Makeup as Muse: Michelle Murphy's out of this world makeup photography

Michelle MurphyA few months ago I was watching the Instagram stories of one of the many beauty bloggers I follow, and she was at an exhibition full of stunning macro photos of makeup.  I knew immediately the artist behind them would be the next Makeup as Muse installment.  Michelle Murphy received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  She spent over a decade working as a photographer for NASA, and it's this experience that influenced a series of beauty and makeup-related photographs that she began in 2011.  Since I am both bad explaining another artist's work and rather tired today, I figured I'd let an excerpt from Murphy's artist statement provide an overview of the themes in this series:  "Working in a culture where the attainment of beauty is paramount and science strives to engineer the ultimate look, my photography explores the relationship between consumption and rebellion of these ideals. What contemporary advertising and media culture continue to broadcast as expected in female appearances provides my motivation to examine beauty products.  Inspired by Op Art, scientific imaging, and third-wave feminism, I produce slick macro close-ups of the adorned, treated body and beauty 'tools'. Through my processes of creating still life and tactile experiments in my studio, I playfully use beauty products as art materials changing their purpose away from concealing or accentuating my face. In the more formal images I repeat and magnify the subject creating optical plays within two-dimensional space. My lighting, studio props, and color palettes provide an aesthetic mimicking modern advertising and scientific imaging...Beauty in its contemporary context is my discourse. I desire to shift 'the gaze' away from the female as a subject (or myself) to the over-the-counter beauty maintenance products themselves. The resulting images blend perceptual space and our cultural space…revealing the subject as abstraction, as metaphor, and again as consumable object."

We've seen macro images of makeup before, but it's Murphy's unique perspective that sets these apart from other close-ups.  Weaving together her background in science-based photos, third-wave feminism (yay!), and art history, these aren't simply pretty pictures; they're a statement about consumerism and how we perceive and approach the notion of beauty.  However, while the photos hold a deeper meaning, there's nothing wrong with appreciating their aesthetic qualities.  As the artist notes, "When you stare at something closely for a long time, it dematerializes, losing its original significance and gaining significance in new ways. If we surrender to the images as only formalist works of art, we become lost in the lines, the texture, its metallic luster, and its play with scale. The makeup is no longer the subject; the viewer can escape into stardust or can simply scan back and forth over a flattened space eliciting nothing more than shapes, grids, or metallic gradients."  I'm in full agreement on this - I can absolutely see myself getting lost in these images if I were able to see them in person.  The macro scale also calls attention to how makeup is designed for the utmost visual appeal.  It's an age-old advertising tactic, but one that still works hook, line and sinker today:  if we own this beautiful object then we too can be beautiful.  "I am using photography to reveal how an $8 manufactured palette of eye shadow entices a consumer. Its design and beauty works as a signifier of modernity, a utopic belief that you will become better by owning and using such a small thing. Because we already have years of advertising literacy embedded in our memory, buying this particular object becomes 2nd nature. Buying/consuming a product in this Western world is too easy when we think it is formally beautiful, and if we believe it’s necessary for personal improvement," Murphy states.  Indeed, by focusing on makeup's texture, shapes and colors, Murphy captures what makes cosmetics so enjoyable and, for makeup enthusiasts, irresistible. 

Let's get to the photos!  Here are some from the first Perceptual Beauty series.

Michelle Murphy, Purple Rain Palette Maze

Michelle Murphy, Bronzer Sunscape

Michelle Murphy, 100 lipstick gradient 1 lipstick color

Michelle Murphy, Eyeshadow: out n back again

Michelle Murphy, Split Shadow Chevron

Michelle Murphy, Viscosity Test

Michelle Murphy, Amorphous

Michelle Murphy, Turbulence

These last two directly reference two Op-Art artists: Bridget Riley and Josef Albers, respectively.  I've provided examples of their work.

Michelle Murphy, OP Lipstick (after Bridget Riley)

