Can Barbie turn into Maggie?

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Donna Karan must have taken one look at her client and booked some extra time on her meditation rock. She was bottle blonde, a bit plasticky around the edges and positively teetering on shoes that made her feet look bent.

For a moment, she panicked. Could it be Pammy seeking a change of image? But then, huge relief, Karan recognised an old friend.

Barbie Millicent Roberts is 37, single, and the most popular woman in the world, with sales figures that top six million each week. But Karan was more worried about another kind of figure: with measurements of 36- 18-33, DK knew that there was no way she would ever have to design for a woman like this again.

Actually, researchers in Australia reveal that the chances of a human woman looking like a Barbie doll are about one in 100,000. If you think about it, this explains her popularity.

Her friend Ken is less of a fantasy: "The probability is more realistic, at one in 50," reported Kevin Norton of the University of South Australia. The fact that he is nearer to reality explains his lack of popularity.

Barbie and her friends have had 910 million fashions produced for them (including Donna's black tunic and belted skirt) and she has more shoes than Imelda Marcos (more than a million pairs). So it comes as no surprise to discover that she did not have a thing to wear this autumn and had to turn to the fashion design students at Central St Martin's College of Art and Design. Last week, 20 of their designs made it to the catwalk for the Barbie Fashion Awards. Categories were professional, casual and (naturally) ballgown.

"We said to them: Barbie is your client, so go out and design for her," says a Barbie spokeswoman. "After all, she is, in her own right, a fashion icon."

Wendy Dagworthy, course director, believes Barbie is more cult than icon, but, whatever she is, she is a very busy one. First, there are her careers: they include astronaut, teacher, doctor, and in-line skating champion. Then there is her social circle: she comes from an unstable background with no parents (Daily Mail alert) and friends and family that change every year. Perhaps to make up for this, she suffers from a Michael Jackson- type pet syndrome: she has 16 dogs, 10 horses, four cats, a parrot, a chimpanzee, a panda, a lion cub, a giraffe and a zebra.

The students had to keep all this in mind as they headed to their meditation rocks. Twenty designs made it to the catwalk, but only three could be chosen by judges, who included Ren Pearce of Pearce Fionda. Winners were Tuxedo Barbie - cross-dressing has clearly come of age - and Inflatable Beach Barbie (also known as Blow-Up Barbie) whose PVC gingham sundress becomes an inflatable swimdress with one puff of air.

But what is she wearing to the office these days? That is the question tackled by fashion student Luigi Avenso and his Easy Chic Barbie, to be made into a Limited Edition Collector doll this autumn at pounds 150 each.

Easy Chic is wearing a black suit with contrast white lining. Key co- ordinates include handbag, sunglasses, white gloves and black shoes. Oh, and a black-and-white marabou feathered hat. It's a relief to know we can wear marabou to the office again.

But is marabou really sending the right message? Perhaps it's time Barbie got a little more serious. There is another woman whose name was Roberts, had a thing about handbags and lived in a fantasy world. Can Prime Minister Barbie be far behind? Start designing that handbag now.