Magical mermaid makeup brushes!

I've been waiting for literally over a year to blog about these amazing mermaid brushes by, funnily enough, a UK-based brand named Unicorn Cosmetics.  I finally got them in hand back in December, but wanted to wait until the warm weather was imminent to blog about them.  The brushes themselves are incredible, but the packaging was also breathtaking. 

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Each brush came individually wrapped with a little charm in the shape of that particular mermaid tail.  What a great little detail!

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush

All of artwork was done by American artist Kurtis Rykovich, who created four mermaids to correspond to the brushes.  Save for this interview, information about the inspiration behind his work and his partnership with Unicorn Cosmetics was non-existent, so I gathered all my courage and reached out to this artist for an exclusive Makeup Museum interview.  Initially he seemed very enthusiastic and agreed to provide answers within a week, but after not hearing anything, followed by several gentle reminders via both email and IG over the course of a month, I gave up.  This is why my blogging schedule got completely off track recently, as I was patiently trying to give plenty of time to accommodate him.  In the end I just couldn't wait any longer.  I'm incredibly disappointed, to say the least, because I'm so interested in hearing his perspective and there wasn't any other in-depth info about this collection.  Guess it's just another item to add to the long list of Museum failures. And it will most likely be the last time I contact an artist.  :(

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set postcard - artwork by Kurtis Rykovich

In an effort to not be too salty about the lack of communication on his part - us Scorpios are known to hold a grudge - I'm sharing some of Rykovich's other work, which consists of (mostly female) otherworldly beings.  Everything from Disney princesses and fairy tale heroines to creatures of ancient myths are represented.  I also find it interesting that they all have such long lashes - you might be aware that Unicorn Cosmetics was formerly known as Unicorn Lashes and specialized in uniquely shaped, fairly elaborate false eyelash sets that resemble the ones in Rykovich's paintings.  I can only wonder if the company saw Rykovich's long-lashed beauties and reached out to him.

Kurtis Rykovich, Sleeping Beauty

Kurtis Rykovich, Medusa

Kurtis Rykovich, Goldilocks

Kurtis Rykovich, Mushroom Fae

Kurtis Rykovich, Our Madness

Kurtis Rykovich, Hammerhead Abyss

Kurtis Rykovich, Moondust

Kurtis Rykovich, Flurry

This magical unicorn princess was used for another Unicorn Cosmetics brush set.


Unicorn brushes box

This one was especially created for a new Unicorn Cosmetics palette.

Kurtis Rykovich, Glimmer

Unicorn Brushes palette
(images from rykovich.com and instagram)

As for the mermaid brushes, the purpose of each one is described on the back of the postcard with Rykovich's image. 

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

We'll start with the highlighting brush that corresponds to Bubbles.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Bubbles

Next up is Korali (all-over powder brush).

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Korali

Delphie is for blush.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Delphie

Finally, there's LiLu, used for foundation and contouring.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Lilu

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

The brush set also came with a clamshell stand for display - how cool is that?!

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

I also really loved seeing the evolution of the design.  These images are from January 2017 through their release at the end of the year.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brushes

Overall, I'm positively in love with these brushes.  We've seen mermaid tail brushes before and they're very cute, but they lack the level of detail of the Unicorn Cosmetics set.  I also think Rykovich is a perfect match for Unicorn Cosmetics, given the mutual love of magical, feminine creatures that only exist in our imagination. 

What do you think?  Do you have a favorite?

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It's panda-monium! MAC Nicopanda

This was another one of those "buy first, ask questions later" type of purchases.  As soon as I saw the images I knew this collection belonged in the Museum, even though I had no idea who or what Nicopanda was.  Turns out, Nicopanda is a streetwear line founded by designer Nicola Formichetti in 2011.  I'll talk more about the brand in a bit, but first, let's feast our eyes on the positively adorable packaging.

MAC x Nicopanda

MAC x Nicopanda

MAC x Nicopanda

In keeping with the brand's spirit, I picked up what I thought were the most fun lip colors.

MAC x Nicopanda

Even the boxes are precious.   You know how much I appreciate patterns on both the inside and outside!

MAC x Nicopanda

MAC x Nicopanda

I normally would have gone for a palette rather than face stickers, but these were apparently Formichetti's favorite item in the collection, and when I thought about it a little bit, it occurred to me that they were the most representative of Nicopanda's vibe.

MAC x Nicopanda

MAC x Nicopanda

MAC x Nicopanda

The panda design on the MAC collection, obviously, is a replica of the panda mascot in the Nicopanda clothing line.  Formichetti notes that it was imperative to incorporate the panda motif in a big way - as with the Jeremy Scott collection, custom molds for the packaging were required, and Formichetti sees the final designs "almost like a collectible".  As we'll see shortly, the the Nicopanda symbol holds a lot of meaning for the designer.  "Ultimately, the panda was a big part of this inspiration. I originally created this character to represent something that is a symbol of creativity and diversity. It was very important to bring the panda into the design and creative process. The packaging is clearly inspired by the panda, which is custom made and the first time MAC has launched something like this. It’s visually so exciting, elegant, fun, unisex, and everything we wanted to accomplish."

Nicopanda shirts(images from nicopanda.com)

Now that we've seen a bit of the MAC collection, let's get down to the what, how and why.  The Nicopanda brand began as a pop-up store in 2011. as a side project of Nicola Formichetti and his brother Andrea.  Nicola was working as a stylist to the ever-eccentric Lady Gaga at the time (and became creative director for Diesel a few years later), and due to its overwhelming popularity the line expanded to become a full-time endeavor by 2015.  As for the panda moniker, Formichetti explains:  "My friends used to call me Nico Panda because I’m half Asian, I had this long beard back then; and was a little chubby, so I looked like a bear—an Asian bear. So people started calling me Nico Panda on Twitter, and then once Gaga did that panda makeup, I created this character for the store."

Nicopanda-store(image from elleiconlee.com)

Nicopanda was born out of Formichetti's desire to both explore his Japanese roots and create a unique, light-hearted streetwear line that's also genderless.  "It's our job to provide as many options as possible for people to choose from so they can be whatever and whoever they want to be," he stated.  "We should have unisex garments.1  But, we also have to have more feminine and more masculine clothing because there are times when you'll want dress more masculine, more girly or in between."  As you can see from recent collections, Nicopanda definitely appears to be a pioneer in genderless dressing.  Not only is the clothing intended for all genders, the casting of androgynous models furthers the notion of a future without gender labels.  I have to say I like the concept of readily accessible clothing that's not intended for men or women.  Wouldn't it be fun to go into a store, see an item you like and buy it without worrying it's the "wrong" gender for you?  I mean, if I like a piece of menswear I'll buy it, but there's a great sense of freedom in buying non-gender specific clothing.

