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Barbie closes shop in China

Mattel shuts down its lone stand-alone store devoted to the Barbie doll.

March 08, 2011|By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times
  • A worker arranges Barbie dolls at the Barbie store in Shanghai. Mattel closed the six-story, 36,000-square-foot store Monday.
A worker arranges Barbie dolls at the Barbie store in Shanghai. Mattel closed… (Eugene Hoshiko, AP )

Reporting from Beijing — Barbie's giving up the keys to her dream shop in Shanghai.

Two years after opening it to great fanfare, Mattel Inc. has closed the company's sole stand-alone store dedicated to the iconic American doll.

Tucked in a downtown district filled with foreign retailers and luxury brands, the six-story, 36,000-square-foot Barbie store was drenched in pink neon light and featured a cosmetics department, a spa and a bar designed by one of Shanghai's premier restaurateurs. A $10,000 Vera Wang wedding dress was on display when the store opened.

Mattel even unveiled a Chinese character for the store's opening, which was timed for Barbie's 50th anniversary.

The outlet wasn't just about selling dolls to young girls, but pitching a lifestyle to well-heeled women in the fastest-growing economy in the world.

The closure Monday marked a surprising reversal for a store that seemed to embody the spirit of a city on an unstoppable material rise.

The Shanghai Barbie store "has successfully accomplished its mission to promote the overall Barbie brand over the last two years," Linda Du, a spokeswoman for Barbie in China, said in an e-mail. "In 2011, Mattel will roll out a new Barbie brand strategy in China designed to take the brand across the country reaching more consumers."

Paul French, the Shanghai-based founder of retail market-research company Access Asia, said he thinks Mattel may have overestimated its cachet in China — and assumed Chinese women would embrace childish brands the way many women in Japan do with Hello Kitty.

"They got massively carried away with that store," French said. "Retail is all about square-footage, and I never saw enough people there to justify its size. The rent there would have been big."

david.pierson@latimes.com

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