Posted on: July 22, 2023 Posted by: Dr. Courtney A Hammonds Comments: 0

In Greta Gerwig’s much-anticipated “Barbie” movie, which opened in theaters this weekend, “Insecure” actress Issa Rae brings some black power to the iconic doll’s pink world as President Barbie. But it was another African American woman, Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins, who designed the first black Barbie.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Welcome to a world where fashion and empowerment collide! Today, we are diving into the incredible journey of Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins, the brilliant mind behind the jaw-dropping transformation of Black Barbie’s style. From her humble beginnings to finding her place in toy boxes around the globe, Black Barbie has become an icon of representation and inclusivity. So, grab your favorite doll and prepare to be inspired as we unravel how Kitty Perkins revolutionized this iconic figure’s wardrobe, leaving an indelible mark on both fashion history and childhood playtime.

Introduction to Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins.

Kitty Black Perkins. Image from Barbie.

Born in racially segregated South Carolina in 1948, Louvenia (Kitty) Black Perkins grew up playing with white dolls gifted by her mother’s employers. In the 1960s, Black Perkins attended an all-black school, Carver High School, where she excelled in art. After she graduated in 1967, she had a scholarship waiting for her to attend Claflin College, but she first took up an offer to visit Los Angeles with her mother’s sister. One of seven children, Perkins had barely left her neighborhood in the Highland section of Spartanburg up to that point.

Perkins attended Los Angeles Trade Tech College and soon was racking up awards for her student fashion design work. She landed a job with a couture designer before graduating with an associate’s degree in 1971.

Her Career in the Fashion Industry.

Five years later, Perkins spotted an ad from an unnamed company seeking a fashion designer. She checked it out and learned it was Barbie. A recruiter explained she should come in with patterns and a finished outfit for the doll and urged her to spare no cost.


How She Helped Transform Black Barbie’s Style



At Mattel, Black Perkins’s earned an assignment in 1979 to create an outfit for the first black doll to be named “Barbie.” Black Perkins created an outfit for “Black Barbie” that was meant for the spotlight. Barbie wore stud hoop and dangle earrings, a bold modernist necklace, and a fabulous red bodysuit with a wrap-and-snap disco skirt. On the doll’s box, Mattel touted, “She’s black! She’s beautiful! She’s dynamite!” This new Barbie incarnation met with mixed reviews, but she represented one of the first attempts of a major toy company to reflect black pride.

Black Perkins soon became chief designer of fashions and doll concepts for Mattel’s entire Barbie line. She was responsible for creating more than 100 designs a year amounting to over one fifth of all of the designs for Barbie. Some of her other notable designs included the  Her designs include the “First Black Barbie” (1979-1980) the first African American doll from Mattel to have the name Barbie and not be a friend of Barbie but Barbie herself, “Shani and Friends” (1991) a short-lived line of African-American dolls, “Holiday Barbie” (1988, 1989, 1990, 1996), “Fashion Savvy Barbie” (1997), “Bathtime Barbie” and “Brandy” (1999).

Thanks to Perkins’ vision and hard work, Black Barbie became a fashion icon in her own right, and her style has continued to evolve over the years to keep pace with changing trends. Today, she is recognized as one of the most stylish dolls in the world and is a source of inspiration for girls of all colors.

Where is Perkins Now? Although she retired from Mattel in 2003, Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins is still curating designs in her Los Angeles studio.

To learn more about this icon click here.

Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins you are BLACK GIRL MAGIC!

Dr. Courtney A. Hammonds

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