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February 2017

A day with "jeweler to the stars" Paul Flato

Tiffany?  Harry Winston?  Fred Leighton?  Forget about 'em.  While they might be supplying the sparkling baubles for today's red carpet, back in the late '30s and '40s there was a jeweler bigger than those 3 put together:  Paul Flato.  I'll get to why I'm talking about a jeweler in a sec, but first a brief bio is in order.  Paul Flato (1900-1999), moved from his home state of Texas to New York City at the age of 20.  He opened his own jewelry store shortly afterwards and employed several designers.  By 1937 he had another store on the West Coast to further solidify his status as the go-to jeweler for the biggest Hollywood stars (think Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn) as well as a jewelry designer for major films.

Now here's where his story goes off the rails.  In 1943 he was arrested for pawning over $100,000 worth of jewels that clients and fellow jewelers had entrusted to him on consignment and served 16 months in Sing Sing.  Upon his release from prison he started a lucrative business designing compacts, which was fortunate as his Hollywood career was basically over.  After the compacts, Flato continued to design jewelry in the store he opened in Mexico City from 1970-1990, then returned to Texas for the last decade of his life.  To my knowledge he never got back into Hollywood's good graces - I couldn't find anything about him supplying jewelry for movies/actresses after 1943 - but it didn't matter since he had already become a legend.

I had seen the Flato brand floating around previously during my various vintage compact hunts and figured one would be a good addition to the Museum's collection, but none of the designs really appealed to me.  Since they can be on the pricey side I decided to hold off to see if any really caught my fancy.  And as luck would have it this adorable compact and lipstick case, still in the original box, eventually surfaced.  Against my better judgement I got involved in a nasty Ebay bidding war, but ultimately won (and probably overpaid a smidge). 

Paul Flato compact box

Looking back it was totally worth it given how awesome the design is.  You may or may not know I have a thing for mint green/jade/bakelite so when I gazed into this kitty's glowing mint green eyes I knew she had to be mine.

Paul Flato compact

Paul Flato compact

Paul Flato compact

Love the matching design on the lipstick case!

Paul Flato lipstick case

I thought it would be good to discuss Flato's style a little so we can see how it translated to the compacts.  I find his pieces to be whimsical and tongue-in-cheek, while still piling on the sparkle.  Some examples, according to his obit in the New York Times:  "Among them were a diamond 'corset' bracelet, with garters in rubies and diamonds, based on Mae West's undergarment...a compact for Gloria Vanderbilt was studded with gold and enamel angels, including an angel on a chamber pot. A pair of little brooches of gold feet with ruby toenails was originally made for Irene Castle, a play both on her maiden name, Foote, and her dancing career."  Flato also drew on everyday experiences and items - his observation of fallen leaves one crisp autumn day turned into this brooch, while a basic belt buckle became a dazzling aquamarine necklace.

Paul Flato leaves brooch

Paul Flato aquamarine and ruby belt buckle necklace
(images from langantiques.com)

Another prominent motif in Flato's work was hands, according to this site:  "Hand imagery had always been of interest to Flato, who notably used antique hand sculptures to display jewelry in ads that appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during the 1930s."  Here are some quite literal examples.

Paul Flato hand brooches

Not only that, but Flato's own battle with hearing loss at a young age inspired a series of sign language pins.

Paul Flato sign language pins

Paul Flato sign language pins
(images from jewelsdujour.com)

This same playfulness mixed with a healthy dose of sparkle carried over to Flato's compacts.  I liked that he created designs that were different from his jewelry line but still maintained his signature style.  It looks like Flato filed the patent for the compacts in February 1948 and they were available for sale later that year. Interestingly, this wasn't the first time Flato had the idea to design compacts, as evidenced by this 1940 patent for a compact, cigarette case and lipstick combo.

Paul Flato compact patent(image from google.com)

I meant to order this ad from hprints in time for this post and completely spaced on it.  Sigh.

Paul Flato compact ad, 1948
(image from hprints.com)

The ones shown in the ad above are fairly common.  I wouldn't mind adding the seashell one to my collection.  ;)  There's also a patent for it too, which is pretty cool.

Paul Flato shell compact
(image from pinterest.com)

The popular dogwood design:

Paul Flato dogwood compact
(image from etsy.com)

And this circular patterned one.

Paul Flato compact
(image from ebth.com)

Apparently the compacts were a pretty big hit right away, according to this news snippet from 1949.

News-herald-franklin-pa-dec.2-1949

Some more, just for fun.

Paul Flato compact ad, November 1949

Paul Flato stars compact
(image from pinterest.com)

Paul Flato luck compacts

Paul Flato "crown jewels" compacts
(image from perfumebottles.org)

It's not just a key design; it's a key holder!  Yes, you could have the key on this compact custom filed to fit your door.  Personally I'd be petrified of losing it - my keys need to stay on a ring - but you have to admit there's some innovation there.

