Quick rant, er post: MAC Vibe Tribe collection

MAC Vibe Tribe promo

I hate to open this can of worms, especially since I can't add much original thought to the controversy surrounding MAC's new Vibe Tribe collection, but I thought it was at least worth summarizing the points and counterpoints.  MAC's latest lineup urges us to "join the tribe" and "feel the vibe."  Which tribe, exactly?  Who are these women in the promo with feathers in their hair and derivative amalgams of vaguely Native American prints?  I don't think they belong to any particular tribe, at least not any that MAC is willing to admit to.  The company maintains that "the collection, including the visuals, product lineup, and naming, is inspired by art, outdoor music festivals, and the colors of the desert...[it] has absolutely no connection to nor was it inspired by the Native American cultures."

I have issues with this defense for several reasons.  One is that in both the promo and the pattern on the packaging there is an undeniable Native American influence, what with product names like "Arrowhead" and "Adobe Brick", but MAC refuses to acknowledge this.  As Nylon magazine explains, "It’s hard to believe the company could be this naive when the very patterns used on the product packaging appear to be Chinle and Ganado designs—traditional Navajo weaving patterns—rooted in generations of history.The word 'tribe' is also closely linked to Native American culture, making the collection seem iffy even by first glance, never mind when MAC’s refute is taken into equation. Additionally, the names of some of the products themselves also raise eyebrows—naming a lipstick shade 'Arrowhead,' for instance, is cringeworthy at best, especially when you deny there being any link."

Some more pics:

MAC Vibe Tribe lipsticks

MAC Vibe Tribe blush

MAC Vibe Tribe bags(images from temptalia.com)

Two, even if the collection is solely inspired by "outdoor music festivals", that's problematic since such festivals have historically been ground zero for cultural appropriation, with several festivals going so far as to ban headdresses.  As one Reddit user says, "[The] problem with that is the patterns and textiles and designs they're referencing from Coachella, Burning Man, and other festivals are the same patterns/textiles/designs that were appropriated from indigenous peoples. Just because it festivals and festival-goers did it first doesn't mean it's not appropriation. If anything, that makes it worse, because they're attributing our designs and patterns to Coachella and Burning Man and other festivals - as though they were not ours for thousands of years before these festivals."

Third, this isn't the first time MAC has done this - check out my post on cultural appropriation in cosmetics for proof.  One Twitter user also noticed this and took a screen shot of my post (didn't include a link to my post in his tweet, which I would have appreciated but what can you do.)  You think MAC would have learned.

But is it really so bad?  Many have argued that MAC is simply celebrating Native American culture and the pattern is merely a Southwestern motif, nothing more.  Another argument is that "it's only makeup" and that there are more pressing things to take issue with, a.k.a. the old it's-just-uppity-people-looking-for-things-to-be-offended-by argument.  I'm going to go ahead and counter their counter-arguments.  First, when you proceed to lump distinct Native American tribes together, that's not appreciating them, it's appropriating.  And Southwestern motifs aren't in and of themselves bad, but when you add words like "tribe" and show images of women with feathers in their hair and "tribal" tattoos, it's clearly referencing a Native American stereotype rather than "Santa Fe style". Second, just because there are bigger injustices doesn't diminish the topic at hand.  We can be concerned about, say, the higher-than-average rate of sexual assault among Native American women and this MAC collection simultaneously - they're not mutually exclusive.  Finally, the "it's only makeup" thing really gets under my skin.  Obviously I'm biased since I think makeup important enough to belong in a museum and in academia, but when you also realize that color cosmetics is projected to be a nearly $8 billion industry by 2020, you can't deny the significant impact it has on culture. 

As a final thought, as Christine at Temptalia so astutely points out, MAC had a great opportunity to partner with an actual Native American artist to create a one-of-a-kind design and use the proceeds to go to their specific tribe.  A similar example would be Shu's 2016 Chinese New Year cleansing oils, where they collaborated with one of China's leading kite artists to bring attention to the dying craft of traditional kite making.  They didn't just slap on some generic Chinese kites that you can find anywhere; rather, they partnered with an artist who created a unique pattern for the packaging.  In this way they honored Chinese kite-making heritage instead of appropriating it.  What MAC did with Vibe Tribe was quite different.  At worst, it was cultural appropriation; at best, it was incredibly thoughtless and uninspired.  As one Instagram user pleads, "Release me from this 80's Tucson gas station hell." 

