Books

Book Review: Face Value

I read Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women's Lives when I was at the beach over a month ago, devouring it in one sitting.  But it took me forever to write something at least approximating a review.  As you may know, my book reviews often sound like a 4th-grader's book report rather than actual writing, and since I admire Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, author of Face Value so much and have been an ardent fan of her blog for years, I didn't want to do my usual sad review.  I finally decided to bite the bullet and share my thoughts on this book, simple though they are, because I want my readers (all 2 of you) to know how excellent it is.

Face-Value-book

I was so very excited to hear via Autumn's blog that she was writing a whole book!  Naturally I had high hopes, and she exceeded my expectations.  The general aim of Face Value is to gain a better understanding of the role beauty plays in women's everyday lives, something the author achieves through a combination of scholarly research, interviews with a diverse selection of women, and her own insightful analysis of beauty culture.

I was really curious to see how Autumn would handle the perspectives of women who are not white, straight and middle-class, as this would be my chief concern if I were undertaking a book about the relationship between women and beauty.  I should have known she'd be on top of it though - right off the bat, even before the introduction, she included an author's note about her effort to interview women "demographically unlike" herself and identify the commonalities that exist in terms of beauty regardless of their ethnic/racial/class/age/sexual orientation differences.

The first chapter explores how, despite science's best attempts, we are unable to decisively quantify human beauty, and also why we even want to measure it in the first place.  Autumn carefully examines research by evolutionary psychologists, biologists, and other scientists, all of whom try to (unsuccessfully) identify specific features that make someone perceived universally as attractive.  The thigh gap, waist-hip ratio, the pencil test (something I'm guilty of conducting every year on my birthday since I turned 30), facial symmetry - all were invented as supposedly indisputable methods of calculating beauty.  Autumn points out the flaws with most scientific studies and standards for determining beauty and how, on occasion, they even contradict one another.  She concludes that the inability to quantify beauty isn't necessarily a bad thing: "quantifying beauty can alert us to the places where we instinctually challenge beauty norms, revealing to ourselves that allure is more multifaceted than hitting all the right neurons " (p.33).

The second chapter discusses the language we use to describe beauty.  "Cute" has many more connotations that one would initially consider, and "gorgeous", "pretty", "lovely" and "beautiful" all signify different things.  The author details the significance of beauty vocabulary and how we have the power to change our notions of beauty through the descriptors we use.  Chapter 3 was my favorite, as it provided an in-depth analysis of why we wear makeup and the various ways, positive and negative, our decision to wear (or not to) is viewed in society, as well as how makeup fits into the larger notion of beauty.  Autumn gets down to the nitty-gritty by asking the age-old question, "Is makeup quite literally a tool of the patriarchy, or an instrument of women's self-articulation?" (p. 87). There are a multitude of reasons we wear or don't wear makeup, and one is no more or less valid than the others.  She ends the chapter by noting how makeup can be a way of challenging our comfort zones and, by extension, questioning the bigger meaning behind these zones.  And she absolutely hit the nail on the head: posting a picture of my bare-faced self online is unthinkable for me; for my non-makeup-wearing sister, putting on a full face of cosmetics is totally out of her realm.  What do these polar opposite approaches to makeup indicate about our feelings towards our various public and private roles in life?

Chapter 4 covers how notions of beauty shape our romantic relationships and dating. While maintaining the quality of the other chapters, I didn't find it quite as relevant since I'm an old married lady and the thought of dating makes me shudder.  Again though, it's well-written and researched, I simply had a personal preference for other chapters.  Chapter 5 investigates the double-edged sword beauty becomes in relation to other women.  Beauty can be a bonding mechanism and a way to form meaningful friendships.  At the same time, perhaps "beauty chatter" is just another way of enforcing traditional femininity.  Beauty notions can also lead to fierce competition in terms of both self-esteem and men's attention (in the case of straight women, anyway).  However, the conflation of beauty with other desirable traits, i.e., charisma, confidence, sex appeal, etc., or, as Autumn says, "masking life envy as beauty envy", can actually be helpful once one recognizes that it's not beauty they're coveting but some other attribute.  

