Margot Robbie’s ‘Barbie’ Transformation Took 30 Lipsticks, 48 Wigs, and Lots of Body Makeup

Margot Robbie’s ‘Barbie’ Transformation Took 30 Lipsticks, 48 Wigs, and Lots of Body Makeup

Margot Robbie as Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

I don’t need to tell you that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is the most anticipated movie of the year. 2023 has basically been one big countdown to the release, with the collaborations, think pieces, and aptly-named Barbiecore trend to prove it. Details of the film’s plot have largely been kept under-wraps until now, but the first look of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken (and the star-studded cast including Dua Lipa, Hari Neff, and Simu Lu) set the internet on fire.

The full immersion into Barbie Land would not have been possible without Ivana Primorac, the film's lead hair and makeup designer who dreamed up the much-memed transformations, as well as the rest of the film's candy-colored looks. Bringing the world's most-famous doll to life is no easy feat, but with an extensive film background, Primorac was up for the job. Ahead, she walks us through all the behind-the-scenes secrets of Barbie's hair and makeup.

The cast of Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The Inspiration

Primorac, the creative team, Gerwig, and Robbie, started discussing what Barbie Land would actually look like months before filming started. Of course, the first task at hand was how to turn the cast into perfect, plastic dolls—Primorac started by creating test hair pieces that featured shiny synthetic fibers or a mix of synthetic fibers and real hair, but nothing was right. "It made me realize that to make a doll, you have to think of what that doll represented in a child's mind," says Primorac. "And when I remember how I imagined her when I was a little girl, they had the best clothes, and they were so glamorous. They didn't have plastic hair in my mind, they had the nicest hair you can possible have."

To keep that sense of childlike wonder alive, Primorac focused on making each cast member look like the best possible version of themselves, instead of a totally uniform look. This included hair that was long and "too thick," always the width of the actor's shoulders. But when it came to makeup, the look was highly individual—each Barbie or Ken had their own 2-3 person glam team and custom-mixed body makeup. For Primorac, what was important was that "the hair is incredible, and that the skin is all even—it's the same behind her ear and her knees and her heels. Everything is just perfect. It wasn't in the amount of makeup, it was in choosing the best makeup for everyone."

When planning the looks, Primorac and her team had access to "every single Barbie ever made," as well as Mattel's extensive archive of vintage Barbie looks. The film opens with a montage of the cast dressed as vintage Barbies and "professional" Barbies, which were all exact replicas of real dolls, as were the discontinued dolls who live in Weird Barbie's (Kate McKinnon's) house. For the main cast though, Primorac says she and her team was pretty dependent on Mattel's existing designs, but often with a little twist to look great on each actor.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Margot Robbie’s Barbie Makeup

For Robbie's Barbie look—she plays "Stereotypical Barbie"—Primorac looked to the archives, but she also pulled references from old movies, specifically Grace Kelly films. "I wanted it to be something that's really fashionable and wearable now, and something that will be everlasting and reminds you of an iconic movie star," says Primorac of the look. The result was big, bright eyes, and a stained lipstick in 30 custom shades, to exactly match each of Robbie's costumes.

"The stain of her lipstick, ideas of that came from Margo, who was very, very involved in creating the whole look," continues Primorac. "We tried many things, and as we pulled back into the most classiest, and the simplest and the cleanest, the kind of everlasting elegance became something that looked and felt really good." Promorac adds that Barbie only wears full-on lipstick once, when referencing the original Barbie's bright red lip, but opts for a subtly stained, glossy lip the rest of the film.

Margot Robbie as Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Margot Robbie’s Barbie Hair

Robbie had a hair change for each one of her 30 outfit changes, and had 18 different wigs and over 30 hair pieces throughout the film. (Primorac isn't sure exactly how many wigs were used on the total production, but she knows it's well in the hundreds). "I wanted it to be like the best hair day every day," she says. "No one was allowed not to have the best hair."