MAC vibe tribe comment

I can't say I've ever been to a gas station in Tucson but that comparison seems pretty apt.

What do you think?  And to those of you who don't find the collection problematic, do you see any difference between what MAC did and the example by Shu Uemura I provided?



Friday flop: Steven Klein for NARS

Welp. This is what I get for not thoroughly researching an artist before purchasing things from a makeup collection they worked on.  I was initially excited for Nars' collaboration with fashion photographer Steven Klein, thinking that it would be a significant improvement over 2013's reprehensible Guy Bourdin collection.  The crazy launch party in particular definitely piqued my interest - this guy sounded out there!  And once I saw the images on the Nars collection packaging, I thought, this is great.  Klein's photos immediately grab your attention and stay with you long after you've turned away, and the makeup in some of them is truly dazzling.  They're incredibly strange and some are fairly scary, but I wasn't seeing anything downright offensive - if any of them are disturbing, it's more in a surreal, horror-movie sort of way.  Totally bizarre imagery on the packaging and fantastic new colors?  Sounds like a perfect collab to the Curator.

NARS Steven Klein Despair palette

NARS Steven Klein A Woman's Face set

NARS Steven Klein Tearjerker set

NARS Steven Klein Full Service set

NARS Steven Klein Humoresque set

NARS Steven Klein Dead of Summer palette(images from narscosmetics.com)

There was also the Abnormal Female set, which consists of several lip pencils in a bullet/lipstick hybrid shaped package.  I thought it would make a great display piece, plus I love the idea of lipstick as weapon - it's like a secret, albeit imaginary, way of feeling protected.  I was a little dismayed by Klein's description of the packaging, however: "It's inspired by a lighter I have, which is based on a bullet...I turned it over to François's team and said, 'Do this.' I use bullets and guns in lots of my pictures. And there’s such an interesting parallel between bullets and lipsticks—they have so many similar aspects but are so different. I thought it was interesting—the idea of violence meeting lipstick."  I prefer my interpretation - lipstick bullet as a sort of protective armor rather than a possible glorification of violence - and bought the set regardless.  But Klein's ideas should have tipped me off that something was askew, and I should have started my research way sooner...because in early December this happened. 

Steven-Klein-Interview-Kylie Jenner(image from instagram.com)

I had been reading about the backlash surrounding this photo on the many feminist blogs I follow and was pretty angry.  And as you can imagine, my heart sank when I realized this was the same photographer that Nars had collaborated with.  There are a lot of reasons why this is a truly offensive photo, and others have expressed why more eloquently than I ever could (click here and here for some great responses) so I will leave it at that.  At first I thought, well, maybe this is the first time Klein has done something like this and will apologize for an incredible lapse in judgement.  I mean, that doesn't make it right, but at least he'll acknowledge that he made a big mistake and won't do it again.  (He didn't, of course...and naturally Interview defended the photo and claimed that Klein was referencing British artist Allen Jones. Check out this piece as to why that's a problem in and of itself.) While I bought the Nars items well before the Interview cover was released, I still feel crappy for supporting Klein's work.  If I had just done my due diligence way back in October, I would have known that posing able-bodied models in wheelchairs is nothing new for Klein, and wouldn't have purchased anything. 

Steven-Klein-Vogue-Paris-2007(image from wolfandwillow.com)

Plus, if Klein is doing this to make a stir, I can tell you that the shock value goes down considerably if you repeat the same setup.  So it's not even groundbreaking - just a tired old trope that's still insulting any way you slice it.  (As a side note, the first photo in the blog post where I found the image below also depicts a model in a wheelchair, and it was photographed by a designer whose makeup line I like - et tu, Tom Ford?)

Vogue Paris, 2010(image from meoublier.wordpress.com

I also came across this little gem for another issue of Interview magazine, this time in 2012.  Way to fetishize mental illness!  There is still a huge stigma against people with mental health disorders, and to use their suffering as inspiration for fashion shoots is in such poor taste I can't believe anyone allowed it. Additionally, I wonder if Klein is aware of the haunting histories of certain mental health facilities, some of which abused/neglected patients and gave unscrupulous doctors free reign to torture them by using them as guinea pigs for painful experimental treatments.  Why you'd glamorize those histories is beyond me.