Paul Flato key compact ad, December 1950

Paul Flato key compact
(image from pinterest.com)

Another key ad, plus the wonderfully blinged-out teardrop design. 

Paul Flato compact ad, May 1951

Paul Flato teardrop compact
(image from liveauctioneers.com)

This one definitely shows Flato's sillier side.  Would you like one of his "scatabout" pins while you're at it?  You know, to anchor your lapel flower?  Fashion sure has changed!

June 1950

Paul Flato circus compact
(image from etsy.com)

This one is also a lot of fun.  I couldn't find any ads for it but I wonder if it was a special release for Easter.

Paul Flato bunny compact

Paul Flato bunny compact
(images from liveauctioneers.com)

The kitty one I have seems to be relatively rare. In my searches I did see one other in a beautiful tiger-eye colorway instead of the green, but I can't seem to find the photo of it now.  In any case, I'm pretty pleased with this acquisition as I do think it's one of Flato's better compact designs.

What do you think, both of Flato's jewelry and compacts?  Most of them aren't my style but I appreciate them nonetheless.  If his jewelry is really striking your fancy you can always buy this lovely catalog of his work.


MM Musings, vol. 24: all the bells and whistles

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!

Yoga at the Brooklyn MuseumI forget how I came across this Observer article, but it was a rather eye-opening piece on how museums are upping their game in terms of what they offer besides art.  And it got me thinking about what, if any, over-the-top amenities and programs the Makeup Museum would offer if it occupied a physical space.  Let's explore that, shall we?

The article discusses the rise of extra offerings for visitors that goes well beyond the scope of the museum's mission, including fitness and yoga classes (the latter is a huge trend, apparently), world-class restaurants and programs for specific populations.  The goal of all these amenities, obviously, is to attract more visitors overall and turn regular visitors into donors.  "All over the country, museums have been looking to change their image from boxy buildings that just store and exhibit cultural objects to community gathering spaces with activities for preschoolers, teens, single adults, families, the elderly and probably some other demographics...It is the hope on the part of museums that this effort to make their institutions gathering spots for their communities and to view the population as customers whose needs are to be met will turn casual visitors into members, some of whom may become donors and board members."  While I haven't found any official studies on whether these sorts of things actually increase the number of visitors and donations, they comprise an interesting marketing tactic worth looking into.  However, I must point out that some of the "extras" the article highlights, such as community outreach programs, shouldn't be viewed as additional amenities, they should just be part of regular programming and services.  I don't think electric carts for elderly visitors should be lumped in with, say, having a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

Anyway, I can envision the Makeup Museum adopting similar programs to the ones mentioned.  I had always planned on an excellent gift shop and cafe, not to mention that the museum building would be beautifully designed and have amazing signage/collateral (e.g. museum maps, exhibition labels, etc.).  But reading the Observer piece makes me think that perhaps the Museum could offer a fitness or yoga class - maybe have one of those so-called "athleisure" makeup brands sponsor it and offer free product samples to people taking the class.  Other programs might be a decorate your own compact night or an "apothecary" workshop on how to make natural pigments and serums (similar to this setup). For kids, we could have finger painting classes using old makeup - lord knows I have a ton of stuff I don't use anymore but would still be safe to use for artistic purposes.  I think any cosmetics museum-goers might want to have these sorts of things available to them in addition to the standard tours and exhibitions.  As the article notes, “Our expectations of going to museums increasingly are like our expectations when going into a Starbucks: We want things to be tailored to our individual likes and interests."

On the other hand, though, I do see these sorts of extra programs and services being problematic, particularly for a cosmetics museum.  As the article points out, one issue is the possibility of objects getting damaged or destroyed.  This little nugget was truly horrifying:  "Marcy Goodman, a museum-planning consultant in La Crescenta, Calif., who developed the plans for the Bruce Museum’s expansion, said parties should not take place in the actual galleries. 'Some years back, an art museum in Oregon hosted an all-you-can-drink event in a gallery where, among other things, some people ended up having sex on a Henry Moore sculpture,' she told the Observer."  Meanwhile, New York Magazine asks, "How long until someone breaks a priceless piece of art during the Met Museum workout?"  Museums already have to deal with careless people breaking things, why invite even more of it if it's not crucial to the mission? 