In addition to selling the Barbie fantasy, Robbie's hair was crucial in telling the film's story. Barbie begins by following Barbie's picture-perfect life—she wakes up in her pink Dreamhouse with perfect hair, steps out of shoes with perfectly arched feet, and floats into her Barbie car without using the stairs—but has to venture into the real world of Los Angeles after experiencing cellulite and thoughts of death, and experiences a major self discovery journey. Robbie opens the movie wearing a quaffed '60s bouffant, but as she gets more and more dejected—and more and more "real"—her hair gets flatter and flatter, transitioning from an updo, to '70s waves, to straight and side-parted.

When Barbie is at her lowest, "that's when her hair becomes 'normal,' and it becomes less of Barbie volume, it becomes a human in volume," says Primorac, and adds that at this point Robbie had no extensions in her hair. "We wanted to do that gently so doesn't look jarringly short, because you know, I think for a doll to have this huge huge hair and her pink outfit and the white hat that was fun, but it's also beautiful to become normal, and that was kind of important for me and for all of us to just calm it down a little bit, because it's not necessarily beautiful to have a head full of extensions right down to the ground. It has to mean something, and when we become more human, it's fine to be the way we all are individually."

Ryan Gosling as Ken

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Ryan Gosling’s Ken Transformation

Like the rest of the cast, Ryan Gosling had major input on how his version of Ken would look. Unlike the rest of the dolls, Gosling's Ken look is as stereotypically "Ken" as it gets. It may seem simple—bright blonde hair, perfect beachy tan, plenty of ab-baring button-downs—but it took a lot of trial and error to nail. "We tried so many different blondes and so many different versions—long hair, short hair, more tan, less tan, a chocolate tan, or a bronzed tan," says Primorac. They wanted to push Ken's look as far as they could—including two pairs of sunglasses, multiple watches, and some guyliner, and "we got quite far into the whole process and realized that we can do quite a lot," she adds. The team was also careful to make sure that Gosling and Margot didn't look too similar—he is tanner and blonder—but still looked like they belonged next to each other.

As for the rest of the Kens, "it was very easy to then try and make the best version of themselves in each single one of them," says Primorac. In the second half of the movie, as the Kens gain more power, Primorac makes them feel "a bit rock and roll" with facial hair and subtle eyeliner.

Kate McKinnon in Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Kate McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie” Look

Kate McKinnon's portrayal of the sage, Birkenstock-wielding "Weird Barbie"—a doll that was played with too hard, scribbled on, and is always in the splits—is instantly iconic, as is her look. But Primorac says it didn't come easy. "That was the lengthiest of all processes," she explains. "I thought that would be one of the easiest, and it was incredibly difficult. And I think it's because everything we tried, it looked like something else—it looked like punk or looked like fashion, it just didn't look like a Barbie doll that was played with too hard by some kid."

Primorac said it took multiple tries to get Weird Barbie's look right, with the hardest part being the marker drawings on her face. "I just couldn't find the way to do the Sharpie and make her look like she'd been a little bit damaged," she says. "Everything we tried to do suddenly looked ugly and didn't look pleasing to the eye. And that's not the point." The epiphany came to Primorac when she saw McKinnon in her final wig and baby doll crinoline dress. "We thought it has to be something that's totally spontaneous. The makeup, it has to be something that's like a child's hands." So she ended up freehanding the design with just three colors, using primary shades of Korean eyeliners.

"Once we found it, we knew immediately," she continues. "I was like, 'a child drew this on someone's face.' And you could see her through it. That was my favorite thing. When I watched the movie, we forgot about the squiggles on her face. That's what I was worried about, how is she going to act all these wonderful scenes, very important scenes, if she has something stupid on her face? That's why it was so hard. But in the end, it was the simplest option."

Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Dua Lipa’s Much-Memed Mermaid Barbie Look

When the first look at Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie was revealed, Twitter had a lot to say about her brightly colored, slightly off-kilter wig (highlights include "it's giving Party City"). But, of course, that was entirely on purpose, and Primorac says that Lipa was the only character in the film that was meant to look like an actual toy. "I knew when she did her song and the promo video, she would be her glamorous self, so I thought this would be the moment to play a total homage to Mattel mermaid dolls. And they looked exactly like that," says Primorac. "So that's why we kind of made them that wiggy, in light-reflecting fibers. And her costume was identical, so we thought, why not do the whole thing?"

Why Are We All So Obsessed With Barbie?


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply