MM summer 2017 exhibition


With some exhibitions I get a certain word or phrase caught in the old noggin.  This summer all I kept hearing in my head was "tropical fruit and sea creature EXPLOSION!"  As you may know, the husband designs all the exhibition posters and I literally asked him for that exact phrase.  How he came up with the poster from my sad little sketch is beyond me - it shows how truly talented he is, as he was able transform my awful drawing into the "explosion" I was after.  (I put "make it pop" on there purely as a joke.  If you've ever worked with a designer you know they loathe this useless cliché.)

Poster sketch

Anyway, fruit and sea creatures aren't unexpected choices for summer, but I feel as though this year was particularly, well, fruity and sea creature-centric.  As we'll see, it seems the recent fashion trend of putting pineapples, watermelon and the like on everything from jackets and dresses to a variety of accessories has carried over to the beauty world.  Sadly, I was not able to get my hands on the ultimate fruity items - the patterns on PaiPai's two most recent collections are positively bursting with tropical fruits - but what I do have is a decent mix.  Meanwhile, as I predicted, the mermaid beauty trend is going strong in 2017 as well so naturally I had to include a bunch of items to represent it.  While I've been including mermaid-themed and sea creature-adorned pieces for the past few summer exhibitions, this year I wanted to tie the two more closely together - it's a sort of celebration of the friendship between mermaids and the animals that share the ocean with them.  Mermaids aren't real, of course, but I love pretending they are, so part of the exhibition's purpose is to express the bonds they would have with seahorses, octopuses, etc.  When I was envisioning the exhibition I was putting myself in a mermaid's shoes (er, tail), so showing the animals I'd be hanging out with was my way of imagining a mermaid's perspective.  Overall, while the exhibition is very literal in that it displays items with fruit, mermaids and their assorted underwater pals on the packaging, it's nevertheless an admirable portrayal of the top trends this season...and also what exists in my mermaid-obsessed brain.

Makeup Museum summer 2017 exhibition

Makeup Museum summer 2017 exhibition

Makeup Museum summer 2017 exhibition

Top shelves, left to right.

I agonized for days over whether to display this palette by Saucebox open or closed.  Ultimately closed won out so you could see the mermaid, but you can see it open on my Instagram here.

Saucebox Mermaid Life palette

Oh, MAC Fruity Juicy - one of the most fun collections they've done in a while.  I purchased two more of the coconut setting spray so that I'd have some to actually use.  I don't think it does much, but between the vibrant packaging and yummy coconut scent it definitely perks me up in the mornings, as misting my face with setting spray is the last thing I do before dashing out the door to work.  It's the little things, right? 

MAC Fruity Juicy collection

MAC Oh My Passion pearlmatte powder

Exhibition label

I've been waiting with bated breath for Unicorn Lashes' mermaid brush set, but found out it won't be released till much later this summer so I had to settle for these.  I do like the company I ordered from as it offered a terrific variety of mermaid tail brushes, including this oh-so-evil/goth black set.  The larger brush is not the one I ordered - I'm still waiting for it to arrive (it's got glitter!), so I had to substitute the one that came free with the Saucebox palette.  Hopefully the one I wanted on display will get here soon.

Mermaid brushes

Mermaid brush

I forget how I stumbled across this...I think I was searching for vintage mermaid compacts.  I wasn't able to find any of the ones that appear in this ad, but at least I found the ad itself.  Still, these are compacts I'd pay a pretty penny for, as they're simply adorable.

Revlon She Shells ad, 1965

The vaguely threatening nature of the copy cracks me up:  "There won't be any more EVER".  I guess it's the predecessor of limited-edition scare tactics.  You know that if I were alive in 1965 I would have bought all 3 compacts right away so I didn't miss out - that line definitely would make me buy them immediately.

Revlon She Shells ad, 1965

While I was disappointed at not being able to track down any of the Revlon compacts, this vintage Stratton more than made up for it!  How awesome is this?!  I'm so happy to add a vintage mermaid compact to the Museum's collection.

Vintage Stratton compact

exhibition label

Second row, left to right.

