I have always loved doing illustration work so it is a natural extension of me to be illustrating Barbie. The fact that collectors also like my work is a bonus.

The book is a collection of photos and illustrations, and it came about as a result of constantly being asked by collectors to create a book. It is specifically celebrating 10 years of the “Barbie Fashion Model Collection,” which is a collection that I created within the collector line, and one that I am very proud of. The book is a beautiful testament to all the work that goes into the products we work on, and I say “we” to include the amazing team that does everything from sewing Barbie’s clothes to building the sets, taking the photos, and styling her hair. I don’t think people realize how much work goes into the design process, but it literally takes a village.

A lot of readers will recognize you from season 3 of Project Runway. What was it like to later work with Heidi Klum on her Barbie?
Heidi Klum was a pleasure to work with on her Barbie doll. She had very definite ideas of what she wanted the doll to look like, right down to the doll’s undergarments. That makes my job very easy. It was kind of easy to begin with because, of course, Heidi is a lot like a living Barbie with really great clothes.

What's your favorite doll from this season and why?
My favorite doll currently is a doll called “Verushka” Barbie doll (below, left). She is part of the Barbie Fashion Model Collection and I was inspired by Russia. She’s a very glamorous, updated babushka, inspired by Lara from Dr. Zhivago, all dressed in black.

Talk about a couple of your favorite past creations.
The very first project that I worked on at Mattel was Star Trek Ken and Barbie (below, right), so that will always hold a special place for me. I also love “Marie Therese” Barbie doll, which is a bridal doll that was inspired by my sister, shares her name, and wore the same gown that I had custom designed for her wedding.

What would be your dream Barbie to design?
My dream Barbie would be Catherine Deneuve Barbie from Belle Du Jour, dressed in the YSL black patent leather trench. No contest.

Why do you think Barbie is such an icon?
Barbie is an icon because she has always adapted to the times she reflects. I think she remains as popular as ever because she can be many things to many different people, both kids and adults. Everyone has a Barbie story. The story is always very personal and feels unique to the individual who owns it.