Nicopanda fall 2016

Nicopanda 2018

Another way Formichetti is turning the notion of gendered clothing on its head is the use of traditional markers of femininity - pink, ruffles, skirt silhouettes - on ostensibly male models.  The point Formichetti seems to make isn't men embracing their feminine side, but rather wanting to create styles that anyone would feel comfortable wearing if they chose.

Nicopanda spring 2018(images from vogue.com)

Nicopanda 2015(images from voltcafe.com)

Obviously, the topic of genderless clothing is far beyond the scope of this post, but I want to look at how Nicopanda applied the concept to makeup.  In the video below, he stresses that the MAC collection is for everyone:  "I made this collection for everybody - girls, boys, and then everyone in between...I think it's very genderless and freestyle...diversity and inclusivity are part of everything I do and Nicopanda does." 

Indeed, most of the models in the ads defy gender and even race.  Diversity and playing with opposites were central to Formichetti's vision for the MAC collection, since they are also tenets of the Nicopanda brand.  "The inspiration for me was to create something that was new and different and focuses on creativity and diversity all while being playful and fun. That’s kind of the inspiration for everything I do. I wanted to create something that was personal to my brand and something that was special to celebrate my longstanding relationship with MAC.  Together, we desired to develop something fresh, new, and contemporary for this new generation of makeup users. I’m half Asian and half European so it was important to me that this collection delivered a little bit of east and a little west. There’s a touch of street culture and high fashion.  The theme was diversity. To create something that was very feminine but also masculine. For the packaging, we wanted this to show polar opposite colors that worked together just like a panda. I love bringing together opposites - you can even see that in the packaging - contrasting the white and black. Nicopanda brings together high-fashion and streetwear just like this make-up collaboration." 

Nicopanda-models

As for the makeup in the ads, it seems Formichetti's insistence on creativity may not have resonated with everyone.  Many expressed the opinion that the application resembled a toddler's finger paint (you MUST check out Karen's hilarious take on this over at Makeup and Beauty Blog), while some were genuinely confused.

MAC Nicopanda ad

While I personally admire the very avant-garde application, I'm inclined to say that these sorts of looks aren't as wearable as Formichetti intended.  He says that there is something for everyone, and that non-traditional shades are in fact versatile:  "With the actual products, I desired to create something that could go from day to night. Something that was fun and funky for the person who wants to take their makeup to the next level, but something that also works for someone who wears minimal makeup. The mix of colors is so couture.  I wanted to use non-traditional colors that are really popular with my Nicopanda crew - all the colour palettes for lips, eyes, and cheeks are very wearable and absolutely fabulous."  I don't know about you, but I'm definitely not seeing this in the ads or even in the makeup itself.  For the most part the colors skew bright - there's nary a neutral to be found, save, perhaps, for the face powder.  Again, I have no issue with this, as my love for so-called weird colors and non-traditional application knows no bounds, but it seems rather disingenuous to claim the collection is easily wearable when at the same time promoting solely unusual looks.  Traditional application is entirely left out of the official ads; MAC encourages customers to "let out your inner weirdo" and "never stop breaking the rules". 

MAC Nicopanda ad(images from instagram)

I feel as though Formichetti can't disguise his penchant for "crazy" makeup colors and application, and he shouldn't have brought up the issue of wearability with the MAC collection.  I would have expected nothing less than totally out-there makeup, given previous looks from his runway shows.  The MAC collection is absolutely an extension of the Nicopanda aesthetic, and I don't think Formichetti should have tried to promote versatility as a selling point because that's clearly not what he's about.  As my mother would say, a leopard can't change its spots.

Nicopanda spring 2018

Nicopanda 2015(images from vogue and voltcafe.com)

There is also the issue of claiming diversity when there's not a single model over the age of 25.  Perhaps in terms of gender and race Formichetti nailed diversity, but let's be honest, he clearly wasn't making face stickers with people my age in mind.  In explaining how the MAC collaboration came to be, Formichetti notes that a more youthful demographic is the key focus for Nicopanda.  "Nicopanda is about youth — the new generation. The brand is always about trying new things, sharing and creating new ideas, so I wanted to tackle the beauty world with Nicopanda. A cosmetics collaboration with MAC is a natural partnership...I’ve been collaborating with MAC for a long time, working on their campaigns and projects for years...it was a natural progression to create product together with Nicopanda. They are like family, and we really trust each other."  In the earlier video interview, he states that his vision and MAC's are similar due to their interest in spurring creativity, but also because of their "work with young talent."  While MAC and Nicopanda are a great match for the most part, Formichetti seems to have left out the "all ages" part of MAC's 3-phrase tagline.  Once again, I wouldn't mind so much if he didn't claim otherwise - if you want to make a collection for the teens and 20-something crowd, that's fine, but don't insinuate that it's the epitome of diversity because it's not. Formichetti maintains he's talking about the "young at heart" when discussing his customers.  "The Nicopanda customer for me is someone who wants to play and isn’t scared of trying new things. I desired to give them the materials to inspire their creativity and encourage that playfulness. My consumers don’t take things too seriously and are super young-spirited. Not necessarily in age, but they exude a young energy. This collection is so in sync with that; sophisticated yet light-hearted."  I still say the ads tell a slightly different story.

Overall, I applaud Formichetti for breaking gender barriers in fashion, and making it affordable to boot.  I love the concept of Nicopanda and MAC was an excellent match for a cosmetics line.  I only wish Formichetti would have insisted on including a few older faces and some more traditional looks for the campaign, or left diversity out of the conversation all together.  The models in the ads were certainly varied in race and gender and the makeup looks felt fresh and modern, but the lack of models in their 30s and up, along with the presentation of solely non-traditional makeup application, directly contradicts Formichetti's stance that this was a collection meant for everyone and could be worn in more traditional ways.  Nevertheless I'm willing to overlook it in this case because that panda packaging is simply too cute and unique.

What do you think?

 

1I must point out that genderless is not equal to unisex.  This article explains why.

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Curator's Corner, 4/29/2018

CC logoSigh.  I know it doesn't seem like it, but I actually schedule my posts 4-6 weeks in advance.  And when I say schedule I don't mean I have a vague idea about what I want to blog about, I have specific days picked out for posts.  Inevitably, no matter how much I plan, my schedule gets off track...which is why my posts have been so massively inconsistent timing-wise.  I can only hope this bothers you less than it bothers me!  I'm aiming to stick to the schedule I have planned through the month of May, but we'll see what happens.  Without further ado, here are some overdue links for April. 