The lovely Anna Sui summer collection:

Anna Sui summer 2017 makeup

Anna Sui summer 2017 makeup

exhibition label

These Chantecaille compacts remain among my favorites of the over 1,000 items in the Museum's collection.  I really should update my sad photos of them.

Chantecaille Protected Paradise compacts

Chantecaille Protected Paradise compacts

exhibition label

Tarte released more Lip Rescues this year.  I think I like the prints even more than last year's batch!

Tarte Quench Lip Rescues

I was overjoyed to see my favorite fruit embossed onto an eye shadow palette.  I don't know much about the Tanya Burr line, but this was too cute to pass up.

Tanya Burr My Paradise palette

Tanya Burr My Paradise palette

Third row, left to right.

It wouldn't be a proper Makeup Museum exhibition without some preciousness from Paul & Joe, would it?

Paul & Joe

Paul & Joe

Exhibition label

I found this brand on Instagram.  I adore all the illustrations on the packaging, which is recyclable and printed with soy ink, but was mildly disappointed in their customer service.  While my order arrived without incident, I'm bummed that I never received a reply to my email asking if they work with a particular illustrator and what their inspiration might be.  The designs are just so cute, I figured there must be an artist behind them.  In any case, these Lip Parfaits in Summer Cone and Exotic Fruits perfectly fit the summer exhibition theme.  (I'm eyeing the rest of the Lip Parfaits - I NEED Guilty Pug!)

Trifle Cosmetics Lip Parfaits in Summer Cone and Exotic Fruits

Exhibition label

This starfish-embossed powder from Estée Lauder is so pretty, I wish they'd release more like it.

Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess Sea Star bronzing blush, 2011

Tokyo Milk's Neptune and the Mermaid collection technically consists of fragrance and bath and body products instead of makeup, but I couldn't NOT put it in the exhibition.

Tokyo Milk Neptune and the Mermaid

I love how the mermaid is gazing at her nails, perhaps wondering if she needs a manicure (mer-icure?)

Tokyo Milk Neptune and the Mermaid

Tokyo Milk Neptune and the Mermaid

Exhibition label

Bottom row, left to right.

This shelf is looking a little sparse because I'm missing yet another item.  I ordered several of Etude House's Glass Tinting Lips Talk cases (I want all of them!), including one with a hilarious cartoonish pineapple face, but every time I click on the tracking number it says it's not found.  So I suspect my package is lost.  Sigh.  Anyway, I did manage to find this delightful Tony Moly gloss and you might remember my joy at scoring the Paul & Joe eye shadow on Ebay.  It's one of my most treasured finds since I wasn't collecting at the time it was released (2004) and I'm forever trying to track down Paul & Joe items that were released prior to 2006 - they pop up so rarely.

Tony Moly and Paul & Joe

Exhibition label

I wasn't going to buy Lancôme's summer 2016 bronzer initially and then caved after the summer exhibition went up so I figured I'd include it this year, especially since the design goes so nicely with Clarins summer 2017 bronzer.  The latter was another difficult call to make as to whether to display it open or closed.  Once again closed won out since the print on the outer case is just as pretty as what's inside, plus the Lancôme one is open so I thought a combination of closed and open worked best.

Clarins Sunkissed bronzer and Lancome Belle de Teint

Exhibition label

Another mermaid palette from another indie beauty retailer.  While I was really hoping Bitter Lace Beauty's mermaid palette would be released in time for the exhibition, obviously I'm pleased to display this one and the Saucebox palette.  :)

KG Beauty Mermaid palette

Exhibition label

Another perennial favorite:  MAC's To the Beach collection from 2010.  As with the Chantecaille palettes I should probably update the original photos.

MAC To the Beach

MAC Marine Life highlighter

Exhibition label

So that's it!  I hope the exhibition put you in a summery mood.  I for one am craving pineapple and a visit to the aquarium.  :)


Spotlight on vintage lipstick tissues

The life of a makeup museum curator is insanely glamorous.  For example, a lot of people go out on Friday nights, but not me - I have way more thrilling plans.  I usually browse for vintage makeup at Ebay and Etsy on my phone while in bed and am completely passed out by 8pm.  EXCITING.  It was during one of these Friday night escapades that I came across a fabulous box of vintage lipstick pads and naturally, that sent me down quite the rabbit hole.  Today I'm discussing a cosmetics accessory that has gone the way of the dodo:  lipstick tissues.  This is by no means a comprehensive history, but I've put together a few interesting findings.  I just wish I had access to more than my local library (which doesn't have much), a free trial subscription to and the general interwebz, as anyone could do that meager level of "research".  I would love to be able to dig deeper and have more specific information, but in lieu of that, I do hope you enjoy what I was able to throw together.

