Hello, if you're still out there! Not that anyone is waiting with bated breath to see where I've been, but I figured I'd give a brief update. My absence was, unfortunately, not the planned blogging break I intended to have, but what I'm suspecting was the flu. And if it wasn't, it was easily the worst cold I've ever had. I'm starting to feel better after a week of praying for death, so hopefully I'll be back to blogging in a few days. Thanks for staying with me. :) (And get your damn flu shot!)
Why yes, I am late with links again. Sigh. I'm still not sure of my blog plan right now - I may take that break I mentioned a little earlier than I thought, or I might try to get 1-2 more posts up. Either way I hope you stick around!
- Reminder: always check your seemingly "new" makeup before you take it out of the store.
- Temptalia had a good piece on why, despite the success of brands like Fenty, beauty companies are still resistant to expanding their shade ranges. This blogger further explains the latest oversight committed by Tarte as well as their history of racial insensitivity. It would behoove the company to learn about brands and ranges created with women of color in mind. Or at least read this ecstatic review of Fenty foundation.
- In '90s nostalgia, we suddenly lost the lead singer for one of the most influential bands of the decade. Not all is bad news, however: Dawson's Creek celebrated its 20th anniversary, and as a member of the class of '96, I'm very interested in this new series.
- More pop culture excitement: my head nearly exploded with joy upon seeing this little snippet about my favorite band.
- Finally, a belated Christmas gift from my mom arrived! I love it so much. I had been wanting one for years!
How are you dealing with winter thus far? I hate this season so I'm treating myself to lots of homemade hot chocolate and hunkering down with Museum staff under both my new blanket and this furry one.
This will not be a full review of MoMA's Items: Is Fashion Modern? since, as we know, my reviews are less than stellar. But since the exhibition showcases several makeup items, I thought I'd share my perspective on their inclusion. As the "curator" of an online cosmetics museum I imagine I looked at these objects differently than someone who has an extensive background in fashion or design would. There have been tons of reviews for the show - some good, some not as positive - and honestly, I've done my best to tune out most of them since I wanted to form my own opinions. I thought this art magazine had the best summary of the show's theme. "On 1 October, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York will host its first exhibition dedicated to fashion since 1944. Items: Is Fashion Modern? will consist of 111 garments and accessories that have had a profound effect on the world over the last century. Filling the entire sixth floor of the museum, the exhibition explores fashion thematically through items which are all powerful and enduring manifestations of the ways in which fashion – a crucial field of design – touches everyone, everywhere. Items is organised by Paola Antonelli, senior curator alongside curatorial assistant Michelle Fisher. The exhibition is something Paola Antonelli has wanted to do for over six years. Historically, fashion has not been part of the Museum’s remit, in great part because of previous curators in the architecture and design department explains Antonelli '[they] perceived the seasonality of fashion as antithetical to a history of modern design that, traditionally, is based on a set of principles that also include timelessness.' The impetus for the exhibition essentially comes from Antonelli’s belief that, in reality, it is quite the opposite: 'there is not a complete history of design without fashion, a very important subset of the design field as a whole. This exhibition is long overdue!'"
I was pretty excited to see the show based on this description, but my interest goes back way further: in December 2016 the curatorial assistant mentioned above emailed me asking for resources on the history of red lipstick. My eyes almost popped out of my head when I got the email as I was so flattered, but of course I was my usual useless self - I gave her everything I knew, but there was nothing I could provide that she couldn't have found on her own. Nevertheless she was very nice and followed up with some questions about the particular lipstick that would be on display and also sent me an invitation to the exhibition preview (which I couldn't attend due to stupid work).
Now that we understand the exhibition's general premise and an explanation of my own selfish interest, I can discuss the two makeup objects that were included*: YSL's Touche Éclat highlighting/concealing pen, and an original tube of Revlon's Fire and Ice lipstick with the 582 Futurama case. I didn't know that the Touche Éclat would be on display, so I was happy to see another beauty item had made the cut. Finally I got to see makeup in a real museum, and one that's accessible to me geographically!
But when I got to the actual display for the Touche Éclat, which was in the first room upon entering the exhibition, my heart dropped. Well, first I noticed the other items - the Touche Éclat was placed so far away from them I didn't even see it. Then when I did notice a small thin strip of gold on the wall I thought it was a handle of some kind...then realized it was the precious Touche Éclat.
It was possibly the saddest installation of a makeup item I've ever seen, and this is coming from someone who displays makeup on crooked shelves with leftover tape still clinging to them in her bedroom. It had barely any light on it and the label was on the floor. No accompanying ad, no covering to protect it, nothing.
Touche Éclat deserved much better, yes? And while initially I was pleased to see another makeup item as part of the illustrious 111, the display left me scratching my head as to why it was included. Red lipstick I get - arguably that could be considered a pretty big part of modern fashion - but Touche Éclat, as famous as it is, just seemed like an odd choice. Fashionista explains that it was part of the exhibition's "Body and Silhouette" section, which focused on "size and image". The Touche Éclat was displayed next to a Wonderbra, Spanx and nylon stockings so I guess it was fitting the concept of underthings or "next to nothing" attire as well as the idea of using artificial, easily concealed aids to appear "naturally" beautiful, but I still saw no reason to include it, especially given its shabby treatment.
I walked around the rest of the exhibition, brushing off the disappointing installation and focusing on enjoying the garments. It did serve the purpose of bringing together various modern fashion archetypes, most of which were immediately recognizable as ones you have in your own closet. The New York Times and the Cut explain the appeal better than I can: "With a Chanel gown here; two saris there; espadrilles and two beautiful Chinese cheongsam dresses elsewhere, Items mediates between high and low, East and West, couture and common. But it stays fairly low, creating an air of familiarity that is then enriched by the labels and catalog, which pinpoint origins, regional variations and technological advances...As a whole, the exhibit reads as a listicle for a senseless world; a catalogue of the things we carry. It helps us understand why we are the way we are and buy the things we buy; and then what those choices can mean."
