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This kitten's got claws: Brandi Milne for Sugarpill

I blinked a few times when I first laid eyes on this set by indie brand Sugarpill, thinking it was odd that Mark Ryden had collaborated with them.  But then I saw that the company had teamed up with Brandi Milne, another Pop Surrealist whose work, upon closer inspection, is markedly different than Ryden's. 

I won't make any excuses as to why I didn't get to posting about this before now even though it was originally released for Valentine's Day; the reason is that I'm simply disorganized.  The set got buried under a bunch of other makeup items in the office, and it wasn't until I recently started seeing mentions on various art blogs of Milne's new solo exhibition, which opened last week, that I remembered I had it. 

Sugarpill Feline Fancy set

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy liquid lipstick

I love that one of the little teeth from the outside of the palette made its way to the interior of the box.

Sugarpill Feline Fancy box interior

There was a truly overwhelming amount of information and interviews with Milne, so I hope by whittling it down somewhat I can still do her art justice.  Get ready for a lot of quotes since I believe the artist's own words are the most useful in understanding their work.

Milne, a self-taught artist, drew and colored throughout her childhood in Anaheim, California (and in a strict Christian household) and began showing her work in various galleries in the early aughts.  By January 2008 she was able to make painting her full-time career.  Let's explore the various themes in her work and how her style has evolved over the years, shall we?

Early on, Milne's style was more illustrative, most likely due to the fact that she hadn't been exposed to much contemporary art.  She explains, "I grew up completely unaware of contemporary artists. In the 90s when I was drawing in my room ('developing my style' at that time), I didn’t know of Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia, or anyone painting wild things the way they were. So I had only my own world of things that influenced me – the children’s books I had as a kid, Bugs Bunny cartoons, coloring books, Woody Woodpecker and Heckle and Jeckle, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio, vintage Halloween and Christmas decorations, music that had inspired me – and the way my imagination interpreted all of it." 

Brandi Milne, Lucky You, 2009
(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

Her passion for art grew, and now Milne cites Mucha, Erte, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, along with the aforementioned Garcia, as her chief influences.  She gradually switched to painting, which allowed her to be a little less precise than drawing neat, contained lines.  "I used to work on paper/illustration board with watercolors, pencil and ink in order to keep things REAL tight and clean. I used to hold my breath whenever I worked, and my poor hand would cramp up because I was so pressed for perfection. Over time, I couldn’t stand feeling like a mistake would set me back the entire piece – I wanted to be free. Painting on wood was my ticket out of that stress filled bind I was putting myself in, and I took the leap a few years back, scared as hell! But since then, that freedom is the rabbit I’ve been chasing!"  Interestingly, Milne's husband custom makes all of the wood panels she uses as her canvas.  I always love a supportive spouse. :) 

Other stylistic shifts include Milne's choice of colors.  Earlier work presents a fairly neutral palette, but more recently Milne has favored a brighter, arguably more feminine palette that's heavy on red, pink and white.  In reference to her latest exhibition, she says, "In this new body of work, my palette went from really bright brights—fluorescents paired with really dark contrasts. I wanted to illustrate life blossoming from darkness. That so much beauty and life can spark from or grow from a place that seems frightening or lifeless...I love red and hyper pinks and whites. There was a year within the process of making this body of work where all I wanted to paint was reds and pinks and whites."  This is most likely the influence of a new florescent shade of red she stumbled across at an art supplies store a few years ago.  In any case, red, pink and white is the dominant color scheme for Milne these days, and this is reflected in the Sugarpill palette as well.

Brandi Milne, Little One, 2017(image from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

One aspect of Milne's style that's more or less remained consistent is the oddly extended limbs of the girls in her paintings.

Brandi Milne, And the Choir Sings Quiet, 2008(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

She notes that this feature came naturally: "I enjoy bending scale in my work...it wasn’t as important to bend the scale as it was to make the characters feel as if they were at home in their environment. These things are not intentional – they come [instinctively]...Maybe the exaggerated limbs represent a feeling of being larger than life. A feeling of being able to reach and grow beyond what one might feel their capabilities limit. "  So not only do these long arms and legs make for a more cohesive composition, they also represent the emotional "stretching" required to handle life's challenges.

Brandi Milne, Before I Hide Away, 2012

Brandi Milne, Here Inside My Broken Heart, 2014

Brandi Milne, Weep Now or Nevermore, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Thematically speaking, Milne's portrayals of female characters are highly autobiographical.  The title work from her 2009 show "Run Rabbit, Run", for example, represents the emotional strife faced by Milne after the passing of her mother.  "The idea and feeling behind this body of work is strongly related to my mother’s passing in March ’08. My work is emotionally narrative (not by choice), and because I’m struggling through this huge loss, it’s reflected in my new works. I’ve tied in the show’s theme ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ – a lyric from Pink Floyd that hit hard for me one day while I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon, and really feeling my mom’s absence. It struck a note with me, and opened up this idea in my mind. This was the inspiration for my new show, and in turn, extremely helpful in my heart...My girls are an endless narrative for me. She’s my way of voicing an emotion in a piece, sad, innocent, scared."

Brandi Milne, Run Rabbit, Run, 2009(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

This painting depicts Milne trying to stay close to a dear friend who moved away

Brandi Milne, She Wears the Trees In Her Hair, and the Clouds In Her Eyes, 2012

And for I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, she explains, "She's kind of broken. Her body is broken, she’s giving up and hitting bottom. And then myself – I feel like the way that I grew up was in kind of a religious bubble. So in that aspect, I feel like I’m really innocent, you know? As a lamb, being slaughtered. That’s me...It looks cheery, but it’s bloody. She’s broken and I’ve been going through a lot – trying to help myself. So it’s all coming out in the work.”  