- If I make it to the beach this year I'm definitely taking some glitter sunscreen.  Alas, Racked is a total killjoy about it, but at least one brand offers biodegradable glitter.

- Out:  brow art.  In:  nose art.

- We are inching ever closer to making the beauty industry truly diverse and inclusiveAlmay still needs a lot of work on that, though.

- For years I thought drugstore mainstay NYX was founded in the early '80s, but it was actually established in 1999.  This timeline of the company proved rather eye-opening.

- Not sure which is worse, counterfeit makeup or makeup for kids.  Yikes. 

- Speaking of cosmetics safety, I'm no fan of the Kardashians but if it takes one of them meeting with members of Congress to push for cosmetics regulation, I'm all for it (hypocritical though it may be.)

- Just for fun.

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, 1995 film Empire Records is getting the musical treatment, and Nickelodeon is rebooting kid favorite Double Dare.  Meanwhile, some film critics propose that the decade was indeed the best for movies.

- Elsewhere in pop culture, Broad City is coming to a close.  To be honest though, I'm relieved as I thought the past 2 seasons were rather lackluster.

- Every dog has its day...or museum?  At least these are real institutions, unlike the spate of Instagram-friendly museums that keep popping up.  Maybe I'm just jealous and bitter that I still don't have an actual museum, but I have to agree with this piece that these sorts of places cannot be defined as museums.  While I don't have an issue with the overall concept, it's annoying that they call themselves that. Perhaps if I focused solely on entertainment rather than education and history I could finally have my makeup "museum," but I'm not willing to do that.

- Anyway, this mermaid book is at the top of my wishlist!  Also loved this piece on the history of merpeople sightings.

How have you been?  Are you getting excited for warmer weather and longer days? 


Spring 2018 color trend

Move over, Milennial Pink!  This season is all about Gen Z  yellow, which I'm having a bit of trouble describing.  It's not mustard but not pastel or neon either; the most appropriate term I can come up with is canary, and a bright one at that.  I must say, yellow is my favorite color so I've been waiting for its moment in the sun.  I just love the idea of having a little dose of sunshine on my face/hands!  It can be a tricky shade to pull off, especially for fair skin ("jaundiced" isn't a highly coveted look to my knowledge), but anyone can wear it in small, not-as-noticeable doses.  If you don't want to go the full-on eye shadow route, more manageable ways are nail polish, eyeliner and mascara. 

Spring 2018 color trend: yellow

  1.  Model at Anteprima's spring 2018 show
  2.  Chanel nail polish in Giallo Napoli
  3. Lunasol Macaron Eyes in EX 07
  4. OPI nail polish in Sun, Sea and Sand in My Pants
  5. Dior Diorshow On Stage Liners
  6. Maybelline Lemonade Craze eye shadow palette
  7. Lancome Ombre Hypnose Mini Chubby Stick
  8. Model at Pam Hogg's spring 2018 show

What do you think?  Will you be sporting this bright cheery shade?  I know I will, especially since I have so many polishes from the craze of spring 2011.


Book review: Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart
Before I get to my review of Susan Stewart's Painted Faces, I must disclose that I received a copy for free from the author.  In no way, shape or form did getting it for free influence my review, nor was it intended as a bribe for a positive one - I believe I was given a copy in exchange for me lending photos of some of the Museum's collection to be included in the book.  Not only did Dr. Stewart provide an autograph, she also included me in the acknowledgements, which was incredibly kind.

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Again though, I'd like to reiterate that this did not sway my opinion of the book at all.  Now that that's out of the way, I can dive into the review.

The goal of Painted Faces is much the same as Lisa Eldridge's Face Paint in that it strives to provide a history of makeup from ancient times to the present day.  However, a trained scholar/historian approaches this vast topic in a markedly different way than a makeup artist such as Eldridge.  Neither perspective is better or worse than the other; ways to tell the story of makeup are nearly as varied as the people who wear it.  Nor do I believe one has to have a set of particular credentials to write accurately and compellingly about makeup history, as I believe it comes down to a matter of preference for a certain writing style.  As we saw with her first book, Painted Faces is more academic than Face Paint and relies on highlighting the economic and sociological aspects behind various beauty practices, whereas Eldridge adopts a more artistic tone, choosing instead to communicate makeup's history by focusing on application and styles as they evolved. 

Stewart begins with an introduction (which also serves as the first chapter) summarizing the need to study makeup and beauty practices as it gives valuable insight into history that we may not have considered before.  "Because of its wider significance, researching makeup, its uses, ingredients, its context and application, can provide clues not only to the nature and circumstance of the individual but can also help us to interpret the social, economic and political condition of society as a whole in any given period.  That is to say, studying cosmetics can further our understanding of history...they are a window into the past and can encapsulate the hopes and ideas of the future.  In short, makeup matters" (p. 8 and 10).  Can I get an amen?!  Stewart also carefully sets the parameters for the book, outlining the sources used and why she is primarily writing about cosmetics in the Western world.

Chapter 2 is essentially a condensed version of Stewart's previous tome on cosmetics in the ancient world, which doesn't need to be rehashed here (you can check out my review of that one to peruse the content).  That's no small feat, considering how thorough it was.  The next chapter covers the Middle Ages, which is interesting in and of itself since so little information about makeup and beauty exist from this era.  As Stewart points out, the rise of Christianity meant people were no longer being interred with their possessions as they were in ancient Greece and Rome - these artifacts provided a wealth of knowledge about beauty practices then.  Thus, any time after the spread of Christianity and before the modern age historians must rely primarily on texts, such as surviving beauty recipes and classic literature, rather than objects to infer any information about the use of makeup and other beauty items.  The dominance of this religion also meant even more impossible beauty standards for women and more shame for daring to participate in beauty rituals.  "According to medieval religious ideology, wearing makeup was not only the deceitful and immoral - it was a crime against God" (p. 60).  The other interesting, albeit twisted way Christianity affected beauty is the relentless belief that unblemished skin = moral person.  Something as innocuous as freckles were the mark of the devil, and most women went to great lengths to get rid of them or cover them so as not be accused of being a witch.  I shudder thinking about those who were affected by acne.