Secondly, these sorts of programs might distract from a museum's true purpose.   Do you want visitors to actually, you know, pay attention to the displays or visit simply for the frills?  It's a really tough call since museums are dependent on visitors - this is a key benchmark for receiving funding and sponsorships - but you don't want to turn a museum into something it's not.  Plus, as we learned with exhibition display, one has to be very careful in making sure a museum devoted to cosmetics doesn't morph into a store.  I don't think I'd sell makeup in any capacity at the Museum, not even in the gift shop.  It's a museum, not Sephora!  (One caveat:  I think the recently discussed Museum of Beni and its accompanying store is an exception to selling makeup in a museum setting.)  And sponsorship by makeup companies for special workshops and classes is problematic, since you want people to have learned something about makeup history, not be exposed to what amounts to glorified advertising.  Yes, people's expectations of museums are more on par with those they have for businesses like Starbucks, but frankly, museums aren't businesses.  Even if they partner with and receive funding from businesses, museums need to stay firmly on the nonprofit side.  That would be particularly difficult to do with a cosmetics museum - the kind of showiness and gimmicks you'd see in retail needs to be kept at bay lest you "sell out" and lose sight of the museum's true mission.

Finally, and I think this is the core issue for me, is that I would probably not engage in all the extras and simply put all funding into making the Makeup Museum as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.  While the some of the amenities mentioned in the article are nice, they're not necessarily critical to people's understanding of the art.  And let's face it, funding for museums is so scarce, there's no way I'd be able to afford most of the things I'd love to have, like fancy architecture and an internationally-renowned cafe.  Even if I did have this sort of money, I think I'd spend it on, say, making the museum's resources - everything from pamphlets to audio guides - available in just about every language.  Instead of yoga classes, the Museum would offer state-of-the-art touch-tour and 3D printing technology so that blind visitors can have a richer experience.  Funding that would pay the salary of a world-class chef for the cafe would instead go to ensuring the Museum remains free.  And I maintain that kids' programming is a necessity, but the Museum could go a little further and have programs just for special-needs kids (like this.)  This ties back into what I noted earlier:  some of the programs the article talks about should not be perceived as extra.  In addition to my other ideas, I'd be all over those community outreach programs!  The bottom line is that I'd definitely focus less on the frills and more on accessibility, inclusiveness and civic engagement.  Specifically what that would consist of will be explored in later installments of MM Musings. ;)

Thoughts?  Would you like to see crazy, over-the-top amenities at a makeup museum? 

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Spring 2017 sneak peek: Burberry Silk and Bloom palette

Burberry Silk and Bloom blush palette

I hope Burberry doesn't stop releasing their runway-inspired palettes, as I've become quite fond of them. While their most recent offering isn't my favorite, I will certainly take it over nothing.  For their spring 2017 blush palette, Burberry chose a hexagonal floral pattern that appeared on several items in the fashion collection (and, interestingly, on the runway floor).

Burberry spring 2017
(images from us.burberry.com and vogue.com)

Burberry Silk and Bloom blush palette

One significant item of note that I somehow missed when discussing the fall palette was that the wallpapers Burberry borrowed for patterns to use in their spring 2017 collections are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, so off I went to see if I could find the originals.  To my astonishment and great delight they were available to view online!  Here's the one that inspired the spring 2017 pattern.

Wallpaper, ca. 1830
(image from collections.vam.ac.uk)

According to the V & A, this was made around 1830:  "This wallpaper was designed to imitate moulded plasterwork.  Moulded plaster was a fashionable method of wall and ceiling decoration in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was expensive.  Wallpaper printed in shades of grey and buff was a cheaper way of achieving a similar decorative effect."

Just for my own gratification here are some of the other items that I mentioned in my previous post and the nail polish set, along with the original wallpaper.  These were available for purchase back in the fall, but considered part of spring 2017...sort of.   It's all very confusing to me, but Burberry was testing out the see-now, buy-now approach back in September 2016, hence why I thought the wallpaper-based items at the website were part of the fall 2016 collection.  Apparently Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey is doing away with formal spring/fall collections (in name, anyway) and showing one collection in September and February, with styles that are meant to be "seasonless".  I don't know about that so I'm continuing to refer to the Silk and Bloom palette, as well as the other wallpaper pieces, as part of spring 2017.

Burberry wallpaper-inspired jacket

Burberry wallpaper print tee

Burberry nail polish set
(images from us.burberry.com)

This paper is from the mid-18th century and used to imitate "print rooms".  "This was a room decorated with prints that had been pasted on to the walls, with the addition of printed paper frames and borders. It was intended to give the impression of a room hung with framed pictures. Designing and installing a print room was a fashionable hobby for the wealthy in the 1760s and 1770s. Using a wallpaper with a 'print room' design was a cheaper way of achieving the same effect. This is one of several print room papers from Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire; it was hung as part of the major redecoration of the house undertaken by Sir John Hussey Delaval around 1760."

