Baby, Come Back

They broke up two years ago. Can they really get back together? Does that ever work? Valentine's Day is just around the corner. But can a makeover woo the heart of a woman who has strayed?

America's favorite plastic couple are trying to get back together. Barbie and Ken may seem as if they go together like peanut butter and jelly, pizza and pepperoni, and cookies and milk.

Apparently, Ken decided he wanted Barbie back in the fall. But is he headed in the right direction?

"Fashion can really break up a couple," said Judy McGuire, columnist and dating advice specialist (http://badadvice.typepad.com). "But it's not going to be the cargo pants that gets her back. I mean, cargo pants? I hope they don't put him in those man diggers in the summer. Those are awful."

Ken was so stuck in the '50s, it seems, that Barbie had to give him the heave-ho for a sexier Blaine, an Australian surfer. But Ken went on a soul-searching trip across the Middle East of all places and emerged wearing cargo pants and a motocross jacket, with darker hair and, oddly, a squarer jaw.

The new, enlightened Ken is apparently also a fan of Norah Jones, according to manufacturer Mattel.

"You see a girl like Barbie, and you judge her by the guy she dates," said Jim Silver, a longtime toy industry analyst. "And Ken looked boring and old-fashioned."

Ken is no longer boring after getting the ultimate makeover by stylist Phillip Bloch, who has dressed Johnny Depp and Sean Combs, neither of whom is known for his conservative fashion choices.

Mattel, maker of Barbie and Ken, is in a tizzy to revive Barbie. The new Ken was revealed today at this year's Toy Fair in New York.

"It's been about 15 years since Ken has had a new look," said a Mattel spokeswoman, who didn't want her name used. "Because Barbie is the most fashionable girl in the world, she needs a fashionable boyfriend."

Barbie has been at the heart of Mattel's success in the toy market. But could the things that made her popular -- the long, pressed blond hair, the skinny arms, bulbous blue eyes and sun-kissed smile -- have been her very undoing? Barbie sales have consistently gone down -- 12.8 percent over the past year to $1.2 billion, from $1.4 billion. Can a new man help bring them back up?

"There are lots of things that need to be done to revive Barbie," said Silver, who believes modernizing her main man is a good start.

Bratz, a line of dolls with puffy lips, large heads, midriff-exposing shirts and short skirts, overtook Barbie in the fashion doll business in the 2005 holiday season -- a remarkable coup for a brand introduced just five years ago, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Bratz is a modern-day girl posse. Barbie, sadly, only has two friends and no one can really name them. And Blaine? Who was that?

But some still think the classic couple can make a go of it.

"There's hardly any single, decent straight men in Manhattan," McGuire added. "The pickings are slim for Barbie. So I do think they have a shot. I mean, who else does she have to choose? GI Joe? He's always off to war. And one of those homies? I don't think Barbie goes that way."

But new Ken, a kind of plastic Brad Pitt, as Silver pointed out, is a way to show that Barbie has hit the modern era.

"It's all about Barbie,' Silver said. "It's definitely a good change."

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