Chapter 4, which discusses beauty in the late 15th and early 16th centuries (i.e., approximately the Renaissance) presents the continuation of certain beauty standards - pale, unblemished skin on both the face and hands, a high forehead, barely there blush and a hint of natural color on the lips- as well as judgement of those who wore cosmetics.  As we saw previously, it's the old "look perfect but don't use makeup to achieve said perfection" deal - women who wore makeup were viewed as dishonest, vain sinners.  But one's looks mattered greatly in the acquisition of a husband, so many women didn't have a choice.  "Clearly a woman had to get her makeup just right not simply for maximum effect but to avoid getting it wrong and spoiling the illusion of youth and beauty entirely, a fault that could cost her dearly in terms of wealth, status and security" (p. 94). 

However, there were some notable differences between the Renaissance and medieval periods.  For starters, due to inventions such as the printing press, beauty recipes were able to be much more widely disseminated than they were previously.  Increased trade meant more people could get their hands on ingredients for these recipes.  Both of these developments led to women below the higher rungs of society (i.e. the middle class) to start wearing cosmetics.  So widespread was cosmetics usage at this point, Stewart notes, that the question became what kind of makeup to wear instead of whether to wear it at all. 

This chapter was probably the most similar to those on Renaissance beauty in Sarah Jane Downing's book, Beauty and Cosmetics: 1550-1950.  Given the lack of information regarding cosmetics during this time period, both authors had to draw on the same sources to describe beauty habits.  However, as with Eldridge, the approaches Downing and Stewart take are slightly different.  Once again, Stewart opts for a straighter historical approach whereas Downing looks more to paintings and literature of the time, and doesn't take quite as deep a dive into the larger social and economic forces at work.  There's also not much overlap between the descriptions of recipes and techniques, as you'll find different ones in each book.  For example, one that was mentioned only in passing in Downing's book was using egg white to set makeup. I'm thinking of it as a early version of an illuminating setting spray (although obviously it was brushed on, not sprayed in a bottle) as it lent a slightly luminous, glazed sheen.  Stewart points out that it also caused one's face to crack, thereby eliminating the wearer's ability to make any sort of facial expression.  It seems certain beauty treatments, whether egg white or Botox, occasionally come with the side effect of suppressing women's expression of emotion.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Chapters 5 and 6 are tidily sequential, discussing beauty during the the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.  As in the Renaissance, both eras witnessed significant growth in the number of women who wore makeup due to technological advances and increased trade.  Growing literacy rates drove demand for the new medium of ladies' magazines. Pharmacies selling raw materials to make beauty treatments had started to crop up in the 17th century and their numbers increased dramatically by the beginning of the 18th century.  Not only that, pharmacies and chemists started offering their own pre-made formulas, and these goods became commercially exported to other countries.  The widespread sale of these products came with several undesirable effects:  counterfeit cosmetics and downright false claims about the product's efficacy. 

The 1700s also saw the rise of excessive, decidedly unnatural makeup being worn by members of the aristocracy in both France and England, followed by a post-French Revolution return to more subtle makeup in the early 1800s. This brings us to Chapter 7, which outlines the myriad changes leading to what would become the modern beauty industry, including department stores, industrialization and the new commercial market of the U.S.  As for beauty standards, a natural look was still strongly preferred by both men and women, with the emphasis in terms of products on skincare rather than color cosmetics.  Here's a literal lightbulb moment:  despite my research on Shiseido's color-correcting powders, in which I learned some were meant to counterbalance the effects of harsh lighting, I had completely overlooked the influence of artificial light on the skyrocketing production of face powders.  "Suffice it to say that in the early years of the twentieth century, the use of artificial light in homes of the wealthy as well as in public places such as theatres and concert halls would become more widespread, in the latter years of the nineteenth century there was already an understanding that to make the best impression, makeup needed adjusting to suit the light, whether it be natural or artificial" (p.198).

Chapter 8 leads us into the 20th century.  While there are more detailed accounts of makeup during this time, Stewart does an excellent job describing the major cultural and technological influences that shaped modern beauty trends and the industry as a whole.  I was very impressed with how she was able to narrow down the key points about 20th century beauty without regurgitating or simply summarizing other people's work.  Some of the information presented is familiar, of course, but the manner in which it's arranged and categorized sets it apart.  It just goes to show that everyone's individual background equals an infinite number of ways to tell the story of makeup.

I'm partial to this chapter since the items I took photos of for the book are all from the 20th century.  :) 

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Here are some powder boxes on the dust jacket. 

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

While I was deliriously happy to see some of the Museum's items in a real published book and get credited for them, I was also pleased to see photos of other pieces as well.  Their inclusion in addition to illustrations was a bit of an upgrade to Stewart's previous book.  This is a minor issue to be sure, as I believe solid writing more than makes up for a lack of photos, but they are a nice touch if available.

Painted Faces: A Colorful History of Cosmetics by Susan Stewart

The last chapter serves as an addendum in which Stewart reflects on how the past, present and future of beauty are linked, noting that while some things have stayed the same - the use of ancient ingredients in modern formulas, the connection between health and beauty - 21st century attitudes towards cosmetics represent a significant change from earlier times.

Overall, this is a more scholarly history of makeup than we've seen before, but by no means dry and boring.  Stewart's gift for wading through hundreds of historical documents and neatly consolidating the major social, economic and cultural forces that shaped makeup's history, all while sharing fascinating snippets such as ancient beauty recipes and anecdotes from people who lived during the various eras she covered, makes for a thoroughly engaging read. 

Will you be picking this one up? 

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Givenchy spring 2018

'Tis Friday, so I will keep this post on Givenchy's spring 2018 couture collection brief.  The floral print, while beautiful, doesn't exactly read spring to me - the black background and dark hues of the flowers themselves seem rather moody and more suited to fall.  Nevertheless these items were definitely Museum-worthy and a nice addition to previous Givenchy couture releases.

Givenchy spring 2018 couture collection

Givenchy spring 2018 couture collection

I've seen this lipstick swatched and it's a gorgeous rich raspberry shade.

Givenchy spring 2018 couture lipstick

It took a while for me to identify the print, and that might have because I assumed it would be from the most recent spring or even fall collection.  Turns out, it's actually from the fall 2013 collection.  So my perception of the pattern being more appropriate for cool weather wasn't inaccurate. 

It looks like the color scheme was adjusted slightly from the original red and ivory to include blue, purple and dashes of yellow on the makeup packaging.

Givenchy fall 2013 bag
(image from fusionofeffects.com)

Givenchy fall 2013 runway

Givenchy fall 2013

As you may know, I'm obsessed with finding the exact portion of the print that appears on the makeup. 

