For over twenty-five years, Louvenia (Kitty) Black Perkins was the Chief Designer of Fashions and Doll Concepts for Mattel’s Barbie line. “Shani and Friends” (1991), a line of African-American dolls, “Holiday Barbie,” “Fashion Savvy Barbie” (1997), “Bathtime Barbie,” and “Brandy” are among her designs (1999). Brandy Barbie quickly became one of Mattel’s best-sellers.
Perkins was born in racially segregated Spartanburg, South Carolina on February 13, 1948. She is one of seven children born to Luther and Helen Goode Black.
Carver High School, Spartanburg’s black high school, closed when the school system was desegregated in 1970. Perkins moved to California in 1967 to attend Los Angeles Trade Technical College. In 1971, she earned an associate degree in fashion design.
She worked in non-doll fashion for six years after finishing her studies before responding to a Mattel blind classified ad. Perkins had never owned a Barbie doll until she bought one to help her prepare for a job interview.
Perkins was in charge of over 100 designs per year, accounting for more than one-fifth of all Barbie designs. She was awarded the Doll of the Year (DOTY) award, the industry’s highest honor.
Perkins received Mattel’s Chairman’s Award in 1985 and 1987, the highest honor a Mattel employee can receive. Mattel donated a Barbie designed by Black-Perkins to the South Carolina State Museum’s permanent collection in May 2001. Barbie is wearing a pink satin and tulle ball gown with a double row of rosettes at the hem.
She was named Woman of the Year in 1994 at the National Council of Negro Women’s annual ‘Woman Keeping the Dream Alive’ banquet. She is also a member of the Black Hall of Fame.