Chapters 6 and 7 examine the impact of the media's images of women and the influence of social media on self-representation, respectively.  These were my next favorite chapters since I'm always up for a discussion of beauty advertising along with a more general critique of women's magazines, TV, blogs, etc., not to mention that I basically live online and am always thinking about how to best present myself to the world.  Chapter 7 is particularly notable in that it delves into the recent online trend of men requesting feedback on their own, ahem, erotic photos (read: dick pics) in which they turn the male gaze on themselves, and also traces the rise of the male grooming industry and its implications for what we expect of a man's appearance.  Autumn argues that instead of being an equalizer, the surge of products being offered specifically for men is actually harmful for both genders: "we create a separate sort of beauty myth for men...we're giving men the same old scripts.  We're content to shunt the possibilities of 'hope in a jar' into a reservoir of conventional masculinity...in doing that, we shut down one possible route of bettering the lives of women, too." (p. 195-6).

The last chapter studies what the author calls the "therapeutic beauty narrative", or the story of how a woman's relationship with her looks evolves over her lifetime. Specifically, it explores how women (sometimes) arrive at a place of peace with their appearance, as well as how cosmetic companies have seized on the opportunity to exploit the narrative to sell more products.  The book's conclusion explains why the topic of beauty is important and emphasizes that it should be taken seriously.  While we can assume that most of the audience for this book already recognizes this, it doesn't hurt to have a reminder of the tremendous impact it has.

I may be biased, but overall I thought this book was fabulous.  Both eloquent and humorous (I literally LOL'ed at some points), Face Value is a thoughtful approach to beauty and helps us understand our individual relationships to it. I must say it's downright awe-inspiring how Autumn was able to seamlessly intertwine heavy-duty scientific research, interviews with women from various backgrounds and personal anecdotes to create a compelling, cohesive analysis of how beauty affects women's day-to-day lives.  Go and buy it!

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Book review: Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup

Maybe it's because I read this when I was incredibly cranky for various reasons (I had a stubborn cold and was dealing with nearly an entire month of rain/overcast skies) or maybe it's because I was so impressed by Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint last fall, but in any case I was completely underwhelmed by Gabriela Hernandez's Classic Beauty:  The History of Makeup.  I hate to be harsh because I admire the Bésame line, which Hernandez founded, and I know she shares the same love of makeup as the rest of us beauty junkies, but this book disappointed me on virtually every level.  Hernandez, like Eldridge, takes us through a basic history of makeup from ancient times to today, but without any nuance or even excitement.  The tone was distinctly monotonous and dull, whereas with Face Paint I was positively glued to the text.

First, this tome was riddled with typos and inaccuracies.

Classic Beauty book
Just one example of a typo...should be "drawn", yes?

Little things, like Madonna's "Material Girl" coming out in 1985 (it was released November 30, 1984), or that YSL introduced "his" Touche Eclat in 1992 when it's common knowledge that the brains behind the YSL line at that point, Terry de Gunzburg (who started her own By Terry line in 1998) was the person responsible for that particular item, were driving me crazy.  Or citing L'Oreal as a department store line, or stating that Chanel introduced her quilted bag in 1957 - the bag is named the 2.55 for the month and year Coco created it, for God's sake.

Classic-beauty-book-80s
Also, I thought Grace Jones was the ultimate androgynous beauty?

Classic Beauty book

Classic Beauty book

Classic Beauty book

Speaking of Chanel, by far the worst offense was the claim that Chanel introduced their lipsticks in the 1940s (p.121) and then on page 215 it's stated that Chanel introduced their lipstick line in 1975.  Which date is correct?  Trick question:  neither!  Chanel actually introduced their makeup line in 1924.  (I also remember this because there was an amazing Chanel lipstick case from the '20s in Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg's Lips of Luxury book.)  It's just odd because I checked the sources in the bibliography and they seem reputable, but perhaps they were wrong and Hernandez was unfortunately relying on their incorrect information.  However, that doesn't explain the issues with what should be easy-to-find information, like the dates of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  (She died in 1603 so maybe the numbers here were transposed?)

Classic Beauty book

At least in a different timeline the starting date of the queen's reign is correct.