Finally, I got to the Revlon Fire and Ice display. How MoMA found this lipstick I don't know, as I've been searching for a vintage tube of Fire and Ice for years. I'm assuming the magazine was borrowed from an archive. (Funny side note: The staff wanted to confirm the shade was an authentic vintage Fire and Ice and not a contemporary refill, but to see the label on the bottom of the tube they'd have to "click out" the lipstick from the Futurama case, a mechanism with which they were unfamiliar. They expressed their concern to me that it might break, but I assured them they'd be fine taking the lipstick out and encouraged them to watch the vintage commercials demonstrating how the case works. I also mentioned that to my knowledge, Revlon hasn't manufactured refills for the Futurama cases for decades, so whatever they had was most certainly from the 1950s-60s.)
Unfortunately this installation, for me, was only marginally better than the Touche Éclat. The vitrine was far too big for the lipstick and ad, making them look rather lonesome. Fire and Ice is probably the most iconic red lipstick and the most representative of everything associated with red lips in modern times, so they chose wisely; however, showing a couple other versions, such as MAC Ruby Woo or Chanel Pirate may not have hurt. After all, there was a whole case of platform shoes instead of just one pair. Even the Swatch got 3 different versions on display.
Placement was an issue once again, as the case was shoved unceremoniously in the corner by an emergency exit. I understand not everything can be front and center - that's just the nature of gallery space and lord knows I have my frustrations setting things up at home - but I think there were any number of items that could have gone there instead. Or perhaps leave that space empty, as they had the entire 6th floor of the museum to spread out everything.
The unfortunate display of both of these items made me question why they were included in the first place, as their placement made them seem more of an afterthought. I'm wondering if it made more sense to stick to actual clothing and shoes rather than try to include beauty items. I'm assuming this is just my makeup-obsessed brain talking here, but as someone who firmly believes makeup is a rich enough field to have its own museum and exhibitions separate from fashion items, I think it might have been better to leave it out in this case. I mean, I can absolutely see a fashion or design museum housing a gallery/exhibition devoted to cosmetics - if there can't be a fully separate cosmetics museum I think it makes sense for makeup to fall under those umbrellas since there are such close connections between makeup and fashion and makeup and design - but for this particular exhibition, I feel as though beauty items should have been excluded since they encompass so much history and cultural significance on their own. If you're not going to do a full exploration of red lipstick or, heck, even a group of iconic makeup items like Fire and Ice and Touche Éclat, don't bother having them tag along in a fashion/design exhibition. One could argue that I shouldn't think this way, since every other item there is so important that it could easily have had its own exhibition (indeed, some pieces already have), not just the makeup. Plus the whole point of the show was to bring together the most influential fashion items in modern history rather than focus exclusively on any one item. And I'm not a fashion or design curator so clearly they had their reasons for including beauty items, and obviously, they are professionals and know exactly what they're doing. But even though I don't have their credentials, I still feel entitled to my very humble opinion that sticking to clothing, bags and shoes might have made a more powerful statement about modern fashion. I'm also wondering how perfume aficionados feel about the inclusion of Chanel No. 5. I believe that fragrance, like makeup, is owed separate attention (and this museum and exhibition demonstrate that at least some people agree with me).
Did any of this stop me from buying the exhibition catalogue? Of course not, as catalogues are my favorite museum souvenirs. Plus I figured any sliver of cosmetics history would be helpful in terms of building the Museum's library, and the catalogue does feature several nicely researched pages on red lipstick and Touche Éclat. Even after I read the section on the latter object, I still couldn't figure out why it was included, but...it's something.
Overall, Items was a thoughtful and inspired show, and I enjoyed the democratic nature of it, i.e. how most of the pieces were everyday ones owned by average folks. The fact that it wasn't focused on couture or historic items made it approachable and relatable. Mind you, I love seeing rare historical clothing and high fashion garments, but this was a nice change of pace that looked at fashion in a more universal way and made viewers ponder the items they wear (a white t-shirt) or covet (in the case of the Birkin bag) on a deeper level. I also was impressed by how cohesively the curators were able to select and organize over 100 greatly significant fashion items from across all cultures and classes without getting them jumbled in a haphazard mess. Having said that, I maintain that beauty products should have been left out. What's funny about this is that MoMA offers the opportunity for us non-curators to pretend we're in charge and weigh in on what should have been included that wasn't. Looks like I went in the opposite direction and thought about what should have been excluded. Oh, and in terms of "networking", I've long lost hope that anyone at MoMA will contact me again or inquire about my possible involvement in a makeup exhibition should they ever do one, given that I kinda blew it in terms of providing useful information about red lipstick's history, but I guess it's good they at least contacted me in the first place. I suppose I could always reach out with a really good pitch for an exhibition if I could get it together somehow, as I still have all their contact info! *evil laugh*
Thoughts? Did you see the show? It's only open till January 28th so if you're thinking about it, hop to it!
*There was also a case featuring different nail art designs. I didn't even know where to start with that so I left it out of this post entirely.
Still plowing through holiday 2017 collections - hopefully you're not getting tired of them! Today I'm sharing Chanel's exquisite Signe du Lion highlighting powders, which are based on their Sous le Signe du Lion jewelry line that was launched in 2013.
I don't know why Chanel released these highlighters now, as I didn't spot any lion-themed pieces in any of their most recent fashion collections, but I'm not sure I care. Just look at them!
I also really like that Chanel opted for rose gold and white gold colorways rather than the more traditional silver and yellow gold. Of course those are always nice options - I will never turn my nose up at silver and gold, especially around the holidays - but I feel these are more understated and a little bit unexpected.