Brandi Milne, I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

These works show Milne's vulnerability but also her resilience.  Take, for example, Hold Fast, in which a girl receives stitches administered by a fairy godmother-like being, who's an embodiment of the artist herself "mending" her own psychological wounds.  It may seem a tad gruesome at first, but it's actually a message of healing and renewal.

Brandi Milne, Hold Fast, 2014

As for other themes, Milne's work weaves together the many influences from her childhood mentioned previously:  Fisher Price toys, holiday decorations, and, of course, proximity to Disneyland.  "Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, etc. Having loved all those cartoons, going to Disneyland was surreal. The Tea Cup ride with all the lanterns in the shady trees and twinkly lights above. Flying over that lit-up city in the Peter Pan ride, Frog and Toad, the Matterhorn? Being at Disneyland as a kid, is really unparalleled to anything else. It was hugely influential," she says.   Additionally, her mother's religious outlook, coupled with the darker side of fairy tales and Disney movies, inspired the concept of duality that permeates so many of her paintings.  While they seem to be cheerful and innocent upon first glance, something sinister lurks beneath the candy-coated surface.  One example is Be Good for Goodness Sake, in which two happy snowmen naively enjoy some frosty cold milk...that's actually laced with opium, given the labels on the bottle.  (Yes, "milk of the poppy" is indeed a Game of Thrones reference.)

Brandi Milne, Be Good for Goodness Sake, 2015

Or Soothe Yourself, which shows an innocent little bunny surrounded by brightly colored sweets munching on a gingerbread man.  It's an adorable scene until you notice the gingerbread man is (understandably) frowning, while equally sad-looking teeth look on.  A piece of taffy (?) on the left cradles what appears to be a dead tooth, and the cherry cordial on the lower right has broken and spilled onto the snow.

Brandi Milne, Soothe Yourself, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Milne says, "I love duality. It was so confusing to me growing up, I really couldn’t wrap my head around it and I fought it for so long. I believed that things should be black or white; that you were either a good person or a bad person. You were either happy or you were sad. In Disney movies, particularly, I was absolutely astonished to see that Disney chose to include such horrifically sad moments in his storytelling. We were watching a CARTOON and suddenly there was death and heartbreak and I was FEELING it!! I wanted to reject it, fast forward to the fun cute happy parts. I was disturbed by it. But as I was exploring my own work as an adult, I realized that it was that duality I was feeling and that I wanted to talk about. I love beauty and I love happiness, but I wouldn’t have either if I didn’t have the opposites and everything in between...This new body of work was inspired by the notion of good vs. evil, and the fairytale-like memories of being a kid.  I painted what it felt like to be happy and innocent and naive and then to discover certain truths about the world and reality."  This idea of yin/yang forces is expressed in several paintings from her latest exhibition.  Lynrose depicts a bright pink gingerbread house set among a forest filled with candy canes and ice cream.  While it looks positively charming at first, several ominous-looking skeletons are creeping up onto the house, and a closer look reveals that even the tree and shrub next to it have skull-like faces.

Brandi Milne, Lynrose, 2017

The title piece also seems utterly harmless initially:  it shows a group of jolly, red-cheeked snowmen enjoying some frozen treats.  But then you notice the trees in the background are dead, and the ice cream container has a faded skull and crossbones.

Brandi Milne, Once Upon A Quiet Kingdom, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Despite the darker imagery in these paintings and others, by and large snowmen represent feelings of happy nostalgia for Milne.  She explains, "The snowman is the jolliest fellow! My mom LOVED Christmas –  she would transform the house with tinsel and knick knacks and vintage decor, Christmas music would be playing on the big family stereo and it was such happiness for me as a kid.  It was a wonderland!!  All these years later, I find myself trying to illustrate that feeling – trying to recreate it in my work.  The snowman tchotchke was a rare find in the house (there were plenty or reindeer and angels and Santa’s to be found), but I remember specifically adoring what snowmen figures we had, and probably hoarding them from my siblings.  The snowman best represents that spirit for me...I wanted that Christmas wonderland to last all year round!"  (Interesting side note:  Milne also enjoys drawing snowmen since she her favorite shape is a circle - "it has no harsh corners".  I suspect this is also the reason for so many paintings featuring Humpty Dumpty, her love/hate relationship with his character notwithstanding.)

Brandi Milne, No Reason to Stay, 2017

Brandi Milne, Candy, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Brandi Milne, Holiday Takes A Holiday, 2014

While many of Milne's paintings represent the concept of duality, sometimes they're simply whimsical and joyful, with nary a menacing skeleton or dead tree to be found - just unbridled sweetness.  "Wide-eyed and maniacal, I try to capture the feeling of pure happiness and bliss as a kid."   I couldn't find anything dark or upsetting in the Sugarpill palette or in these paintings. 

Brandi Milne, Eat Cakes, You Kitty, 2014

Brandi Milne, Sweet Thing, 2014

I'm particularly struck by the maraschino cherries scattered about in this one.  They just look so succulent and juicy.  Milne greatly enjoys painting these too:  "I can't stop painting cherries and all I want is for everything to be translucent!"

Brandi Milne, The Last of the Snowmen(images from brandimilne.blogspot.com)

I love these since they remind me of characters from children's books, which makes sense given that Milne has illustrated one, not to mention all the delicious treats.  You know I'm all about sweets as well as childhood nostalgia since my own was so happy.  Milne's reminiscing about her mother's holiday decorations, coupled with the imagery in the paintings, instantly transport me back to celebrating various holidays with my family.  (In particular I'm remembering this adorable ceramic ghost with a red face my mom put out for Halloween, and a beautiful ceramic Christmas tree with multi-colored lights...if it wasn't out of my price range I'd commission Milne to paint a couple pieces featuring these items).

Anyway, while there was an enormous amount of information online, I still have a couple unsolved mysteries surrounding Milne's work.  First, I'm curious to know about the German references.

