‘Barbie’ Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran Has One Rule for Good Barbiecore

‘Barbie’ Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran Has One Rule for Good Barbiecore

When Greta Gerwig reached out to British costume designer Jacqueline Durran to ask if she would create the wardrobe for her blockbuster fantasy comedy Barbie, the answer was an easy yes. “We were connected because I did Little Women and I was lucky enough that Greta asked me back,” says Durran, who won the Academy Award for best costume design for the 2019 period drama. “Honestly, anything that Greta rings me and asks me to do, I will do. I’m her No. 1 fan.”

Now Barbie is No. 1 at the box office and already the second-highest grossing film of 2023, raking in $1.03 billion globally in just 17 days. That success has largely been credited to the film’s extensive marketing campaign, the budget for which has been reported to be around $150 million.

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Conversations around the costumes of the cast, particularly leads Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, undoubtedly contributed to the buzz. Since the film’s opening on July 21, ticketholders have shown up to theaters in their best Barbiecore — an organic outcome of promotion efforts that Durran considers a pleasant surprise. “I didn’t even think about that happening for a second and I’m so thrilled with it,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

But as meticulous as Durran was when it came to creating the fashions in Barbieland, in the real world, she’s less concerned with the fabrics and labels fans of the film choose to wear, and more focused on avoiding landfills. “If it were possible for everybody to buy vintage or secondhand of everything and have fun that way, that would be great,” she says in discussing her collaboration with threadUP. Durran partnered with the online thrifting retailer to curate a #Barbiecore Dream Shop of clothing items and accessories that’s available through the end of August. “I think that you can actually be more creative and make a more unique look and find extraordinary pieces in vintage almost more so than you can in stores.”

What was your first step when it came to approaching the wardrobe for Barbie?

It was tricky. In some ways now it looks easy because it has a kind of coherence, and it looks like a world. But working out the world and what it looked like and how doll-like it was and all of those kinds of things, took some time because it was a question of do you just do, for instance, a whole high-fashion Barbie from start to finish? You know, how do you approach it? I decided that I wanted to tie it very closely to the history of Mattel and to reference past Barbie costumes and tie it together with memories people have of Barbies over time. That was my way in and then I built the the ideas and the interpretations from that starting point.

How did you dress your Barbie dolls when you were a girl?

I played with dolls, and I did play with Barbie, but I don’t have really have strong memories of it. I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to go out and buy the packs and the dream house and all those things. I think being older than the kind of peak of Barbie, it wasn’t quite the same thing.

Did having access to this toy wardrobe that Barbie is known for in doll form help the creative process or was it overwhelming?

There are two sides to the story, really. Given that you’ve got this film with all of these costume opportunities, it is overwhelming because you think, the expectations of what Barbie wears are so high, how do I meet that expectation? It’s like the sky’s the limit, so how do you end up with something that is a coherent world? The Mattel connection I think was a bonus not a hindrance, because it just meant that you could always tether your ideas to an original kind of Barbie and part of Barbie history. For instance, if you look at the hot skating Barbie, which is one of the costumes that is quite close to a Mattel original. I looked up all of the rollerblading and roller-skating costumes that Barbie’s ever had and then I thought, well, let’s do “Hot Skating Barbie.” We reprinted the fabric from hot skating Barbie, but we changed the design of the costume, so it feels like it’s exactly the original, but it’s not. Yet it’s enough to tie it in your memory to the original costume. In some instances, it was a slavish copy, like with the discontinued Barbie costumes, it was important that they were exact copies because otherwise you wouldn’t know who they were because they weren’t part of your playing memory.

How did the Chanel collaboration come about and why this designer?

It was partly because I have worked with Chanel on multiple movies in the past and I’ve really enjoyed working with them and they are fantastically supportive collaborators. The other reason was that we discovered in working out the chronology of Barbie and delving into the back catalogue, there is a Chanel Barbie from the 2000s wearing a pink suit and I thought that would be a perfect idea for Barbie Margo at the White House. So, I went to Chanel, and I visited their archive and we found suits, but I also discovered, which I hadn’t known before, that Karl Lagerfeld did a Barbie collection in the ‘90s. I thought, what a brilliant Easter egg to put into the movie, to take something from that collection and give it to Barbie Margot (Robbie, who stars as Stereotypical Barbie in the movie) to wear. So, she’s wearing Claudia Schiffer’s suit at one point, which is just amazing. And they were so supportive, Chanel helped us with other costumes that weren’t necessarily from that collection or from their doll. The ski suit they wear on the snowmobile is a Chanel ski suit and that was great for Margot, but Chanel doesn’t make menswear. So, they had to make one for Ken, which was very kind of them to do. Then there’s the kind of piece de resistance which is the full Chanel look when Barbie has to really look her best, and I thought, let’s just do the complete thing head-to-toe Chanel and it’s great. I think it’s a kind of a high point.

Do you have a favorite look from the movie?

It changes depending on how I’m thinking about it. I really like the beach sequence because it’s a whole look. I like the establishing of Barbieland and the colors and all of the women having a look on the beach together, which was part of our inspiration at the beginning. I also like the costume when she arrives back in Barbieland, which is so complete and so kind of perfect and then Barbieland isn’t perfect anymore. It’s this whole contrast between the costume and this scene, which I really like.

Are you sick of the color pink now?

No, but weirdly, when we started, it was one of the questions, you know, does Barbie have to wear pink all the time? And the answer’s no, she doesn’t really. If you look at the history of Barbie, she really doesn’t wear pink all the time. It’s a funny — it’s not a misconception, she wears a lot of pink, but if you choose a pop of color or you combine colors and you’re just bright or quite punchy, I think you can do a Barbiecore look in almost anything, any color.

What did you first think when you saw people coming out to the theaters in their best Barbie costumes?

I was so pleased because everybody knows who Barbie is. Everyone has an idea and an understanding of Barbie, and this film provides a kind of community experience that we can all participate in that everyone feels part of, and I think that’s a great thing. I didn’t even think about that happening for a second and I’m so thrilled with it.

Can you tell us about your Dream Shop collaboration with threadUP?

I’d love to talk about that because it kind of goes back to the Barbiecore thing. I’m so happy that everybody wants to participate in the whole Barbie look, and I think the dressing up is really just a great fun thing to do, but I do worry about the amount of waste. I would love for everyone to do it sustainably. If it were possible for everybody to buy vintage or secondhand of everything and have fun that way, that would be great. I think that you can actually be more creative and make a more unique look and find extraordinary pieces in vintage almost more so than you can in stores. The amount of things that have been made in the past that you could create a Barbiecore look with is infinite almost. So, I would really love it if people delved into their creative selves and found their Barbiecore look sustainably. Also, if you all shop secondhand and go out together (with friends), you’re not going to end up with the same look. You’re going to have lots of different ways of interpreting Barbiecore which is a very elastic concept. It can take a lot.

I’ve interviewed a number of British costume designers. Do British women make the best costume designers?

I’ll tell you one thing about British costume designers, which is probably why you interview them more. We do a lot of period dramas here and costume designers tend to get more recognition for period dramas, and so maybe they get interviewed more often. But actually, we should broaden it out. All costume designing can be tough, and I think everyone deserves recognition, not just ones that do period dramas.