Bridget Riley - Britannia, 1961
(image from
Michelle Murphy, Foundation to the Square: Chosen, after Albers
Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: With Rays, 1959
(image from
Here is the second installment of Perpetual Beauty, which is heavily influenced by Murphy's work for NASA and resembles otherworldly landscapes.  Once again, it's the artist's background in scientific photography that allows her to see makeup very differently than most of us do.  I can't say I've ever been to a drugstore and noticed the visual similarity between an eyeshadow and the surface of another planet!  "I am shopping at CVS for a depleted daily item that brought me into the store on my lunch break…10 minutes, 20 minutes slip away from me...I am thrilled to find an eye shadow that looks like Mars! NASA just announced the Curiosity rover landed successfully on Mars, and this product looks just like the fish-eye view from photos taken on the surface."  Having looked at these, I'd be so curious to see Murphy's take on makeup products that intentionally attempt to look like galaxies and other outer space phenomena.  I also imagine her photos of holographic/duochrome products would be exquisite. 
Michelle Murphy, Curiosity Rover's View
Michelle Murphy, Fake Eyelash Refraction
Michelle Murphy, The Origin of Pigment
Michelle Murphy, Lotion Landscape
Michelle Murphy, Foundation: with less control
The final installment of the Perceptual Beauty series depicts transgender individuals applying makeup.  I'm afraid I don't have much insight into the meaning of these.  Perhaps it's a commentary on how rarely the beauty industry uses close-up photos of transgender people applying makeup in their advertising.  While we're seeing more of it, along with cis-gendered men who simply enjoy wearing makeup, the transgender models in these campaigns still adhere to more feminized notions of beauty.  These photos, on the other hand, make us question conventional beauty standards and also represent an attempt to normalize non-traditional beauty ideals.  As Murphy says, “My photographic and video art explores the opposing positions in the relationship – between consumption that objectifies the expression of idealized beauty – and rebellion against what our consumer culture deems as ideal.  My work shifts the 'gaze'  from the female as a subject (and often an object) to explore the purpose and role of beauty products.  With my work, I am essentially questioning the nature of beauty ideals in today’s society and asking whether these ideals are driven from a personal perspective, or artificially created by consumer culture.”
I think the series could also be viewed as a reminder of the greater societal marginalization of transgender people.  Sadly, the transgender community still faces much discrimination and violence on account of some not being to handle seeing those who perform gender differently than the norm, i.e. people who wear "traditional" visual markers of masculinity (facial hair, short men's haircut, etc.) but who also apply visible makeup.  Whatever the significance of this series, Murphy is staying true to her mission of shifting the focus away from the standard female subject.
Michelle Murphy, Trans Shadow
Michelle Murphy, Lip Gloss, Applied
Michelle Murphy, Zir Eye
Michelle Murphy, Blushing
Following Perceptual Beauty, Murphy embarked upon another series entitled Nature's Beauty Tools:  "I am replacing synthetically produced and manufactured beauty products (fake eyelashes, lipstick and silicone implants) with nature-sourced materials that serve as compelling stand-ins.  Temporary sculptural props of twigs, mushrooms, slate, tree-bark, leaves, etc. are physically manipulated into tiny sculptures which are then temporarily attached to the model and photographed in studio environments. These materials are organic and often disintegrate quickly, so the photographs are orchestrated within a day of finding the source material. The dramatic artificial lighting, high depth-of-field focus, along with the large-scale presentation of the finished framed work sets the overall tone for the viewer, referencing both the fine art photographic history and contemporary advertising."  Again, I'm not really sure what these are about...perhaps a critique of the beauty industry's use of "natural" in advertising their products, a term that has no real meaning.
I wonder if the lashes below were the inspiration behind these.

Michelle Murphy, Nature Modification

Michelle Murphy, Pinecone Brow

Michelle Murphy, Slate Manicure

Michelle Murphy

Michelle Murphy, Icicles Beard(images from unless otherwise noted)

You might be wondering why no companies have tapped Murphy to collaborate or use her work for advertising purposes.  Turns out a company actually did use her work, but I'm not sure which one as my internet searches proved fruitless.  The artist explains:  "In the process of creating this body of work, the PR Director of a well-known makeup brand called me through my website.  They saw the artwork I was creating with their products and wanted to co-opt my work into their social media outlets and in return to provide lots of their product as an in-kind donation to my art practice.  At first reluctant to join forces with the industry, I saw an opportunity to show my work to their consumer audience.  The success of this relationship was two-fold, I was no longer a customer of their make-up and I was offered several spin-off opportunities to beauty websites to share my work.  My favorite moment was an interview with a beauty culture news website. The writer asked me a lot about my opinions and relationship to makeup and most importantly my responses were not edited.  I had this moment to speak honestly to consumers about the difficulties with body politics related to the beauty industry."  Unfortunately, the interview she mentioned doesn't seem to be available, and I was too chicken to email her to both conduct my own interview and clarify the brand that contacted her, but I suspect it may have been Maybelline based on this post.  I would absolutely love to see more brands using her work.  And one of my burning questions is what she thinks of space-inspired beauty, given her NASA background.  ;)

Overall I'm quite smitten with these photos.  They make us consider the deeper issues involving beauty standards and consumerism, but also represent a clear appreciation for makeup design and a desire to capture the beauty of makeup as object.  I just wish that 1. more prints of her work were available and 2. I was close to Chicago so I could see the Responsive Beauty exhibition, which closes on October 21st.  If you're in the area please check it out for me!

What do you think?





Wrapped up in books: Olympia Le-Tan for Lancome, revisited

Lancôme has teamed up with a number of fashion designers in the past and this fall they're giving one of their previous partners another collaboration.  You might remember French designer Olympia Le-Tan's beautiful, but largely unaffordable, lipstick book set from 2013.  Perhaps Lancôme realized that the $1,500 price tag wasn't attainable for most and decided to grant us peons a chance to get our impoverished mitts on another Lancôme collection designed by Le-Tan.  Whatever the reason, I'm glad Lancôme revisited Le-Tan as a collaborator and offered a more affordable collection that still represents Le-Tan's signature quirky, literature-inspired style.  

If you're not familiar with Le-Tan, in a nutshell she is a London-born and Paris-bred designer - and daughter of renowned illustrator Pierre Le-Tan - who came up with the genius idea to recreate vintage book covers in clutch form.  While this may not initially sound like a novel idea, what makes these minaudieres so special is their rendering in embroidery.  Surrounded by her father's classic book collection and having learned embroidery during her teenage years from her grandmother, Le-Tan combined these inspirations to make one-of-a-kind pieces.  Rather than bland reproductions of random book covers slapped on a bag, these are pain-staking, handmade creations that reflect Le-Tan's personal relationships with books and art.  In other words, I get the sense they're not chosen at random, but are carefully selected based on the meaning they hold for the designer.   The embroidery itself is notable for the fresh, modern treatment provided by Le-Tan.  Not to sound ageist, but when I think of embroidery I typically associate it with old lady frumpiness.  Le-Tan thoroughly updates the embroidery craft to give it a more youthful and fashionable spin.  The Curator hopes someday to own one of these clutches for herself, but in lieu of that, right now I can have these beauties from Lancôme.  Before we dive into the collection, let's take a quick peek at what Le-Tan's been up to since last time.

