It’s Too Much Barbie

It’s Too Much Barbie

By Joan SummersFeb 26, 2024

The paparazzi lights of the SAG Awards red carpet light up for Margot Robbie. She smiles and poses at a standstill while the shadowed contours of her Schiaparelli dress literally spill right off her. Impressions of the gown in the fashion press are full of praise, because Daniel Roseberry is undeniably a maestro of couture, and Robbie never fails to charm.

But a malaise overcomes me when I look too long at the “lost dress,” reconstructed from sketches Roseberry did amid lockdown in 2020. The press cycle around these pink-inflected appearances by the Barbie star is a well-oiled machine by now, but the cynic in me sees something deeper reflected back at me from behind Robbie’s eyes. Fatigue, maybe. It’s just too much Barbie.

The first stop on the official press tour was CinemaCon, in April 2023. She wore a gingham Prada set that was an undeniable nod to the eponymous doll, plasticine in fit and silhouette as only Prada can pull off. Even her Louboutin mules were bubblegum pink, and looked like they’d been pulled right out a Mattel toy box. While it wasn’t the most inventive look we’d bear witness to, it felt delectable. Oh, I remember thinking at the time, They’re really going to go there.

Later that summer, Margot’s stylist Andrew Mukamal (shoutout Kell On Earth) pulled a polka dot dress from Valentino’s Spring 1993 collection. It was a more direct nod to an aughts iteration of the doll in a similar polka dot mini, as was the yellow Chanel two piece she wore on SiriusXM’s Jess Cagle Show, or the Versace two-piece and later, the metallic Versace mini.

It’d been some time since fashion looky-loos had been treated to a delectable buffet of archive pieces centered on a consistent theme (Gaga’s House of Gucci run notwithstanding). Across continents and carpets, Mukamal and Robbie worked in perfect unison. They topped best-dressed lists and spawned a near-infinite number of viral tweets and Instagram posts with archivists and critics and obsessives alike rushing to post the inspiration for the looks. Quite literally, it altered the trajectory of red carpets post-lockdown, as the form and function of them had taken a hit amid a global pandemic.

To reinvigorate what many had written off as a purposeless utility is, to be clear, immensely powerful. Robbie and Mukamal pulled off the impossible. It’s just too bad the footing at the top of the Hollywood sign is precarious on the best days.

By the time the 2024 Golden Globes shambled out from under the New Year, the sparkle of Robbie’s wardrobe had begun to dull. For nearly a year post-CinemaCon, the inflections of Barbie saturated just about every public appearance by Robbie, no matter the size or scale or utility of the event. The innovative marketing scheme grew predictable, Barbie pink growing about as ubiquitous as the doll itself on toy shelves across the planet. I might have felt differently, had they stuck to that initial, landmark junket and then shelved it until the major awards carpets.

But this is Warner Bros. after all, who’ve architected similar schemes in the past. Remember the Lady Gaga burnout during the 2019 awards show circuit? These studios, and by extension the publicists and stylists and designers in orbit around them, still have not learned when the well of inspiration has been thoroughly tapped. It’s a bit sad, really. Robbie and Gerwig sought to make a movie that rose above its critically maligned, capitalistic origins. In the end though, the legacy of Barbie has been thoroughly unable to achieve the escape velocity required, bogged down by all that archival couture in the cargo bay.

Photo via Getty Images