Ken doll fashion part of new exhibit at Cambridge's Fashion History Museum

An exhibit at the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge features Ken dolls in fashions from 1961 to 1967. Collector James Fowler says the clothing reminds him of his childhood. "In my memory, that’s what menswear actually looked like."

'In my memory, that’s what menswear actually looked like,' collector James Fowler says

Two Ken dolls from James Fowler's collection are featured in this photo before an image of the Colosseum in Rome. The photo was taken by Walter Segers. Fowler's dolls and Segers' photos are part of two exhibits on now at the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge. (Walter Segers/Provided by Fashion History Museum)

James Fowler loves vintage clothing, but his closet space is limited.

Clothing trends from 1961 to 1967 are particularly fascinating to him, so the Toronto man found another way to feed his need for vintage: Ken dolls.

"I started collecting Ken as a way of collecting vintage clothes, because I didn't have a big enough space to put actual full-sized clothes in," he said.

He had wanted to start a collection, and, "I thought, a Ken doll would be perfect. I remember them from that period."
From lederhosen to pilot, Ken's fashion has varied throughout the years. (Contributed by: Walter Segers)

He admits to have a couple of favourites. One is a Ken wearing an orange hooded sweater and a striped bathing suit.

"It just reminds me of being a kid, being in California at the beach. Life was permanent summer at that age. You didn't have to do much," he said.

The other is Ken in a grey flannel suit.

"The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the man who ruled the 1960s," Fowler said, admitting he has 14 of the suits.

Fowler, who is a fashion writer and former costumer, said he's also partial to one where Ken is dressed in a 1950s white dinner jacket with a burgandy bowtie and cummerbund.

"In my memory, that's what menswear actually looked like," he said.

'Oh, it looks like Mad Men'

Fowler's Ken dolls and their clothes are currently on display at the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge.

Curatorial director Jonathan Walford said the exhibit, which runs until Sept. 25, is a hit with visitors.

"A lot of people come in and they go, 'Oh, it looks like Mad Men,' and it kind of does," Walford said.
It's chow time at this all-Ken barbecue. (Contributed by: Walter Segers)

People are impressed with the amount of detail that went into the clothing – tiny snaps, zippers and buttons – for a 30 cm-tall doll.

"What I think is interesting is the casual wear ... what a collegiate or a man would be wearing in the mid-1960s, the shorts and the shirts and the jackets. There's looks that look like the Beatles, he had a little Beatle wig, in fact, to go with this sort of casual sport jacket," Walford said.

"That kind of everyday type of fashion thing is really interesting, too, because I like the clothes myself of that particular period. And they look a lot like today's clothes, as well: The skinny-legged pants and the nice form-fitting tailored jackets."

Exhibit on until Sept. 25

There is a second exhibit at the museum that features Fowler's Kens in photos taken by Walter Segers called What I did on my summer vacation. The photos feature the dolls in various situations – one in an astronaut uniform is on the moon, two others appear before the Colosseum in Rome.
Ken on the moon. (Contributed by: Walter Segers)

Segers and Fowler are friends, and together they have created a book of photos and Fowler's story called Ken and Me … The Vintage Years.

Fowler said he was excited when the museum wanted to do an exhibit of his dolls and their outfits.

"I was thrilled because I had been archiving them at home and sort of curating them on my bookshelves and this just seemed like, wow, what an opportunity. Someone else is actually going to get to see my crazy collecting," he said.
Photos of the Ken dolls taken by Walter Segers are part of a second exhibit at the Fashion History Museum, on until Sept. 25. (Contributed by: Fashion History Museum)


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