Her latest collection for fall 2017 is an ode to Hitchcock.

Olympia Le-Tan, fall 2017

Some other highlights include a take on crazy 60s psychedelia design for spring 2017, a return to classic book covers for pre-fall 2016, the elementary school-inspired spring 2015 collection, and a delightful maritime theme for spring 2014.  I know of some sailors who would love it. ;)

Olympia Le-Tan, spring 2017

Olympia Le-Tan, fall 2017

Olympia Le-Tan, pre-fall 2016

I'm in love with this beaded upgrade to the squiggly pattern of traditional composition books.  Something that I normally saw as fairly ugly and mundane is elevated to a beautiful objet d'art.

Olympia Le-Tan, spring 2015

Olympia Le-Tan, spring 2015

Olympia Le-Tan, spring 2015

Olympia Le-Tan, spring 2014

My favorite since we last looked at Le-Tan's work though is the "Framed" collection from fall 2016, which consists of art history classics translated into gorgeous embroidered bags.  Yes please!

Olympia Le-Tan, fall 2016

Olympia Le-Tan, fall 2016(images from

Now that you've seen some of Le-Tan's newer work, let's get to the Lancôme yumminess.  The collection consisted of nail polishes, the brand's relatively new Matte Shaker liquid lipsticks, a palette, cushion compact and several of the classic L'Absolu Rouge lipsticks in the shape of...wait for it...a pair of lips!  So meta.  And so cute! 

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

I love that the palette came in its own dust jacket, just like a fancy first edition of a beloved book.

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

The embroidery is pretty spectacular.  I know it's obviously not hand-made like the actual bags, but it's very nicely stitched.  I'm not sure whether my photo conveys that it looks much more expensive than it is.  Le-Tan notes she's proud of "how beautifully the make-up palette is made," adding, "I didn't think we’d manage to create such a pretty piece made of embroidered all the collaborations I’ve done so far, this is the first time we’ve managed to produce an embroidery. It really does look just like one of my minaudières."

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

As she did with the previous Lancôme collection, Le-Tan dove into the company's archives (so wish I could!) to get inspiration for the various motifs on the packaging.  While the floating lips are consistent with the former collection, this time around Le-Tan was also quite smitten with the brand's cherubs, which represent the makeup branch of Lancôme.  She explains: "There are always interesting things in the archives of any Maison. And since the Lancôme brand has such a long history, I couldn’t resist delving into it. The idea behind my brand is – among other things – to reinterpret the design styles of the past and add my own personal touch. I like to build on something rather than start from nothing. That gives me more layers of storytelling to work with. In this case, there was this little cherub that I wanted to reinterpret – by making it more feminine, for a start."  From there she designed, appropriately enough, a bookish, girly angel blissfully lost in a tome about Lancôme.   The scrolls are a great touch, since they also figured prominently in Lancôme's early advertising.  I've included some examples below for your viewing pleasure...or, I guess, mostly for me since you know I can't get enough vintage makeup ads. :)  Meanwhile, the rose is a nod to Lancôme's official symbol for their perfumes.

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme 

Lancôme ad, 1945

Lancôme ad, 1948

Lancôme ad, 1947

Lancôme ad, 1947
(image from

As for the colors in the palette, the selection came easily to Le-Tan: "Usually when I choose a theme, I straightaway start thinking about what colours would fit with that and it doesn’t take me long to put together a palette. In fact when I worked with Gilles Dufour, I was the one in charge of colours. I have zillions of coloured sheets of felt in my office. I cut bits off the all the ones that make me think of the theme. Then I put them together, I see which combinations work and which don’t... For this collection I did the same thing, I brought together bits of felt in colours I liked and wanted to see translated into make-up."  

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

So let's take a look at the lipsticks.  I picked up Rouge Profund 1988, but in hindsight should have also gotten the other shade that was available in the U.S., Olympia 1980.  The others were Rouge de Rose 1955 and Anemone 1959, which didn't seem to make it statesideApparently they were all updated and named after the original shades, but the Olympia one still has me scratching my head.  I had assumed the years following the names were the years they were released, but Le-Tan says that Olympia 1980 was named after the original Olympia shade that debuted in 1949, so I'm not sure where the 1980 part of the name fits.  In any case, all of them are shades of red, which makes sense given the designer's love of red lipstick (which was also apparent in the previous collection). 

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

The lip shape is fairly surreal and once again echoes the surreal touch Le-Tan brought to the 2013 Lancôme design.

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme

Finally, there was a cushion compact, which also wasn't available in the States.  Fortunately it's mostly the same design as the palette, so I don't feel the need to track it down. 

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme(image from

Here's the original sketch...Le-Tan clearly inherited her father's talent.