This little lamb seems to be wearing a traditional Alpine hat. 

Brandi Milne, Once Upon a Time, Life was Sweeter than We Knew, 2015

There are German words on the script in Strutter.

Brandi Milne, Strutter, 2012

And this poor little snowman is saying "ouch" in German, while in Long After This a sad pumpkin begs "love me".

Brandi Milne, Autsch, 2014

Brandi Milne, Long After This, 2014

Milne herself was also recently photographed wearing what appears to be a dirndl.

Brandi+Milne+by+Jessica+Louise(images from brandimilne.com)

I suppose it could be related to fairy tales, since the most famous ones in the Western world come from the Brothers Grimm.  Or perhaps Milne has a German background or just appreciates German culture.  Whatever it is, I'm surprised I didn't come across any explanations for it. 

The second item that left me scratching my head was how the collaboration with Sugarpill came about.  I'm assuming Sugarpill reached out to Milne first and they went from there, but it would have been nice to hear more about the process, the inspiration for the palette (who thought of a cat theme?) and how the artwork was created to reflect it.  I watched this video of a studio visit and read about Milne's artistic process, so I know a bit about how she operates, but I imagine things might be a little different when a commission for a makeup company is involved.  At least we know the artwork was an original piece made just for Sugarpill.

That was pretty long despite my best effort to condense everything I found while also trying not to leave out any major points regarding Milne's work.  So if you're still reading, thank you!  Overall, the Sugarpill palette is a wonderful addition to the Museum's artist collaboration collection and also helps make up for the fact that I failed to nab the Trinket lip gloss from 2016. I enjoy Milne's work so much I may have to ask Santa for a book of her work.  ;)  I feel as though I gravitate towards it since we're about the same age - we grew up with the same toys, Disney movies, cartoons (and even had similar holiday decorations!) and also because we had happy childhoods.  And obviously I love any artwork featuring delectable-looking sweets

What do you think? 


Unicorns vs. Mermaids

Sigh.  After nearly 9 years of blogging I don't know why I still haven't learned to look before I leap when purchasing items for the Museum's collection.  After seeing the write-up at Allure of indie brand Tooth and Nail's Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette and previous mentions of this company in other reputable publications like Nylon, I nevertheless pondered whether I really needed yet another mermaid-themed palette to add to the Museum.  Initially I wasn't going to go for it, but I figured Allure would never steer me wrong, plus Tooth and Nail mentioned the name of the palette's illustrator/designer, Australia-based artist Megan Allison.  Once I read an independent artist was behind the design I had to buy it.

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

I actually got up the courage to email Megan with a request for an interview about her art and her work for Tooth and Nail.  She kindly obliged so here's some more in-depth information.  Megan has been drawing since high school and studied Visual Communication (graphic design) at the University of Technology Sydney.  When not working at her day job at an Australian packaging company, Megan creates stickers and enamel pins featuring a variety of whimsical (and sometimes creepy!) characters. 

Megan Allison - Blue Moon Dragon

Megan Allison - Kirby sticker

Megan Allison - Xenomorph pin

And since I had to know, she's Team Unicorn.  For shame!  Just kidding, of course.  ;) 

Megan Allison - Sweet Unicorn Carousel
(images from meganallisondesign.com)

Tooth and Nail found Megan via Instagram and contacted her to create some of the labels for their Sailor Moon-themed highlighters.  After the success of that collection, the company contacted her again for the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette.  Hannah Foote, owner of Tooth and Nail, sent Megan a preliminary sketch of the general concept.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

From there Megan did her own sketch.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

Once approved, she did the full rendering, with the colors taking an entire day to get just right.  While Megan isn't loyal to one distinct style - she frequently goes back and forth between more traditional colored pencils to digital illustration and dark vs. cute themes - she enjoys tattoo design, an interest she shares with her sister (they have matching forearm tattoos, awww!)  I feel as though the mermaid looks a bit old school tattoo-inspired. 

  Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Seems all well and good, right?  Alas, a very sweet Instagram buddy of mine alerted me to the fact that Tooth and Nail has had a lot of customer complaints.  And it's true:  when I googled the company the fourth result that appeared was a complaint on Reddit.  Apparently not only was the customer service poor, the quality of the products themselves was shoddy.  While this one appeared nearly a year ago, other customers have shared their own tales of never receiving the products they ordered with a lengthy wait for a refund or zero resolution, some as recently as late May.  Sadly, the lack of service isn't limited to customers.  Via our email interview a few weeks ago, Megan stated that she never received the final versions of the products she designed (neither the Sailor Moon items nor the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette), which was the agreed-upon payment for her services.  So not only have customers been ripped off, Tooth and Nail has allegedly also not paid their own designer.  I haven't been in touch with Megan since then so I'm hoping she has received her items in the past 2 weeks, but given everything I've seen it's doubtful.  It's especially disheartening since Megan agreed to accept products instead of money - it shouldn't be difficult for a company, even a small indie one, to fulfill their end of this simple barter. (Plus, as the wife of an extremely hard-working freelance designer who has had his share of clients screwing him over, I personally HATE people who don't think independent designers/artists deserve payment...which is more common than you'd think.  Freelance ain't free!)  

