The Story Of Kitty Black Perkins

The Story Of Kitty Black Perkins The Fashion Designer Who Created The First True Black Barbie Doll In 1980

In 1980, Louvenia “Kitty” Black Perkins made history when she designed the first-ever Black Barbie doll for toy giant Mattel.

As the company’s chief fashion doll designer for over 30 years, Perkins was instrumental in bringing much-needed diversity and representation to the iconic toy line.

Inspiring a Love of Fashion Despite Segregation

Growing up in segregated Spartanburg, South Carolina in the 1950s, Perkins found inspiration through her stylish father despite not having access to many toys.

She honed her fashion design skills by making paper doll outfits and dreaming of greater opportunities outside the Jim Crow South.

Crafting Barbie’s First Black Look

After being hired by Mattel in 1976, Perkins purchased her first Barbie to design a custom wardrobe for her interview. The company brought the self-taught designer on board to inject more representation into Barbie’s very white universe.

“Everything Barbie [typically] was, I wanted to do the opposite,” Perkins said. “I knew exactly how black women wear their hair, how their clothes were different.”

Channeling her inspiration from Black style icons like Diana Ross, Perkins dressed the first Black Barbie in a fierce red gown, short curly hair, and dangling earrings. The new doll was labeled “She’s black! She’s beautiful! She’s dynamite!”

Paving the Way for Decades of Diverse Dolls

As Chief Designer, Perkins pushed Mattel to introduce more diversity through dozens of Black, Hispanic, and multicultural Barbies over her storied tenure. She designed over 100 looks annually while mentoring young designers of color.

“It had its challenges. But it was so much fun,” she said. “It wasn’t like working — it was like playing.”

Now retired, Kitty Black Perkins’ pioneering Barbie opened the door for greater representation that still inspires young Black girls today. Her tireless advocacy undeniably shaped the evolution of the iconic Barbie brand.