Classic Beauty book

Also, why have all these timelines?  I understand not every beauty milestone can fit onto one, but there were ones by decade and then a larger one in a completely different format towards the end of the book, and it just didn't make any sense.  Which brings me to my second issue: visually the book was unappealing.  I understand that it's not possible to get the rights to certain images, but there were some things that I think should be fairly simple to include, like a photo of Elizabeth Arden.  You mean to tell me there was not a single photo of Arden that could have been used?  And in its place was this rather sad sketch. 

Classic Beauty book

And who did these illustrations for each decade?  They're college art student-quality at best and certainly don't capture the look of each decade.

Classic Beauty book

Finally, the writing lacked any sort of clear personality or voice.  It was just so...flat.  Definitely not the kind of thing you'd expect from someone who was so inspired by vintage makeup that she started her own vintage-looking line.  Makeup "facts" were presented in a bland, tedious fashion - how a makeup artist could make something like the history of cosmetics so lifeless is beyond me.  Hernandez also concludes with a rather unfeminist perspective.  She starts with some drivel about believing that "each woman possesses unique features that make her beautiful inside and out", which, insipid though it may be, isn't that bad.  But then she immediately contradicts it by saying that the overarching goal of makeup application is to look attractive.  At least, that was my takeaway.  "The challenge is to recognize your best features and to create the most confident and attractive person you truly can be.  It is true that when you look attractive, you feel good.  It is uplifting when you look your best at all times, even for the simplest of tasks."  Um, no.  I can think of at least 5 instances where I look nowhere near what you'd call attractive and yet still feel okay about myself (running, for example.)  And I don't always use makeup to look attractive, I use it as a creative outlet.  A few weeks ago I wore that matte grey Smashbox lipstick I picked up in my spring haul.  Sure I looked like a zombie but I didn't care - it was so much fun! I didn't give a flying fig that grey lipstick isn't flattering on me, and I will continue to buy shades that make me "unattractive" for the pure joy that using those colors gives me.   None of that seemed to be addressed here, which was troublesome for me.  Finally, "look your best at all times" is a sequence of words that has no business existing, like, ever.  It is not "uplifting" for me to look my best when I'm at the supermarket or getting the mail.  Sheesh.

Classic Beauty book

Bottom line:  If you're looking for a comprehensive history of cosmetics that is both accurate and a fascinating read, go with Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint and skip this one.

Has anyone else read Classic Beauty?

 

 


Book review: Face Paint: A History of Makeup by Lisa Eldridge

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

I had been salivating over this book since I found out the release date way back in the spring, and it did not disappoint.  Celebrity makeup artist Lisa Eldridge published a broad yet fairly in-depth summary of cosmetic products and usage from ancient times to today.

Section 1 is divided into three sections detailing the history of the base colors historically used for cosmetics:  red, white and black.  Eldridge covers not only the ingredients used to make these pigments but also traces exactly how they were used in various eras, i.e. how rouged cheeks and lips, fair complexions and black eye liner were trending (or not) throughout history.  Equally impressive is that these first two categories weren't simply a parroting of the information in Lips of Luxury, or the powder history in Ode to the Complexion (which I will get around to reviewing eventually.)

Section 2 focuses on all aspects of how the beauty industry developed into the one we know today, beginning with the evolution of cosmetics marketing and advertising.  I know what you're thinking - this section probably started with the late 1800s/early 1900s, but you'd be wrong.  Eldridge traces beauty marketing all the way back to the Renaissance, dissecting how the messages contained in beauty advertising changed over time.  The second part of this section discusses the big beauty company founders like Max Factor, Helena Rubinstein, and Elizabeth Arden.  But there were some unexpected bios of the women who began more indie lines, like Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki, who started Biba.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

The third part of Section 2 deals with the rise of our basic products - mascara, lipstick, eye shadow, blush, foundation/powder, bronzer and nail polish - along with the companies that pioneered these items. I liked how Eldridge came up with a logical arrangement of these brands into overarching categories:  couture houses, perfume companies, drugstore mainstays and makeup artists.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge
Could you imagine having this on your vanity?

Section 2 ends with what lies ahead for makeup in terms of technological advances, while the afterword is a brief but meaningful analysis of the significance of wearing (or not wearing) makeup nowadays.  I like the last line:  "Ultimately, nothing empowers a woman more than the right to a good education, and the freedom to choose whether to wear a red lip and smoky eye...or not." 

