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Why So Many Barbie Beauty Collabs Are Falling Flat

The summer movie’s influence on fashion is undeniable, but most product pushes in makeup, skin care and hair care aren’t working.
Margot Robbie attends the European premiere of "Barbie."
Margot Robbie attends the European premiere of "Barbie." (John Phillips)

My inbox is brimming with Barbie-related beauty pitches. There’s the manicure and pedicure comprised of three pink Himalayan Sea salt-based treatments topped by a pink polish and nail art; plenty of Barbie-inspired pink lipsticks and blush; blonde hair extensions, wigs and ponytails; an illuminating face cream to get glowy skin (just like Barbie) and fuchsia hand soap.

My personal favourite: a new aesthetic trend and the “latest to come out of the Upper East Side,” Barbie Butt. According to the plastic surgeon who coined the term, the end result is a “smooth and high lifted natural” derriere that could be achieved by body contouring.

I know how important it is for certain brands to jump on cultural moments and trends. Relevancy is key to survival, and often, the way brands show they’re part of a larger conversation, from viral TikTok trends to Hailey Bieber’s latest manicure. But there’s just one problem with all of these services, treatments and products – none of them really have anything to do with Barbie.

It’s as if every beauty publicist or PR agency was told to find anything that’s pink (or pink-adjacent) and promote it with mandatory usage of “Barbie” or “Barbiecore” in all email subject lines. It’s not landing.

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Why?

For the most part, Barbie’s makeup is pretty classic with a neutral lip (sometimes there may be some pink), bold brows and lots of lashes; it’s not a white claw clip emblazoned with “Barbie” in pink crystals, a pink polka dot manicure or pink glitter hair tinsel.

A number of lines partnered with Barbie in an official capacity, from OPI’s polish collection with shades “Hi Barbie!” and “Hi Ken!” to NYX Professional Makeup, which created credit card-sized eye shadow palettes, fake lashes with pink wisps and a pink flip phone shaped mirror. These Barbie-branded partnerships make a bit more sense, but generally, the beauty industry is “capitalising on pink,” Kirbie Johnson, a beauty journalist and the co-creator of the podcast Gloss Angeles, told me.

Barbie-inspired Nyx products.
Barbie-inspired NYX Professional products. (Courtesy)

“Even in the movie, it’s not that these women are always wearing a pink lip or this really bright eyeshadow. More of the Barbie-esque moments come from the fashion, where you think of these very glamorous, bright technicolour sparkly tulle focused outfits,” Johnson said.

Barbie’s influence on fashion is undeniable. Interest in pink apparel and accessories have soared this past year. In the spring, BoF reported that searches for pink fashion were up by 80 percent in shopping app Lyst. As far as viral fashion trends go — i.e. quiet luxury, mermaidcore and coastal grandmother — Barbiecore’s momentum has held steady for over a year. According to Brandwatch, mentions of Barbiecore on social media initially saw an uptick in June 2022 and continue to rise, while buzz around coastal grandmother died down after a high last summer.

But with beauty, most don’t associate Barbie with a specific look besides blonde hair and a tan, attributes that are hardly unique to the almost 65-year-old doll.

It just so happens that tanning (of the sun and tanning bed-free variety) is in the midst of a renaissance. The self-tanning category grew by 70 percent in the US between 2017 and 2022, according to Euromonitor, but the reason is hardly Barbie-related. Experts point to product innovation, a tie to skin care, celebrity endorsements and broader shade assortments as the reason.

Isle of Paradise, a self-tanning line that shares a parent company with Tan-Luxe, has benefitted from some Barbie product placement. Ryan Gosling got his Ken glow via self-tan primers and waters from Isle of Paradise, courtesy of Kimberley Nkosi, a spray tan and skin finishing specialist according to her Instagram bio. A recent Vogue piece said Patti Dubroff, Margot Robbie’s makeup artist, used Isle of Paradise self-tanning drops to enhance both Robbie and Gosling’s skin. The label has become the unofficial self-tanner of the movie.

Unlike most brands, Isle of Paradise is in luck. To win at Barbiecore beauty is to play in a fast-growing category that also happens to be central to the movie.

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