Barbie Ferreira's Vision Is Taking Her Places, so Hop In
“I just love the art of costumes, textures, and fabrics,” muses Barbie Ferreira. Clad in a green cardigan with large cat-eye glasses perched on her face, the 25-year-old gushes about her experience of stepping into character for our February cover shoot. The thing I’ve come to learn about Ferreira over the years is she’s a shape-shifter. The way she moves fluidly between themes, characters, and costumes is as effortless as breathing. So when we presented her with the idea of collaborating on a high-fashion concept for this story, it’s not surprising she jumped in wholeheartedly. “Every time I do something, it’s a different vibe. It depends on how I’m feeling that day or what I’m trying to portray,” she says. Ferreira thrives in the worlds of fantasy and imagination. Whether it’s the cool outfit galleries littering her Instagram feed, a bold new hair color (her latest choice being a gorgeous copper shade), or an epic red carpet ensemble, she simply doesn’t miss.
“The movie is one of my favorites,” she tells me of our shoot’s Orlando theme. “The looks, the costumes, the queerness of it all—I love every chapter of it.” In the Virginia Woolf novel and early ’90s film of the same name, the titular character Orlando ages only 36 years in the story’s nearly 400-year timeline and changes their gender from man to woman. “I loved the universe it created, where it was just accepted that Orlando all of a sudden is wearing this Marie Antoinette clothing,” Ferreira says about the film’s wardrobe. As such, our shoot traverses the story’s theme of gender fluidity, with Ferreira posing in looks ranging from a pussy-bow blouse tucked into vintage trousers to an otherworldly corset paired with a caged skirt. It’s also no coincidence that a movie Ferreira considers to be one of her all-time favorites stars Tilda Swinton, an actress heralded for her metamorphic abilities. “I love that the movie itself is very ideal in that way, where this character just transforms and everyone comes to accept it,” Ferreira adds.
Photo:Brian Ziff; Styling: Patou top and socks; vintage pants; Gucci shoes; Di Petsa rings
Ferreira is hardly a stranger to trying on different aesthetic identities. “My imagination is so big,” she explains. Part of this fascination stems from a pure and childlike love of getting to play dress-up, and part of it is certainly the product of years of being in front of the camera. The actress got her start in the modeling world as the face of household labels such as Aerie, Adidas, and American Apparel. OG Ferreira followers knew her as a Gen Z It girl before Euphoria was even a glimmer in HBO’s eye, but as successful as her career was, modeling was only ever a means to an end. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” she insists. “I was doing theater at the age of 7, and modeling has always been something that I was using to get to acting.” In fact, her first shoot with American Apparel included a little blurb next to her photo that read, “Barbara wants to be an actress.” (The 16-year-old was still going by Barbara at the time.) “Damn,” she laughs a bit incredulously as she reacts to what she’d just said. “Sometimes, I look at that and think to myself, ‘We really don’t know how we got here.’”
Photo:Brian Ziff; Styling: Gucci jacket; Lafayette 148 pants
“Here” of course is in the wake of HBO’s Euphoria, a teen drama with such a cult following that the release of its long-awaited sophomore season nearly broke the streaming platform. Euphoria took Ferreira from acting hopeful to full-fledged screen star (we will also see her in Jordan Peele’s forthcoming film Nope this summer), but for all the glittery makeup and vivid purple lighting the show is known for, its return to screens this year is notably darker. Ferreira warns, “Things get more real, scarier, and more consequential.” Visually speaking, the second season is completely shot on Ektachrome film, which gives it a much grittier quality that mirrors the plot. But it’s also delivered to an audience that’s grown wearier since it first aired pre-pandemic. The cast was set to reconvene to shoot season two right as lockdowns were sweeping the nation, but just like most of our plans in the spring of 2020, production was ultimately shuttered until this past year. “It would have been a different kind of season [if they’d began production on time],” she theorizes. “It just feels more evolved this season than it was before and has more of a maturity and a heaviness to it. And although the pandemic doesn’t really exist in the show, you can tell that it’s dark times.”
“I think people might be a little bit surprised,” Ferreira explains of the evolution of her character in season two. Ferreira plays Kat Hernandez, a high schooler dealing with body-image issues who successfully rewrites her reputation at school and beyond. The show’s first season highlights her harnessing her power through her sexuality and exploring a newfound sense of confidence in what is essentially sex work on the internet. That journey is all about empowerment, and the second season is all about her “feeling the repercussions of [her actions] and like a victim of a lot of trauma,” Ferreira says. “She’s trying to figure out her way into her sexuality and her ‘confidence.’” Ferreira pauses before continuing, “I think it was a façade that even she didn’t really believe in.”
