MM Musings, vol. 18: interview with an exhibition designer!
Now it's Marge's time to shine!

For the modern DIY beauty devotee: The Alchemist's Dressing Table

I came across this concept for a DIY cosmetics setup via The Fox Is Black a few weeks ago and I can't get it out of my head!  London-based designer Lauren Davies came up with a "collection of analog tools for the production of natural cosmetics at home, inspired by beautiful ancient rituals and the transformative powers of alchemy." 

Davies-TheAlchemistsDressingTable

Distiller

Other Tools

Hand Tools
(images from heka-lab.com)

Here's the concept:  "The palette of copper and maple wood are chosen for their traditional and folkloric symbolism respectively. Cork is used for its insulating properties, borosilicate glass for its heat resistance and stainless steel for strength. All components are fabricated in collaboration with London-based craftsmen.  Together, the tools form a statement piece; reigniting a dialogue about our relationship with nature and the materials we use...The tools I’ve designed will enable women to forge a stronger connection to their personal beauty rituals and a more magical relationship with nature’s intricate mysteries."  I love this description.  Since I'm not too familiar with DIY beauty recipes and can barely figure out our French press, the video really helped me see how everything works.

 

The idea of mixing one's own lotions and potions is not new; in fact, up until the late 19th century most women concoted their own beauty treatments.  Says Kathy Peiss in her excellent book Hope in a Jar:  The Making of American's Beauty Culture:  "Nineteenth century American women inherited a tradition of cosmetic preparation, which freely borrowed from a variety of sources and reached back through the centuries...like household hints and cooking recipes, cosmetic knowledge spread by word of mouth, within families and between neighbors.  Women often compiled their own recipe books and passed them on to their daughters...women's access to information about cosmetics expanded even more with the publishing boom of the 1840s and 1850s." (p.12-14)  You can even find these recipes today.

The Alchemist's Dressing Table works in these age-old traditions as well as the tools used, but modernizes everything to create a sleek, streamlined design.  The ancient Egyptians used a combination of a lead-based mineral and soot to make black eye kohl, and Davies provides a rather elegant way to produce soot that can be used in a recipe for eye liner.  Additionally, you can see the similarity between the ancient kohl applicator/mixing tool shown in these images from the British Museum and the one Davies designed. (And look! You can buy an entire book on cosmetic sets in early Britain!)

Ancient-eye-shadow

Ancient-eye-shadow-application
(images from britishmuseum.org)

I also liked how Davies modified an alembic to distill ingredients for beauty treatments, but still uses the traditional materials: copper, glass and sometimes cork.  Here's a reproduction of a traditional copper alembic and some 19th century alembics for comparison.

Copper-alembic
(image from coppermasters.com)

19thcentury-alembics
(images from mhs.ox.ac.uk)

As for practicality, I personally can't see any use for the Alchemist's Dressing Table myself as I'm a disaster at both cooking and science experiments.  The only value for me would be the packaging of the end product.  I'm envisioning putting everything into pretty little jars I found on Etsy with vintage-inspired labeling, and frankly, I can buy pre-made products that have that packaging.  Purchasing them would eliminate the risk of setting my kitchen on fire, which would no doubt be the end result of my attempt to distill some lavender.  I also imagine this set would be a rather pricey investment for consumers if it were put into production.  Having said all that, I certainly recognize the value of such a setup for those that need or want chemical-free, all-natural beauty products.  If, for example, a vegan and/or gluten-free lifestyle is a necessity, making your own products from start to finish is a way to be 100% sure the products you're using comply with your needs.  You control the entire process.  Indeed, Davies states, "I believe this could be the future of cosmetics for the modern woman who has a desire to be more in control of what she uses on her skin and the impact they have on our environment."  You don't even have to buy, say, rosewater since you can now make your own.  I suppose there are ways to make your own products without this carefully designed ensemble, but these are such beautiful pieces it makes mixing a homemade cream in your old soup pot - you know, the cheap one you got in college that's now scratched to hell - seem downright sad.

The bottom line is that objectively speaking, this is simply gorgeous.  It's not just the beauty-obsessed among us that appreciates this work - the Alchemist's Dressing Table was nominated for the 2014 Design of the Year Award at London's Design Museum.  I would dearly love to get my hands on it...especially if I had a physical Makeup Museum.  I'd have a whole room with this as the centerpiece and people could make appointments to come in and make whatever they want.

What do you think?  Do you mix your own products and if so, would you use something like this?

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