I certainly don't wish to vilify Tooth and Nail, but I felt the need to mention these incidents.  I'm also inclined to believe they're true - why would so many people complain without cause, and why is there no response from Tooth and Nail to any of them or going so far as to report/remove customers' comments on Instagram?  I understand that things happen beyond our control and that Tooth and Nail is a fairly new company with literally just two people rather than a huge, established business with lots of experienced staff to handle customer issues, but it seems other tiny indie companies are able to better handle any problems that come up.  With such a small company it's easy to get overwhelmed with orders, but whatever customer service system Tooth and Nails has in place clearly hasn't been working and needs to be addressed.  Maybe it has been, as I haven't witnessed any other complaints regarding the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette...then again, perhaps any negative feedback has been wiped clean from social media.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I was conflicted for weeks about what to write or even to write anything at all, plus I was annoyed with myself for not doing proper background research on an unknown-to-me brand before purchasing the palette. Ultimately I decided to post because while Tooth and Nail may not be reliable or, at least, wasn't reliable in the past, I felt it was important to highlight Megan's work.  After all, focusing on the makeup design rather than the makeup itself is kind of what I do, right?  Oh, and in the snowball's chance in hell that any makeup companies are reading this post, I'd like to let you know that Megan is available for design/illustrative services, but you must pay her up front!

Thoughts?

UPDATE, 8/2:  Megan emailed me to let me know she followed up with Hannah a few more times and eventually received the agreed-upon items!  So hopefully this begins a new, more responsible phase for Tooth and Nail. 

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Off to Umbria with Fresh

As with Fresh's collaborations with Jo Ratcliffe and R. Nichols, this was quite a nice little surprise.  The company teamed up with renowned Italian ceramic house Rometti to create limited-edition packaging for their Umbrian Clay Mask.  I can't think of a more appropriate company to produce the design, as Rometti is not only based in Umbria near where the clay for Fresh is sourced, but obviously pottery-inspired limited edition packaging for a clay-based mask is perfect.

Fresh Clay Mask Rometti

Why the clay mask to get the artistic treatment?  Fresh co-founder Alina Roytberg explains, “The Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask is one of our most iconic products. The mask is truly amazing, because it can be used on all skin types without drying out the complexion. When the product first came out, we didn’t launch it in a big way, and we’re very excited to do that now and be able to share the rich history behind the ingredient.”  The Umbrian Clay line was first launched in 2000 after Roytberg witnessed the amazingly clear complexion of a Rome-based friend who previously struggled with acne - the clay she found in a local store had done the trick.  Roytberg tracked down the source of the clay, which is a small town in Perugia called Nocera Umbra, and from there the Umbrian Clay line was born.  The clay has been used literally for centuries to treat various skin concerns and is a renewable resource that's mined ethically by Fresh. (You can read more about the production process here.)

Fresh Clay Mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

Fresh clay mask Rometti

As for the design, Rometti Artistic Director Jean Christophe Clair says that he was inspired by all of Umbria, from its natural elements ("rivers", "hills" and "sunsets" were his key words) and architecture to its status, as he puts it, "the center of the history of Italy." The soft colors Clair used reflect the region's blue skies and earthy terracotta hues of the clay.



Rometti is a 90-year old company that's known for being the first Italian ceramic house to put a more avant-garde style on their wares as opposed to traditional Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau designs.  Most of the early pieces were produced in conjunction with artists Corrado Cagli and Dante Baldelli.  I wasn't familiar with either of those two names, but apparently Baldelli was a nephew of Settimio Rometti, one of the company's founders.  He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome where he met Cagli.  Along with a host of other artists, including Futurist Giacomo Balla (love the Futurists!), they "were given complete freedom to experiment their artistry."  The Fresh collab maintains this tradition of artistic freedom today, as the company gave Rometti "free reign".  The design process came about easily, which is not surprising given that the mask is a product that comes directly from Rometti's everyday environment.  Says Roytberg, “It was one of those incredible things where you communicate without over-communicating because the response, for [the Rometti owners], it’s natural—they live in this world, they work with clay under the sky—so it’s one of those transcendental things that just happens."

 

 

 

While Clair created a unique new design for Fresh, it's clear he was continuing in the footsteps of Cagli and Baldelli, which you can see below in some examples of their work.  What's notable about these is the modern style given to traditional decorative themes, e.g. mythological scenes, farming, fishing, etc. - they're a far cry from, say, ancient Greek vases or majolica.  I'm including just a few pieces here but if you're finding yourself head over heels in love with Rometti's work, here's a whole book to drool over.

Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Marcia su Roma (March on Rome), 1930

Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Il lavoro dei campi, 1930


Dante Baldelli for Rometti, Pescatore, 1932-34

I spy mermaids!

Dante Baldelli for Rometti, Le Sirene, 1934

 I love this jellyfish-topped vase.

Dante Baldelli for Rometti ceramics, Medusa, 1936

I think Clair may have been looking at this 1936 piece when coming up with one of the designs that appeared on the Fresh packaging.

Dante Baldelli and Corrado Cagli for Rometti, Allegoria, 1930-32

And perhaps borrowed from one of his own more recent works for the face that appears on the lid.

Jean Christophe Clair for Rometti, Bacchanti, 2017

Some more recent Rometti collaborations that caught my eye were with surrealist artist Jean Cocteau (been eyeing this vintage compact with his work on it for over a year now but can't pull the trigger - so expensive!) and lingerie designer Chantal Thomass, both of which were overseen by Clair.

Cocteau for Rometti

Chantal Thomass for Rometti

 

Chantal Thomass for Rometti
(images from rometti.it , veniceclayartists.com and chantalthomass.com)

Final thoughts: I can appreciate Rometti's craftsmanship but the artwork in the Baldelli/Cagli vein just isn't my speed, so the Fresh packaging isn't my favorite.   However, the design was definitely the most representative of Rometti's aesthetic and it is a historic company.  And as I said earlier, if Fresh was going to choose any company to partner with to create a limited edition Umbrian Clay Mask, Rometti is absolutely perfect.  It shows that some thought went into the collaboration rather than blindly choosing a random artist who probably couldn't capture the essence of Umbria, not to mention clay, as well as Rometti can.

What do you think? 