Wallpaper, ca. 1760
(image from collections.vam.ac.uk)

Anyway, back to the Silk and Bloom palette.  Overall it's pretty and the vibrant rose color is to die for, but there are a couple details I'm not loving.  First, there's this odd rough texture surrounding the flowers.  I'm guessing it was a deliberate attempt to replicate the textural variations of silk fabric, which would make sense given that the pattern comes from silk garments, but I feel like it should be smooth - it almost looks like the palette is defective.  On silk clothing obviously this texture is to be expected, but I don't think it works on a powder surface.

Burberry Silk and Bloom blush palette

The second detail I'm not crazy about is the closeup view of the pattern.  While in other palettes I adore the zoomed-in effect - it allows you to see more detail - in this case the closeup of the flower cluster sort of reminds me of cells under a microscope (in this case, algae cells).

Burberry Silk and Bloom palette

I think the pattern works well on the clothing (and on wallpaper, for that matter), but this is one of the few that, in my humble opinion, did not translate well to makeup form.  (Or maybe I'm still cranky over not being able to snag the adorable heart-adorned First Love palette, grrr.)  Whatever it is, I vastly prefer the spring and fall 2016 palette designs over this one.  It's especially disappointing given that they could have modified the pattern to make it work for makeup - I would have gladly sacrificed a closeup view to have more of the whole pattern, since maybe then it wouldn't remind me of a biology class.  :P  Or Burberry could have chosen a different pattern entirely, like this one.

Burberry spring 2017

This single flower would be gorgeous - with a design like that, I'm envisioning the level of intricacy and color variety on par with Chantecaille's Butterfly eye shadows, and it could have with lots of shimmer on the petals like Sisley's Orchidée palette.

Burberry spring 2017

Or maybe eschew flowers entirely and do something totally unexpected, like the graphic pattern on this bodycon dress?  I bet it would make a great bronzer.

Burberry spring 2017
(images from us.burberry.com)

What do you think?  Check out the Museum's Burberry category for glimpses of previous runway palettes and let me know how the spring 2017 one stacks up in your opinion.  :)

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Curator's Corner, 2/12/2017

CC logoSome mid-February links. 

- Thoroughly enjoyed this interview with MDMFlow founder Florence Adepoju...you might remember MDMFlow from my 2014 post on the weird lipstick color trend.

- On the beauty history front, Byrdie had a nice little roundup of vintage makeup products, and I'm head over heels in love with these images from Shiseido's official monthly magazine.  More thought-provoking was this piece on the history of women's battle against body hair.  I have to admit that if it were more socially acceptable I'd never shave my legs or armpits again.

- Attention, pizza fiends:  the eyeliner of your dreams has landed.  You could even use this pizza wheel-like cutter to apply it.  If pizza isn't regal enough for you check out princess eye makeup.  Meanwhile, nail art gets political (and possibly illegal in some states).

- Finally, here are two beauty fads that downright confused me.

The random:

- Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists, so I'm loving these animated gifs of his paintings. 

- There is much '90s nostalgia to be celebrated!  I posted a while back that Wayne's World will be making its way back into theaters for its 25th anniversary, but Wayne and Garth's hometown of Aurora is pulling out all the stops. Mike Myers has also done a few interviews about this classic comedy.  In other '90s related news, it's very clear there won't be a Pulp Fiction sequel (or prequel), which, honestly, I'm totally okay with.  It would never measure up to the original.  It's also very clear that some '90s interior design trends need to stay in the decade.  Finally, can I get a "woohoo" for the 20th anniversary of Blur's "Song 2"

- Chocolate Peppermint Crunch will probably always be my favorite Ben and Jerry's flavor, but these new ones sound promising.

What's new with you?  Are you doing anything for Valentine's Day?

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Museum spotlight: Tokyo's Museum of Beni

Once again I'm in over my head on a vast topic, but I wanted to share another cosmetics museum that is on my must-see list when I go to Japan.  The Museum of Beni in Tokyo was founded in 2006 to celebrate and share the history of the hallowed Japanese red lip color known as beni.  The Museum was established by Isehan Honten, a company that has been manufacturing beni since 1825 (!) and is the only surviving beni company from the Edo period (the use of beni actually dates back several centuries prior to the Edo period).  The Museum contains precious artifacts related to beni, such as the lacquered bowls that are layered with the pigment (known as "ochoko"), brushes, and equipment used to make beni, not to mention a significant amount of memorabilia (books, prints, etc).

Beni bowls, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Beni brushes, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Beni was also portable, stored in carrying cases called itabeni starting around the middle of the Edo period (ca. 1700s).  They were made from a variety of materials, including tortoiseshell, antlers, ivory, metal, wood and even paper.  The really cool thing about them was when you finished up the beni in the case, you could go and have it re-brushed with fresh pigment.  Perhaps this is where the notion of refillable powder compacts and lipstick tubes came from.

