Singapore: The white exterior and spartan grey staircase of Jian Yang’s tidy rowhouse give no hint of the shock that lies within — a pink living room floor and his collection of more than 6,000 Barbie dolls.
• Clockwise from top: Yang arranging part of his collection in his townhouse; a Barbie replica of actor Marilyn Monroe that he owns; the first doll he ever collected 20 years ago and a view of his wardrobes, which are carefully filled with dolls instead of clothes
The 33-year-old Singaporean favours minimalist decor but the Barbies and 3,000 dolls of other kinds dominate three sides of the main room and spill over to fill nine mirrored cabinets in his dressing room and the shelves of his study.
“Incongruous is kind of me,” Yang told Reuters. “When you meet me outside of this, I’m not that kind of guy. I’m not what you expect from a guy that collects dolls.” Yang has a professional interest in toys and consumer trends as director of strategy at Omicom Media Group.
But his Barbie collection began at age 13 when he bought the ‘Great Shape’ model in a turquoise Spandex gym outfit and striped leg warmers.
“Before I knew anything about social norms, I was a boy that watched this on TV, liked it and wasn’t allowed to have one,” he said.
“As I grew older, got my own allowance, that’s where I started getting the freedom to buy whatever I wanted.” His boyhood interest turned into a “crazy obsession” that his friends support and his family has come to accept.
“I’m very into collections, I’m very into amassing,” Yang said. “I’ve also got ex-girlfriends who get insecure about this kind of stuff. They look at dolls and go ‘OK, that’s the competition’, which is quite troubling but it’s a reality.”
The self-described ‘toy nerd’ reckons he has spent at least S$500,000 ($392,000) over the last 20 years on his collection, which also features hundreds and hundreds of dolls from the Bratz Girls, Monster High and Jem and the Holograms lines.
Ugly is hot
Barbie, launched in 1959 wearing a zebra-pattern swimsuit, has sold more than 1 billion dolls. But for Mattel Inc, the toy giant that makes her, sales of the dolls and related products fell 12 per cent in the April to June period of this year — the fourth straight quarter of decline — as tastes shift.
Yang said Barbie was an icon that still had a future but “the relevance is waning” as princesses and ballerinas give way to the ghoulish imagery and stories popularised by vampire movies such as Twilight.
“That’s where Mattel has taken it,” he said. “They have taken the craze of ugly is hot and made Monster High because they know Barbie will never be the monster.”
Yang’s oldest Barbies date from the early 1960s, including one in a nurse’s outfit with cat’s eye glasses. The rarest Barbie he owns is a model sold only in boutiques of the Comme des Garcons fashion label. “My friend found her in Hong Kong and made an emergency phone call to me,” he said.
In a floor-to-ceiling glass case in the living room, Osama bin Laden shares a drink with Saddam Hussein as Maleficent, the evil sorceress from Sleeping Beauty, Jackie Onassis and Lady Diana look on.
To top it off, the hue of the floor is not just any pink. It is Barbie’s signature colour — Pantone 219 C.
On his last trip to New York, Yang bought 65 dolls. He is going there again this month and is sure to hit the shops. He has no plans to slow down, so what will he do when he runs out of space? “I’ll buy another house,” he laughed.
• Yang has spent at least S$500,000 on dolls in the last 20 years
• His oldest Barbies are from the 1960s
• The rarest Barbie he owns is a model sold only in boutiques of the Comme des Garcons fashion label, at a couture price tag of $350
► Before I knew about social norms, I was a boy who saw Barbie on TV and wasn’t allowed to have one
- Jian Yang