The whole book is sprinkled with profiles of Eldridge's "makeup muses," women who are associated with particular beauty looks that continue to inspire makeup artists today.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

There are also some really cool avant-garde looks throughout...I just wish I knew whether Eldridge herself created them.  I'm assuming she did.

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

I loved the back cover too - doesn't this picture just make you want to dive into a pile of makeup?!

Face Paint by Lisa Eldridge

Relating a global history of makeup is a daunting task, but Eldridge did it well.  This is not your standard makeup history book as it provides an in-depth look at not just cosmetic products but their applications throughout history.  Now, I love me some coffee table books with pretty pictures of beautiful makeup and hope to publish my own someday.  I adore books that are basically eye candy and provide scant information on the objects.  And obviously my main goal with the Makeup Museum is to show that beauty objects themselves can be art and that they can go beyond their utilitarian purpose. But what I liked about Face Paint is that it temporarily got me out of my usual way of thinking about makeup as art object.  That's all well and good, but sometimes it's important to reflect on the makeup's roots, i.e. why it was invented in the first place.  Face Paint was a great reminder for me to consider not just the design of a makeup object but how it's used, and hopefully I will keep this in mind if I ever write my coffee table book.  This aspect of the book has the added bonus of appealing to a wide market -  it's a gem for makeup collectors and non-collectors alike.  Also, if anyone is going to discuss makeup application throughout the years, it's Eldridge.  She has the same appreciation I do for package design, but also the perspective of a world-famous makeup artist who has spent countless hours actually applying it on thousands of people. 

Will you be buying Face Paint, either for yourself or for that special makeup aficionado in your life?  If you do treat yourself, be sure to check out the sources at the end.  I know I've added several books to my wishlist!


Book review: Read My Lips: A Cultural History of Lipstick

Here's a nice little addition to your makeup library.  Read My Lips:  A Cultural History of Lipstick (1998) explores the cultural significance of the world's most popular cosmetics product. 

Read My Lips:  A Cultural History of Lipstick

I was initially a bit concerned I wouldn't finish the book based on the rather clichéd, over-the-top introduction, which was written by a different author than the rest of the book. "Just try this test:  At the end of a meal in a restaurant, absentmindedly reach for your lipstick, uncap it with a quick nudge, twist the wand out of its cartridge, and stare at it briefly.  You'd think you pulled a gun.  All eyes are on you.  Sigh wistfully and look up.  How so much drama can be contained in such a small gesture, I don't know.  But there you have it."  This paragraph made me roll my eyes so hard they almost got stuck in my head. Reapplication isn't THAT attention-getting, or rather, it shouldn't be - no one is looking at you, and if they are, they're probably thinking you're rather gauche for making a touch-up so dramatic.  Just do a quick discreet swipe and be done with it.

Anyway, despite this blather I kept reading.  To my great relief I found the actual content of the chapters far less insipid than the introduction.  Chapter 1 gives a brief history of lipstick spanning from ancient Egypt to today.  Snapshots of lipstick trends in each decade in the 20th century are provided as well.  Hardly any of the content was new information for me, but a concise overview on hand is always useful.  One of the more notable facts for me, as I believe there's a significant connection between fashion and makeup, was the author's assertion that lipstick started being swayed by fashion trends in the '50s.  "Lipstick also began to take its cue from fashion...cosmetics companies looked to fashion designers to predict the shades of the moment.  This trend was strongly encouraged by Vogue, which would introduce a color for the season and then persuade cosmetics manufacturers to supply complementary shades."  In terms of helping shape a beauty museum, it's quite helpful to know when the important relationship between makeup and fashion started.

Chapter 2 is a primer on the nitty gritty of lipstick:  basic ingredients, production, shapes and textures.  One thing I wasn't aware of previously is that the various shapes of lipstick bullets actually have names. The kind that's angled on both side of the tip is known as a fishtail, while the pointed tip angled on one side is a teardrop.  A more rounded tip angled on one side is a wedge.  I knew about lip gloss applicator names (doefoot, etc.) but had no idea that lipstick bullets had them as well.  This chapter also includes a few pages on the harmful ingredients initially used in lipsticks, and how they weren't banned until the government thought it might affect men (no surprise there).  "It wasn't until 1924, when the New York Board of Health considered banning lipstick - not ironically because of the harm it might cause the women who wore it, but out of fear that it might poison the men who kissed the women who wore it - that the government finally stepped in."  Lovely.