Ita-beni, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Itabeni, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Beni brushes and compacts

Beni boxes, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Print, ca. late 1800s, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

This page from a book published in 1813 called Makeup in the Culture of Kyoto shows how to apply beni.

Book page, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

This sign was displayed on the storefront and indicates that it's an official supplier of beni to the Imperial Household Department...

Sign, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

...and this was a license granted only to merchants who supplied products to the Imperial Household Department to gain entry into the Imperial Household.

License, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

This drawing from 1885 shows one of Isehan's original storefronts and the beni-ba (the space where the beni is made).

Drawing, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

Not only does the Museum of Beni display all these great pieces, it also has a salon where you can try out and purchase beni. 

Isehan Honten Museum of Beni salon(images from Google Cultural Institute)

Beni gets its name from the pigment of the benibana (safflower).  While the petals of this bloom are 99% yellow/orange, the other 1% are red and are harvested to make this traditional lip color.  One Komachi beni (Komachi refers to the traditional beni that comes layered in a bowl) requires roughly 2,000 flowers and yields about 50 uses. 

Safflower
(image from feedipedia.org)

Isehan has some amazing pictures of the beni-making process, along with a video.  I'll try my best to summarize it here.  The flowers are hand-picked (usually in early-mid July), fermented, dried into cakes and then soaked overnight in water. 

Beni production process

Beni production process

An alkaline solution is added and the mixture is pressed to extract the liquid. 

Beni production process

Then, an acid solution is very carefully added to separate and crystallize the red pigment.  If the acid solution is just a little off, the red will become blue or green, which is unusable.  The pigment is then strained through a finely woven cloth.  The end result is a mud-like consistency.

Beni production process

Beni production process

The bowls are painted and set to dry.  You'll notice it turns a beautiful iridescent green when fully dry. 

Beni production process

Beni drying(images from Google Cultural Institute)

As you can see, making traditional beni is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process - although some beni is manufactured by modern machinery - but the old-fashioned methods of producing it are only way to obtain that remarkable iridescence, and only highly skilled craftsmen can coax it out of the petals.  The iridescent quality, along with the fact that the opacity can be built up by layering, or conversely, toned down by adding more water, sets traditional beni apart from other cosmetic pigments.  The video below shows how to apply it.  Texture-wise you can see it's incredibly different from Western lipsticks, which use a lot of waxes and oils to make them emollient.  Beni appears to have a thinner, non-greasy consistency like watercolor.  And the iridescence is truly stunning - it reminds me of a beetle's wing.

As Glamourdaze notes in a post on beni, an interesting piece of history regarding the iridescence was that Japanese women in the 18th and 19th centuries were fond of pairing the very subtle iridescence of the red beni on the top lip with a bold green iridescent pigment from the stem of a bamboo plant called sasa on the bottom lip.  Hence the "sasabeni" trend was born.

Sasabeni, ca. 1880s(image from flickr.com)

print depicting sasabeni

print depicting sasabeni(images from printsofjapan.com)

The Museum of Beni, however, claims the green came from applying a ton of layers of beni so that the green iridescence overpowered the red, and the sasa name simply refers to the green color, i.e., it wasn't actually made from bamboo.  They also assert that the look was in style only for a short period of time, between 1804 and 1829 (oddly specific dates, no?  I wonder what their source is.)

Print depicting Sasabeni, ca. late 1800s, Isehan Honten Museum of Beni

I'm all in favor of bringing back this look!  Honestly I might actually try to recreate it sometime by wearing Lipstick Queen Eden (which would be perfect as it's a dead ringer for what I've seen of beni and also has a very subtle "magical apple green holographic shimmer") on the top lip and MAC's Deep With Envy lipstick on the bottom, with a tiny dusting of the Emerald shade from Kat Von D's Alchemist palette layered on top.  Not the same, of course, but perhaps it could be viewed as a modern twist.

Anyway, as for the Museum of Beni, some may say that it's a weak cover for a source of additional revenue for the company, but I disagree.  While beni was still being used in the early 20th century, the traditional Komachi beni was largely dying out.  Bo-beni (crayons) and compacts became much more popular than Komachi, and by World War II Komachi was almost completely gone as Western style lipsticks became the norm. 

Bo-beni

Compact beni(images from Google Cultural Institute)

Isehan Honten wants to profit, as any business does, but I do believe their museum comes from a genuine desire to preserve the heritage of beni and introduce this historic cosmetic item to people the world over.  If I hadn't been searching for cosmetic museums I might not never have heard of beni otherwise, and I research makeup as a hobby!  Beni is still so unknown in the West that many people, myself included, were confused by NARS's attempt to bring the concept to us in 2010.  While this set is inspired by traditional Komachi beni application (i.e. using a brush to apply pigment layered in a bowl), obviously the ingredients and effect are totally different.

