How ‘Barbie’ Hairstylist Ivana Primorac Found the Perfect Shade of Blonde

TheWrap magazine: The challenge lay with the backgrounds and sets, which could alter how the camera picked up Margot Robbie’s hair

"Barbie" (Warner Bros. Discovery)

With several decades of Barbies to pull references from and a story focused on the unlimited potential of individuality, hair and makeup designer Ivana Primorac assumed everything would be a piece of cake. But even finding the right shade of blonde for Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie was difficult. Early in the process of making “Barbie,” Primorac decided to go with a standard yellow hair coloring on Robbie. “The very first ever Barbie made, the one in a striped costume, she’s got very yellow hair,” Primorac said. “So we started with that, thinking that would be so cool (to) make Margot look like a doll because she’ll have that corn-yellow hair.” And while it was used in the opening scene of the film, it ended up not being the right shade for Robbie throughout the movie. 

But how to find the right color? The issue lay with the backgrounds and sets of the film, which could alter how the camera picked up Robbie’s blonde hair. “If it was too ash it would look sort of blue/gray,” Primorac said. “So you had to find something magenta-y.” It was Robbie herself who cracked the mystery of the blonde, taking note of how her hair looked in the mirror one day. “I was like, ‘Yes, I used the curling irons today,’” said Primorac, noting that the treatment could subtly alter the shade of the wigs. “So I made it more yellow and it popped on set.” 

From there, Primorac went super old-school, relying on her friends at Bristol wigmaker Peter Owens Limited, who offered to make her a wool dye toner for Robbie, mimicking a process used in Roman times. “They mixed up this huge vat of magenta wool dye for me in different strengths,” she said. From there on, if Primorac needed the hair to look blonder, she could dip it in a different level of toner. On the downside, though, the dye, which is acetic acid, left Primorac smelling of vinegar. “Not glamorous at all,” she said. 

Once Robbie’s hair color was set, the rest of the Barbie cast worked around it. “Everyone else was allowed to pick their preference,” said Primorac, who wanted each of the actors to bring their own sense of character to the Barbies and Kens they were playing. “Alexandra Shipp wanted the blonde tips in her hair,” she said. “I wanted Hari (Neff) to have red hair. She was like, ‘I love red hair’ and she stayed red after the movie.” 

Ivana Primorac (Jeff Vespa/TheWrap)

What Primorac was most surprised by was that none of the actors picked looks similar to themselves—not even pop superstar Dua Lipa, who played Mermaid Barbie. “She didn’t want to be her fashion version of herself,” Primorac said. “I’m so proud of her. She wanted to be this exact replica of the toy.” Lipa and John Cena were the last characters cast, and Primorac decided to make the mermaid couple completely toy-like. 

It was Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie that presented Primorac with the biggest challenge. Greta Gerwig gave Primorac a lot of details she wanted the character to have, but the hair stylist couldn’t find a way to differentiate Weird Barbie from every other character in Barbie Land. “(She) didn’t look like a doll who’d been played with too hard,” she said. McKinnon had to fly to Los Angeles from New York three times to test out new looks. 

“Everything was overthought or too glamorous, or too simple or too punk,” Primorac said. “It just didn’t look like something that’d been hacked through by kids.” So Primorac went back to basics, unlearning the professional techniques she knew for hair. It took hours, but she just kept cutting and “hacking” into the wigs until she found something that fit the bill. That sense of throwing away the old methods also extended to McKinnon’s makeup, which was supposed to look as if an overzealous child had scribbled on her doll’s face. Primorac decided to start drawing on McKinnon’s face and allowed McKinnon to draw on hers until they found something they liked. “Everything came together, not matching, but pleasing together,” Primorac said.

This story first appeared in the Below the Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read the rest of the “Barbie” below-the-line stories here.

Read more from the Below-the-Line issue here.


One response to “How ‘Barbie’ Hairstylist Ivana Primorac Found the Perfect Shade of Blonde”

  1. Frank Masiello Avatar
    Frank Masiello

    The movie’s overall look is fine, but it was disconcerting seeing armpit hair on the Kens and when Barbie and Ken are in close-up, their normal human facial lines and pores could have been filtered for a more plastic look, don’t you think?

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