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In The Scenario, reporter Kirbie Johnson takes readers behind the scenes of the buzziest movies and TV shows to reveal how the best wigs, special effects makeup, and more are created. For this edition, Johnson chats with the team behind the instantly legendary beauty looks in the 2023 Barbie movie. (And yes, there are some minor spoilers ahead.)
Barbie has taken the world by storm — just in case you’ve missed the whirlwind, worldwide press tour or the $150 million marketing budget promoting the film. At the time of writing this, the movie has made $470 million globally, as a sea of pink descended upon theaters in late July. And while there are plenty of reasons to love the film, the attention to detail paid to the beauty looks (on the Barbies, the Kens, the Allan) is, of course, what really drew team Allure in. We spoke with the experts who crafted the hair and makeup looks in Barbie to learn exactly what went into bringing the beloved dolls to life.
Why Ryan Gosling’s Ken Is Platinum Blonde
When the first image of Gosling as Ken was released in 2022, many were critical: He didn’t look like the traditional Ken doll, whose hair is not platinum blonde. Barbie’s boyfriend typically has a golden or brunette head of hair, but the platinum blonde was specifically chosen for this cinematic version of Ken for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s so unnaturally light that it adds to the illusion that Gosling is literally playing a toy doll, not a human based on a toy’s likeness.
“I was at [Ryan’s] house, and we’re talking about what looks we were gonna do,” said Marie Larkin, personal hairstylist to Gosling. “He said that he wanted to look like Robert Redford and he gave me some photos.” (We’re talking Redford’s The Way We Were-era platinum, not his darker strawberry blonde from later films.)
“We got the wig process rolling in London, but he is not a big fan of wigs,” Larkin recalls. “So one day he came in, and he said, ‘I know, let’s do this, let’s bleach my hair.’”
Larkin explained Gosling was worried a wig might take him out of his Kenergentic performance, so over a couple of days, she bleached his naturally light brown hair until it was lifted to the platinum blonde color, which was meant to make him look most like a doll — not like the dashing leading man we’re used to seeing on screen.
“I can’t imagine him now looking like anything else,” says Ivana Primorac, the film’s hair and makeup designer. “Robert Redford is such an iconic [actor], and he looks so handsome. I think, now, Robert Redford is not doll-like enough.”
Initially, Primorac would not have suggested Ken be as tan or as blonde, but she says Gosling pushed it as far as he thought it made sense to, and ultimately it worked. “It was all really driven by the incredible artist that Ryan is, pushing it and trying it with Marie and his team.”
The Evolution of Ken’s Look Throughout the Film
You may have noticed that Ken’s look evolved from more conservative at the beginning of the movie to more unkempt and rugged towards the end. “Our thinking was the ‘good’ Ken would always have picture perfect hair and he would look like a plastic doll, so we groomed him [to look] uptight looking,” says Larkin. “He looked like a conservative person from the ‘60s.”
To show the difference between “good” and “bad” Ken, they decided “bad” Ken’s hair would have a root, but due to how scenes were scheduled to shoot, Larkin ended up having to add a root with brown eyeshadow on some days. They also decided “bad” Ken’s hair would be less pristine, so Larkin had Gosling stop washing his hair with purple shampoo to let it look more brassy. As the film progresses, you’ll notice Gosling’s hair looks more yellow than platinum.
“We always tried to make that difference [between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Ken] pronounced,” says Larkin. “We wanted him to look a little boy band, a little rock and roll-ish.”
To maintain the blinding blonde, Larkin would touch up his roots with bleach every two weeks. They were able to maintain the integrity of his natural hair by keeping it short and utilizing products like Olaplex #4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, #5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner, and occasionally #4P Blonde Enhancer Toning Shampoo — the purple shampoo to help with brassiness for “good” Ken.
Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
Olaplex No. 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner
Olaplex No.4P Blonde Enhancer Toning Purple Shampoo
The Little Details in Ken’s Makeup
As for Ken’s makeup, Primorac noted everything was carefully chosen to make his eyes pop and appear more blue. Since so much of the inspiration for the looks came from classic films, Allure asked if they utilized techniques men from those eras employed, like how Tony Curtis and Elvis wore mascara, faux lashes, and eyeliner. “We tried Lashify and we tried lots of different things, but that didn’t do much — it closed his eyes a bit more,” says Primorac. “He had a bit of a definition [for his eyes], he dyed his eyelashes I’m pretty sure.”