Olympia Le-Tan for Lancôme - sketch
(image from

All in all, I think this is a great collection that perfectly combines Le-Tan's unique, whimsical style with Lancôme's vision.   Her slightly offbeat take on certain motifs used throughout the brand's history is truly original and refreshing.  Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed Lancôme's many variations on rose-embossed powders, but this is something totally new and different from those.  So this collection gets an A from me.

What do you think?  

Curator's Corner, 9/24/2017

CC logoAh, the first Curator's Corner of fall 2017. 

- Racked had an interesting piece on the GWP, although I think they leave out the most obvious reason it still endures: people just love free stuff, even if they're not going to use it.

- Adored this interview with "Mother".  (insert heart-eye emoji here)

- Trending: Bratz doll inspired makeup, flare highlighting, negative space brows and glass skin.  And for a little dose of creepiness (Halloween is coming, after all) check out this, um, hairy manicure

- If that wasn't enough you can take a gander at the world's longest finger nails and longest eyelashes. Thankfully they do not belong to the same person.

- Nothing will ever replace mermaids in terms of my favorite fictional creature-inspired makeup, but I did get a chuckle from Jezebel's competition and eventual winner. 

The random:

- Speaking of mermaids, an octopus "city" was just discovered.  I bet mermaids hang out there a lot...and also take naps with jellyfish.

- On the art front, a museum devoted to street art is opening in Berlin, and YSL is getting not one but two museums.

- Move over #PSL, there's a new fall latte in town.  (I can't wait to try it!)

What's been catching your eye lately?


MM Mailbag, Twitter edition

I much prefer email for inquiries but am always excited to receive them in any format, so when someone Tweeted at me last year to request any information on the vintage item below I eagerly began searching.  The person who sent the Tweet thought it might be Rimmel, but the name Po-Go was not a Rimmel product as far as I could tell.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Online searched proved fruitless - I couldn't find any reference to Po-Go rouge whatsoever...until a few months ago when I was researching lipstick tissues at and spotted an ad for Po-Go Rouge in the very bottom corner of an article.  I was so excited to have found something even though it was roughly a year since the poor person had originally Tweeted at me.  I found some basic information, but let me just say up front that definitively dating the various Po-Go Rouge pots I came across in ads and elsewhere proved rather difficult, if not impossible.  Still, I was able to get some clues and can narrow them down to the span of a few years.  Come with me on my research adventure!

I forget what I typed in to Google, but miraculously I came across another specimen at the Museu del Perfum.  Fortunately this item has the back label displayed.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge
(image from

So from there I typed in all sorts of phrases, but the one that got the results I was looking for was "vintage Guy T. Gibson, inc. New York".  Via several perfume blogs I discovered that Guy T. Gibson was established in 1921 by a perfume importer, J.S. Wiedhopf.  The Vintage Perfume Vault explains:  "As a young man, Wiedhopf worked for the Alfred H. Smith Company, who were the only stateside importers of Djerkiss perfume. After he learned the business and perhaps sensing there were more lucrative opportunities, Wiedhopf struck out on his own. In 1921 he started his own business, Guy T Gibson Inc. There he began to import the exclusive Parisian brand Parfums Caron, which he sold to American customers in his New York retail shop. Soon Wiedhopf began offering perfumes under his own label, although the scents were actually being manufactured and bottled by Gamilla in France."  Wiedhopf's perfume brand was known as Ciro, and rarely came up when advertising Po-Go Rouge.  Why Wiedhopf chose a totally different name for the company and why he decided to sell imported rouge along with perfumes I don't know, but as of April 1922 he had set up shop at 565 Fifth Avenue, as shown on the Po-Go label above and this office space ad below.

Straus building ad, April 1922

The earliest mention of the product that I found was October 1923.

Oct. 1923-first-mention-pittsburgh

Here are some from 1924. 

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1924

This one is notable for being one of two ads I could find that actually mentions that Po-Go and Parfums Ciro are both imported by Guy T. Gibson, Inc.

Parfums Ciro ad, 1924

The shade name listed on the one from the perfume museum is Vif, the first mention of which I found was in 1927.  However, what leaves me scratching my head is that the packaging also seems to be different starting in 1927.  The full Paris address is listed on the perfume museum's item, which is consistent with the labels we saw in the 1924 ads, but there was no mention of the Vif shade until 1927...and you'll notice the label below has changed to simply "Paris, France".  So how did a container that is presumably dated 1924-25 hold a shade that wasn't introduced until 1927?

Po-Go Rouge, 1927

Anyway, the earliest mention of two more new shades (Saumon and Cardinal) was in February 1930.  I just had to include an ad from June 1930 as well even though the text is the same.  How cute is that girl with her little paint palette?!  I'm always looking for ads and packaging that take the "makeup as art" literally, since I think it would make a great exhibition and/or book. ;)

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1930

By March 1932 Po-Go had expanded to include lipstick. I don't know what a "Frenchy" case is but it sounds very fancy.

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1932

I suppose the reason Wiedhopf branched out into blush and lipstick in addition to perfumes was to capitalize on the already entrenched obsession with French beauty, judging from the ads.  (That would make a fantastic paper or even a whole book, no?  While I was browsing these old newspapers I stumbled across a great news article from February 1923 that talks all about how the fashionable Parisian women are wearing their blush and lipstick and how Americans are so uncouth by comparison...proof that our obsession with "French girl beauty" goes back way longer than we would assume!)

