Barbie Mania Hits Malaysia

This Barbie doll has no body, only her head.

Someone pilfered the smiling blonde noggin from a Mattel factory, slipped it to a hairdresser, who, in turn, bestowed it upon Elizabeth Chrisostom.

The 41-year-old Malaysian has spent the past year hunting for her Barbie’s missing torso—scouring factory production lines, pawing through obscure toy shops and consulting Barbie fanatics nationwide.

“She has an unusually small hole for her neck, it was just mystifying. I will do anything, anything, to help my Barbie get back her body,” she lamented.

Like many other Malaysians, Chrisostom has become a hardcore Barbie devotee, amassing more than 150 dolls since 1997.

Barbie Seen As Glamour Queen Conceived as an American Girl icon in 1959, Barbie Millicent Roberts-her full name-went on to become popular around the world.

Placed head to toe, the total production of Barbie dolls, family members and boyfriend Ken would circle the earth more than seven times.

Barbie has represented 45 nationalities, and there are currently three Malaysian Barbies in production.

Heads of state attending the 1998 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Kuala Lumpur were each handed an exclusively tailored Malaysian doll.

“Barbie’s so glamorous,” gushed Goh Siu Lin, a lawyer with a collection of 40 dolls. “Most Malaysian live a ho-hum lifestyle, working day in, day out. But once you buy Barbie, you are drawn into her world of designer clothes and haute couture glamour.

Putting Malaysia in Barbie Map The variety of Barbie dolls available in Malaysia was limited until the ’80s, when Mattel set up production plants here, sparking a Barbie boom in this predominantly Muslim nation.

Mattel has since relocated its factories to Indonesia, where production costs are lower.

Chrisostom recently brought her disembodied doll to the official launch of the Millennium Barbie Collectors Club. Joylynn Chong, the club’s president, formed the group after bumping into a few serious Barbie collectors this year.

“We want to put ourselves on the map,” said Chong, who owns 200 dolls. “We want others to know that Malaysians no longer live in coconut trees. As Barbie collectors, we can prove to the world that Malaysians have the ability to collect and fully appreciate Barbie.”

Special Dolls The club’s two dozen members are planning workshops on how to clean the doll, design her clothes, restore vintage Barbies and repair split ends. They’ve even produced their own limited edition doll, The Millennium Barbie. Lawyer Azmi Mustapa, the doll’s dress designer, said he used an olive-skinned doll to represent Malaysia’s multi-ethnic society. Her silver satin gown, stitched from 13 pieces of cloth, denote the nation’s 13 states.

“Barbie is the perfect doll for me to try out new designs,” said Azmi, who owns his own legal firm-and 30 Barbies, for whom he has designed 100 outfits. “I enjoy making nice dresses for her. I adore her beauty.”

During Chrisostom’s search for her doll’s body, she discovered that etched into her Barbie’s plastic skull, beneath the closely cropped blond hair, were four digits: 1958.

“I was completely perplexed,” Chrisostom said. “This means my doll was made one year before Mattel’s official launch in America.”

She consulted Mattel officials, who indicated that her doll’s bob hairstyle from the American Girl series appeared consistent with vintage Barbies made in the early 60s. They were, however, equally stumped by the date. Chrisostom has speculated that her doll could be a preproduction model.

“In that case, she could be truly unique, which would make her very, very valuable,” Chrisostom said. Well-preserved vintage Barbies, made between 1959 and 1967, are worth thousands of dollars.

“Or it might turn out that she’s not worth a cent,” Chrisostom added. “No matter what, I adore her just the same.”

For The Love of Barbie By day, Chrisostom is a researcher for an English-language newspaper, poring through advertising rates and revenue figures. Friends who call her home get this message on her answering machine: “Ken and I are busy. So please call us later.”

After her day job, she returns to her dolls, some of whom wear designs by Vera Wang, Christian Dior, Bob Mackie and Todd Oldham. Her dolls also pose as Posh Spice, the Statue of Liberty and Detective Scully of the X-Files.

“I’m a confirmed Barbieholic,” she said. “I never have money to eat, but I have enough to buy clothes and shoes for my dolls. My friends and family say I’m mad.”

Once, she bought 36 pairs of Barbie shoes during a warehouse sale. “I grabbed the shoes before four little girls could get their hands on them,” she said.

Chrisostom, who sleeps with her dolls, hopes to set up a Barbie museum.

“People who think that Barbie collectors have gone cuckoo are ignorant,” said Chrisostom, who is single. “If they’re married, they can have their kids and husbands. As for me, I have my Barbies.”