Chapter 3 was probably my favorite, since it talks about the rise of lipstick advertising (including celebrity endorsements), brands launched by makeup artists and cosmetic companies' charitable efforts.  

Read my lips book - ads

Chapter 3 was also my favorite since it included a few pages on shade names, which is a topic I will hopefully cover in a few weeks. (I drafted the post over 2 years ago and just keep adding to it.)  Jean Ford, one of the founders of the ever-amusing brand Benefit, explains the inspiration behind two shades named Indecent Exposure and But, Officer:  "I had just gotten out of traffic school, so the line was all about things you could get arrested for...But, Officer is a real ingenue color, a fleshy tone, like you're really innocent." 

Chapter 4 discusses the meaning of lipstick for the average woman, providing anecdotes on its significance and in some cases, power.  "The simple gesture of applying color to the mouth represents myriad emotions.  It transforms a woman from her private to her public self, prepares her for the world with one quick smear of the waxy substance."  This was probably the weakest chapter, as I feel there have been much more in-depth pieces written on the subject of lipstick's meaning.  Additionally, there is a rather meager exploration of red lipstick, which I also think has been covered better elsewhere, such as in Jean-Marie Martin Hattenberg's Lips of Luxury (see my review.)

The book redeems itself in Chapter 5 with an informative review of lipstick's influences on art and pop culture.  Songs, scenes from TV and movies, sculptures and paintings inspired by lipstick are covered, which will be invaluable for my Makeup as Muse series.  There were actually a few art pieces that I hadn't heard of previously. 

My final thoughts:  This is an excellent overview of the general history of lipstick, but it wasn't meaty enough for me.  Each of the themes could have been a book on its own; instead, they just barely scratched the surface content-wise.   However, if you're looking for a quick read or a primer for someone who wants basic information on lipstick as a cultural icon, this is perfect.  Because it's not all that in-depth, I could see this being of interest even for someone who's not a beauty junkie.  So it's definitely good to have on your makeup book shelf.  I do wonder how it stacks up to Jessica Pallingston's Lipstick:  A Celebration of the World's Favorite Cosmetic, which looks like it was released a mere two months before Read My Lips.  Judging from its tale of contents the two tomes appear rather similar, so stay tuned for a review and comparison.  :)

Are you intrigued by this book? 


Book review: Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950

As I'm still trying to build my knowledge of vintage cosmetics and beauty history, I thought this book would a valuable addition to my collection.  Beauty and Cosmetics: 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing  is one of the few easily available resources that condenses the history of Western beauty practices and ideals in one short tome.  That's essentially my only gripe with this book - it's honestly more of a booklet, topping out at a mere 64 pages. I would dearly love to see something much longer and in-depth. 

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing

The first chapter discusses beauty ideals in Renaissance Europe and their roots in medieval religious beliefs.  While it wasn't my favorite read, it provides the necessary groundwork for the upcoming chapters.  The second chapter, in my opinion, is where things get more interesting as Downing reveals some fascinating details on the ingredients and processes used in cosmetics production from that time.  She begins with the beauty regimen of Queen Elizabeth I, which included painting her face with the highly poisonous ceruse, "a concoction of finely ground white lead powder, mixed with vinegar and applied over the face and neck."  Ack!  The author notes that while alternatives made of alabaster or starch were available, these did not provide the luminous, completely smooth perfection that a lead-based product did.

The next chapters deal with cosmetics usage in the 17th and 18th centuries.  I was quite intrigued by the information on "patches", a.k.a. fake beauty marks or moles.  I have been meaning to write a post on these for a while now (I got the idea around the time I wrote about faux freckles) and Downing's work will definitely be included as a reference.  I'm now also a little obsessed with the idea of acquiring an antique patch box.  The illustration of an aging woman applying patches (below) is fabulous, but I would have loved to have seen a few pictures of actual patch boxes.

Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing

Another interesting tidbit: to counteract the hair loss caused by the frequent wearing of ceruse, women sported false eyebrows made from mice fur.  I guess this isn't so weird, given that in the 21st century we have fake eyelashes made from mink

Next up, Downing describes the dramatic turn beauty trends took in the early 19th century.  The heavily caked-on white makeup and patches so popular with the French aristocracy quickly fell out of favor after the revolution.  A more natural look was strongly preferred, although sometimes this also made use of an equally dangerous method as ceruse.  "A derivative of deadly nightshade, belladonna - 'beautiful lady' - was so named for its beautifying effects as it would dilate the pupils, making the eyes poetic, dark limpid pools.  Unfortunately the side effects were less than pretty as it could also cause blindness and possibly paralysis."  Yikes.

This chapter also touches on the monumental shift in how cosmetics were perceived and the rise of the beauty industry in the late 19th century.  While images of ideal beauty remained fairly consistent  (patches and plucked brows aside, other attributes - rosy cheeks and lips, sparkling eyes, clear skin - were still in style) there was a sea change in how the products required to achieve these qualities were produced.  Plenty of women still relied on homemade potions made with recipes passed down through generations, but pharmacies selling pre-mixed unguents were rapidly expanding . Below are some of the earliest beauty ads I've ever seen (1880 on the left and 1897 on the right).

Beauty and Cosmetics, 1550-1950

The final two chapters outline how the industry took off in the early 20th century and the formation of the major brands we know today.  While other books have covered this era, it's refreshing to see another perspective joining in with different ads and bits of history. 

The bottom line:  as with basically all beauty books I've reviewed, this is a great read for anyone interested in beauty history.  However, it is by no means comprehensive (not that I think it was meant to be) so it left me yearning for more, despite the "further reading" list included in the back.  Perhaps Ms. Downing and I could collaborate and write a book on beauty in the same time period but have it be 10 times as long.  I can dream, right?


Book review: Beauty Imagined

Beauty-imaginedI was a little leery of this book.  While it's been on my Amazon wishlist for a while, I was concerned that the author, an economist from Harvard, would take a topic I adore and turn it into something dreadfully dry and boring.  Or worse, he would use all kinds of fancy jargon that someone with very little understanding of economics (i.e. me) wouldn't be able to comprehend.  However, Beauty Imagined:  A History of the Global Beauty Industry by Geoffrey Jones was quite enjoyable and informative.  Jones thoroughly traces the industry's origins in the late 19th century through its emergence as the mammoth business it is today, connecting company histories with cultural and economic shifts that ultimately helped shape the perception not just of the industry but also our very definition of beauty.  While Madeleine Marsh's Compacts and Cosmetics and Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar are similar in subject matter, Beauty Imagined delves more fully into the economic side of beauty's history.  Still, like his fellow authors on cosmetics history, Jones ensures his writing never gets dull by peppering the text with a plethora of interesting facts and figures.

In the first three chapters, the author gives us a compelling history of fragrance, hair products, toothpaste and soap and how these products laid the foundation for color cosmetics.  It was enlightening in that I hadn't really thought of these as being the ancestral relatives of makeup; I had thought of them each having their own discrete background and not integral to, say, the development of lip gloss.  But as Jones explains, without these more basic items taking root in the early 20th century, other products would not have been born.

Chapters 4 and 5 discuss how neither the Great Depression nor two world wars could stop the growth of the beauty industry, as well as the establishment of the connection between Hollywood celebrities and beauty.  These chapters also explore the growing use of radio, movies and TV for beauty advertising.  Chapters 6 through 8 detail the rise of globalization in the industry, describing how local companies slowly but surely transformed into regional, then national, then international brands from roughly the 1970s to the present day, along with the relationship between phamaceutical companies and beauty brands. 

I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite nuggets of information:

- Coty's first fragrance, La Rose Jacquesminot, got picked up by a department store after the founder smashed a bottle of it on the counter to get customers to smell it.

- Cosmetics weren't regulated by the FDA till 1938.

- Toothpaste was available as early as the 1850s, but it was packaged in jars.  Colgate invented the first collapsible toothpaste tube in 1896.

- The first metal lipstick tube was invented in 1915, and the first twist-up tube in 1921.

- Avon's original name was the California Perfume Company.

- The notion of "green" beauty goes back much further than one would think.  Clarins, Yves Rocher and Biotherm were all established in the 1950s, with an emphasis on using natural, plant-based ingredients.