Po-Go Rouge ad, February 1933

Po-Go Rouge ad, May 1934
Now you know I was on the hunt for a Po-Go Rouge of my very own.  I've been having excellent beauty luck lately (knock wood it sticks around) and this was just another incredibly fortuitous find.  It's in pretty darn good shape too - a little wear on the outside but the product itself is totally intact and the puff is unused. 

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Speaking of the puff...OMG.  So. Cute.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

You can see how tiny it is - our blush nowadays are supersized in comparison.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

For this lovely addition to the Museum's collection, I was actually able to date it within a few years.  First, you'll notice that the shade name on the back is Saumon, which, as we saw previously, wasn't introduced until 1930.  Additionally, the early Po-Go packages (ca. 1923-25) had the shade listed on the side. 

Po-Go Rouge ad, 1925

Next, the label on the front has done away with the "Paris, France" and replaced it with "Parfums Ciro, Distributor, New York", while the one on the back also lists Parfums Ciro instead of Guy T. Gibson, which was what the Museu del Perfum rouge label listed.  The Vintage Perfume Vault notes that Wiedhopf officially changed his company's name from Guy T. Gibson to Parfums Ciro in 1936.  This would explain an ad from the same year which notes that Po-Go Rouge is from Ciro.

Po-Go Rouge ad, March 1936

Finally, while Parfums Ciro lasted until the mid-60s, the last mention of Po-Go Rouge I could find in newspapers was from September 1942.  So basically, the Po-Go Rouge I have must date between 1936 and 1942 or thereabouts.  I will say that the puff in the one I have looks markedly different than the one in the 1936 ad, but consistent with the one that was Tweeted and in other previous ads, so I'm not really sure what that means.  In any case, after all this I was dismayed that I couldn't give an exact date for the Po-Go Rouge that was brought to my attention via Twitter, since the biggest clues are the sides and back of the container and the top is too blurry to read.  The text does seem too long to be "Paris, France", so my best guess that it's either very early (with the original Paris address), or after 1936 with the Parfums Ciro label like the one I have, since the text for both of those extend further on each side.  Another clue is the indentation on the front, which is consistent with the one from Museu del Perfum - this may mean it's on the earlier side since the later one I have doesn't have a pronounced indentation.  The color is also a little strange, as both mine and the one from Museu del Perfum are reddish, while the one that was shared with me online is pink.  I'm not sure whether the color has faded significantly or if the container was damaged, but perhaps it was yet another hallmark of a very early version of Po-Go.  This 1929 ads highlights "the gay red box", so it wasn't pink at that point, and the ad copy also implies that there was one colored box for all shades, i.e. different shades weren't packaged in different colored boxes.  (Still love this Parisian artiste!)

Po-Go Rouge ad, 1929

So that's really the best I can do without seeing the back label or making out the print on the lid.  Alas.  While I didn't get exact answers for the request, at least I had a ton of fun poking around newspaper archives and comparing packaging, two of my favorite things!  I did reply excitedly to the the submitter on Twitter and it doesn't seem she's online very much now, but hopefully she'll see this post eventually if she goes back on social media. 

Do you agree with my assessment? 

Fall 2017 color trend

I've been having much trouble with clearly identifying color trends the past few years.  Previously there was always one shade that I kept seeing over and over again each season, but now the focus seems to be more stylistic rather than color-related, i.e., different styles of a makeup item such as eyeliner.  Having said that, I did notice there was a good amount of plum floating about in the beauty world.  As with previous color trends, this year's version presents a new twist on an old favorite.  It's not the usual vibrant purple plum, but rather a slightly warm, smoky, dusky hue - sort of a mix between mauve and burgundy with a tiny hint of taupe.  It's a bit more subdued than a true plum, which in my opinion elevates it to an incredibly chic and sophisticated update on the beloved fall hue.  It's also notable in its use on eyes and/or cheeks when a vampy plum lip usually reigns supreme this time of year.

Fall 2017 color trend

  1.  Maybelline Burgundy Bar palette
  2. RMK FFFuture Cheeks in Rose Stone
  3. Dior fall 2017 ad
  4. NARS blush in Blissful
  5. Mary Kay Eye Color Palette in Rosé Nudes
  6. Pola Muselle Rare Touch Eye Mousse
  7. La Perla fall 2017 runway makeup
  8. Rituel de Fille Ash and Ember Eye Soot in Exuviae
  9. Colured Raine Berry Cute palette
  10. Clinique Sweet As Honey palette

I have to admit I was little intimidated by this shade at first.  I'm no stranger to plum, but I tend to wear it mostly on lips and nails.  If I do go the eyeshadow route I stick to cooler hues since anything too warm/red will make me look bruised, and plain mauve and taupe by themselves generally wash me out.  I was surprised to see that the slight earthy undertones make it very wearable.

What do you think?  Will you be trying this out this shade for fall?  Oh, almost forgot to mention - if you need a highlighter to go with your sultry plum eyeshadow and blush, check out Becca Smoky Quartz, as it complements it perfectly.  :)


Da Bears: Moschino for Sephora

It was quite the quest to get this collection into my grabby paws, but with the help of my phone's alarm and my lovely mother-in-law, I was able to nab this highly coveted collaboration between Moschino and Sephora. 

Moschino x Sephora

As soon as I laid eyes on it in July I knew I had to have it for the Museum, especially considering that one of the Museum's interns is a sweet little cubby who would be very happy to see it.