NARS Bento Box, holiday 2010(image from chicprofile.com)

Another point to consider: authentic, high-quality beni is expensive.  In 2008 the UK's Telegraph reported that Isehan's product cost "70,000 to 300,000 yen (£335 - £1,440) for a pot holding less than a third of an ounce, or 30 to 50 applications, so an evening's use can cost up to £50."  In U.S. dollars that would come to $618 to $2,650, and I'm using the 2008 figures - it must be even more by now.  Historic French beauty company Buly 1803 also sells beni for a mere 420 euros ($446).  That's a bargain compared to Isehan.  ;)  Seriously though, I can't imagine a museum that showcases a product with such a hefty price tag would be much of a money-maker.  It might get people in the door and tempt them to buy it, but I highly doubt many visitors are actually going to drop nearly $700 on a lip product, especially when they can get a cheap knockoff intended for tourists (they're usually made mostly with food coloring and contain only a tiny bit of actual safflower).

Beni-knockoff(image from ebay.ca)

So I really don't think the Museum of Beni is a money grab.  As a matter of fact, I think Isehan Honten's museum is among the very few concerted efforts in the entire world to protect beni's heritage.   I don't think even the Pola Museum is doing as much to prevent beni from going extinct, and while some museums certainly own beni-related artifacts, no collections that I know of are as extensive as Isehan's.  It's not in their best interest from a profit standpoint to store and display all these items (why not just have a shop?) so I think they're truly dedicated to keeping the history alive.  A spokesperson for the company explains, “When we say protecting the traditional culture, it does not really mean we create a museum and just show off our products there...to help this kind of culture grow roots and stay alive, we think it’s important that it be accepted by the customers and actually gets used.”  So the salon is a way to enhance the history of beni - I see it as a tool used by the museum rather than the other way around, i.e. museum as mere retail accessory.  Sure, seeing historic cosmetic objects in cases is great, but actually being able to touch them and apply the product definitely hammers home the cultural importance of these items for the average visitor.

I hope you enjoyed this little overview of both the Museum of Beni and the product itself.  I am by no means an expert but I think what I have here is somewhat accurate.  Anyone want to weigh in?  Would you want to visit this museum?  You can see real-life pics here, if you're so inclined.  I know I must definitely make a trip!  And yes, I'd blow some of my savings to acquire beni of my very own...it's a totally unique product you can't get anywhere else, and incredibly full of culture and history to boot.


Republic Nail's homage to Frida Kahlo: ¡Viva la vida!

"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can." - Frida Kahlo

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo

I became obsessed with tracking down a collection of nail polishes and lipsticks featuring Frida Kahlo after Karen at Makeup and Beauty Blog posted about them back in December.  After having no luck finding them in Baltimore, on December 23, 2016, while visiting my family in Pennsylvania, I was granted an early Christmas miracle and came across them at a CVS near my sister's house.  Needless to say I was over the moon, since this collection is exactly the kind of thing the Museum was meant for.  While I still haven't been able to get my hands on all of the designs, I'm happy with what I did find.  :)

I've said before with other major artists that it's beyond the scope of my humble little blog to write a very long essay about the artist's work/biography, especially given the staggering amount of resources on Kahlo - everything from films to exhibitions on her fashion and personal possessions to her diary have been made available - but I at least want to give a brief summary for those not so familiar with her.  Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican artist who is best known for her self-portraits, which expressed her tumultuous life and impassioned personality.  "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best," one of her most famous quotes explains.  To say that she had not been dealt an easy hand in life would be an understatement.  After surviving polio at the age of 6, at 18 she suffered a terrible bus accident that nearly killed her and left her in constant pain for the rest of her life despite over a dozen surgeries to help her heal.  This is to say nothing of her turbulent marriage to (and subsequent divorce from and remarriage to) fellow artist Diego Rivera, or the fact that she badly desired children and ended up with 3 near-fatal miscarriages instead.  While Kahlo's paintings are a direct reflection of the trauma she endured, I also believe she channeled her emotional and physical pain into her art rather than letting it consume her spirit. In looking at her paintings, you clearly see her pain but also fierce will and determination to keep going.  She was a fighter who approached everything in life with a ferocious intensity, which is especially apparent in some personal details.  For example, towards the end of her life she was bedridden from chronic pain but attended the opening of her first solo exhibition, arriving in an ambulance.  And I love this photo of her in bed, still painting away. 

Frida Kahlo painting

In the year before her death, she also lost of most of her right leg to gangrene yet created a work of art from her prosthetic.