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Friday fun (or flop?) with Felicia

As soon as I saw this adorable lip balm at various blogs I ordered it immediately from Sephora.  It doesn't really get any cuter than this - a sparkly pink strawberry-scented lip balm in the shape of a flamingo pool float, plus a reference to one of the greatest films of the '90s?!  Yes please. 

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Another precious detail is the flamingo-shaped "F" in Felicia. 

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Our mini Babo loved it and asked if I could fill the bathtub so he could take it for a proper spin.

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Totally harmless, right?  Alas, this seemingly innocuous lip balm has stirred up controversy: looks like it's another case of cultural appropriation.  If you've spent any time online over the past few years you know that "Bye Felicia" has become a popular meme used to dismiss other interwebz users.  And you may remember how pleased I was to see this phrase take off in numerous other ways, given my love of '90s pop culture and the 1995 film Friday that gave us these two simple words.  The meme was the inspiration for the lip balm, according to Taste Beauty's managing partner Alex Fogelson, who told Women's Wear Daily that Sephora approached them to "collaborate in a really fun, pop-culture-inspired fun and young item."  (Taste Beauty is a relatively new company, having been founded in 2016 by three executives who used to work at Lotta Luv, the brand behind some bizarrely flavored lip balms.)

That seems okay, until you realize that the "Bye Felicia" meme Taste Beauty is referencing with their lip balm may actually be a form of cultural appropriation in and of itself. Let's take a look at the original clip, which, if I'm being honest, still makes me laugh.  (I also love Smokey's "remember it, write it down, take a picture, I don't give a fuck!"  Classic.)

Impeccably delivered, it's a funny line that wasn't even in the script (apparently Ice Cube's son came up with it)...but as it turns out, Felisha is a crackhead.  To a clueless white person such as myself, I thought she was simply an annoying, mooching neighbor.  For "bye Felisha" to take off as a meme, I guess there were other people who accidentally (or perhaps intentionally) overlooked that aspect of Felisha's character.  Or worse, many people using the meme were totally oblivious to the original source.  As this article on white people's inappropriate use of black slang notes, "What’s amazing though is that over the last year [2015] or so, so many white people and non-black people have used [Bye Felicia] (as a sassy dismissal) without actually knowing where it’s from."  Also, the spelling of Felisha's name morphed into "Felicia", I'm assuming to make it more palatable to white people.  As Fayola Perry writes in XPress Magazine, "Cultural appropriation sanitizes and spreads lies about people's culture. It takes away the story of Felisha, the addict who represents and symbolizes so many black and brown women's struggle with drug addiction in that era and makes her a passing internet trend.  This lack of attention to detail can perpetuate racist stereotypes. Someone may think they are paying homage to someone's culture and the person whose culture they're paying homage to is completely offended at the misrepresentation.  Fear not, you can enjoy a great burrito if you are not Latino and do yoga if you're not Indian, but be thoughtful, check your privilege and be considerate of context and history. Everyone has some type of privilege, people of colour appropriate each other's cultures as well. We must all be mindful of our lens, other people's perspectives, the legacy of oppression and try our best to make sure that we are not continuing it. At the very least, know where the appropriated element came from and at the very, very least, spell her name right. It's Felisha, not Felicia."

So while I was overjoyed to see the phrase take off as a meme given how much I love Friday, turns out I should have been aware that it was a form of whitewashing, since it seems that the vast majority of people using it don't know where it originated.  Or in my case, had no clue about the more serious implications of Felisha's character and her dismissal.  In reading more about the history of the film and that scene in particular, I don't think anyone involved with Friday intended the phrase to be perceived as anything other than comic relief, but now I can see how it can be viewed as a microcosm of the bigger issue of black women's needs continually being ignored. 

In turn, if we're arguing that the meme itself is a form of cultural appropriation, then the lip balm is as well, since it's directly referencing the meme and obviously not the original source.  I mean, Felisha didn't wear makeup1, and flamingo-shaped pool floats didn't make an appearance in the film as far as I know - this lip balm really has nothing to do with FridayA succinct reaction comes from this Twitter user:  "It's time for black brands to start monetizing our shit. But we're not corny enough to slap bye Felicia on some lip balm all outta context."  Blogger Aprill Coleman explains further: "Felisha was an accurate representation of black culture in the early 90s on the heels of the crack epidemic. Taste Beauty’s use is completely out of context. Felisha is an African American, crack-addicted character that did not wear makeup, whereas Felicia is a brightly colored flamingo shaped like a pool float. A tiny part of my black American culture was appropriated, reinvented, and packaged into a strawberry scented balm for profit."  Coleman also astutely points out that two of the three Taste Beauty founders are white men, so it's possible that the company, like so many others, wasn't fully aware of the phrase's origins; they just saw the meme and thought an alliterative novelty lip balm with the same name would be marketable.   And if Taste Beauty did know where it came from and still wanted to go ahead with the product despite the potential for offensiveness, perhaps they could have donated a portion of the sales to Angie's Kids. This is a nonprofit founded by Angela Means, the actress who played Felisha, that focuses on health and early childhood development. (Side note:  I would seriously love to get her thoughts on this.  She seems okay with the phrase's popularity but I'm not sure about the lip balm.)

So where does that leave us?  Well, on a personal level I feel like a jerk for buying it and also for not understanding, quite literally for the past 3 years, that the "Bye Felicia" meme was actually white people appropriating yet another piece of black culture - I honestly thought it was a widespread, '90s-nostalgia-fueled, long-overdue tribute to Ice Cube's legendary diss.  As someone who sees herself as a feminist, which means being aware of the struggles of WOC, my ignorance is rather troubling.2  As for the item's inclusion in the Museum's collection, I will likely not display it unless I'm doing a more educational exhibition on cultural appropriation in cosmetics.  In addition to the ads explored in my 2013 post on the topic, sadly there are tons more examples since then that could be provided.

