IN THE FLOOD of technology inundating my office, I nearly overlooked what must be the first program ever to come with peripherals like sequins, rosettes, ribbons and five pairs of tiny shoes.
Luckily, an unscheduled refueling stop in Billings, Mont., gave a proud papa in the airplane seat beside me time to brag about his daughter's creativity with a CD-ROM for making Barbie doll clothes.
The very pink Barbie Fashion Designer, a $40 Windows program from Mattel Inc., is already sold out at some outlets. Along with the shoes and so forth, it comes with four sheets each of paper-backed percale and tricot fabric that can go through standard ink-jet and laser printers to create patterns that can be turned into doll clothes.
It also comes with colored markers, glitter paint, "hook and loop" fasteners and adhesive seam stickers that eliminate the need for sewing. You supply the plastic gal with the wide eyes and perpetual smile.
Think paper dolls with a three-dimensional twist. Starting with a 2-D on-screen Barbie, choose a theme and assemble an outfit, complete with accessories such as handbags, scarves and shoes. A few clicks of the mouse add patterns and colors. A virtual trip to the dressing room shows what the ensemble should look like in three dimensions.
Then comes the fashion show. After a wait that, depending on your computer's speed, can be as long as five minutes (and is counted down by hot-pink high heels that form the numbers five through one), Barbie flounces down the runway in your creation.
The three-dimensional rendering suffers from the limited 256-color palette, but the motion is surprisingly lifelike. Barbie retains the stiff, awkward motion of a doll, but the fabrics billow and swirl.
That is just prologue. Now the printer enters the picture, producing pictures of Barbie in her new outfit on a magazine cover or alone, in black and white outlines or, if you have a color printer, in color. And the printer can use the supplied fabric to make pieces of the Barbie-sized outfit, ready for assembly.
A $10 refill package or three is probably a good idea, along with extra paper to print out the admirably detailed instructions.
The instructions should be printed first to get a sense of a project's difficulty. Patterns should be printed on paper before committing them to fabric, but expect the final colors to be less vibrant.
Before printing on fabric, be sure to check it for loose and frayed threads that might upset the printer's digestion.
Cutting and assembly are best performed away from the computer. According to the manual, glitter paint will "stick to and stain contact surfaces, and is permanent once dry." The readme file says, "Seam sticker adhesive residue on scissors can make cutting difficult." It is not desirable on a mouse or keyboard, either.
As usual with software, some things do not work quite right. On one system, the program crashed repeatedly right after it started; on another, it mostly worked fine. The most irritating problem is that the program will "disappear" whenever you print anything.
The minimized program may be restored by clicking its name on the task bar in Windows 95 or by using Alt-Tab in Windows 3.1, but that should not be necessary at all, particularly in a program for children.
Parents near the computer will learn how to turn off the mind-numbing repetitive music. Children may inadvertently learn some practical math; instructions for a pair of pants I put together and a bridal dress I did not demanded two seam stickers 20 dots long when the ones in the package are just 17 dots long.
There are other oddities. For some reason, Barbie adamantly refuses to march down the runway without shoes, even when she is modeling a bathing suit.
And her ingeniously stuck-together clothes are rather fragile; according to the manual, they "cannot be laundered, ironed, steamed or dry cleaned."
Even Mattel cautions that "Some adult assistance may be required for assembly of fashion." The toll-free customer service hot line answered promptly and took great pains to solve problems. Before or after buying, try to read the information on the Web at www.mattelmedia. com/barbie/fashiondesigner/ faq/index.html, where you will find the entire manual along with trouble-shooting files that are significantly more detailed than the ones that come with the program.
Pub Date: 12/30/96