The earliest mention of lipstick tissues that I found was January 1932.  It makes sense, as several patents were filed for the same design that year. 

Lipstick tissue compact patent

Lipstick tissue patent
(images from google)

While they might have existed in the 1920s, I'm guessing lipstick tissues didn't become mainstream until the early 30s, as this December 1932 clipping refers to them as new, while another columnist in December 1932 says she just recently discovered them (and they are so mind-blowing they were clearly invented by a woman, since "no mere man could be so ingenious".)

December 1932 newspapers referring to lipstick tissues

In addition to the tear-off, matchbook-like packages, lipstick tissues also came rolled in a slim case.

October 1933 ad for Rolay lipstick tissues

This lovely Art Deco design by Richard Hudnut debuted in 1932 and was in production at least up until 1934.  I couldn't resist buying it.

Richard Hudnut lipstick tissues

February 1934 ad for Richard Hudnut lipstick tissues

By 1935, restaurants and hotels had gotten wind of lipstick tissues' practicality for their businesses, while beauty and etiquette columnists sang their praises.  Indeed, using linens or towels to remove one's lipstick was quickly becoming quite the social blunder by the late 30s.

Restaurants offering lipstick tissues, 1935 and 1939

May 1936 beauty column - lipstick tissues

Kleenex was invented in 1924, but it wasn't until 1937, when the company had the grand idea to insert tissues specifically for lipstick removal into a matchbook like package, that these little wonders really took off.  You might remember these from my post on the Smithsonian's collection of beauty and hygiene items.  The warrior/huntress design was used throughout 1937 and 1938.

Kleenex lipstick tissues, ca. 1937(image from

Kleenex started upping the ante by 1938, selling special cases for their lipstick tissues and launching campaigns like these "true confessions", which appeared in Life magazine (and which I'm sure were neither true nor confessions.)  With these ads, Kleenex built upon the existing notion that using towels/linens to remove lipstick was the ultimate etiquette faux pas, and one that could only be avoided by using their lipstick tissues. 

Kleenex lipstick tissue ad, April 1938

These ads really gave the hard sell, making it seem as though one was clearly raised by wolves if they didn't use lipstick tissues.  Or any tissues, for that matter.  Heaven forbid - you'll be a social pariah!

Kleenex True Confessions, February 1938

Kleenex True Confessions, October 1939

Look, you can even use these tissues to cheat on your girlfriend!  (insert eyeroll here)

Kleenex True Confessions, September 1939
(images from  

Not only that, Kleenex saw the opportunity to collaborate with a range of companies as a way to advertise both the companies' own goods/services and the tissues themselves.  By the early '40s it was difficult to find a business that didn't offer these gratis with purchase, or at least, according to this 1945 article, "national manufacturers of goods women buy." And by 1946, it was predicted that women would be expecting free tissue packets to accompany most of their purchases.

Diamond Match Company lipstick tissues - Dec. 1945

Needless to say, most of them consisted of food (lots of baked goods, since apparently women were tethered to their ovens), and other domestic-related items and services, like hosiery, hangers and dry cleaning.

Lipstick tissues(images from

Curtiss Candy company lipstick tissues(images from ebay and

Lipstick tissues(images from

Lipstick tissues
(image from

Naturally I had to buy a few of these examples for the Museum's collection.  Generally speaking, they're pretty inexpensive and plentiful.  The only one I shelled out more than $5 for was the Hudnut package since that one was a little more rare and in such excellent condition.  Interestingly, these have a very different texture than what we know today as tissues.  Using contemporary Kleenex to blot lipstick only results in getting little fuzzy bits stuck to your lips, but these vintage tissues have more of a blotting paper feel, perhaps just a touch thicker and ever so slightly less papery.  It could be due to old age - paper's texture definitely changes over time - but I think these were designed differently than regular tissues you'd use for a cold.