The jewelry line originally consisted of 58 pieces and was inspired by Coco Chanel's love of the lion motif. I'll let The Jewellery Editor give the full background. "Not only was Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel born under the star sign of Leo. In 1920 she travelled to Venice for the first time, at an impressionable moment her life when she was mourning the death of Boy Capel, her great love. Lulled by the waters of the lagoon and entranced by the opulence of Byzantine art, it was in Venice that Gabrielle emerged from her sorrow. Here she found inspiration and strength in the rich gold tiles of the church cupolas, the mesmerisingly bejewelled Palo d'Oro altar piece of St Mark's and the ubiquitous lions that grace almost every building, door knocker and public monument of La Serenissima. The lion is the symbol of St Mark, the patron saint of the city, whose relics rest in the Basilica. The lion is also a symbol of power and the dominance of Venice over the world during the Renaissance - an apt figure for Gabrielle Chanel, a powerful woman who decorated her rue Cambon apartment with statues of lions and used them in couture details such as buttons, handbag clasps and brooches."
Let's take a moment to drool over some jewelry highlights, shall we?
Why yes, you can buy me this necklace. It's such a bargain at a mere $86,500.
I think this ring most resembles the design on the highlighters.
I wanted to see whether any lions had popped up in Chanel jewelry and accessories prior to the 2013 jewelry line and was pleasantly surprised to find they had been roaring throughout a good chunk of Chanel's history.
(image from 1stdibs)
(image from 1stdibs)
(image from onekingslane)
(image from tradesy)
(images from 1stdibs)
I was also curious to know whether Chanel was fabricating, or at the very least, embellishing Coco's fondness for lions as a marketing ploy to sell the jewelry line. Once again I was surprised to see that Gabrielle Chanel did appear to have a genuine love for the motif as evidenced by this 1960 magazine spread and photos of her apartment, which show that she did indeed decorate it with an abundance of lions. Additionally, in 2016 Chanel carried on the legacy of its founder's appreciation for the motif by paying for the restoration of the lion statue, as well as the surrounding mosaic, on the facade of St. Mark's basilica in Venice. So it looks like Chanel wasn't...lion. (I'll be here all day, folks.)
(image from parismatch.com)
(image from ilovecuriosity.wordpress.com)
(image from interiormonologue.com)
This bronze statue served as the inspiration for Chanel's fall 2010 couture show, for which Karl Lagerfeld, grandstander that he is, commissioned an enormous version of the statue as the runway's focal point. He even had a male model don a lion's head for the grand finale.
(image from styleblog.ca)
The most recent lion reference I was able to find in Chanel's accessories besides the jewelry line was this series of Leo bags from spring 2011. This doesn't mean they don't exist; I just didn't notice any in my cursory browsing of runway photos from 2015-2018.
(image from designer-vault.com)
(image from tradesy)
As for the highlighters, I'm still not sure why Chanel decided to release them now, as the jewelry line debuted a few years back and I didn't see any lions in more recent runway collections. But I will say that the simplicity of the highlighters' faceted design and subtle hues instead of an overly busy and more colorful one nicely reflect the 2013 jewelry line, which I also believe was the best choice in terms of inspiration for highlighting powders. I don't think fine jewelry is always better designed than costume jewelry, but I think in the case of Chanel's lion-themed baubles, the 2013 collection is way more refined and modern compared to the costume jewelry from previous decades, not to mention incredibly luxurious - it translates perfectly to highlighters. I would like to see a bronzer embossed with Lagerfeld's oversized version of the lion statue...I'm envisioning a shiny golden bronze powder for the lion and a dazzling white pearly highlighter for the sphere under its paw. ;)
What do you think about these highlighters? Are you a Leo?
Today I'm sharing another shiny holiday 2017 release to brighten up this dreary winter day. Shiseido collaborated with the rather enigmatic Japanese calligraphy artist Sisyu to create some beautiful packaging for their Symphony of Light collection. Centered on the theme of light (or as it's known in Japanese, Hikari), Sisyu drew 21 versions of the Japanese character (光) to "express the way light brings out each person’s inner beauty differently," according to the website. The artist then intertwined and layered these characters to form a "luminous holiday garland". The finished design indeed resembles an intricate, iridescent garland draped across the palette and encircling the cushion compact.
I don't know whether Shiseido or Sisyu came up with the idea of a reflective rainbow effect, but it really enhances the light concept.
I couldn't resist couple more shots of the iridescent yumminess.
Here's the cushion compact. It was also available in white, and there were several other skincare items in the collection.
And here are the characters created by Sisyu that were interlaced on the packaging. I'm assuming the regular character for Hikari that these are based on isn't included, since I count only 20 and not 21 characters.
Let's learn a little about this very mysterious artist. Sisyu (whose alias comes from the words for "purple" and "boat"1) was born in Japan and began calligraphy when she was only six years old. She prefers to keep her real name and age under wraps, so about all we know is that she's currently a professor at Osaka University of Art. I also couldn't find any information about where/if she formally studied art, but it appears she has significant training in traditional calligraphy. What I do know is that Sisyu is a world-renowned artist who uses her background in more conventional methods of calligraphy to expand and modernize the this art form. Whether it's making iron and glass sculptures out of characters or digitally animating them on a gallery wall, Sisyu is bringing calligraphy into the 21st century in a variety of creative ways.
