Life in plastic, it's fantastic

It's a Barbie world and 'girls' of all ages are flocking to this pink palace in Shanghai, writes Sue Wallace.

I'm sipping a Barbie-tini and nibbling on the cutest cupcake – with pink icing, of course – in Shanghai's trendiest new flagship store dedicated to that curvy blonde, Barbara Millicent Roberts.

I allocate just 30 minutes for a quick look around to see what all the fuss is about but two hours later, I am still here, immersed in all things pink and plastic.

This is fun and there are plenty here showing signs they are hooked, too. Mothers trailing little girls are out in full force, as are trendy teenagers leading around boyfriends who clearly want to be somewhere else.

There's also another group enjoying this Barbie festival. Chic Chinese women with no children in tow are going crazy over this six-storey pink palace on Shanghai's Huaihai Road.

It seems Barbie was introduced seriously to the Chinese market just four years ago, and since the opening of Barbie Shanghai this year, many older women are making up for lost time.

“It doesn't matter what age you are – you can have fun with Barbie,” says a Chanel-suited woman with a cowgirl-dressed Barbie in one hand and a basketful of accessories in the other. She's now tossing up between a Barbie trailer and her condo with swimming pool.

Step through the glass doors of the store and smiling young shop assistants greet you – girls dressed in black tops and tights with hot-pink frilly skirts and boys sporting pink and white striped ties, black T-shirts and pants – then usher you to a pink neon-lit escalator, all to the soundtrack of giggling girls.

That infectious laughter has everyone smiling as they enter Barbie fantasy land.

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Yet this is more than a toy shop: there's a spa, cafe and nightclub as well as more than 1600 Barbie products.

Barbie Cafe is an all-day diner with a distinctive black and white palette featuring splashes of hot pink. Australian chef and restaurateur David Laris of Laris, the award-winning restaurant at Three on the Bund, has left his stamp, creating menus and a range of chocolates.

Heading up the kitchen is Barbie fan and New York chef Tessa Thompson, who says there's a focus on healthy food on the children's menu but the adult menu brings on the decadence. The Barbie Bar is where I am perched, after working up a thirst traipsing from floor to floor. There's an impressive wine and cocktail list and if you feel like a singsong, karaoke is on tap.

Venture to each floor and you'll find something different. For a souvenir photo with Barbie cut-outs, head to level one. For a Plastic Smooth facial and haircut, head to level two's Barbie Spa. Level three, or the Everything Girl floor, has dolls, sweets, beauty products and fashions – even the fixtures and furniture here are Barbie accessories writ large. I spot her pink trimmed dressing table and recall the miniature version owned by a Barbie-loving friend of mine years ago.

Then it is on to the Barbie couture department, with designer items for big Barbies from Sanei in Japan. There's talk of a new line by Patricia Field, the stylist behind the fashions of Sex and the City. The much-talked-about Vera Wang wedding dress is on show, in both Barbie and human size.

The fourth floor has a reading area with the latest Barbie books, movies and interactive displays, as well as a "dolls of the world" display, where Barbie dons her teaching hat to instruct children about different cultures.

There's also a career wall, where Barbie is dressed for more than 100 jobs, from astronaut to president to pet handler.

In what has become a hit for children's parties, young girls can design their own Barbie fashions, have them made up and then wear them in a catwalk show with lights and DJ – but only after some modelling tuition.

The piece de resistance, however, is the three-storey spiral staircase enclosed by 875 Barbies in hot-pink hand-sewn fashions.

It seems Barbie, or as the Chinese say Ba Bi Wa Wa, is right at home in Shanghai.

As for me, I'm still tossing up between a fashionista salad of shrimp, fennel, mandarin, walnuts and mixed greens or a Barbie or Ken burger – and another pink martini, of course.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Qantas flies to Shanghai from $1700, including taxes, see flightcentre.com.au.

SHOPPING THERE

Barbie Shanghai, 550 Central Huaihai Road, see barbieshanghai.com.

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