Lipstick tissues

Anyway, Museum staff encouraged me to buy the cookie one.  ;)

Lipstick tissues

I took this picture so you could get a sense of the size.  It seems the official Kleenex ones were a little bigger than their predecessors.

Vintage lipstick tissues

Wouldn't it be cool to go to a restaurant and see one of these at the table?  It would definitely make the experience seem more luxurious.  I certainly wouldn't feel pressure to use them for fear of committing a social sin, I just think it would be fun.

Lipstick tissues
(image from

Lipstick tissues
(image from

I figured having a restaurant/hotel tissue packet would be a worthy addition to the Museum's collection, since it's another good representation of the types of businesses that offered them.  I'd love to see a hotel offer these as free souvenirs.

Vintage lipstick tissues

Here's an example that doesn't fit neatly into the baked goods/cleaning/hotel categories.

Lipstick tissues(image from

This one is also interesting.  Encouraging women to be fiscally responsible is obviously more progressive than advertising dry cleaning and corn nut muffins, but it's important to remember that at the time these were being offered by Bank of America (ca. 1963), a woman could have checking and savings accounts yet still was unable to take out a loan or credit card in her own name.  One step forward, 5 steps back.

Lipstick tissues(image from

Of course, cosmetics companies also made their own lipstick tissues.

Tangee lipstick tissues(image from

I was very close to buying these given how cute the graphics are, but didn't want to spend $20.  (I think they're now reduced to $12.99, if you'd like to treat yourself.)

Dubarry lipstick tissues(image from

Plus, I already have these DuBarry tissues in the collection.

Dubarry lipstick tissues

Funny side note:  I actually found a newspaper ad for these very same tissues!  It was dated July 27, 1948, which means the approximate dates I included in my DuBarry post were accurate.

DuBarry lipstick tissues ad, 1948

By the late '40s, lipstick tissues had transcended handbags and became popular favors for various social occasions, appearing at country club dinner tables to weddings and everything in between.  I'm guessing this is due to the fact that custom colors and monogramming were now available to individual customers rather than being limited to businesses.

Lipstick tissue ads - 1946, 1950

Lipstick tissue gift suggestion, 1946

Lipstick tissue favors, 1950 and 1944

"Bride-elect"?  Seriously?

Lipstick tissue wedding favors, April 1951

While the matchbook-sized lipstick tissues are certainly quaint, if you wanted something even fancier to remove your lipstick, lipstick pads were the way to go.  These are much larger and thicker than Kleenex and came imprinted with lovely designs and sturdy outer box.  This was the item that made me investigate lipstick tissues.  I mean, look at those letters!  I was powerless against their charm.

House of Dickinson lipstick pads

I couldn't find anything on House of Dickinson, but boy did they make some luxe lipstick pads.

House of Dickinson lipstick pads

House of Dickinson lipstick pads

This design is so wonderful, I'd almost feel bad using these.  If I were alive back then I'd probably go digging through my purse to find the standard Kleenex ones.

House of Dickinson lipstick pads

I also couldn't really date these too well.  There's a nearly identical box by House of Dickinson on Ebay and the description for that dates them to the '60s, which makes sense given the illustration of the woman's face and the rounded lipstick bullet - both look early '60s to my eye.  

House of Dickinson lipstick pads
However, the use of "Milady" and the beveled shape of the lipstick bullet, both of which were more common in the '30s and '40s, make me think the ones I have are earlier.  

By the mid-late '60s, it seems lipstick tissues had gone out of favor.  The latest reference I found in newspapers dates to November 1963, and incidentally, in cartoon form.


I'm not sure what caused lipstick tissues to fall by the wayside.  It could be that there were more lightweight lipstick formulas on the market at that point, which may not have stained linens and towels as easily as their "indelible" predecessors - these lipsticks managed to easily transfer from the lips but still remained difficult to remove from cloth.  Along those lines, the downfall of lipstick tissues could also be attributed to the rise of sheer, shiny lip glosses that didn't leave much pigment behind. 

