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Investigating Discovery+

Trixie Motel Brought the Barbie Aesthetic Into the Real World Before Greta Gerwig

Watch drag legend Trixie Mattel renovate a Palm Springs motel into her own candy-colored design and try to resist booking your next vacation.
  • Trixie Mattel in Trixie Motel (Photo: Discovery+)
    Trixie Mattel in Trixie Motel (Photo: Discovery+)

    With a major motion picture headed to theaters this month, the Barbie aesthetic is at the forefront of popular culture. That pink-candy-colored retro fantasy look pervades everything we've seen about Greta Gerwig's upcoming film. But if you're anxious for a sneak peek at the Barbie design philosophy manifested in the real world, look no further than Trixie Motel, currently streaming on Discovery+ and its sibling streamer Max. The series follows RuPaul's Drag Race hall-of-famer Trixie Mattel as she and her partner, David Silver, look to renovate a dingy motel they purchased together in the vacation enclave of Palm Springs, California. And even in a town as gay and kitsch-friendly as Palm Springs, Trixie's design aesthetic really stands out.

    Having first aired in the summer of 2022 on Discovery+, Trixie Motel capitalized on the versatile screen presence of its titular drag queen. When Trixie premiered on Drag Race's seventh season, her Barbie-doll inspirations were as clear as her adopted surname. Trixie's looks trend toward the pink and exaggerated, from her makeup to her oversized blonde wigs and accessories.

    Trixie's look when she entered the workroom for All-Stars 3 even incorporated the rollerblades that were all the rage for Barbie in the early '90s (and which Gerwig is featuring heavily in her film). In the years since Drag Race, Trixie has maintained a huge following from her YouTube video series, country music career, and cosmetics line. Of all the Drag Race alumni to build a reality show around, Trixie was the perfect choice, even if a home renovation concept might have seemed an odd fit for drag.

    As Trixie explains on the show, she and David found this motel in the meteorologically dry but culturally rich Palm Springs, and they bought it on spec, with its (relatively muted) pink exterior a major selling point. Inside, though, was a drab, dim, depressing series of wood-paneled rooms with dingy carpets and no personality. Trixie, of course, is "personality" on steroids, and so, armed with various friends and creative partners, she and David set about renovating the motel, with each of its seven guest rooms getting its own particular design concept. There's the Queen of Hearts room, the Pink Flamingo suite, the Yeehaw Cowgirl suite, the Atomic Bombshell suite, and more. Each one gets decked out in the most vibrant, campy version of its own mid-century iconography (outer space! western! beach hut!).

    The actual renovating that happens on the show is decently interesting, with each room requiring custom-made beds, original murals, re-glazing of the bathroom tiles, and such. There are the typical hurdles and roadblocks that come with any renovation show. Everyone's got one eye on the budget, and there's a ticking clock represented by Trixie's upcoming world tour, so staying on schedule is "important," inasmuch as this is a TV show and stakes are "important." You don't have to actually be concerned that Trixie and David might go over budget to enjoy the show. Besides, any industrious viewer can always just google the Trixie Motel — now open for business — to see how things turned out.

    Much time is spent, as you can imagine, on the color selections for both the exteriors and interiors. On multiple occasions, serious consideration is given to what exact shade of pink is required. The pink of it all isn't just some randomly-assigned girly affectation. There has always been something quietly defiant about Trixie's Barbie-doll color palette. On the show, she talks about her Milwaukee upbringing, even taking a trip back there at one point. "I used to wear pink under my real clothes to go to school," Trixie says at one point. "Pink, to me, represents everything I was not allowed to have when I was younger." Trixie Motel is most definitely a show that stays on the lighter side, but it's impossible not to glean something more significant from the loud-and-proud femininity and gender fluidity of the motel's design.

    And then there's the Palm Springs setting itself. Opening a drag-styled motel in the middle of one of the country's gay meccas certainly makes good business sense. Attention is paid to the history of the town, which was essentially colonized by gay people steadily throughout the second half of the 20th century. Young gays come to vacation; old gays come to live. Trixie talks about wanting the Trixie Motel to be a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people, in a way that Trixie herself has not necessarily felt safe in hotel spaces before. Whether or not your design sensibilities share space with the pastel fantasies on offer at the Trixie Motel, this is a show that will make you want to book your next Palm Springs vacation.

    Trixie Motel is streaming on Discovery+ and Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Trixie Motel, Discovery+, HBO Max, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Trixie Mattel, Barbie