Traditional calligraphy done by hand is appealing to Sisyu for two reasons. First, it requires a high level of concentration and the ability to tune out everything else, a difficult feat in the digital age. Secondly, calligraphy acts as one of the oldest forms of self-expression - much can be revealed by studying how the characters are written (sort of like analyzing one's handwriting). Sisyu says, "The brush is not easy to control. It needs an intense level of concentration. When you are able to command the brush, you master that concentration, you are able to free yourself from anything that binds you down. You are able to focus yourself on just that moment in time...Just as the body and heart are connected, there is also a connection with what we write. You can tell things from it about the person who wrote it, like the proof of their existence, the emotions they were feeling, and so on." Here are a couple of the artist's more traditional pieces.
These more colorful ones combine characters with brightly colored images, a Japanese tradition that, as Sisyu notes in an interview, goes back thousands of years and is continued today in manga and anime.
I apologize for the lack of titles on all of these. I tried Google Translate and as usual it generated nonsensical phrases. This one, for example, came up as "Wind Day Sun Chicken". Oof.
You know how I love bold color so my favorite pieces are in this 2017 series, which includes a phoenix and depictions of the traditional Japanese gods of wind and thunder/lightning. The vivid colors make them seem just a touch psychedelic.
When I went to look up the names for these two, I just saw that Fujin and Raijin were names of gods and then tried to test my visual comprehension skills to guess what they stood for just by looking at Sisyu's images. She makes ideas easy to understand, a point I'll return to later.
(images from e-sisyu.com)
While these examples demonstrate her skill in more traditional, albeit colorful calligraphy, Sisyu maintains that it's important to incorporate a digital component to make calligraphy more accessible to a younger crowd and to cultures outside Japan. It's also a way to represent both Japan's artistic heritage and leadership in technological advances. She explains, "When we were young, it was basically still an analogue world, right? But since then, digital has spread all over. One argument for why is that it’s just ones and zeros: Like kanji written on paper, its components or brushstrokes are hidden, allowing for expression that’s free from conventions. Things like age, origin and nationality don’t matter. In that same way, if I incorporate calligraphy into digital art, it makes it easy to approach and it might affect young people, or those from abroad, in a way traditional calligraphy doesn’t. Plus, more than anything, Japan is a country of culture and technology. I think combining those two elements is the best way to transmit Japan to the world. Until recently, Japan was very strong in terms of economics. But that’s no longer the case. In our age, in order to get people to take interest in Japan, we can use cultural power rather than economic power. That’s what my generation can do." These ideas are expanded upon in the interview below.
I thought one of the most interesting parts of the interview2 was her desire to give a modern twist to calligraphy by making it three-dimensional. "Instead of writing characters directly on the screen, I put sculptures about 50 cm from the screen, and they cast a shadow. The shadow collaborates with the screen. It's all about taking writing and calligraphy beyond tradition and beyond the page."
I'm blown away by these animations in which one touches a character on the wall and up pops a beautiful illustration of the meaning of that character. In this way Sisyu achieves what she set out to accomplish: making Japanese culture and calligraphy easier to understand via the use of digital technology. Above all, her work is driven by the need to communicate a specific idea across all cultures and ages. After showing her work at the Venice Biennale in 2005, she still felt it wasn't getting across. "Art expresses things. It crosses borders without the need for words. Why can't Sho-do [calligraphy] do the same? Is it because the language is Japanese? We sing songs in languages we don't understand. How can I get to that sort of level? I thought, okay, from now on I'm going to make art that gets across to people even if they don't know anything about traditional Japanese culture." This epiphany led her to create the calligraphy sculptures and utilize new technology that goes beyond paper and ink.
There wasn't much information on the process behind the Shiseido collection, but based on the very short ads I suspect the artist used a similar digital animation program to create the final design from the original hand-drawn characters.
In the video interview, Sisyu also discusses how she can make up to 500 versions of a single character to express its different meanings. I believe that the 21 versions of Hikari she created for Shiseido was her way of representing all different types of light - from the physical, such as stars and holiday lights - to the spiritual, as in positive energy. She says: "The holiday season is the peak time of the year when lights inspire people, and they are uppermost in people's minds. Light has significance—it illuminates and brightens people. The light collection expresses the image of lights that brightens up each and everyone of us in the world. Merciful light that illuminates everyone's road ahead. Soft, tiny, big, weak, strong, tender, or dazzling lights. Light that visibly and invisibly supports you. Light that makes your path to the future brilliant. I gathered light together, like a glimmering sunny spot, so that it may gently continue to be with you."
In sum, I think this was a gorgeous and thoughtful collection. Sisyu is an excellent match for Shiseido, as they both have a thorough understanding of the past and build upon it on to create a harmonious fusion of old and new. Sisyu adds digital and 3-D technology to calligraphy and Shiseido continuously revamps its most iconic products, but neither lose sight of the traditions and history from which they came. And like Shu Uemura, Shiseido is strongly committed to celebrating Japanese art and culture and sharing it worldwide. Sisyu, with her focus on communicating a message across all demographics, is perfectly suited to this task. She effortlessly translated the Japanese Hikari character to a more modern format that everyone can understand, and created a beautiful piece of art in the process. Even if you're not familiar with Japanese calligraphy and characters, you know the packaging symbolizes light.
What do you think? And have you ever attempted any sort of calligraphy?
1 Sisyu shares why she chose her pseudonym: "In Japan, purple is thought of as a very noble colour. It also refers to the character Murasaki in ‘The Tale of Genji’. Murasaki was exceptionally beautiful and beloved by her suitors. As for boat, it’s a character that’s been used in the names of many calligraphers and sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) artists throughout Japanese art history, so I adopted it as a part of that tradition."
2. Another interesting part of the interview was where she talks about her desire to create kanji for Hollywood movies. She was granted her wish in 2015 - Pixar hired her to make the kanji for Inside Out.