While these make the most sense, some deeper, more political and economic reasons may be considered as well.  Perhaps lipstick tissues came to be viewed as too stuffy and hoity-toity for most and started to lose their appeal.  My mother pointed out that lipstick tissues seemed to be a rich people's (or at least, an upper-middle class) thing - the type of woman who needed to carry these in her handbag on the reg was clearly attending a lot of fancy soirees, posh restaurants and country club dinners.  This priceless clipping from 1940 also hints at the idea of lipstick tissues as a sort of wealth indicator, what with the mention of antique table tops and maids.

March 20, 1940 - etiquette

Lipstick tissues were possibly directed mostly at older, well-to-do "ladies who lunch", and a younger generation couldn't afford to or simply wasn't interested in engaging in such formal social practices as removing one's lipstick on special tissues.  Plus, I'm guessing the companies that used lipstick tissues to advertise labored under the impression that most women were able to stay home and not work.  With a husband to provide financially, women could devote their full attention to the household so advertising bread recipes and dry cleaning made sense.  This train of thought leads me, naturally, to feminism: as with the waning popularity of ornate lipstick holders, perhaps the liberated woman perceived lipstick tissues as too fussy - a working woman needed to pare down her beauty routine and maybe didn't even wear lipstick at all.  Lipstick tissues are objectively superfluous no matter what brainwashing Kleenex was attempting to achieve through their marketing, so streamlining one's makeup regimen meant skipping items like lipstick tissues.  Similarly, after reading Betty Friedan's 1963 landmark feminist screed The Feminine Mystique, perhaps many women stopped buying lipstick tissues when they realized they had bigger fish to fry than worrying about ruining their linens.  Then again, one could be concerned about women's role in society AND be mindful of lipstick stains; the two aren't mutually exclusive.  And the beauty industry continued to flourish throughout feminism's second wave and is still thriving today, lipstick tissues or not, so I guess feminism was not a key reason behind the end of the tissues' reign.  I really don't have a good answer as to why lipstick tissues disappeared while equally needless beauty items stuck around or continue to be invented (looking at you, brush cleansers).  And I'm not sure how extra lipstick tissues really are, as many makeup artists still recommend blotting one's lipstick to remove any excess to help it last longer and prevent feathering or transferring to your teeth.

In any case, I kind of wish lipstick tissue booklets were still produced, especially if they came in pretty designs.  Sure, makeup remover wipes get the job done, but they're so...inelegant compared to what we've seen.  One hack is to use regular facial blotting sheets, since texture-wise they're better for blotting than tissues and some even have nice packaging, so they're sort of comparable to old-school lipstick tissues.  Still, there's something very appealing about using a highly specific, if unnecessary cosmetics accessory.  I'm not saying we should bring back advertising tie-ins to domestic chores or the social stigma attached to not "properly" removing one's lipstick on tissues, but I do like the idea of sheets made just for blotting lipstick, solely for the enjoyment of it.  I view it like I do scented setting sprays - while I don't think they do much for my makeup's longevity, there's something very pleasing about something, like, say, MAC Fruity Juicy spray, which is coconut scented and comes in a bottle decorated with a cheerful tropical fruit arrangement.  As I always say, it's the little things.  They might be frivolous and short-lived, but any makeup-related item that gives me even a little bit of joy is worth it.  I could see a company like Lipstick Queen or Bite Beauty partnering with an artist to create interesting lipstick tissue packets.  Indeed, this post has left me wondering why no companies are seizing on this opportunity for profit.

Should lipstick tissues be revived or should they stay in the past?  Why do you think they're not made anymore?  Would you use them?  I mean just for fun, of course - completely ignore the outdated notion that one is a boorish degenerate with no manners if they choose to wipe their lips on a towel, as those Kleenex ads would have you believe.  ;)


¡Es un milagro! ¡Bienvenido Pai Pai!

So I have some big news!  No, the Museum does not have a physical space, but this is almost as good.  You might remember I've had a long-time love affair with Mexican brand Pai Pai, but was dismayed at the inability to obtain their lipsticks in the U.S. Well, the makeup gods smiled upon me, for Pai Pai has revamped their website and international shipping is now only 20 Mexican pesos (roughly $1.12 U.S. dollars).  It was a veritable Christmas in July miracle!  Naturally I bought plenty of goodies. Welcome to the Makeup Museum's collection, Pai Pai!