What do you think about all this?  Have you seen Friday and if so, do you find the "bye Felisha" scene funny?

1 Interestingly, the actress who played Felisha cites the makeup artist on set as the one responsible for helping her fully inhabit Felisha's character.  The somewhat haggard look was entirely intentional.  She notes in an interview:  "What was funny was when I got on set the makeup artist looked at me and she was like, ‘O.K.,’ and she kind of went with my look and when we got to the set (“Friday” director) F. Gary Gray looked at me and was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait, wait. She’s not a beauty queen.’ I give the makeup artist so much credit for helping me create Felisha...So when I got in the makeup artist’s chair, once Gary said, 'No, she’s a hoodrat,' we went back to the drawing board and I fell asleep. But when I woke up and saw myself, it clicked. It helped me go there."

2 Equally problematic is that I've been rewatching the clip and still think it's hilarious - proof that white privilege is real. I'm able to ignore the broader issue of dismissing black women and perceive "bye Felisha" as comedy.
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Quick post: Are you ready for this jelly?

Hello!  It's been a while since I last posted as work nearly killed me recently, but I wanted to get something up today to 1. show that I haven't died from stress, even though I  thought I might; and 2. put up some summer fun in honor of what is easily one of the Curator's favorite days of the year, the solstice.  With that in mind, I present Anna Sui's summer makeup collection.  It's been a long time since I purchased anything from this line, but as soon as I saw this collection I knew I had to have nearly all of it.

The two nail polishes will not belong to the Museum's collection - I will be using them. As a matter of fact, this week I'm wearing S 105 (the lighter aqua blue) and it's beautiful.  It's almost as legendary as the ultimate mermaid nail polish.

Anna Sui summer 2017 makeup

I adore all the sea critters since they are friends of mermaids.  Side note:  when I was little I was infinitely fascinated with jellyfish in addition to mermaids.  There's just something about their movement, shape and their very biology that I find incredibly interesting.  They're such simple creatures on the surface - they don't have eyes, noses, or even a central nervous system - yet some of them actually glow in the dark, while the sting of others can be deadly.  I find the way they move to be strangely beautiful, and I hope to make a trip to the National Aquarium soon so that I can be totally mesmerized. (I really have no excuse for not getting there - it's literally less than a 20-minute walk from my home).

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

You would think the white plastic border and iridescent effect on in the middle of the case would look tacky and/or juvenile, but I honestly think it works here.  It reminds me of all the different tones you see in the ocean as the sun hits it.

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

And I just remembered I didn't take a picture of the inside of the palette, which has the same motifs (coral, starfish, seahorse, jellyfish and bubbles) but rendered in a vintage illustration style.  To my eye it almost looks like wallpaper.  You'll see it in a couple days in the summer exhibition.  ;)

The gold powder case has blue-green jewels that belong in a mermaid princess's crown.  As fun and blingy as it is, I couldn't bear to put the powder inside because then you couldn't see the lovely seashells embossed on it so I'll be displaying these separately. 

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder case

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder case

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder

Even the eyeshadow has a jellyfish!

Anna Sui summer 2017 eyeshadow

Bet you thought this was the first time a jellyfish appeared on a makeup compact.  I did too, until I remembered the number one rule that beauty historians need to keep in mind:  no matter how new and exciting something in the makeup world seems, it's probably been done before.  And I was right!  Here are two vintage compacts that feature my favorite invertebrates. 

Unfortunately I don't know the brand or even the approximate date of this one, but I'm guessing it's from the '40s or '50s. 

vintage under the sea compact

This one is a Stratton, probably from around the '50s given the rectangular shape,  purse clasp and the horizontal lines on the unmarked back (you can see a similar compact around the 3 minute mark in this very helpful video on dating Strattons.)

Vintage Stratton under the sea compact
(images from pinterest and antiques.com)

Naturally I'd give my eye teeth for both, in addition to all the vintage mermaid compacts I'm hunting down.  As for the Anna Sui collection, I thought it completely nailed the "magical aquarium" theme described on the website.

So what do you think of Magical Aquarium and the vintage compacts?  Do you have a favorite? 

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You're invited to Gucci's ladybug picnic

This song from my childhood immediately popped into my head when I spotted Gucci's new palette.

I was pleased to see Gucci doing something a little different packaging wise.  It's a relatively new line, launched in fall 2014, and I honestly haven't been interested in it either for collectible purposes or actual use.  But this new blush got me hoping this is the start of many more limited-edition items with fresh designs.  And I usually hate bugs with a passion, but ladybugs (along with fireflies) are acceptable to me.  :)

I didn't take a picture of the front of the case, as it was simply Gucci's usual interlocking gold G's.  They could have put a ladybug print on the outer case, but as this is their first try at a limited-edition item I shouldn't be too critical.  Inside, the powder is embossed with a single ladybug sporting 6 spots. 

Gucci ladybug blush

Gucci ladybug blush

Before I purchased the blush I did a quick search to see whether it had anything to do with Gucci's clothing - ladybugs seemed so random.  However, Gucci offers a healthy selection of items sporting the little critter.

I think the print on these tote bags would have been perfect for the outer case of the blush, no?

Gucci ladybug bags

Gucci ladybug leather coin purse

Gucci ladybug shoes

Gucci ladybug brooch and keychain

Especially adorable is their children's line.  I have no interest in having kids and would most likely never drop serious cash on their clothing (I mean, they grow out of it so quickly!), but damn, children's clothing is just precious to look at.

Gucci kids clothing

Gucci kids shoes
(images from gucci, saks, bloomingdales and net-a-porter)

Still, I was puzzled about the ladybug motif.  I did find them lurking in the spring and pre-fall 2016 collections, among many other creatures and insects. 

