Costume designer Jacqueline Durran has crafted some of the most iconic film looks of the last 20 years, from Keira Knightley’s green dress in “Atonement” to reimagining Belle’s legendary yellow ball gown in the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Her work in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” though, might take the cake, from the 40 costume changes Margot Robbie makes as the title character, to the the unique designs for all the Barbies and Kens living in Barbieland.
One of the film’s highlights — outside of Margot Robbie’s 40 different costumes as the title character — was how Ken’s (Ryan Gosling) clothes chart his character’s progression from being an extension of Barbie to his own person. “The first part of the movie he’s just an accessory to Barbie, so he’s got quite straightforward, minimal costum[ing],” Durran told TheWrap. So when Barbie is dressed for the beach, he’s dressed to match. Or when she’s in her sparkling white jumpsuit during the party, he’s in a complementary all-white tracksuit. “He’s very much there to frame her,” Durran said.
“As soon as when he discovers the patriarchy, then his imagination explodes,” she said. “And he sees all of the things that men could possibly wear, and he kind of just does it all at once.” That meant it became a question of how far the costumes could go in emphasizing Ken’s masculinity.
For Durran, the guiding point was always the photo of actor Sylvester Stallone in his all-white fur coat from the 1970s, something that Greta Gerwig herself had originally envisioned for the film. “We made that coat and obviously, it’s not mink, so don’t let anyone think that it’s real. And we printed the horse lining,” Durran said.
Unlike some of the other projects the costume designer has worked on, the main challenge with “Barbie” was the fact that every time the characters do something, they have to change clothes. “Where you would normally just have a costume for a story day, that doesn’t exist,” she said. “So you just change all the time.” The sheer amount of costume changes compelled Durran to give up an entire wall of her office just to chart the connective threads between all the individual wardrobe swaps.
Since the clothes emphasized the character’s emotions and personality, in the case of Barbie’s depression look — a geometric dress, coat and hat in different shades of green — Durran wanted to illustrate the character’s downhill slide into sadness through color. “As she arrives into Barbieland it’s the most vivid and complete Barbie costume,” said Durran. “Then we made a second version of it which was a faded-out version.”
So when Robbie starts rolling on the ground as Barbie, utterly demoralized by Ken taking over Barbieland, the costume looks like the costume is sapped right out of her. It’s only once Barbie finds her own self-worth that she’s able to come back, rocking a fabulous Chanel dress, and save the day.
“Barbie” is in theaters now.