Before I get to the first batch of links for 2018, I want to thank everyone who commented here and on Instagram regarding my New Year's rant. I was very heartened by your responses and appreciate your kind words and taking the time to weigh in. Your support truly means the world to me! I am going to keep up with the Museum for now, but will probably take a little break in February. And in August, around the Museum's 10th blog-iversary, I'm still going to determine whether to pack it up. In the meantime I hope I can continue to deliver content you enjoy. :)
Enough blather, let's see what the first week of the new year on the interwebz had in store for us.
- My not-so-secret shame is pimple popping videos, so I'm looking forward to the queen of pimple popping's very own TV show.
- Racked had an excellent article on the importance of makeup for incarcerated women.
- Makeup with a hidden feminist message? Yes please.
- High five to this woman.
- In many ways 2017 was yet another dumpster fire, but here are 99 good things that actually happened.
- I just finished up Twin Peaks: The Return, so was delighted to see this article on the style of one of my favorite characters.
- Elsewhere on the pop culture front, in addition to the fabulous Lady Dynamite, I have also discovered Haters Back Off on Netflix. It's been canceled but worth catching up on, and definitely check out Miranda's YouTube videos. Finally, horror movie fiend that I am, I've marked my calendar for Winchester.
How's 2018 treating you thus far?
Based on an informal poll I conducted on Instagram, the overwhelming majority of people who answered (92%) indicated that although the holidays are over, it's still acceptable for me to continue blogging about holiday collections throughout the winter. Consider this one on LM Ladurée's beautiful holiday 2017 the first in a series of holiday catch-up posts. :)
The collection seems to be loosely based on the idea of a masquerade ball, a theme popular among many beauty collections that stretches back decades. As the Bal Masqué in cosmetics could be another entire post, I'm choosing to focus on the most prominent motif of the Ladurée collection: the fan. It appears at the bottom of this printed bag used to contain body wash, lotion and hand cream, with a young lady coquettishly peeking out from the edges.
Along with the black cap and shoe, the fan differentiated the leg-shaped lip glosses from last year's version. I still say they're one of the weirdest makeup items I've come across.
The fan also appeared on the side of this face powder box.
The box's top is adorned with a masked woman who shyly looks down and also at us, depending on the angle. This packaging technique was a definitely a trend in 2017, with both MAC's Rossi de Palma and Smashbox's holiday collection featuring a sort of shape-shifting design.
But the standout use of the motif came in the form of a fan-shaped compact, which contains blush and highlighter embossed with a delicate lace pattern. The compact's silky pouch features several elaborate fan designs, along with pairs of eyes shown both closed and peering out from the black background, lending an air of mystery. The rich red tassel hanging from the fan's base adds vibrant color and a touch of movement.
As with the lyre motif from their fall 2017 collection, I suspect LM Ladurée was inspired by the fashion of Les Merveilleuses as well as vintage compacts. Let's take a peek at the stylish ladies of the Empire era in France (roughly 1795-1815). The history of the fan as accessory in Europe is far beyond the scope of this little blog, especially since there is such a tremendous wealth of resources on the subject, but I'd like to share a few examples of fans during the time of Les Merveilleuses. As you can see from these fashion plates, the fan was de rigueur. Here are just a few of the literally dozens of plates I found from this time period depicting women holding fans of all shapes and colors.
(images from pinterest)
I'm no fashion historian, but it seems that fans were made to accommodate a variety of events and different hours of the day, given the ornate one shown with a wedding dress (left) and one meant to be carried with a more informal day dress (right).
(images from metmuseum.org)
Some examples of fans carried during the late 1700s-early 1800s were included in the wonderful exhibition "Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion." The fact that the image of a woman holding a fan was chosen for the front cover of the exhibition catalogue demonstrates that the accessory was indeed a must-have, at least for certain occasions. While the fan was certainly popular before this time and continued to be ubiquitous until the early 1900s, the accessory seems to have reached the height of fandom (sorry, couldn't help it) in the Empire era.
(images from napoleon-fashion.com)
I'm pretty sure these sorts of images were what inspired LM Ladurée to go with the fan motif. But I wonder, as with previous releases, whether they were also looking at vintage compacts. Fan-shaped compacts aren't new; in fact, as we'll see, they're over 70 years old. Over the years the fan shape has been utilized for makeup mirrors and to hold perfume...as well as some rather unfortunate-looking (read: ugly) makeup compacts from Maybelline in the late '80s. I've included the ads for these abominations solely for your amusement. Even though they're in black and white, I can see in my head crystal clear how cheap and tacky these compacts would look in person.
However, long before Maybelline butchered the fan-shaped compact, Wadsworth released some lovely ones in the 1940s. Henriette, the New York division of the Kentucky-based Wadsworth, started producing these around 1941 and Wadsworth started selling them under their own name in 1946 (yet advertised them as new.) The last mention I saw of the fan-shaped compact in ads was in 1949, so I guess they had fallen out out of favor by the early '50s.
Naturally I had to pick up one for the Museum's collection, along with several ads.
These must have been quite popular, or at least Wadsworth hoped they would be based on the amount of advertising and the mind-boggling number of styles. In my searches I came across at least 20 different designs. While I would have liked to have gotten my hands on one of the compacts shown in the ads, this one was just as gorgeous and in great condition so I snapped it up.
It's hard to make out from the illustration, but I think it may have appeared in this 1946 ad.
Here are a few more that I enjoyed.
(image from etsy)
These two are from Henriette.
(image from pinterest)
While not quite in the same elegant spirit as some of the others, I like this one because it's a reminder that Wadsworth/Henriette was a leader in manufacturing novelty compacts, such as the table and dice compacts. And although I couldn't find one for the fan-shaped compact, I also think the company must have had a patent for it since I didn't come across any other brands with this exact shape.*
(image from pinterest)
But why a fan-shaped compact? It's not clear why Wadsworth decided to make these, but the clipping below suggests a "Chinese influence". I'm not sure which is more cringe-inducing: the sexist title or the cultural appropriation outlined in the article itself.
Then again, Wadsworth may have been ripping off Spanish flamenco dancers based on this 1948 ad, so it's hard to say which culture they were appropriating.
Still, it's difficult to say definitively whether Wadsworth was truly choosing to dream up some idealized notion of Chinese culture via a fan-shaped compact or whether it was just another odd design to add to their arsenal. By and large the designs and ads seem to rely on the common perception that fans were simply a sophisticated fashion accessory, and they seemed to be more inspired by European fans of the 18th and 19th centuries than anything else.
Getting back to the LM Ladurée collection, I believe it was the result of, once again, a combination of two key influences: Empire style in France and vintage compacts. I really like the way they've intertwined the two this time, and even without considering the references I've discussed here, the collection is beautiful on its own.
What do you think? Do you have a preference for either LM Ladurée or the Wadsworth compacts?
*There was another fan-shaped compact made around the same time, but not nearly as common as Wadsworth. Near as I can figure they were manufactured in Japan under the name Pink Lady. I couldn't find much information on these, other than they were modeled after more traditional Japanese fans than European-style ones and had faux pearl clasps. I also think they were sold empty and you could put a powder refill or any other items of your choosing, sort of like a pill box with a mirror that could also be used for face powder.
I've been wanting to write this post for a while and I figured what better day than New Year's, a.k.a. the most depressing day of the year. The Museum plan for 2018 is that there is no plan. The only thing I intend to do is continue posting up until the Museum's 10-year anniversary in August, when hopefully I will have come to a decision as to whether to keep going or end this sad endeavor. Both 2017 and 2016 have been a nonstop cycle of Museum-related stress, frustration and rejection. I haven't shared any of these failures because there have been so many and because I don't want to come across as negative, but I can't hold it in any longer. I took all the opportunities that were offered to me and undertook my own efforts to try to improve the Museum in terms of research, visibility and organization as well as trying to make it a physical space or at least get an exhibition, all of which ended with the proverbial door getting slammed in my face.
As much as I enjoyed blogging and Instagram, recently they've been killing me. Whether I'm losing sleep over people unfollowing me, or the fact that I've been on Instagram a year and a half and still haven't reached a measly 1,000 followers, or that it takes me 1-2 hours at a minimum to set up and take a photo I consider decent enough to post, it's been less than fun lately. A few weeks back in December all I wanted to do was run a 5 mile race and hit up the Charm City Craft Mafia's annual holiday show. Instead that Saturday was spent taking hundreds of photos for both the blog and Instagram. I never seem to have time for any of my other hobbies anymore. This is especially troubling when I see people with, to be blunt, downright shitty photos having thousands of followers. Ditto for poorly written blogs - I see how many readers they have in Feedly compared to mine (I currently have a whopping 58 readers, down from 59 in early 2017) - and it seems people who can't even spell properly have hundreds of readers. I might pretend that the blog and Instagram are more for me than anyone else, but if I'm being honest, I'm sick of talking to myself. It's disheartening to put so much time and effort into both when I get basically nothing in return. I feel like I'm standing on a table in the middle of a crowded room shouting through a bullhorn and no one hears a damn thing.
I have tried my best to really step up the research on vintage items and make my posts on contemporary items more scholarly and academic. What I discovered is that: 1. Baltimore's public libraries suck; 2. the library at the university where I work doesn't have anything I need; 3. Hopkins' library is good for art history but they want $200 a year for access and they don't have the magazine archives I'm after; 4. The New York Public Library has both Vogue and WWD archives and does allow out-of-state residents to get a library card, but you have to go up there in person to get it and then renew it every 3 months (again, in person). Despite these obstacles I was all excited until I realized that both of these much-needed resources are only accessible from a branch, i.e., even though I hauled my ass up there to get a card, I can't access those from here. And both of those require an exorbitant amount of money to subscribe.
Along those lines, I can't upgrade to a proper museum website or publish any of the tons of books I've had rattling around in my head for years, because I am not independently wealthy. A coffee table book wouldn't require much heavy-duty research, but as it's mostly eye candy I'd need to hire a professional photographer. Same with digitizing the Museum's collection. I'd need a pro to take photos and for a professional redesign of the website, it would cost thousands. Yes, I've actually priced it out - I live with a designer who does this for a living, for god's sake. As for my own exhibitions, I have so many ideas that go beyond the very basic themes I normally cover. Forest creatures and rainbows are nice, but not complex like some others I'd love to do if I had access to better resources.
Other Exhibitions and Museums (or, so many fails I had to number them)
1. In March 2016 the director of a major university library contacted me and asked about starting a real cosmetics museum together. She'd handle the business end and I'd do all the curating, and I could do it remotely so I wouldn't have to up and move to the small town she was proposing it would be. She had a lovely old warehouse space picked out and everything, we made tons of plans and I really thought my dream would be a reality. After several months of emailing and phone calls she proposed visiting me in Baltimore so I could, in her words, "make sure she wasn't an axe murderer" (and obviously she needed to size me up too). In June 2016 we had a very nice dinner during which we continued discussing plans. I thought it went well, and then...nothing. Radio silence for 3 months, at which point I followed up and asked if everything was okay. She explained that her old house hadn't sold and she needed that cash to buy the space where we were going to put the museum, but that if anything changed she'd let me know. This was in September 2016. I have not heard hide nor hair from her since. So yeah, being - what's the term the kids use these days? Ghosted? - by this person was truly upsetting, especially since it seemed to have occurred immediately following our in-person meeting. To this day I still wonder what about me in person was so off-putting that she abandoned the project.
2. I emailed Makeup in New York about whether they'd have an exhibition of vintage beauty items, something I've been going to see the past few years. I was told that they would not be having one at their 2017 show, so I gathered my courage and boldly offered to help organize/curate one in the future. This was the response I received.