Gucci spring 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016(images from vogue.com)

These collections gave me a bit more context for the ladybug design.  Upon seeing them mixed in floral and animal prints, a blush palette with a ladybug didn't seem too far out of left field.  The Garden collection, an online-exclusive capsule collection released in the summer of 2016, was another addition to the flora and fauna frenzy that the brand seemed to be partaking in that year.

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection(images from gucci.com)

Yet I just couldn't figure out why there was so much emphasis on, well, nature at Gucci.  It wasn't until I read a brief description of Gucci's history and how its relatively new Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, has been modernizing the house's traditions. "Reflecting its clientele’s dynamic, well-traveled and sportif lifestyles, the brand very early on began incorporating animal motifs into its designs. Gucci’s famous horse-bit icon drew from the passion for horseback riding among its Italian aristocrat customers...since taking over as Creative Director in January 2015, Alessandro Michele has been drawing upon Gucci’s archives and this history of fauna fervor by incorporating a large variety of animals into his designs. With each collection the designer adds several more creatures to his Gucci stable, drawing on their cultural symbolism to provide layers of meaning to his heavily referential and often occult-tinged themes.  Michele’s ever-increasing insectarium collects together dragonflies, beetles, ants, bees, ladybugs, moths, and butterflies. A lepidopterist and entomologist's dream, Alessandro Michele's collections for Gucci are a fantasia of insect life. Bugs are joined by a parade of mammals on clothing and jewels: tigers, rabbits, lions, horses, cats, foxes, and many more. Gucci’s sparkling, brash menagerie is woven into velvet; formed into metal studs, large sculptural rings, and cascading earrings; beaded and sequined; patchworked out of fur; and even needlepointed. Each creature has its own symbolic meaning."  Finally, we have an answer!  I guess because I didn't investigate their makeup earlier and also because Gucci just isn't on my fashion radar, I had no idea they had a history of using animal and flower motifs.  Now that I know, I admire Michele's examination of Gucci's archives and his take on motifs that he presumably selected from them, along with his own new additions.  The flora and fauna read modern and sophisticated rather than stale and stuffy, or worse, cutesy.  And as the article points out, high-end materials also help elevate ladybugs and their pals.  It's whimsical luxury (or luxurious whimsy) that still is in keeping with Gucci's history and aesthetic.

As for the significance of the ladybugs themselves, Farfetch says they're a "symbol of luck and protection that has come to be a signature from Alessandro Michele."  I don't know about that, but when considering his designs from the past few seasons and knowing that he's updating Gucci's traditions, a ladybug on the blush palette seems to fit.  Despite the lackluster outer case and the fact that I would have liked to see a more intricate and colorful design, it was still Museum-worthy.  Instead of a single ladybug, the part of the Garden collection print with it would have been awesome, rotated like this (yes I know it's small but you get the idea.)

Gucci-Garden- snippet

But overall it was a good first effort from Gucci and I hope they do more in this vein.  I also hope I can remember to work it into next spring's exhibition.  It would look particularly nice next to Dior's Flower Blossom palette, which is the only other palette I can think of that has a ladybug.

Thoughts?


Quick Friday fun: Spring critters

In honor of the upcoming Easter holiday, I thought I'd round up some truly adorable springtime animal-themed makeup.  Bunnies and chicks and lambs, oh my!  Some of these were limited edition, but it's still fun seeing what was out there. 

  Easter beauty

  1. Tony Moly Petite Bunny Gloss bar
  2. Pupa Non-Conventional Zoo set (ca. 2007)
  3. Bunny lip balm
  4. Deborah Milano Icon palette (these came in so many animals - there are ducks, cats, owls, pigs, seals, elephants, turtles, bears, butterflies...even a moose!
  5. Oh K Bunny Sponge (not actually shaped like a bunny but the packaging is adorable!)
  6. Pupa Pretty Bunny palette (limited edition for holiday 2013)
  7. Peeps flavored lip gloss
  8. Beyond lipsticks - We've seen Paul & Joe's cat-shaped lipsticks but these took the cake for me...I so wish I was able to get my hands on them!  Alas, Beyond released these in 2012 and while I've scoured Ebay I don't think I'll be getting my hands on these.  Beyond apparently has a hard anti-animal-testing stance and created these lipsticks to help raise money for some endangered species:  harp seals, pink dolphins, otters, flying squirrels, and pandas.  Not exactly Easter-themed but I just had to include them!
  9. Lawna cotton swabs - I think these are a prototype and not available for sale, but so cute.
  10. The Creme blending sponge set - I love that they have names!  You get Penny the Pig, Charlie the Chick and Boogie the Bunny.  Like the Oh K sponge they're not shaped like the actual animal but they're precious nevertheless.

Besides Philosophy's Sugar Chick shower gel that I may be hoarding, another Easter-y item I love is this Etude House Bunny Nail set.  How much fun is that rabbit-shaped confetti?!

Etude House Bunny Nail

Etude House Bunny Nail

Etude House Bunny Nail

Have a nice Easter!  And if you don't celebrate I hope you at least have some candy.  :)

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Friday fun: Julie Verhoeven for Marc Jacobs

If the psychedelic, whimsical illustrations created by British artist Julie Verhoeven for Marc Jacobs Beauty don't seem familiar to you, it's because they are quite a departure from the relatively restrained style she went with for MAC's Illustrated collection in 2012.  Five years after the MAC collaboration, Verhoeven has again made her mark on the makeup world by working with Marc Jacobs on his spring 2017 collection, lending her talents to create 2 makeup sets, both of which I purchased. 

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

The Enamored with a Twist set features a mishmash of motifs, including a clothespin, a disembodied mouth with a row of rainbow colored teeth and couple of goofily grinning faces.  According to the product description, Verhoeven was aiming to create "modern cartoon imagery".  Cartoony it is, but to my eye it has more of a '70s feel.

