Johnna's Articles

A Special Daily Resource Shared by Kerry Ruff

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Born Louvenia Black Perkins on February 13, 1948 in racially segregated Spartanburg, South Carolina. She was one of seven children born to Luther Black and Helen Goode Black. She graduated from Carver High School, which was Spartanburg’s black high school that closed in 1970 when the school system became desegregated. In 1967, Louvenia who preferred to go by Kitty moved to California and attended Los Angeles Trade Technical College where she graduated with an associate degree in fashion design in 1971. Kitty would respond to a blind classified ad from Mattel and reports to never having or seeing a Barbie doll in person until she purchased one to prepare for the interview.

 

When she went in for the interview, Mattel asked her to come back in a week with the doll wearing an original design by Ms. Perkins. Her trial design was described as the following, “floral print voile jumpsuit with full, tiered legs and puff sleeves and matching wide-brimmed hat”. She recalled it as “really stylish” but Mattel turned down the initial design since it would cost too much to reproduce. Kitty didn’t take no for an answer and ended up with Mattel on a three month probationary period. In 1976, Ms. Perkins would become the first black designer for Barbie when Mattel hired her to design affordable, chic clothes for the doll. In 1978, she would become head designer for Barbie. There had been several black dolls in the Mattel line, all friends of Barbie, dating back to the 1960s but not one of them was named Barbie. Kitty designed the first Black Barbie Doll from Mattel.

 

While designing the first Black Barbie Doll, she wanted to reflect what the black culture was so the doll had short, natural textured hair and she had a slim silhouette that wasn’t hidden behind ballgowns. Kitty said the music industry was a huge influence at the time and she said when she was designing something, she would imagine herself wearing it and that’s how she gauged if the children would like it and then she would know that the African American parents would embrace it. Before Barbie, there were only black baby dolls and the concept was about nurturing but Barbie offers an adult figure and gives children a new way to imagine and play. Kitty Perkins would later become the Chief Designer of Fashions and Doll Concepts for Mattel’s Barbie line and she worked for Mattel for 25 years. She was responsible for over 100 doll designs a year that amounted to over one fifth of all the designs for Barbie. Kitty and her team were responsible for pitching everything from each Barbie’s hairstyle, makeup, hair and outfit while collaborating with the accessories team.

 

Her accomplishments awarded her to receive the doll industry’s highest honor, the Doll of the Year Award. Her designs included ALL of the Barbies I had growing up; the Holiday Barbie (1988 to 1990 and 1996), the Fashion Savvy Collection of Barbies (1997), the Bathtime Barbie and Brandy Barbie (1999). Mattel would award her the highest recognition by giving her the Mattel’s Chairman’s Award in 1985 and 1987. In 2001, Mattel donated a Barbie that Ms. Perkins designed for the permanent collection of the South Carolina State Museum. The Barbie is dressed in a pink satin and tulle ball gown with a double row of rosettes at the hem. Kitty Perkins is an inductee in the Black Hall of Fame. In 2002, Ms. Perkins retired from Mattel. Today we honor the woman whose groundbreaking designs changed the doll industry by designing black dolls for little black children everywhere. Thank you. Happy Black History Month.

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