I thought I'd start with the most recent collab and work my way back.  For those of you not familiar with Pai Pai, the company has the genius idea to work with a different Mexican artist each season to create limited edition lipstick packaging that celebrates the country's heritage.  The newest partnership is with 24 year-old, Mexico City-based Jorge Serrano.  I couldn't find anything about what inspired the prints for his collection, as the Pai Pai blog seems to have disappeared in the website redesign, and the cached version only provided a general description of his style.  I've been following him on Instagram (he has such a great feed - lots of color and uplifting quotes rendered in his beautiful calligraphy) and was thinking about requesting an interview, but I'm not 100% sure he's fluent in English and my Spanish is so atrocious at this point I couldn't ask him anything.  So while I don't have any real information, I must say that I am positively in love with the vibrant, tropical lusciousness of this collection. As I lamented in the notes for the summer 2017 exhibition, I was so sad not to be able to buy Serrano's designs since they would have been perfect for the fruity theme, but I'm glad they're in my hot little hands now.  That's all that matters.  :)

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

I love all the designs but these 2 are my favorites - pineapples galore and that bird is just too cute.

Jorge Serrano for Pai Pai

Serrano has dabbled in these motifs before.  Some examples from 2015 and 2014:

Jorge Serrano - Alas Olas

Bird illustration by Jorge Serrano

Pineapple print by Jorge Serrano

Pineapple print by Jorge Serrano

Thematically speaking, his work reminds me a little bit of I Scream Colour's - pop culture icons and mermaids abound.

Lady Gaga illustration by Jorge Serrano

These two were for Nylon Espanol.

Jorge Serrano for Nylon - Britney

Jorge Serrano for Nylon(images from @soyserrano)

Overall, Serrano is yet another artist whose work I have recently fallen in love with.  :)

Next up, released a little further back in the spring was a collection by Poni Lab, a design company run by sisters Minerva and Denisse Mendoza.  These illustrations are also a ton of fun!  I love pineapple anything, as you know, but I think my favorite was the reverse mermaid...who's wearing lipstick.  Not only is it adorable, it was also inspired by Rene Magritte's 1934 work The Collective Invention (and/or possibly this one.) So bonus points for a really cool art history reference!

Poni Lab for Pai Pai

Poni Lab for Pai Pai

I had no idea these were Dr. Who/Back to the Future motifs until I actually had them in my hands.  Looking online I just thought they were cute little prints, but then when I took a closer look I realized they were very specific references (which I've linked for those of you not familiar).  As I did with one of Paul & Joe's recent lipstick cases, I thought I'd show the details because they are simply too clever not to.  Let's see, we have a Weeping Angel (these are one of the creepier monsters from Dr. Who), Nikes on a hoverboard and puffy red vest worn by Marty McFly, complete with Doc's "Great Scott!" exclamation (Back to the Future), and then the Tardis and a Dalek from Dr. Who.  The car with "where we're going we don't need roads", which you can see in the pictures above, is from Back to the Future.

Pai Pai x Poni Lab

Alas, the other ones in this collection had already sold out, but they were overwhelmingly cute as well.  A literal sweet tooth, some Warhol-esque bananas, a print full of friendly dinosaurs, rainbows and cookies all transported me to my happy place. I mean, you can't be sad when looking at these, right?

Pai Pai x Poni Lab

As with Serrano I couldn't find a ton of information on what inspired Poni Lab and wasn't sure about their English fluency, but looking at their Instagram feed, it seems most of the the Pai Pai collection consisted of previously created patterns - it looks like only one was made specifically for Pai Pai, and that was also based on a previous design.

Poni Lab pouches

Poni Lab pineapple phone cases

Poni Lab dinosaur pouch

Poni Lab fish couple print

Nevertheless, I'm smitten with their style.  It's very nostalgic and playful, with lots of cartoony animals and cheerful anthropomorphic beings, and filled with some of my favorite motifs (pineapples and sweets).  And tons of unicorns, but also a few mermaids here and there. ;)

Poni Lab narwhal unicorn print

Poni Lab ice cream pouch

Poni Lab cherries print

Poni Lab it's pine-o-clock

Poni Lab unicorn plushes

Poni Lab pixelated unicorn pouch

Poni Lab mer-shiba pillow

I don't want kids but if I did, I'd buy this mer-kitty (or as Poni Lab calls them, "purr-maids"!) stuff in a heartbeat.

Poni Lab purrmaids

Poni Lab purrmaids t-shirt(images from @ponilab)

Finally, we have Talia Cu's amazing Frida Kahlo-inspired collection.  I've already discussed it so I won't re-hash it, but I must mention that these were actually sent to me for free by Pai Pai!  Talia spotted my blog post and contacted me on Instagram, saying she felt bad that I couldn't get my hands on them.  So she reached out to one of Pai Pai's founders on my behalf and told them all about the Museum, and they ended up sending these to me completely free.  It's the first time in 9 years of blogging that I've ever gotten anything for free from a makeup company!!  So a huge thanks to Talia and Pai Pai for their kindness and generosity.

Talia Cu for Pai Pai

I'm thrilled I was able to get all of these for the Museum, as they're all quite worthy additions.  I can't wait to see what the next collection is, as it's being teased on Instagram and the suspense is killing me...I think I might spy a pug design?!

What do you think?  Any favorites?



MM Musings, vol 25: unsolicited donations

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done! came across this article detailing an example of an unsolicited museum donation, and it got me thinking about how this would apply to the Makeup Museum. Let's explore the pros and cons of such donations for a cosmetics museum, shall we? 

In the 9 years I've been running the Museum, it has received a handful of amazing, completely unsolicited donations, two of which I haven't even posted about because they were so huge and I'm still in the process of adding them to the inventory and photographing everything.  Some very kind people bestowed hard to find or vintage items in great condition simply because they were going to throw them out, but instead they took the time to do a little research and discovered the Museum might be a good place for these items instead of the trash.  I must say I've had good luck so far with unsolicited donations - no one has sent me beauty items that are in such poor condition that they really do belong in the garbage.  (No one has even requested that I reimburse them for postage, which blows my mind!  I've offered, but they all turned me down.)  Even though I usually have no idea what I'm getting when people offer to send me things - very few take photos and just offer a brief description - I have no problem digging through the items once they arrive and throwing them out if they really are trash.  And as I'm always trying to grow the Museum's collection, right now I have a favorable opinion of such donations.  It's not often you can get quality items for free, so these unsolicited donations essentially mean collection growth without spending a dime of my own money.  Indeed, several prominent museums have had help in growing their collections via unsolicited donations as well. As the director of the institutional history division at the Smithsonian remarked in this article, "We built our collection with amateur collectors." 

Another pro of an unsolicited donation is that even if I can't use it for the collection, it at least provides research and/or blog post fodder.  I like to think of donations as opportunities for other aspects of museum expansion, as sometimes these items can lead me to look into vintage brands or trends I hadn't explored before, or even exhibition concepts.  For example, the Stila memorabilia donations I received sparked the idea of doing a whole exhibition on Stila girl illustrations.  (Still working on it, obviously!)

Finally, for established organizations unsolicited donations can also lead to good press and increased visitor engagement.  This article in Nonprofit Quarterly discusses an unsolicited donation that a museum could have used as PR opportunity and a way to interact with more visitors (although I do understand why the museum didn't follow through with it).  While right now the Makeup Museum doesn't have any real PR to speak of,  if it was an actual museum I'd absolutely pass along unsolicited donations to my PR team and education/engagement staff and see if they could do anything with them.

Now for the not-so-good aspects of unsolicited donations.  Most museums have policies in place clearly stating that they cannot accept unsolicited donations that are left at the doorstep or sent through the mail, and for several good reasons.  First, and probably most important, unsolicited donations can present a host of legal problems.  State laws regarding abandoned property vary, so museums have to determine whether they can legally own donations that were left or sent anonymously. Not only that, while the donation is monetarily free, the donor may put burdensome conditions in place, such as having the item on display at all times.  This makes the legal aspects of the deed of gift more complicated, and the conditions themselves may be more trouble than the donation is worth.  Plus, some pieces have questionable provenance, especially those where the donor refuses to say how they acquired the item or even give their name - no museum wants stolen or fake works in their collections because, again, this could lead to an epic litigation nightmare.