Frida Kahlo prosthetic
(image from collectorsweekly.com

It's these incredible displays of strength, I think, that make Kahlo such a fascinating and enduring icon. 

Now let's get to the beauty collection, shall we?  I wasn't familiar with Republic Nail before now, but it looks like they released this collection sometime in the summer of 2016.  I was only able to find 5 of the 12 designs, but I figured I'd discuss each one anyway and compare the designs to Kahlo's work and photos.  First up are the ones that I was able to buy. 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

I'm fairly certain the image of Kahlo comes from this 1939 photo taken by fashion/commercial photographer Nickolas Muray, Kahlo's lover and close friend, who photographed over 40 portraits of the artist. "Viva La Vida" is a title of one of Kahlo's paintings.

Frida Kahlo, 1939
(image from nickolasmuray.com)

This design also borrows a portrait of Kahlo by Muray but combines one of her best-known works.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

Frida Kahlo, ca. 1938
(image from nickolasmuray.com)

Besides the above design, others in the Republic Nail collection feature images of hummingbirds, most likely inspired from this 1940 self-portrait.  Hayden Herrera, one of the most prominent Kahlo scholars, explores the possible meanings behind the painting's hummingbird in her excellent book Frida Kahlo: The Paintings: "Hanging from the thorn necklace is a dead hummingbird, whose outstretched wings echo Frida's joined eyebrows.  The bird must point to Frida's feeling of being cut down in flight or to her rejection by Diego:  in Mexican folk tradition dead hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love.  In Aztec mythology the hummingbird symbolized reincarnation - the spirits of dead warriors returned in the form of hummingbirds.  In Christian symbolism birds in general stand for the winged soul.  Given the religious atmosphere of this painting, in which Frida looks as solemn as a Pantocrator, the bird might also refer to the Holy Ghost." (p. 142).  Interesingly, other artists such as Ashley Longshore (whom I featured at the Museum for Clé de Peau's holiday 2016 collection), have also depicted Kahlo with hummingbirds.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait, 1940

This design is a copy of Kahlo's "Wounded Deer" from 1946.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

There's a lot going on in this painting and I'm too lazy to rehash it all, so if you're curious you can check out a good explanation here.

Frida Kahlo, The Wounded Deer, 1946

More hummingbirds (I think).

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

As far as I know Kahlo never painted herself in Day of the Dead makeup; however, sugar skulls and skeletons figured prominently in her work.  During her recovery from the bus accident in 1925, "she dressed papier-mache skeletons in her own clothes and hung them from her bed's canopy so that they jostled in the wind.  One of her favorite possessions was a sugar skull of the type that children eat on the Day of the Dead.  Frida ordered the skull to be made with her own name written in bold letters on its forehead." (Herrera, p. 36) 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

Physically Kahlo never fully recovered from the accident, and suffered numerous other ailments afterwards.  Death never seemed far away, hence the frequent references to it in her work.

Frida Kahlo, Girl with Death Mask, 1938

Frida Kahlo, Four Inhabitants of Mexico, 1938

Frida Kahlo, The Dream, 1940

Frida Kahlo, Thinking of Death, 1943

The sugar skull with her name on it makes an appearance in this very sad work from 1945.

Frida Kahlo, Without Hope, 1945

While the sugar skull design on the polish refers to Kahlo's more macabre works, I liked the inclusion of the hand-shaped earrings.  These were a gift to Kahlo from Picasso.  She wore them frequently, even for two of her self-portraits.  They appear in black on the Republic Nail items, but they look to be ivory or shell in Kahlo's versions.  (There are tons of imitations available for sale too, if you're so inclined.)

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo nail polish

Frida Kahlo, ca. 1939
(image from nickolasmuray.com)

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser, 1940

Here's the other portrait with the earrings.  I found this in another book I purchased for research for this post, Martha Zamora's highly acclaimed Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Marte R. Gomez, 1946

Now for the Republic Nail items I couldn't find.  I'm only showing the nail polishes here but the same designs appeared on lipstick cases.

These four aren't quite so inspired, just more of the same motifs we've seen.  I do appreciate the little monkey on the cap of the polish second from the left below.  Kahlo liked monkeys, keeping them as surrogate children (along with a host of other animals) and incorporating them into her portraits.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polishes

Another animal she was fond of was the parrot.  The one on the nail polish looks similar to one that appears in a 1951 still life. 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Parrot, 1951

The design on this one refers to a painting from 1944, one of the more devastating representations of Kahlo's physical trauma.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

The Broken Column was painted during a 5-month period when Kahlo was encased in a steel corset to heal her back.  She wrote to her doctor, "I got a little better with the corset but now I feel just as sick again, and I am now very desperate because I do not see anything that improves the condition of my spine." (Herrera, p. 182)  Unable to move and in pain, she stares out at the viewer tearfully yet stoically.  The painting also includes clear sexual overtones given that the artist depicts herself topless and penetrated by a rather phallic column.