Moschino x Sephora

Moschino x Sephora

I don't think I'm getting these back from him.

Moschino x Sephora

Moschino x Sephora lip gloss set

Not only did my MIL go out of her way to get to Sephora (and early - she got there at 9:10 and there were already 2 people waiting!), she picked up the shopping bag palette for me in addition to the eye shadow palette.  And also refused to accept reimbursement for either item.  I'm a very lucky girl, yes?

Moschino x Sephora shopping bag palette

Moschino x Sephora shopping bag palette

And here we are!  The star of the collection, the most coveted and hard to get.  My MIL reported that the store only got 6 in stock.  The two women ahead of her got theirs (1 each, thankfully), my MIL got one for me, and then she said the guy behind her bought the last 3, the jerk.

Moschino x Sephora eye shadow palette

Moschino x Sephora eye shadow palette

Babo Bear insisted on doing a little more modeling.

Moschino x Sephora eye mask

Let's explore a little bit of the fashion behind the teddy bear and shopping bag motifs.  Franco Moschino (1950-1994) began his irreverent line in 1983, poking fun at the world of couture despite (or perhaps because of?) being totally immersed in it.  I'm ill-equipped to fully explain his style since I am not a fashion historian, but I found some good articles here, here and here if you're so inclined.  I was flabbergasted to learn that both the bears and bags seen on the runways the past few seasons were inspired by Moschino's original designs - I had mistakenly believed that both were new concepts dreamed up by the ever-wacky Jeremy Scott, Moschino's current creative director.  Little did I know that Moschino had a sense of humor about high fashion long before it was, well, fashionable.  Scott is doing an excellent job of carrying that torch by putting his own spin on Moschino's original aesthetic and adding some new motifs (I adore this "capsule" collection, controversial though it was), but the teddy bears and shopping bags are not actually his brainchild.  This was the famous dress and hat from Moschino's 1988 fall collection that put the bear motif on the fashion map.

Moschino teddy bear dress, 1988

Moschino teddy bear dress, 1988
(images from pinterest and

The shopping bag dress had debuted a year prior.

Moschino 1987(image from pinterest)

Under Rossella Jardini, Moschino's director from the designer's untimely death in 1994 until 2013, both of these iconic pieces were resurrected for the house's 30th anniversary.

Moschino spring 2014(images from

Scott took over in October 2013, and wasted no time building on the teddy bear empire by releasing the Toy fragrance roughly a year after his appointment.  This was not unexpected, seeing as how before his post at Moschino, Scott had designed these teddy bear sneakers for Adidas in 2011.

Jeremy Scott Adidas sneakers
(image from 

I love the Surrealist-esque "This is not a Moschino toy" on the bear's shirt, since it's one of my favorite art movements, but also because Franco Moschino was also inspired by both Surrealism and Dada so it fits perfectly with his original vision.  I'm less crazy about the fact that you have to remove the bear's head to apply the perfume, however.  (See last year's Halloween post for similar creepy items). 

Moschino Toy perfume(images from

Scott also continuously works in new iterations of teddy bear fashion.  I'm truly impressed by how he's able to reinvent one of Moschino's stand-out pieces while remaining true to the original designer's vision as well as his own - the iconography is similar but has been modernized to reflect contemporary culture, taking on a slightly different meaning now.  This article explains it better than I can:  "For Scott, the teddy bear motif has been a career theme of symbolic materialistic significance similar to how Jean Charles de Castelbajac famously used it, but in the context of the American designer's new era at Moschino, the teddy bear's connotations are something else.  When fangirl mania was at its height circa early-mid 90s and teen idols like Take That were climbing a never-ending fame ladder, their hordes of fans would bring teddy bears to concerts and outside hotels, throwing them at the bad as tokens of their support. With the teddy bear as their mascot, this generation of ultimate fangirls displayed the innocent, childlike obsession that lies at the root of fandom in pop culture, and portrayed the spirit of materialism and unapologetic commercial opportunism it generates. Franco Moschino created his house in a time when the foundation of this kind of excessive 90s fandom was being built - courtesy mainly of Michael Jackson and Madonna - and while his work dealt more with the consumerism of the time, brand idolisation was a huge part of Moschino's genetics."

Moschino fall 2015

Moschino fall 2016

Moschino spring 2017

Ditto for the shopping bag, incidentally.

Moschino resort 2016(images from

Getting back to the Sephora collection, obviously the packaging is a natural extension of the Toy fragrance.  I think Franco Moschino would be pleased not only by Scott's fashion but by the Sephora collection as well.  The packaging is slightly absurd and therefore lends a tiny bit of Dada flavor (especially so with the brush set), and I personally think the shiny gold finish is poking gentle fun at our cultural obsession with status symbols and "bling".   And since the collection was in collaboration with a higher-end makeup store, there's the trademark Moschino mix of humor and quality.  As for Scott, I think he had fun with the collection as well, noting that he "loves the power of makeup and the way it can transform your mood."  He also points out that a makeup line from a couture house allows accessibility for those who can't afford the fashion, which I'm always in favor of.   "I learned very early on how much young people love my work, and sometimes they don’t have the means to get it. This is another way for me to do Moschino and not sacrifice quality. It’s a lot more accessible. I love to be able to put my arms around more people and have them be a part of the Moschino family in some capacity."  However, the irony of this was how difficult the collection was to procure, and many people didn't get theirs.  It's a long story and I don't want to tell it, but I will say that the collection's release and sale was an example of how NOT to sell a highly anticipated collection with so little stock.  I think Sephora really screwed the pooch and I feel bad for those who couldn't get their hands on it, especially when you have unscrupulous ebayers selling the goods for over twice retail.  How's that for affordable?  I wish Sephora would do what MAC did when Selena sold out immediately:  make more for another run, and also release it worldwide (as far as I know the Moschino collection was only available in the U.S. and Canada).  It would be silly not to from a profit perspective - obviously lots of folks really wanted this collection so Sephora could stand to make even more money if they re-released it.