Second, unsolicited donations require an incredible amount of experience in handling extremely delicate situations.  If a donor is turned down, the result may be a permanently damaged relationship that could affect other donations.  Not only does museum staff want to avoid hurt feelings, as donors can be very attached to an object and may take the rejection personally, but the donor may have something else of value that they are now not willing to part with.  As this Wall Street Journal article explains, "Responding to inquiries for donations requires considerable tact, if for no other reason than a collector offering one unwanted object may have one or more others in which the museum would be far more officials attempt to learn something about the person making the offer, because they don't want to close the door on a relationship that might yield other benefits."    

Third, unsolicited donations can be logistically difficult for a small museum that doesn't necessarily have the resources to sift through everything that gets left outside their door or in their mail.  Even if the item proves worthy of the museum's collection, the accessioning process takes a considerable amount of time.  Additionally, the museum may not have the storage space or ability to conserve the items. While mostly applauding the unsolicited donation of goldfish to a museum's pond (literally someone just smuggled a bunch of fish onto museum property and dumped them into the pond without consulting any staff), the Nonprofit Quarterly article notes that the fish ended up dead since the pond wasn't the right environment for them.  If a museum can't properly care for a donation for whatever reason, it actually does more harm than good.

Finally, the museum's focus is also a reason that unsolicited donations are tricky to handle.  In the case of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, donated animal carcasses to be taxidermied or otherwise preserved by the museum present a safety hazard if the critters succumbed to rabies or carried dangerous parasites.  On a less deadly side, I'd imagine a fashion museum would have to take special care in ensuring the donated garments are free of moths and other insects, lest they spread to the rest of the museum's collection and destroy it. 

In light of all these challenges, many museums have very clear policies in place that help protect them against the potential pitfalls that unsolicited donations present.  As for the Makeup Museum, right now I don't think I really need an official policy, since 1. it's not like I'm getting bombarded with donations so I can handle the amount; 2.  legally I can't get into trouble for accepting items or throwing them out since the Museum isn't an actual institution - it's really a situation of one person gifting items to another.  (At least, I don't think I can be sued or anything like that...any lawyers want to weigh in?)

However, should the Makeup Museum ever become a real organization, it would investigate unsolicited donations on a case-by-case basis and maintain a public policy that all staff is well-versed in.  I'd definitely require a form of some kind to be filled out online and have hard copies available in the case of in-person drop-offs.  I'd also follow the standard guideline that most museums have posted - I might even use this exact language from the Chicago History Museum and the International Spy Museum cobbled together, since it's perfect (why reinvent the wheel?):  "The Museum does not accept donations through the mail or in person unless prior arrangements have been made with the appropriate curatorial or collection staff member. All unsolicited donations sent via the mail will be returned to sender.  The Museum reserves the right to dispose of unsolicited items."  Storage space shouldn't be that much of an issue since makeup items are generally small.  Currently I'm running out of room, but that's only because I'm trying to keep the collection in my home - if I had a large dedicated space, it wouldn't pose too much of a problem (unless the donation was something like salon furniture or oversize props...still, if Paul & Joe wanted to donate those giant cat lipsticks they used for their events, I'd take them in a heartbeat, lack of space be damned).  As for health hazards, I can see that used makeup is kind of gross, but most likely it doesn't pose a threat as the items can be somewhat sanitized and no one would actually be using them - they're just being displayed.  The only things you'd have to be really careful with are hair-related items, i.e., I'd think twice about accepting a used vintage hairbrush or other accessories, as an outbreak of lice is not desirable.

There are many potential issues with unsolicited donations, but I believe that if a museum sticks to their policy and ensures their staff understands it, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.  As Jody Ochoa, Director of the Idaho State Historical Museum emphasizes, "If we don't know anything about an item, how can we take it? Having a good solid policy is really key, and it protects everyone, including the volunteers."  My current job also forces me to handle sensitive situations on occasion, so I think I'd be equipped to gently and tactfully negotiate or turn down a donation - hopefully there wouldn't be any burning of bridges with donors for me.

What do you think?