Am I being too sensitive or was that stone cold? Why wouldn't you at least entertain the notion of someone with nearly a decade of makeup exhibition experience helping to curate one at an expo? I realize the exhibitions I organize are just in my home, but give me a gallery space and I'd hit it out of the park. I'm one of a handful of people on the entire planet who has actively, thoughtfully considered beauty exhibitions and would know what people want to see and how to go about organizing it. You would think they'd be interested in having my help, but no.
3. At least I received a response from them. Esteé Lauder continues to ignore my requests for information about their archives...but they are more than happy to have "social media influencers" have access to them.
4. Finally, there's this exhibition. Normally I'm thrilled to see other makeup exhibitions, but this one has broken me since it's one I genuinely could have helped with. I was asked to lend some objects for it, but that's where my involvement ends, and for that I am crushed. I just can't figure out why, again, someone with nearly a decade of experience planning and executing exhibitions devoted to makeup is brushed off (yes, I offered to assist in any other way besides object-lending capacity and was rejected. They were very polite about it, at least.) I know no one is going to hand me an opportunity to guest curate on a silver platter and that people need to take ownership of their exhibitions - I'd never ask to co-curate because I understand it's THEIR exhibition - but it would have been nice to be asked to do a little consultation on what they were planning. Again, I'm one of the few people on earth who has spent years thinking about how to curate makeup exhibitions. I'm certainly not saying the grad students organizing this are incapable of curating a great makeup exhibition, as some of them work for well-known galleries so I'm sure it'll be good and I'm definitely going to go see it. I'm just saying that my insight might have been as helpful as gallery experience. The other thing that's upsetting is that an exhibition in a real gallery space is something I've worked so hard to achieve for years, and along comes this one, which was organized in a matter of months. I bet they had no trouble getting cosmetics companies to reply to them about borrowing objects from their archives or accessing other historical resources.
To sum up, I'm just really tired. Tired of spending every spare minute and drop of energy on something no one's interested in, tired of being told no, tired of not being taken seriously. Most of all I'm tired of the "you're responsible for your own destiny/happiness" bullshit because it's simply not true. People don't seem to understand there's a fair amount of luck and connections involved in making dreams a reality. I have been doing everything humanly possible to improve the blog and make the Museum real and have been stonewalled every step of the way, while others (some of whom I think are less deserving) are met with nothing but success due to dumb luck or because of who they know. It's just history repeating itself; I was shut out of the museum world and academia at a young age, and I had originally conceived of the Museum/blog as outlets to help me deal with my shattered career dreams. If museums and universities didn't want me then I'd forge my own path and make my own opportunities. Instead it's the same old thing.
Thank you for reading and apologies for being bitter and entitled, but that's just where I am right now and had to get it off my chest. I am grateful for the few of you that continue to support the Museum and I hope 2018 has good things in store for you.
I was positively giddy when I heard the news that artist Kathe Fraga had been selected to collaborate with Clé de Peau for their holiday 2017 collection. Kathe (yes, we're on a first-name basis!) is very talented in her own right, of course, and I knew she'd create a beautiful collection, but the other reason I was ecstatic was that she has kindly been following my ramblings for a few years, so I was very pleased to see a Museum supporter nab such a high-profile beauty collaboration. Fortunately there was an abundance of information on how the collaboration came to be and Kathe also very nicely answered some other questions I had, so let's get to it!
A detailed entry at Kathe's blog explains the concept and process for the collection as envisioned by Clé de Peau's Creative Director Lucia Pieroni. Pieroni wanted to do a love story/narrative entitled "Nuit de Chine" inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 China: Through The Looking Glass exhibition. Via email I asked Kathe for a few more details about the collection's theme and her role in helping it come to life. She said: "I believe that CPB Creative Director, Lucia Pieroni, discovered my work via social media. As you know, she was very inspired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass. If you scroll through Lucia’s Insta account, you’ll see her 'wall' with a variety of different images that she used to guide and create the Nuit De Chine collection and love story-a number of my paintings and cards are on this mood board. I discovered through Facebook, and a number of the designers that I’m FB friends with, that the NY exhibit was offering a catalog of the event. I ordered it and found out much later that Lucia had the same catalog-so we were on the same 'wavelength' even before we met!" The collection took a year and a half (!) to produce. Clé de Peau selected six original paintings for the collection, 4 of which appeared on the items (the others, I believe, were used for store displays/backdrops and PR materials.)
The skincare set features Kathe's painting "Premonition".
"Distance" was chosen for the nail polish set.
I couldn't seem to find a larger version of this.
The eye pencil set shows "Encounter".
"Passion" is the name of the painting that appears on the coffret. Kathe also did pencil sketches of the embossing on the colors inside.
Here's "Nuit de Chine", which appeared on Clé de Peau store banners in Japan.
Kathe also painted some beautiful makeup pouches with 18kt gold at several launch events at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco and Dallas. Sadly these were available for in-store customers only, so obviously I wasn't able to get my hands on one...but I would have loved to meet Kathe and have my initials hand-painted in gold!
Let's learn a little more about Kathe and her style.1 She explains how her frequent childhood moves due to her father's Navy career influenced her signature fusion of art forms from all over the globe: "Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in a variety of places that have influenced my inspiration and the direction of my art. From a young age, I have lived in South America, both coasts of the U.S. and in Europe. The stained glass and gilded interiors of old world Quito, the pinks and golds and pastels of Paris, the bright reds of Copenhagen, the easygoing style of beach towns in California and the buttoned up vibe of New York have all been a part of my direction. But there was one moment that had an enormous impact - when my father returned from an overseas trip to Japan. He surprised my mother with the most beautiful dark green silk kimono jacket with the most exquisite Chinoiserie patterns in bright orange, red, pink, blue - an unexpected pairing of hues and motifs and I was in love! It opened the door to the joy of combining lovely dense patterns and blocks of colors, which you’ll see in many of my paintings."