What do you think of the Sephora collection and Moschino?  After reading more about the history of Moschino and Scott's current creations I'm pretty enamored of the line and wouldn't mind owning a few pieces. It's kitschy, offbeat, clever but also well-made.

Curator's Corner, 9/10/2017

CC logoSome long overdue links. 

- Racked had an interesting history of makeup during the Cold War, while this fearless woman painstakingly recreated lip colors based on historical recipes completely by hand.  Neat!

- I'm loving this beautiful eyelash art.  Totally impractical but so pretty to look at. 

- Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Rihanna's new line dropped yesterday to rave reviews and applause for its commitment to diversity - the collection was clearly developed to meet the needs of non-white women, as evidenced by its 40 (!) shades of foundation.  And let's hear it for Cover FX, who just launched their "Nude Is Not Beige" campaign, along with Mented's new glosses.  While these are great leaps forward for an industry that has always left women of color by the wayside, L'Oreal still managed to move backwards...but Rihanna may save the day again

- Speaking of L'Oreal, the founder has quite a sordid history that I wasn't aware of until now. 

- Sorry, Feministing, but I'm with Jezebel regarding this author who claims that makeup is a waste of time.

- Now onto lighter fare!  Brow "trends", if you can even call them that, have really gotten out of control: from foil and braided brows to squiggle brows (which managed to migrate down the face to becoming squiggle lips), people are inventing ever weirder ways to adorn their brows.  Fortunately makeup artist Huda Kattan is here to poke gentle fun at them.

- Other crazes include inner eye strobing and butterfly eyes, both of which I think are quite pretty.  Less so is taco eye makeup, but it's fun nevertheless.  Also, the glitter fad is still going strong. I must say I think people really need to stop putting it into every orifice.  What's next, glitter armpits?  Oh wait...

- I still don't really understand the ASMR concept, which is why these lipstick destruction videos are the exact opposite of soothing to me.

- I'm down for PSL-scented beauty products, but I draw the line at deodorant.  *shudder*

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, we have plenty to celebrate, including the 20th anniversary of Ally McBeal as well as Netflix, along with Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping".  Going back even earlier, Def Comedy Jam will be revived for its 25th anniversary, and Right Said Fred's 1992 hit "I'm Too Sexy" somehow ended up mixed into a new Taylor Swift song.

- Not all the nostalgia is pop culture-related: check out this well-preserved house featuring some quintessential '90s interior design.

- Possibly the only thing that makes me feel older than '90s milestones is aughts milestones.  Can you believe the hashtag turned 10?  (It's taken me about that long to stop referring to it as a pound sign.) 

- This new poster museum sounds pretty cool.  And I wish I could see this exhibition of exquisite Chinese boxes, some of which were used to hold cosmetics.

How are you?  Are you ready for fall?  I miss summer, but I did enjoy my first PSL yesterday.  :)


Meltdown: Ice cream inspired beauty

The last unofficial day of summer (a.k.a. Labor Day in the U.S.) is always hard for someone like me who dreads the dark, cold days of winter ahead.  To help alleviate some of that end-of-summer sadness I thought I'd round up some delicious ice cream-inspired beauty products. 

I'm not sure whether it was the influence of the new Museum of Ice Cream or this photography exhibition devoted to the sweet treat, but ice cream seemed to be having a moment this summer.  This in turn trickled over into the beauty world:  not only were there a plethora of ice cream themed beauty products and ads, some intrepid artists decked out their faces in sweet, melty ice cream makeup. Obviously this isn't "natural" makeup, but you have to admit these looks are pretty creative.

Ice cream inspired beauty

  1. Cake Beauty popsicle sponges
  2. Channing Carlisle (@makeupbychanningjudith)
  3. @dupeblack
  4. Pai Pai ad
  5. Etude House Dear Darling Water gel tints (I ordered these literally a month ago from specifically for this post and they still haven't arrived!  Grrr!)
  6. @beetotheo

There were a few other fairly new ice cream inspired things that were just too cute not to buy for the Museum. 

Trifle Cosmetics Praline Palette

Winky Lux lip gloss and Bath and Body Works hand cream

And so the newer items wouldn't get lonely, I scooped up (sorry, couldn't resist) the Stila ice cream collection from their 20th anniversary, along with some vintage Avon lip glosses.

I didn't think much of these at the time they were released, but in hindsight I've realized they're worth having in the Museum.

Stila ice cream trios

Stila ice cream blushes

Stila sweet shoppe lip glaze trio

These Avon lip glosses date back to the early 70s, I believe.

Avon ice cream lip glosses

Avon ice cream lip glosses

I better get going and put this stuff away before Museum staff discovers it...if you've been following me on Instagram you know they got into my LUSH shower jellies thinking they were jams.  They'd definitely mistake these for the real deal!