Givenchy fall 2013 print detail

While I maintain that the print is even lovelier on makeup packaging than on the clothing, I'm still scratching my head as to why Givenchy chose a five-year-old pattern that was originally from a fall collection for their spring 2018 couture makeup release.  Overall, I'd say it's pretty to look at but rather uninspired.  It seems like they slapped on any floral print they could find but one they hadn't put on packaging previously just because it's spring - everyone likes flowers for spring, right?  It appears all the more unimaginative when you consider Givenchy had some interesting prints to choose from the ready-to-wear collection that would have worked nicely on makeup, such as these clovers.  The print is a 1961 original by Hubert de Givenchy, resurrected by recently appointed Givenchy designer Claire Waight Keller.

Givenchy spring 2018
(images from vogue.com)

It's another example of a disconnect between the clothing and makeup branches of a couture house, which we've seen with others.  Perhaps Makeup Artistic Director Nicolas Degennes is not "collaborating" as much as he should be with Keller.  Unfortunately it seems this laziness and lack of coordination is continuing, along with a dash of cultural appropriation, in the upcoming "African Light" highlighter Givenchy is releasing for summer (more about that later).

What do you think about this collection?

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Curator's Corner, 4/1/2018

CC logoHappy Easter Fool's!  Let's take a look to see what the interwebz had in store for the past few weeks.

-In what I thought for sure were early April Fool's jokes that turned out to be true, Chanel beauty will now be sold at Ulta, while Einstein Bros. inexplicably released cheese-scented shampoo and bacon-scented conditioner.  Equally confounding is the fact that both items sold out

- The crazy brow trend isn't going anywhere any time soon.  However, Racked points out why we fall for these and explains why they're actually not trends at all.

- In makeup history, the Smithsonian outlines Madam C.J. Walker's philanthropic endeavors, and we finally discover what brow pencil Frida Kahlo wore.

- On why J-Beauty isn't the new K-beauty.

- Certainly a novel use for a hairdryer, but I guess when you shell out that kind of money for a Dyson it should do more than merely dry one's hair, yes?

The random:

- So much '90s nostalgia!  Twentieth birthday wishes are in order for both Dawson's Creek and one of the Curator's favorite movies (read more critics' thoughts here and here).  Meanwhile, '90s-era music is experiencing not so much nostalgia as a resurgence, what with bands like The Breeders, Belly and Superchunk all releasing new albums.

- On the museum front, what's worse than another made-for-Instagram museum?  One that rips off legitimate artists. Sigh.

- No idea how I missed this book - it was just recently brought to my attention via Twitter - but it's now on my wishlist. 

How are you?  Did you have a good Easter/Passover/weekend?

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On the wings to beauty: Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics

Jacqueline Cochran, ca. 1938

"It never dawned on me not to do something because I was a woman...I thought nothing of approaching men like Vincent Bendix, the airplane manufacturer for whom the transcontinental air race was named, to explain my position: 'I can fly as well as any man entered in that race.'  I didn't see it as being boastful so much as speaking the truth.  I learned through hard work and hard living that if I didn't speak the truth about myself, no one else would fill in the missing pieces." - Jacqueline Cochran

As with Tommy Lewis and Richard Hudnut, I found a very interesting piece of makeup history completely by chance.  I was thinking how cool it would be to see some mid-century modern designers' work on makeup packaging, i.e. Alexander Girard, Charley Harper and Paul Rand.  On a whim I typed in "Paul Rand makeup" into Google (I think I was under the impression that I could somehow will makeup packaging with his work into being if I just believed hard enough) and lo and behold, a bunch of ads he had designed for a brand called Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics popped up.  I had never heard of it so I searched for just Cochran's name...and was mighty confused by the results. 

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran (1906?-1980) was a pioneer of aviation in the 20th century, a.k.a. an aviatrix (don't you just love that word?! So bad-ass!)  A contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran set world records for flying from the '30s through the '60s, including:

  • The first woman to enter the famous Bendrix race in 1935, and the first to win in 1938
  • The first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic in 1941
  • The first woman civilian to earn the Distinguished Service Medal for serving as the director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) and training women pilots in WWII
  • The first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953
  • The first living woman to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1971
  • Held more speed, distance and altitude records than any pilot in history at the time of her death.

Further along in my search I discovered that this amazing woman was, in fact, the same Jacqueline Cochran as the one behind the cosmetics line.  While I don't wish to diminish her accomplishments as a pilot, obviously I'm more interested in telling the story of her makeup company.  As we'll see, Cochran may never have gotten into flying if it wasn't for her interest in cosmetics. 

It seems like I'm sharing too much of Cochran's early life, but I promise it's relevant!  Jackie Cochran (original name Bessie Lee Pittman1) was born an orphan around 1906 in Florida.  The exact year is unknown because she didn't have a birth certificate.  Adopted by an impoverished foster family, Cochran worked throughout basically her entire childhood.  When I say "impoverished" I don't mean the family couldn't afford multiple cars; I mean they literally didn't know when or if their next meal would come, and the children's clothing consisted of flour sacks stitched together.  In 1914 the family relocated to Columbus, Georgia to work at a cotton mill, children included.  At the age of 14 she experienced her first foray into the beauty industry by taking on the role of "beauty operator" at a local salon, learning how to operate the perming machines and dyeing clients' hair.  A traveling salesman for a perm machine knocked on the door one day and offered her a job as an operator in Montgomery, Alabama, and off she went.  (I can't even imagine going to a strange town with not a penny in my pocket and knowing nearly zero people, especially at 15.)  One of her regular customers suggested she go to nursing school despite the fact that Cochran only had a third-grade education.  After deciding nursing wasn't the career for her, Cochran moved to New York and landed a job at Antoine's, a high-end salon located within Saks department store.  I'm astonished at how hard Cochran had to work just to survive, and though sheer grit and fierce will to succeed, she was able to make a slightly better life for herself as a teenager than as a child.  (You really need to read her autobiography, which is where I'm getting most of this information2 - the courage and determination she had were mind-blowing, yet she presents it in a very matter-of-fact manner, not in any sort of bragging or "woe is me" way.  When a group of school girls asked why she was so ambitious, she straightforwardly replied, "poverty and hunger").