- As of 2010, consumers spent $382 billion (!) on cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries worldwide.

The only "problem" I had with the book in that it's not actually a problem at all is that there are complete endnotes for each chapter, and perusing them I came across a ton more beauty history books I want to read! 

Bottom line:  Beauty Imagined is different than other beauty books but in a good way, and an excellent read even for those of us who don't have a background in business.  Oh, and if your thirst for knowledge still isn't sated, check out the videos of Dr. Jones discussing the book here and here.


Book review: Lips of Luxury

Lips-of-luxury

In preparation to see the exhibition in collaboration with the Makeup in New York event next week (so excited!), I bought Lips of Luxury by Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg.  The book is full of beautiful, and true to the title, luxurious vintage lipsticks.  Here's a little taste of the amazing objects in this tome.

Lenox lipstick holder:

Lips-of-luxury-lenox

Cases modeled after the Leaning Tower of Pisa - I cannot get over the exquisite architectural details.

Lips-of-luxury-pisa

Max Factor "Watercolor Pastels" set:

Lips-of-luxury-max-factor

The author works in some contemporary pieces as well, like my beloved Paul & Joe. 

Lips-of-luxury-paul-joe

Eye candy notwithstanding, Lips of Luxury isn't only pretty pictures to drool over.  Hattenberg provides a brief history of lipstick and the many different shades of the most popular hue (red), and the third chapter is devoted to how it's made today.  The last chapter consists of interviews with top makeup artists and other industry leaders, such as Francois Nars and Givenchy's Nicolas Degennes, who explain in their own words what lipstick and the color red means to them.  While not as thorough as Jessica Pallingston's book on lipstick (which I will get around to reviewing one of these days) I actually think the brevity in discussing lipstick's history and future works here.  Given the volume of glorious vintage items, anything longer than bite-sized pieces of interesting research and facts about lipstick interspersed within would be far too lengthy.  

Having said that, I would have liked to have seen just a few more details on some of the items included.   For example, there's no information other than the date on the Max Factor lipsticks pictured above - was this a display case in a store or an actual set one could buy?   There was also a Chanel lipstick from 1930 in an ivory case, and I was wondering if it was real ivory or just plastic. 

Overall though, I do think this is a great book for any makeup fan to have on hand since it combines beautiful pictures with some history and even a sort of abstract "theory" of lipstick.  And while it's only September, Lips of Luxury would definitely make a lovely holiday gift for the beauty addict in your life!

 

 


Book review: Compacts and Cosmetics

Compacts-and-cosmetics-bookCompacts and Cosmetics:  Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day by Madeleine Marsh provides a brief history of both the U.K. and U.S. beauty industries from the 19th century through today.  Sorted roughly by decade, the book features an abundance of photos depicting items from each period.  It's an accessible, easy read that both beauty culture  newbies and long-time fans alike would enjoy. 

While I enjoyed the first chapter on beauty rituals in ancient Egypt and Greece, I thought the immense chronological jump from this period to Chapter Two (covering Victorian times) was a bit awkward.  From there, however, the narrative flows nicely.  Marsh sprinkles the text with choice anecdotes, noting the beginnings of  such familiar beauty brands such as Pond's, Maybelline and U.K.-based Boots. She also includes some very helpful guidelines to buying vintage makeup items in the appendix.

Where the author really shines, however, is in explaining how makeup went from being firmly in the realm of prostitutes/actresses in the 1880s to the huge business we know today.  She does this by weaving in the broad cultural and political influences that affected how women used cosmetics as well as the type and packaging of the products themselves.  For example, she traces how the rise of the film industry, which made actresses "more socially acceptable", flapper culture, and World War I all contributed to beauty's breakthrough as a regular part of most women's daily routines.  By the 1930s, "the question was no longer whether to wear make-up at all, but what to choose from an ever-expanding range of products....women's magazines [started] featuring dedicated beauty columns providing tips and advice, whilst salons were offering an endless variety of services." (p. 88).  And with the flurry of products introduced during these decades, packaging came to the fore.  The rest of the chapters, each covering a decade from the 1940s through the aughts, similarly place beauty trends and products within a general cultural context, with plenty of pictures along the way.  Most of these photos show items from Marsh's personal collection.  Here are some of my favorites.