Book review: Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World

Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World

I don't know how this tome managed to slip under my beauty book radar.  I wasn't aware that this little gem existed until the author followed me on Twitter.  Much has been written about the modern beauty age (20th-21st centuries), but there are not many in-depth resources available on beauty practices prior to that.  Fortunately, Dr. Susan Stewart, an independent scholar and librarian at Scotland's Broxburn Academy, is here to help fill in the gaps.  Drawing on literary texts, visual arts and material objects as primary source material, Cosmetics and Perfumes in the Roman World presents a thorough history of makeup and fragrance usage during the Roman Empire (roughly 1-300 A.D.) 

The introduction also serves as Chapter 1, which is an overview of the author's sources, geographic areas and time period that are covered - basic but necessary.  Chapter 2 is probably my favorite, since it summarizes the ingredients used in cosmetics as well as the beauty ideals of the time.  Empresses and mythical goddesses set the beauty standards that most women aspired to.  Unsurprisingly, the key beauty goals for women were identical to today's - clear skin, large eyes and silky hair.  And lest you think our obsession with a youthful appearance is a fairly new scourge, this chapter highlights several recipes for wrinkle creams and hair dyes. Even some ingredients haven't changed much; mascara and brow filler were made from soot, which is almost identical to what we think of as the first modern mascara concoction.  Stewart also notes that most of the recipes and techniques date back even further, as the Romans borrowed them from the ancient Egyptians.

Chapter 3 tackles the health and hygiene aspects of Roman beauty products.  While I prefer reading about actual face paint, this chapter is important since it provides the foundation (see what I did there?) for understanding modern cosmetics.  Since its infancy the beauty industry has linked good health with attractiveness:  glowing skin, bright eyes, a pleasant scent and white, even teeth are all still considered markers of beauty.  If one was beautiful and smelled nice they must be healthy and vice versa.  "One's appearance in general is improved by good health and reflects good health; making health a constituent of beauty and beauty in turn a constituent of health" (p.51).  One of the most interesting pieces of proof of this belief among the Romans were the images of Venus commonly displayed at bath houses.

Whereas the previous chapters laid out the what and the how, the next two chapters examines the who and the why, i.e. the differences in use of beauty and hygiene products based on gender, race and class power structures, along with society's perception of women who used cosmetics.  Needless to say, by and large women were heavily critiqued for wearing makeup for the same reasons we see today.  "A woman displayed her inferiority by feeling compelled to improve upon her appearance, her weakness by being tempted by luxury (in the form of expensive beauty products), her obsession with sex by trying to make herself attractive to men other than her husband, her deviousness by disguising her true appearance with makeup and finally, her idleness by having too much time to spend on personal grooming" (p.65).  Once again women who wear makeup are vain and shallow, and women generally were expected to look perfect but not use any beauty aids.  Same old story, right?  Sadly, it wasn't really any better for men; Stewart notes that men who were overly prettified by society's standards were seen as effeminate and unfit to perform traditional men's work. Despite all of these negative perceptions, literally hundreds of makeup/perfume containers and application utensils have been recovered from Roman ruins over the years, which serves as hard evidence that most people engaged in beautification and grooming practices.  However, while these items were widely used, class played a significant role in the types of products and their application.  As was the case in the early 20th century, a more "natural" look achieved with higher quality ingredients was a mark of the middle and upper classes, while heavy makeup and scent made from cheap, readily available sources were associated with prostitutes (obviously, since the latter couldn't afford more expensive beauty products.)

The last chapter explores the notion of luxury as it relates to cosmetics and perfumes during the Roman empire.  As noted previously, given their widespread use among different economic classes, most beauty products weren't luxury items. Male philosophers (especially those damn Stoics) believed makeup and fragrance to be highly unnecessary and therefore luxury goods, but physical evidence suggests this wasn't a widely held view.  While empresses and other high-class women used only the "good stuff" made from extremely pricey ingredients, there were many options available at all price points.  And this range isn't reflected only in the ingredients but in the containers as well; everything from silver, bronze and clear, colorless glass (high-end) to blue-green glass (the most inexpensive type of container) was used to store beauty products. 

All in all, this is a well-researched and fascinating read, and most importantly, it's accessible for the masses.  Despite all of the classic literature and art history references, Stewart makes it easy for non-academics to understand.  The information is presented in a straightforward yet compelling manner, i.e. there was no boring, bland spouting of one fact after another but rather a narrative that flowed from describing the basics (makeup ingredients, utensils, etc.) to more complex ideas (the cultural and political climate that influenced why and how they were used.)  Also, even though I shouldn't be, I'm amazed (and a bit sad) by how little things have changed; beauty standards are still more or less the same as they were 2,000 years ago, despite current efforts to diversify them.  My only critique is that I would have liked to have seen more photos rather than illustrations.  The drawings were able to communicate the ideas and objects well enough, but they lacked the visual impact photos would bring.  I'm assuming museums wanted exorbitant fees to use their photos so the author had no choice but to use illustrations.  

Will you be picking this one up?  Oh, I almost forgot - Stewart has a new publication on cosmetics history coming out in December, which obviously is already at the top of my Christmas list.  ;)  Keep your eyes peeled!

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

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

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

She notes that this feature came naturally: "I enjoy bending scale in my 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?