Jacqueline Cochran(image from floridamemory.com)

It was at a party in 1932 where she met her future husband, millionaire lawyer and businessman Floyd Odlum.  Cochran was completely unaware of his background (and wealth) at the time, but was immediately attracted to him.  The party's host introduced them, and during their chat, Cochran mentioned her desire to get out of the salon.  "I've been thinking about leaving Antoine's to go on the road selling cosmetics for a manufacturer...the shop can be so confining and the customers so frustrating and what I really love to do is travel.  I want to be out in the air."  To which Odlum replied, "If you're going to cover the kind of territory you need to cover in order to make money in this kind of economic climate, you'll need wings.  Get your pilot's license" (p. 57). And with that, Cochran took flying lessons and earned her pilot's license in a mere 3 weeks - setting records right from the start of her aviation career.  In 1935 she officially established her eponymous line, which was meant for a more active woman who wanted to have adventures but also look polished while doing so.  (Not that women need to look polished, or even require makeup to look polished, of course.)  The brand's use of "wings to beauty" and claim that a full beauty routine takes just a few minutes a day suggest that it was a brand intended for the busy go-getter, perhaps even an early version of athleisure beauty.  Indeed, both the ads and Cochran's own words in a 1938 interview demonstrate a no-nonsense, time-saving approach to beauty - ever practical, she skipped blush while flying.  Says the article, "Mandarin fingernails and artificial eyelashes are ceiling zero to [Cochran]. 'You get pale at high altitudes,' she explains. So rouge just stands out in one big spot.' Likes an eye cream to 'keep my eyelids from drying'.  There's a foundation cream with an oil base. 'Your skin gets dry in high altitudes.' Then lipstick and powder.  That's all.  In summer, she likes a grease make-up - foundation cream that makes you look all bright and shiny and is worn without any powder. 'Just a touch of paste rouge and your lipstick. It's young-looking and very attractive with sports clothes.'"  I think Cochran definitely would be a fan of athleisure makeup today, as she seemed to prefer a minimal, fresh-faced look.

Jacqueline Cochran makeup ad, 1939
(image from hprints.com)

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1939

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1939

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1940

Some more of her musings on makeup:  "I'm feminine but I can't say that I was ever a feminist...I refused to get out of the plane [after a crash in Bucharest] until I had removed my flying suit and used my cosmetics kit.  That was feminine and it was natural for me.  It gave me the pick-me-up I needed and I wasn't ashamed to do it.  I didn't want to be a man.  I just wanted to fly" (p. 20).  Though she says otherwise, Cochran's actions most definitely paint a feminist picture.  I'm seeing her reapplication of makeup following a crash as more of a coping technique and less "I need to look pretty".  As we'll see, however, later advertising for the brand took a decidedly ageist turn.3

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1940

The brand was also a reflection of Cochran's unstoppable determination and desire to innovate.  "I wanted no part of other people's products because I was crazy enough then to think I could do better...when I first set about to develop a greaseless night cream, I was told that a greaseless lubricant was clearly impossible.  I knew they were wrong and I never recognized the word impossible.  My most successful cream, Flowing Velvet, is the result of my stubbornness" (p. 119).  Flowing Velvet was possibly the first moisturizer on the market intended to replenish the skin in high altitudes and extreme travel distances - i.e. long flights.  It was introduced around 1942 and the line expanded in the '50s to include face powder and lipstick.  Sadly, the advertising greatly contradicts Cochran's own words, as it seems to be geared towards ancient ladies over the age of 20 (!) trying to regain their youthful glow.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1955

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1960

I couldn't locate a jar of the famous cream, but I did scrounge up a powder refill from the early '60s. 

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder, ca. 1961

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder ad, 1960

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet lipstick ad, 1959

One of the most unique products Cochran came up with was the "perk-up stick", which contained 5 beauty products in a tiny cylinder for on-the-go usage. "I was proud of what we used to the Jacqueline Cochran 'Perk-Up' cylinder.  I would take one on all my trips, on all my races.  It was a three-and-a-half inch stick that came apart into five separate compartments for weekends or trips.  It would fit anywhere and it had everything" (p. 119).

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1947
(image from Blue Velvet Vintage)

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1947

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1948

I was fortunate enough to snag one of these for the Museum. 

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

I've taken most of it apart so you can see what it looks like.  I couldn't get some of the compartments open and didn't want to break it, but all of the ones I did open still had product left.

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

At one point it had a sifter for the powder so that it didn't spill out when you opened the compartment. 

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

The Perk-Up Stick also came with a little spatula so you could refill it as needed and hygienically apply everything.  While the concept seems genius (seriously, why aren't companies now coming up with things like this?!) one must remember that products in the first half of the 20th century were generally smaller and more streamlined - no big huge honkin' palettes back then.  And refillable packaging was way more common.  In thinking about the lovely compacts I've collected over the years, I'm remembering that people didn't throw them out, they just popped in a refill.  Still, the Perk-Up stick is unlike anything I've seen, contemporary or vintage.  As the author of Blue Velvet Vintage notes, the closest thing we have today to the Perk-Up Stick are stackable jars.

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

I also purchased one more piece from the early '60s.  However, the photo below is not mine, for you see, I bought not one but TWO of these compacts, yet ended up with none.  I bought one in late February, only for USPS to claim it had been delivered when it had not...and then a few weeks later when it still didn't resurface, I found another floating around on Ebay and bought it to replace the lost one. Despite being from a totally different seller in a completely different part of the country, somehow USPS lost the replacement as well.  How they managed to do that I have no idea - perhaps this compact is cursed.  There are others available for sale but they're not in as good condition as the ones I purchased, and at this point I'm not willing to invest any more money into it.  Nevertheless it would have been a nice piece to have in the collection.

Jacqueline Cochran L'Opera compacts(image from pinterest)

Jacqueline Cochran L'Opera compacts ad, 1961

As for the Paul Rand ads, despite reading almost as much as I could find on Cochran, I'm still not clear on how the partnership with Rand started.  I do know that I'm in love with the ads. 

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand, 1945

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand, 1946

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

As this exhibition catalogue shows, I'm missing a few more of his ads, alas.

Jacqueline Cochran ads designed by Paul Rand(image from amulhall015.portfolio.com)

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1944(image from pinterest)

Obviously I'd give my eye teeth for this crazy powder!