Another point to consider is how modern and fresh these look. Let's face it, florals can look stuffy and frumpy real fast which is one of the reasons I'm not usually drawn to them. But these are totally updated and contemporary - there's no mistaking them for some hideous floral pattern you'd find on a cheap sofa. While their styles and mediums are completely different, Kathe's work reminds me a little bit of Olympia Le-Tan's in that they're both able to modernize things we normally associate with being outdated (in Le-Tan's case, embroidery).
One of the reasons I believe Clé de Peau tapped Kathe for this collection is their shared passion for bold hues and unexpected color pairings. Pieroni wanted very rich shades suited for the holidays, and Kathe's unique color schemes fit the bill perfectly. Her childhood travels as well as the abundance of nature surrounding her island home in the Pacific Northwest contribute to her love of color. "Color reacting to color is a big influence for me. It’s exciting, for example, to paint a bold wide swath of red and then layer it with bright orange and then add a subdued branch of soft little pink blossoms to create a surprising mix of modern and sweet small detail. Nature inspires me. From the overwhelming beauty of the blooming Yoshino cherry trees at the University of Washington, to the multi-colored little forest mushrooms that spring up along our wooded trails in the fall, the colors of the Pacific Northwest are wonderful inspirations. (That green moss in our Island forests is the most spectacular green ever!) Our Island beaches, rich with oyster and clam and mussel shells, also hold hidden treasures." I love the colors in all of her paintings, but I'm really struck by the orange, green, and red combined with the soft pink and purples in this one.
Another aspect of Kathe's work I adore is the slightly faded, worn look of some of her pieces, a quality that was inspired by her time in France. "Living in France and experiencing Europe and its beauty—old, decaying, historic—this memory guides me every day in my color choices and how I like my paintings to appear worn and with a story—like they were plastered panels in an old French mansion and had been cut away and preserved just before the wrecking ball hit...My ‘French Wallpaper Series’ is all about color, texture, the love of old, the whispers from generations that came before, of relationships...I paint over some parts of my paintings to give a suggestion of a story that was being told but interrupted by another. Have you ever lived in an old house that you’ve fixed up…perhaps a bedroom or the kitchen? You take down a cabinet or pull down a window molding and then there, like treasure, like a voice from the past, you see a lovely old patterned wallpaper that’s been hiding till now. It’s just magical. Who put it there? What was their life all about in this home? What was their story? I see my paintings as parts of a larger frescoed wall, taken from a place from long ago. That’s why flowers will run off the edges, or patterns will continue beyond the canvas." The idea of archeological treasure being rediscovered and rescued for preservation is very appealing to the art historian in me. What can I say? I just appreciate old things and believe they need to be cared for somehow, even if they're worn and faded. I believe the wear tells their history.
Combined with the modern style and rich colors, it's this storytelling ability that clinched the Clé de Peau collection. Lucia Pieroni wanted to share the journey of a couple in love, and fortunately most of the stories Kathe tells via her paintings center on themes of love. As she says in the video below, "Everywhere I look, I see love stories...when I think about love, you'll see in a lot of my paintings, I never use a single animal. I use deer and birds and butterflies, and typically they're always in a pair, because I think that tells a story of love and relationship and trust and color. I don't think true love can ever fade, and I also believe it lasts over generations. I think when two people fall in love, maybe their story continues and they fall in love again and again and again."
As you might have guessed, I love this collection and was so happy to see Kathe's work on Clé de Peau's packaging. While I've been impressed with Pieroni's careful selection of artists for previous Clé de Peau holiday collections, I think this one was the most inspired and most appropriate for both the brand and Pieroni's vision - there was really no better artist to make her ideas come to life. For example, I enjoyed last year's collaboration with Ashley Longshore and admired how she shifted her style ever so slightly to fit the Clé de Peau aesthetic, but with this year's there was no modifying necessary. Kathe's work was just a natural fit all around. And on a personal level, Kathe genuinely seems like a nice person who has not only been supporting the Museum but has also been incredibly friendly and humble even though she's hugely successful - I so appreciate that she's not too "important" to follow me on social media and answer my inane questions. She is one artist I'm not afraid to approach and for that I am grateful.
What do you think? Oh, and if you'd like more of Kathe's lovely work, she has note cards and pillows available...but I'm still dreaming of owning this painting for my living room (despite the title, haha!).2
1 Kathe frequently refers to her work as "Chinoiserie-inspired". While I don't think her work is culturally appropriative - I maintain that it's more of a mix of various artistic styles she's observed during her travels - I want to briefly note that the jury is still out as to whether Chinoiserie is a type of cultural appropriation, particularly as it applies to the decorative arts. The aforementioned Met show that both Kathe and Lucia Pieroni were so inspired by had its share of critics. And Chinoiserie's roots in the 17th century are certainly based on colonialism and "otherness", i.e. Westerners fetishizing so-called "exotic" cultures. However, I believe in Kathe's case, her use of "Chinoiserie-inspired" is merely a descriptive phrase to help people understand her style and not actual Chinoiserie. Obviously cultural appropriation is something I'm sensitive to and if I thought Kathe's work was appropriation I'd discuss it in full, but when I look at her paintings I see a unique take on the global art styles she appreciates, not a bland rip-off of various cultures that's oblivious to the actual history and meaning of their art or some idealized fantasy of places she's never been.
2 If I was going to buy any of Kathe's work it would obviously be one of the paintings she did for this collaboration, but Clé de Peau has purchased all the pieces for their headquarters in Japan. :(