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Victoria’s Secret Swim 2012 by Cyril Attias 

BARBENHEIMER: THE CATALYSMIC COLLISION OF TWO CINEMATIC SUPERNOVAS

January 4, 2024

Catie Summers

Barbenheimer, the cultural phenomenon of the summer, represents the ironic relationship between two stellar films and their respective aesthetics. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is the paradigm of the perfect pink world we envisioned as children. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling—sporting the most vibrant and often ludicrous garments—redefined what it means to be Barbie and Ken by adding layers of depth and emotion to the characters, forming a paradox between their blonde stereotype and the true essence of their characters. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer gave us Cillian Murphy’s most poignant performance, instantly recognizable by that telling sharp, slender silhouette accented by the titular character's fedora. Nolan’s interpretation of the American Prometheus is more in tune with its dark, external aesthetic portraying Oppenheimer’s tortured and conflicted journey creating the atomic bomb. What no one saw coming, however, was the public’s convergence of these two aesthetics: creating a conjunction between two masterpieces of costume design. 

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Barbie’s essence would be lacking if Jacqueline Durran’s costume design fell nothing short of perfection. Luckily, Durran succeeded in not only living up to the Barbie standard but reinventing our girl’s wardrobe. While speaking to Vogue, Durran comments that Barbie’s outfits are actually “practical… The defining characteristic of what she wears is where she’s going and what she’s doing.” This means that while Barbie’s clothes were shockingly pink and seemingly extra, they were, in fact, appropriate for her task at hand. This is further exemplified by the difference in attire between all the different Barbies: Physicist Barbie was not dressed for President Barbie’s job, and Stereotypical Barbie’s 1950s inspired looks were not suited for Judge Barbie’s role in Barbie Land. Furthermore, Durran attempted to remain as authentic as possible with many of the character’s outfits either inspired by or replicas of actual Barbie’s.

In partnership with Gerwig, Barbie was meant to provide viewers with a refreshing perspective on feminism: “Barbie is always about the ideal, so through the costumes, we give each character a look that reflects the ultimate Barbie look for where she is in the story at that moment” (Vogue). Durran’s design encapsulates Gerwig’s 

Sean Longmore via Layered Butter

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Oppenheimer's costume design was developed by Ellen Mirojnick. Where Barbie looked to celebrate and exemplify each character’s ensembles, Mirojnick’s masterful work was mostly focused on the leading man himself. Little artistic license was taken on the notorious womanizer’s style due to the historic nature of the film and costume was not peripheral to the plot. Indeed, the real J. Robert Oppenheimer was no stranger to fashion and the power of quality tailoring. Oppenheimer’s father, Julius, actually worked fashion (particularly menswear) and was known as “one of the most knowledgeable ‘fabrics’ men in New York” (Vox). This paternal influence seemingly shaped the suave, magnetic figure of Oppenheimer who established his signature look in the 20s: a sharply tailored suit that emphasized the width of the slender man's shoulders

and his angular features and a supposed hybrid fedora known as a “pork pie.” While Mirojnick kept an accurate external portrayal of Death, Destroyer of Worlds, Nolan actually directed her to treat the remainder of the casts’ historical accuracy with relative indifference: “We were not one to keep it so strict… I had to make it [so] a young audience would be as seduced as an older audience would be” (Vox). Indeed, a major historical fashion inaccuracy is that of the cast Oppenheimer’s is the only one wearing a hat. In an attempt to isolate Oppenheimer in a visual sense that reflected his character’s separation, Nolan and Mirojnick removed other hats from that wardrobe that would have been typical of men and women of the 40s and 50s. 

After close analysis of both Barbie’s and Oppenheimer’s costume design, one would not logically see the connection that led to what is now referred to as Barbenheimer. Indeed, the only reason for this paradoxical relationship is the coincidence that both films hit the theaters on July 21, 2023. What may have started as a joke between movie buffs who wished to go see two of the most anticipated features of the year, caught fire and was instrumented by both Barbie and Oppenheimer marketing team’s alike. Barbenheimer is a prime example finding greater success allowing other people to market your product rather than yourself. Despite two competing studios, Warner Bros (Barbie) and Universal Studios (Oppenheimer), both films profited off being compared with the other one: one could simply not see one without seeing the other. And indeed, it is from this mantra that Barbenheimer costumes were manufactured by viewers themselves to be worn to back to back screenings, in an unforeseen mesh of two cinematic masterpieces.

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