Jacqueline Cochran face powder box designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran face powder box designed by Paul Rand(images from paul-rand.com)

One observation I had in looking at these was that as heavily as the Chromoblend powder was marketed throughout the '40s - given the abundance of ads I'm imagining this was one of the pillars of the line in addition to Flowing Velvet - I couldn't find any jars to actually buy.  I'm wondering if custom blend face powder king Charles of the Ritz was too stiff a competition.  Did Cochran launch her own custom face powder as a way of thumbing her nose at his company and trying to prove that, once and for all, her product was superior?  While it's unclear which Charles she was referring to, Cochran recalls her meeting with him less than fondly. "What an irritating snob of a man Mr. Charles was.  I made the interview worse by insisting outright that I was an expert at everything.  He didn't believe me.  I didn't look old enough to be expert at anything, he said.  We were two big egos out to prove who is bigger, better.  In fact, I told Charles of the Ritz that not only was I good, I was probably better than he was.  That amused him for a minute, but he was not so amused when I wanted fifty percent commission on every customer I had in his salon...it makes me smile to think that the cosmetics company I would found several years later, Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, still competes with Charles of the Ritz" (p. 55).

The overall concept of going to a counter and having custom face powder blended is remarkably similar.

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1945

The use of the spatula in this ad and the idea of making custom powder "while you wait and watch" is also nearly identical to Charles of the Ritz's ads.

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1944

So what happened to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics after its heyday in the '40s and '50s?  Cochran sold the company in 1963 to American Cyanamid Co.  It was then formally acquired by Shulton, a subsidiary of American Cyanamid, in 1965.  Unfortunately the ageism continued to run rampant in ads throughout the '60s.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1966

At least they were still touting a speedy beauty routine for women who don't have much time to devote to skincare.  Then again, sitting around and drinking tea doesn't exactly scream "busy".  Like, they couldn't have shown a woman on her way to work or engaged in a sport of some kind?

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1967(images from ebay)

But making women terrified of aging must have been effective, since the Flowing Velvet line was popular enough to continue expanding to include eye makeup and lip gloss.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet eye color, ca. 1967
(image from pinterest)

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet Model Mouth, ca. 1967
(image from pinterest)

Unfortunately I'm not really sure of the brand's trajectory after the '60s.   The timeline below suggests that Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics is long gone, but also was part of a recent re-branding effort.  So maybe there are plans to revive the line?

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics timeline(image from behance.net)

In any case, while the later advertising left something to be desired, you had to give Cochran credit for setting world flying records while simultaneously managing a multi-million dollar cosmetics company that at one point had over 700 employees.  She also made good on the originally intended purpose of her pilot's license:  after the war ended, Cochran flew an average of 90,000 miles a year to sell her line in various locales.  For Cochran, the beauty industry allowed her to both get out of poverty and provide women with a sense of well-being (ageist advertising aside).  "In a beauty shop the customers always came in looking for a lift.  And unless I really screwed up, they left with that lift.  I could give them that.  I could give them hope along with a new hairdo.  My skills as a beautician had bought me a one-way ticket out of poverty, and I'd never forgotten it.  I was always proud of my profession" (pp. 46 and 57).

Jacqueline Cochran testing out color combinations

Had you ever heard of Jacqueline Cochran?  What do you think of her and her line?  It was pretty eye-opening for me - I think I should Google the other mid-century artists I mentioned and see what rabbit holes I can fall into. :)

 

1 Interestingly, Cochran's autobiography completely leaves out how her got her surname.  Apparently she married Robert Cochran in 1920 at the age of 14, had a son a year later (who died at the age of 4 in 1925), and divorced Cochran in 1927.  She selected the name Jacqueline on a whim while working at Antoine's.  In the book there is no mention of her first husband; instead, she claims she chose the name from a phone book.  "I went to the first phone book I could find, ran my finger down a list of names, and decided on Cochran.  It had the right ring to it.  It sounded like me. My foster family's name wasn't really mine anyway...I wanted to break from them in name.  I had my own life, a new one.  What better way to begin than with my own name.  Cochran.  Why the hell not?" (p. 49)

2 In addition to the staggering amount of information online, there are also several official biographies of Cochran.  I chose the autobiography because I wanted to hear her story in her own words and get a sense of her personality.

3 It seems highly unlikely that Cochran was directing the ad copy for her line, so I can't fault her too much for that, as distasteful as it is.  However, a bit of gossip that appeared in a 1951 newspaper article makes me think that Cochran wasn't the feminist hero we'd like her to be.  I've included a few excerpts in which Cochran basically says "no fatties allowed" in the Air Force's women's pilot program.  Yikes. 

Jacqueline Cochran 1951 news article

Jacqueline Cochran 1951 news article

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Quick post: more springtime fun with Paul & Joe

Today I'm briefly sharing a very hard-to-get collection.  When PJ at A Touch of Blusher posted about these adorable lipstick cases from Paul & Joe, my heart sank as I saw they were exclusively available at Hankyu Umeda, a department store in Osaka.  While I have several personal shoppers at my disposal, all of them are based in Tokyo, and Osaka is quite a trek from there.  And since the items were only available to purchase in-store, nothing could not be ordered online or via phone by my trusty shoppers.  So how did I get my hands on these, you ask?  Well, a very sweet Instagram buddy of mine messaged me to let me know they had popped up at a Japanese auction site, so one of my shoppers was able to purchase them for me there and ship 'em straight into my eager collecting paws.  It's a springtime miracle!

There were compact cases also available, but I just picked up the lipstick cases since they had the same prints.

Paul & Joe Hankyu Umeda lipstick cases

Paul & Joe Hankyu Umeda lipstick cases

The jungle-kitten print seems to be a combination of several Paul & Joe Sister items.  While I don't see the cat in the print below, it did appear in a pair of embroidered shorts.

Paul & Joe Sister spring 2018

Paul & Joe Sister spring 2018
(images from paulandjoe.us)

I'm not sure where the leopard pattern on the red case originated, but the zebra and giraffe print is borrowed from the spring 2018 resort collection. 

Paul & Joe resort 2018

Paul & Joe resort 2018(images from vogue.com)

I'm so glad to have gotten my hands on these!  My love for this brand's packaging knows no bounds, and I would have been upset to have even more gaps in the Museum's Paul & Joe collection (I'm missing nearly all of their items from 2005 and earlier). 

What do you think of the prints?  And have you ever been overjoyed at acquiring a much-wanted item?

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Swan Lake: Polkaros for Guerlain

Easing back into blogging (and spring, hooray!) with this beautiful compact by Guerlain.  In what I'm hoping is a never-ending series of artist collaborations, for their Parure Blanc compact this year the company teamed up with Ros Lee, founder of home decor brand Polkaros.  We'll get to that in a second, but first, let's admire the delicate pair of swans gracing the compact.