Art Deco compacts:

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An Art Deco palette - what struck  me about this is the fact that it includes products for lips, cheeks and eyes.  I usually associate any vintage cosmetics with powder compacts, but this has a variety of products, similar to today's palettes.

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Boots Christmas ad:

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Compacts from the '40s and '50s - love the rotary telephone.

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Getting psychedelic with Avon lipsticks and Mary Quant crayons from the late '60s.  Groovy, man.

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Bottom line:  this is one of the most satisfying tomes on beauty history available, on par with Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar.  Definitely one to buy!


Book review: Mueller's Overview of American Compacts and Vanity Cases

Vintage compact bookI must say that the title of this blog entry is misleading.  There isn't really much content to review in this book, but there sure are some wonderful vintage compacts to drool over!  I guess it will be an overview of an overview.

Mueller provides a very brief (a mere 3-page) summary of American compact companies at the start of the book, and explains that it's not a pricing guide.  While I am curious to know what these pieces might go for if they were for sale, I was not disappointed that the book doesn't contain pricing information.  From there on it's all pictures of glorious compacts and even some ads for them.  Each one includes the sizes of each piece and the manufacturer.

I thought I'd give you a little taste of what you'll find in the book if you decide to purchase it.  And you really should if you like admiring pretty makeup* - because compacts are relatively small objects, there were usually 4-5 pictures of different ones per page.  So. Much. Eye candy!  You can buy it here.

Here are some of the compacts that jumped out to me immediately.

These iris and poppy compacts are from the early 1940s and according to the book, are very rare.

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I love the little legs on this Volupté "Petit Boudoir" compact from 1950:

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These four are by Rex Fifth Avenue.  The two on the right bear the signature of cartoonist Hilda Terry, whose designs of "bobby soxers" somehow made their way onto these compacts.

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How adorable are these Bell lucite compacts featuring charming Paris scenes?  They're pretty similar in style to Nathalie Lété's Paris designs for Bourjois.

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In addition to illustrated compacts, there were some fantastic blingy pieces, like these from Volupté and Evans.

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I thought I'd save my favorite for last:  a zippered compact bearing a mermaid (!!!) and seahorse:

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There are so many more pieces to ooh and aah over, including one with a map of New York designed especially for the 1939 World's Fair, the famous Dali compact, and even an enameled compact with a picture of fruit.  Mueller notes that depictions of fruit were very rare in compacts - how unlike the abundance I found in vintage ads!

I know I'll enjoy re-perusing all the compacts in this book, and I do find it helped me get a sense of what to look for in terms of vintage compacts.  As you know, the Makeup Museum is mostly focused on contemporary cosmetics, but I really want to add vintage pieces to the collection.  This was a great primer.

*I am not affiliated with the author in any way and received no compensation for writing about this book.


It's catching on!

I'm pleased to see that the topic of beauty is slowly becoming a legitimate field of study.   It hasn't been looked at as critically or academically yet the way fashion has, but we're getting there.  Recently I came across several things that I found to be very encouraging.

Compact book Musingonbeauty posted about this book.  While I'm a bit chagrined someone else came out with a coffee table book on makeup, I'm not completely beat down - there's plenty of room for more makeup books! 

Then I read in the June issue of Lucky magazine that there's an exhibition called Beauty Culture that's going on at the Annenberg Space for Photography.  The exhibition "examines both traditional and unconventional definitions of beauty, challenging stereotypes of gender, race and age.  It explores the links between beauty and violence, glamour and sexuality and the cost (in its multiple meanings) of beauty" and "encourages a social discussion about the allure and mystique of the pursuit of female beauty, as well as its cult-like glorification and the multi-billion dollar industries that surround it."  A little different than what I'm trying to do, but it's exciting to see a dialogue being started about the impact of the beauty industry.

Finally, I stumbled on the coolest blog on vintage compacts while researching an inquiry I received.  It is so incredibly detailed and gives a thorough history of early cosmetic companies, many of whom don't exist anymore.  

So, yay!  It's nice to see that makeup is finally being recognized as something more than to paint your face with - there truly is history and art involved, which is one of the things I strive to point out through the Museum.


(image from amazon.com)