If the first season tracked Kat’s rebranding of herself, then the second season takes her character’s shaky sense of self-esteem and exposes the vulnerability beneath it. There’s a dreamlike sequence in the second episode where Kat faces women who are deemed “perfect” by social media standards—the kind of bikini models and fashion influencers who litter the Instagram Explore page—who insist she needs to “smash all beauty standards” and just love herself. They parade around her room chanting “Love yourself!” until it becomes unbearable. It’s a poignant example of how insidious toxic positivity has become in online discourse, and it immediately struck me as the most relatable moment on the show yet.
Photo:Brian Ziff; Styling: Di Petsa corset, skirt, and necklaces; Melinda Maria earrings
Ferreira is hopeful that such self-awareness means we’re finally moving past this whole narrative as a society. “Maybe not in the right ways,” she cautions. “I think bigger bodies are not as ‘trendy’ as they used to be, which is really sad to me. But it’s more of a conversation of the fact that we all struggle with self-love, and I don’t think any young person has really figured it out yet.” Having existed publicly online for pretty much her whole adult life, Ferreira is no stranger to the pressure “of being this person who ‘loves themselves,’” as she describes. “It’s so funny that people just assume that. What—did I say that? I never said that. You guys just say that. You posted that on me,” she adds. Starring in Euphoria may have launched her acting career, but playing Kat on the show has been transformative in more ways than one. “I feel like I had a lot of things come up emotionally because of the pandemic, and putting some of that into this season was therapeutic for me,” she admits. “I hope other people [watching] can also feel the same way and release the pressure of being perfect and happy all the time.” She exhales deeply before finishing, “Because that just doesn’t exist.”
While the show does a good job of shedding light on the nuances around self-love and confidence in the internet age, it misses a crucial point. Confidence shouldn’t be confused with simply existing in a plus-size body. “It’s not radical for me to be wearing a crop top,” Ferreira declares. “[Comments like those are] just backhanded compliments. I’ve been doing this since I was 16. I’m 25.” Conflating the two insinuates that the person simply woke up and decided to be confident instead of the reality, which is that loving yourself despite all of society’s stringent standards is a highly nuanced, often-challenging journey that can be ugly at times. Cut to Kat sobbing at the imagined women: “I don’t care about society! I feel like shit!”
Photo:Brian Ziff; Styling: vintage collar
Ferreira may have reached into her own inner psyche to create elements of Kat Hernandez, but off set, the star has found personal style to be an area where she can be creative without bounds. “I think it’s just inherent that I like to express myself through my clothes. I always have,” she says. Being a very visual person, her mind is a trove of references, from the 1970s fantasy film The Holy Mountain to the early career ensembles of Lady Gaga. The latter, she tells me, is a major source of inspiration, especially the period during which the artist really went all out with her conceptual outfits. The over-the-top glamour confounded many people at the time, but now that Gaga is heralded as a pop culture icon, her outfits are acknowledged as part of her overall brand. I’m convinced Ferreira has that same thing within her. Desire, imagination, fantasy, whatever you want to call it, she has that visionary quality in spades, and it’s remarkable to see. To witness Ferreira test out a new makeup look or, more recently, a fresh hair color or to see her dress up for our cover shoot is to experience a sort of transcendence. It’s like watching a beautiful transformation happen right in front of your eyes. She doesn’t simply understand how to put together a look. With each new ensemble, she creates an otherworldly realm and invites us to step inside. The experience is transformative for subject and viewer alike.
Boundless as her ensembles may come across, the reality of bringing her sartorial musings to life is “the ultimate puzzle.” A lack of vision is clearly not the issue here. Instead, it comes down to shopping. “That is the ultimate logistical stress for me,” she sighs. “Truth be told, there is an extreme limitation to anything I can wear.” Currently, Ferreira is working with her stylist Chris Horan, who she tells me is very much on the same wavelength as her. “Chris and I have this language, and I know so many indie designers and places to get things,” she says. Simon Miller, Collina Strada, and Kim Shui are among them. But nonetheless, she counters, “I have all the resources in the world to get something that fits, and it’s still extremely difficult. So I feel for everyone who’s still trying to find things that fit them.” I could have easily had another 60-minute conversation with Ferreira on her challenges and tips for plus-size shopping: “I could do a seminar on this.”
Photo:Brian Ziff; Styling: Mudd Pearl necklace; Vintage corset and skirt; Sophia Webster shoes
While that day will have to wait, I was left thinking about one last remark Ferreira made during our conversation. “I always think about the fact that if these clothes came in my size, I would be out here doing even more,” she says. The statement was said somewhat offhandedly, but the implications stuck with me. Once fashion catches up with its size-inclusivity issue, it’s game over for everyone else. Bottom line? Barbie Ferreira’s vision is taking her places, and we want in.
Photographer: Brian Ziff
Stylist: Chris Horan
Creative Director: Alexa Wiley
Hairstylist: Sylvia Wheeler
Makeup Artist: Natasha Severino
Manicurist: Natalie Minerva
Prop Stylist: Rian Calhoun