Guerlain x Ros Lee (Polkaros)

I absolutely adore the white and pale baby blue hues of the swans, especially with the pops of vibrant orange-red on the their beaks, cheeks and Lee's signature.  It almost looks like they're wearing blush!  The reverse color scheme is genius as well - Lee's graphic design experience definitely shines here.

Guerlain x Ros Lee (Polkaros)

Guerlain x Ros Lee

So who is Ros Lee and what is Polkaros?  Lee comes from quite an interesting background, both personally and professionally.  Born in Singapore into a family of potters, Lee developed a love of art early on and learned pottery skills from her father. After studying graphic design, in 2002 she visited Tokyo to take part in a design festival and was so taken with the city she decided to stay.  In 2005 she won a National Arts Council Takashimaya Scholarship to study art and design there, and the following year entered the Joshibi University of Art and Design.  Majoring in textile design, after graduating Lee landed a job at Tokyo's Accent Corporation as a lifestyle product designer.  Five years later, Lee began working as a consultant/accessories designer for Clinique and decided to start her own line of home goods on the side, and Polkaros was born.  Lee explains why she chose the name: "I hoped that the products I create would carry the same characteristics as the polkadot pattern – happy, cute, classic, timeless and simple. It always amazes me how you can find polkadots everywhere and in many different eras. This may be a bit overly ambitious but I wish that our products would add a bit of childlike fun in every household and last for decades...I find inspiration from old toys, folk art and ethnic cultures. I love to look at the motifs and colors from the past as they tell a story about a certain time and a different way of life."  In looking at her work, I think Lee definitely achieved her goal.  Everything from plates and utensils to vases and planters are brimming with playfulness without being juvenile.  There's also a simplicity that echoes various forms of folk art - nothing fussy, just uncomplicated shapes that emphasize their handmade nature.

Polkaros

Polkaros

Polkaros - fox planters

Two of my favorites are these dessert-inspired vases.  This one is takes its cue from ice kachang, a Singaporean dessert with shaved ice, jelly beans and syrup.

Polkaros

And this one is inspired by Lee's favorite childhood dessert, tang yuan.

Polkaros

Of course, I'm smitten with this holiday mer-lion print, another nod to Lee's Singapore upbringing.

Polkaros merlion

I also want to briefly highlight some other key elements of Polkaros's style.  It's described as "a lifestyle brand that combines influences from Japanese traditional crafts with modern zakka goods."  While I'm unfamiliar with the former - the only Japanese craft I know about is origami - "zakka" was totally foreign to me.  I found that there are entire museum exhibitions devoted to the concept so a full history is well beyond the scope of this blog post, but in a nutshell, zakka is a way of adding beauty to mundane objects.  This site describes it as a "celebration of humble, everyday objects that bring its users great satisfaction. Zakka aren’t antiques, they’re not expensive, they’re not flashy; they’re familiar and timeless."  Needless to say I love this idea and, like hygge, I think I've been embodying it for years without realizing it - particularly when it comes to office supplies.  (Anything to help me cope with the horror of work is welcome; I'm partial to pretty/funny post-it note pads.)  As we've seen, Polkaros takes basic objects such as planters and utensils and makes them aesthetically pleasing through adding charming little faces and/or playful colors.  As for Japanese craft traditions, they are also well-represented in Lee's work.  Take, for example, this wrapping paper filled with craft motifs.

Polkaros

Or these tote bags bags, which are modern interpretations of traditional Japanese patterns.  From the website, I learned that the one on the left is a Kikko tsunagi pattern, which is inspired by the hexagonal scales on a turtle shell, while the one on the right is Uroko-gara, "a scale pattern made of a combination of triangles that is believed to ward off evil."

Polkaros

Meanwhile, the blue pattern is a twist on seigaiha, a traditional blue wave pattern (and, incidentally, one we've seen on a Guerlain piece before), and the yellow one is inspired by Mizuhiki knots:  "Mizuhiki is the art of knotting rice paper cord into a decorative element."

Polkaros

Then there are also these vases inspired by kokeshi dolls.  Again, kokeshi is such a vast topic I couldn't possibly cover it all, but they are wooden Japanese dolls that originated in northern Japan and date back all the way to the Edo period (1600-1868).  All of Polkaros' kokeshi are ceramic and have individual names and descriptions.  This little guy is known as Riku, who "practices martial arts by day and paints at night."

Riku

More recently, Lee created a beautiful collection for Hinamatsuri, a.k.a. "dolls' day" or "girls' day" in Japan that occurs annually on March 3.  It's a truly fascinating celebration in which ornamental dolls representing the Emperor, Empress and various assistants and musicians are displayed in a rather elaborate setup of 6-7 platforms.  Typically people display at least the Emperor and Empress, if not the full arrangement.  These are Lee's representations of the royal couple.

Polkaros Hinamatsuri dolls

And this hanging piece is Lee's take on tsurushi-hina, a traditional decoration consisting of handmade dolls and other objects on strings.

Polkaros tsurushi-hina

I'm impressed with Lee's vast knowledge of Japanese cultural traditions and how she infuses them with her signature modern, playful style. Getting back to the Guerlain collab, I'm not sure how it came about.  Guerlain and Clinique are owned by different parent companies, so I doubt Lee's work for Clinique had anything to do with the partnership.  I'm also a little puzzled about the swan motif.  I love it, but am wondering where the inspiration came from and why it was chosen.  I did a little sleuthing at Lee's lovely Instagram page and saw this photo from a trip to New York in 2014.

May 2014

There was also this swan, with the same overall shape and similar facial design (look at that pop of color on the cheek!) from January 2016.  It was captioned simply "a change of pace" (at least, that's what Google translate told me), and it is indeed a more sophisticated departure from Lee's usual style.  So I'm guessing Lee does have a fondness for swans and I assume they were selected as a more elegant motif to better suit Guerlain's image. 

Polkaros - swan
(images from instagram and polkaros.com)

While Polkaros's typical aesthetic is certainly delightful, it doesn't seem to align perfectly with the Guerlain brand.  Once again, I'm impressed with how Lee modified her childlike approach while maintaining the sense of whimsy to fit the likes of a high-end French line. 

Overall, this collab gets an A from the curator.  (It would have been an A+ if the powder inside the compact had been embossed with the same swans.) Not only was I introduced to Polkaros's magical world, I learned a lot about traditional Japanese crafts and the concept of zakka, which I now plan on consciously incorporating a little more into my daily life.

What do you think?  And do you prefer Przemek Sobocki's 2017 Guerlain compact over this one?  They're apples and oranges to me - totally different styles but I love both equally.