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944

The banner wrapped around the column on the nail polish bottle's design appeared in several works, such as this wedding portrait.  The inscription on the banner reads, "Here you see us, me Frida Kahlo, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera.  I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco California for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April of the year 1931."

Frida Kahlo, Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931

The banner also appeared in the 1940 self-portrait with the hand earrings shown above, along with this rather disturbing work.

Finally, we have a heart pierced with a sword.  As with the previous depiction of Kahlo in Day of the Dead makeup, I don't think this specific motif ever appeared in her paintings, but there were a few featuring hearts.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

Or perhaps it's a reference to Memory, the Heart:

Frida Kahlo, Memory, the Heart
(images from republicnailusa.com and fridakahlo.org)

Naturally I was curious to know how Republic Nail was able to use these images.  I did a little digging and saw that the designs are licensed by a company called Ask Art Agency through the Frida Kahlo Corporation.  I don't understand the exact legal ins and outs, but I guess once the corporation grants a company the rights to use Kahlo's works, they can design whatever they want. The same designs from the Republic Nail line were also used for a line of phone cases produced by Ask Art Agency, and Korean cosmetics company Missha has just debuted 4 cushion compacts with similar designs.  Given that the tag line "Pasión Por La Vida" is featured on the cases and at Ask Art Agency's website section on their Kahlo license, I'm assuming they're also behind the Missha collection.

Missha x Frida Kahlo

Missha x Frida Kahlo
(images from vutydesign.com)

The Frida Kahlo Corporation, meanwhile, seems very eager to grant licenses to use Kahlo's likeness and paintings.  Founded by Kahlo's niece, the corporation has issued licenses for the artist's work to appear on everything from sneakers to planners to an upcoming line of hotels.  The company's Twitter feed, with the constant references to Frida Kahlo branded tequila and other items, makes me think it's a rather unscrupulous money grab forged by greedy relatives.  Indeed, while many Frida fans were overjoyed to see her images used for a beauty collection, there were a handful of killjoys detractors on Twitter lamenting the "crass" nature of putting Kahlo's work on cosmetics, especially seeing as how Kahlo was a communist.  Having said all this, my personal opinion, and this is obviously pure speculation, is that Kahlo would have been delighted to see her paintings and likeness on this particular beauty collection.  For starters, Republic Nail is a Mexico-based company, which I think Kahlo would be pleased to support.  As for the anti-capitalist sentiment, Republic Nail is an affordable drugstore line, which at least aligns better with Kahlo's communist politics than a high-end department store line.  Finally, Kahlo herself enjoyed beauty products, as evidenced by these nail polishes that were revealed when her wardrobe was finally able to be opened to the public, along with a lipstick-kissed love note to Muray. 

Frida Kahlo's nail polish

Frida-kahlo-love-letter
(images from theguardian.com)

I'm not sure how she would have felt about her face appearing on things like mouse pads, or even the Missha collection, but I think she would have been supportive of the Republic Nail lineup.  The only thing I could see Kahlo questioning would be the particular images used - I could see her being very opinionated on which photos of her and which paintings should be included, as well as the color selection itself.  I also think she might be adamant that her actual work appears rather than the amalgams created by the licensing company.  They seemed to be prettied-up versions with none of the visceral edge that we associate with Kahlo, and for that they lose some of their impact.  But I guess the original works may have been too gruesome/depressing for commercial use?  Powerful though Kahlo's paintings are, they are admittedly difficult to look at, and I'm not sure if I'd want to be confronted with her suffering as I'm painting my nails.  Using some original pieces by an artist, like, say, Andy Warhol is entirely different.  So perhaps watered-down designs for Kahlo's works are a good thing since they celebrate her art and spirit but aren't too heavy...as you can see, I'm a bit conflicted.  On the one hand I think Kahlo would have liked to see her work being used on items that help women express themselves, and I'm happy to see a beauty collection pay homage to her.  (This opens up the bigger issue of artists putting their work on everyday items, which I discussed in my Shu/Murakami post a while back - I'm firmly of the opinion that these collaborations are worthwhile overall since it allows one to have a little taste of the artist's work if you can't afford the real thing.)  On the other hand, I probably would have liked the collection more if they used more sophisticated designs rather than the somewhat bland ones used by the licensing agency, which remind me of old school tattoos.  I also would have liked it more if they were restricted to one cosmetics company rather than being used by another brand - it would be more special if it was just a one-off collection. 

What do you think about all this?