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

Three glosses in lovely spring shades are included in the makeup bag.

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

Velvet Reality is the name of the other set.  This one is my favorite of the two, as I love that frog's face!

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

The set contains mascara, a cream eyeshadow stick and eyeliner.

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs Beauty x Julie Verhoeven

The illustrations are crazy and eye-catching enough as it is, but what I appreciated is that they were different from those from the Marc Jacobs fashion collection.  Although, I wouldn't have minded if they had simply chosen a couple and slapped them on the sets - I still would have bought them hook line and sinker.  They're just so fun!

It was quite an extensive lineup so I'm sharing only a few pieces. 

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

"With Marc Jacobs I tried not to be too polite with the graphics, sneaking in some phalluses and domestic appliances that sort of have no reason to be there," she says in an interview.  Indeed, with her Instagram hashtags for these pieces like "#phallicmushroom" and the bizarre inclusion of toasters and vacuum cleaners, her description is on the nose.  Of course, as with the makeup bags, the "Pill Popping Amphibian" is my favorite motif - he has the silliest expression.

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven

I love spike details so these shoes were right up my alley.

Marc Jacobs x Julie Verhoeven
(images from marcjacobs.com and saksfifthavenue.com)

Verhoeven is truly multi-talented.  In the time since I last explored her work, she continues her illustration and fashion endeavors, but has also been dabbling in performance art with some pretty captivating shows in 2014 and 2016.  Still, I felt like these trippy, out-there illustrations were quite different from the rest of her work...until I realized she had collaborated before with Marc Jacobs all the way back in 2002 for a line of Louis Vuitton bags.  As it turns out, this groovy style isn't new territory at all for Verhoeven - right down to the frog motif, the designs for Jacobs this time around are very similar to the ones produced during their previous collaboration.

Louis Vuitton x Julie Verhoeven

Louis Vuitton x Julie Verhoeven

Louis Vuitton x Julie Verhoeven
(images from fashionphile.com, therealreal.com and chercoulter.com)

Getting back to makeup, I love the soft pastel shades included in the sets, but I'm more enamored of Verhoeven's own style.  An article in the Guardian describes her bold cosmetic choices: "Verhoeven herself is a jumble of different shades: at 9.30am she is sporting cobalt blue eyeliner, hot pink lips and cheeks and a whitened face, alongside blue tights, coral nail polish and a multicoloured dress. And somehow it all fits together. 'I can’t leave the house without the face on, I’ve got that down to under five minutes,' she says. 'It’s also a layer and a disguise, in a way – I’m aware I’ve got a masculine face, so the makeup is supposed to make me disappear. But really it’s absurd because it does the opposite.'"  She definitely gives me confidence to continue wearing crazy makeup colors as I approach middle age...although I'm not a cool artist so I don't know if I could pull it off.
 
Julie Verhoeven
(image from thekinsky.com)
 
Julie Verhoeven
(image from frieze.com)
 
What do you think of this collab?  Do you prefer Verhoeven's more traditional fashion illustrations of women, such as the ones for MAC, or her more surreal style?

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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?   


MM Smackdown: Brush holder bloodshed!

Mum.11-2016.smackdown.poster

In the spirit of Black Friday, which we celebrate in the U.S. by trampling each other to score cheap TVs and the latest must-have children's toy, I thought I'd put these ladies in the ole MM boxing ring to duke it out.  I found it pretty interesting that two companies decided to release vintage-inspired brush holders for the holiday season.  At first glance, they don't seem so different - both are from similarly sized brands, blonde with perfect cherry-red pouts and dainty pearl necklaces, but as we'll see each have their own unique secret weapons.

Bésame and LM Ladurée brush holders

It's gonna be intense, so...let's get ready to rummmmbbbblllllle!  *ding ding*

"Step off, bitch!"  "Make me, whore!"

In one corner of the ring we have the Bésame brush holder.  With her bouncy ponytail that also acts as a handle and makeup straight from the 1940s, this girl packs a strong punch. Bésame is also available at Sephora, which could be seen as an advantage over her opponent.

Bésame brush holder

Bésame brush holder

But LM Ladurée won't be pushed around so easily.  She boasts an equally jaunty hair style with a striped bow, but her thick black eyeliner proves she's not playing around.  Her eyes seem to be closed, making her face (in my opinion) less creepy than Bésame's somewhat lifeless stare.  LM Ladurée is only available in the U.S. through international sellers, making it more difficult to track down.  However, this could be also be an asset in that hard-to-find items can be seen as more special than readily available ones.

LM Ladurée brush holder

While both appear to be made from ceramic, there are significant differences:  Bésame's shine and heftier weight pits her directly against LM Ladurée's featherweight feel and matte finish.  Bésame may be bigger and stronger, but what LM Ladurée lacks in brawn she makes up for in agility.  

Bésame and LM Ladurée brush holders

And while the size disparity doesn't seem that big at first, adding brushes is the true size test.  As you can see, Bésame edges out LM Ladurée in terms of storage space.

Bésame and LM Ladurée brush holders

I predicted this was going to be a particularly intense smackdown, and I was right.  Things are getting ugly!  LM Ladurée has seized Bésame's ponytail and is ferociously yanking her head around.  Bésame swiftly retaliated by tearing off LM Ladurée's hair tie.  Well, as long as they're not going for their jewelry I guess it's fair game.  Oh, I take that back!  They have now ripped off each other's necklaces...I just hope LM Ladurée doesn't reach for Bésame's earrings.  Hoooooo boy!  Someone's gonna get KO'ed soon, so in these final moments, tell me who you think wins.  Will Bésame's larger size and ergonomic shape take down LM Ladurée?  Or will LM Ladurée's international status, more subtle matte finish and lightweight feel allow her to cleverly maneuver past Bésame's blows?