Achieving Ken’s Beach-Perfect Tan
Ken’s job is, of course, just “beach,” which meant Gosling needed to be tanned at all times for the role. Primorac revealed that they concocted a custom body makeup on set for the lead Kens, including Simu Liu and Gosling. “We also used Alleven on some Barbies and Kens, but we custom-made body makeup because it couldn’t come off on the costume,” says Primorac. She explains that they made custom colors to match each actor’s skin tone, then a chemist made custom tubs of makeup using those shades.
“It was that finish that made it look kind of doll-like,” says Primorac, noting that they had tried making the skin look plastic at first. “Plastic didn’t look great when we tried it in pre-production, because it’s not your best version of yourself. You just look weird. That’s when I realized that, [when we play] with Barbie dolls, in the kids’ minds, they’re the most beautiful thing in the world. So we can’t make [the actors] look weird. We have to make them look beautiful.”
In addition to the custom body makeup, Gosling regularly received airbrush tans. Kimberley Nkosi, tanning and skin finishing expert, tanned him twice a week with Isle of Paradise. “The ultimate combination for Ken that I went for was a green base, which is more like a medium. I [added] a tiny bit of a purple base to give [the tan] a more depth because that could counterbalance any of the projection of the lights or any makeup that they were putting on top of that, so that they didn’t get any red coming through,” says Nkosi. “Otherwise he’s going to look red on screen, or orange, so we wanted natural, but with that striking ‘Ken-tanned look.’”
Isle of Paradise Medium Self-Tanning Body Drops
Isle of Paradise Dark Self-Tanning Body Drops
To keep his skin hydrated in-between exfoliating and new tanning sessions, Nkosi gave him products from beloved skin-care brands like Tatcha, CeraVe, and The Ordinary for upkeep. “Ryan obviously really looked after himself,” says Nkosi.
Why Barbie’s Makeup Is So Minimal
In Barbie Land, the makeup was minimal and the hair was extravagant. Primorac and Margot Robbie have both noted how Barbies have larger than life hair to make them appear more doll-like. But the makeup is the opposite: It was catered to the beauty of each individual actor and skewed more on the natural side. Primorac wanted the looks to be classic yet modern.
“Our references were iconic movies of the ‘40s, ‘50s and the ‘60s, but I also wanted to be very current,” says Primorac. “I could imagine that Barbie would be at every summer festival looking cool in her cowgirl outfit out at Coachella. She has to be able to go to Coachella as she [also] needs to be a movie star. Every time we piled on too much makeup, it wasn’t as classy and as everlasting and delicate as I think it ended up being in the end.”
How Barbie’s Hair Mirrors Her Journey
As Barbie becomes more human, her hair begins to change. We see fewer over-the-top wigs and more realistic hair on her. “The hair deflates and becomes a more normal amount of hair,” says Primorac. “She suddenly has hair that’s normal length, and the amount of hair goes back to human [levels]. That happens quite slowly. By the end when she goes into the doctor’s office, she has a completely normal amount of hair.” Primorac says as Barbie becomes a human, they didn’t apply as much body makeup either.
Greta Gerwig, the co-writer and director of Barbie, expressed that many films inspired Barbie, especially soundstage musicals. So much so that they would have “Film Church” on Sundays to watch movies that related to Barbie in some fashion. This also played into the looks of the film — did you catch any?
For example, when Robbie’s Barbie wakes up in the morning from bed, her hairstyle is inspired by Catherine Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. “We knew Catherine Deneuve [look] was going to be the wake up [look] in the morning for the bad day and the good day,” says Primorac. “One was long and the other one was short. [When everything] went wrong, her hair was short.”
More Subtle References You Might Have Missed
Brigitte Bardot, says Primorac, was the inspiration for Barbie’s look at the beginning of the film, after she showers and starts going through her day. She noted there is a Clueless reference — when Barbie goes to visit Weird Barbie, Allure suspects her outfit choice may have been inspired by one “Miss Dionne.”
Grace Kelly also inspired Robbie’s brows in the film, which were made longer by adding brow extensions, to help give her more doll-like proportions. “Grace Kelly was my inspiration because when I looked at her pictures, her eyebrows were coming down to the bottom of the eye,” says Primorac. The brows extending helped lift the face and looked nice with the wigs Robbie wore, as the proportions accentuated her cheekbones.
Allan Had the Most True-to-Doll Look
At one point, Robbie wears the original 1959 Barbie look with blue shadow and a red lip, but that’s one of the only looks in the film that mirrors a doll’s exact look. That is, outside of Michael Cera’s Allan, who is a replica of “Ken’s buddy,” from his wardrobe to his hair color. “We matched his eye makeup, lip shape, and skin color to the doll,” says Primorac. “His eyebrows matched his hair as well.” All of Ken’s clothes might fit him but Allan remains one of a kind.
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