Steven Klein for Interview magazine, 2012

Steven Klein for Interview magazine, 2012

Steven Klein for Interview magazine, 2012

Steven Klein for Interview magazine, 2012(image from interviewmagazine.com)

I also don't appreciate Interview's glossed-over description of the theme: "Strict institutional white is the new order this season. Clinically reserved and precisely tailored with maniacal attention to detail. Inspired by the legend of an actress who refused to conform through her descent into madness, Steven Klein conjures an imaginary tale of discipline, betrayal, will, and obsession."  Between this drivel and the wheelchair non-apology, I'm pretty sure I hate this publication even though I've never read a single article.

Getting back to the Nars collection, I can't for the life of me figure out why he went with such a vile photographer for a second time.  Nars told Allure that it was his "pure love and pure admiration for [Klein's] work," adding, "I love his dark side. I love his sophistication. I love his strength. His pictures definitely don’t leave you—they make you react. I love people who have extremely strong imaginations and don’t compromise. And Steven’s photographs are loaded with makeup. And looks. He’s not a photographer who shoots women with nothing on their face."  That's all well and good, but, newsflash, Francois:  you can collaborate with an artist who has a strong imagination and doesn't compromise and makes people react without being insulting, something I can prove in the new year when I unveil another series for the Museum.

This whole thing got me dreading a 2016 holiday collection.  Who's the next asshole photographer Nars is going to team up with next, Terry Richardson?  Unfortunately I think it's a possibility, based on what else Nars had to say to Allure:  “It’ll be for holiday 2016 and it will be with another photographer. Someone alive and really, really famous and iconic. That’s all I can say."  Fingers crossed it's not Richardson.  On the plus side, Nars added, "That will probably be the last photographer for a while, though. Then I want to move on to other artists.”  Hopefully he'll get back to the likes of Warhol.

TL;DR: I feel bad for buying stuff from this collection. To Steven Klein: fuck your ableist bullshit.  To Nars: shame on you for admiring this douchecanoe, let alone putting his images on your products.  It was highly disappointing that for 2 holiday collections Nars went with a photographer who believes that such derogatory imagery is edgy and cool.

What do you think?

Spotlight on vintage lipstick holders, part 2

Now that we've covered porcelain lipstick holders, let's take a peek at the other main type of vintage holders:  metal.  Nearly all of the metal lipstick holders produced in the 20th century had filigree work or equally ornate details like rhinestones and faux pearls.  And many were fashioned out of ormolu (if you don't know what that is, no worries - I had no idea what it was either.)  According to the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary, ormolu is a "gold-coloured alloy made up of copper, zinc, and sometimes tin in various proportions but usually at least 50% copper. It is used in mounts (ornaments on borders, edges, and as angle guards) for furniture and for other decorative purposes. After the molten alloy has been poured into a mold and allowed to cool, it is gilded with powdered gold mixed with mercury. It is then fired at a temperature that evaporates the mercury, leaving a gold surface.  Ormolu was first produced in France in the mid-17th century, and France remained its main centre of production."  

Some of the heavy hitters in terms of brands included Sam Fink, Matson, and Florenza.

There's very little information on Sam Fink, but if you see a goldtone lipstick holder with a cherub on it, chances are it's a Sam Fink.  The company was active from the 1950s through the '70s.  I'm not sure whether the company's signature design was an angel or if there just happens to be a large proportion of them for sale currently, but quite a few Sam Fink pieces have this figure.

(image from ebay.com)

(image from etsy.com)

(image from ebay.com)

As with Sam Fink, there's hardly any information on Matson.  However, the dogwood flower and roses were common in their designs. 

(image from rubylane.com)

(image from rubylane.com)

Florenza was a jewelry company founded in 1949.  Lest you think their pieces have some kind of Italian flair, the company name had nothing to do with the city of Florence but was a riff on the founder's mother's name.  Florenza manufactured slightly higher-end pieces that were sold in department stores like Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor.  Unlike their competitors, Florenza offered a multitude of finishes for their lipstick holders beyond plain gold.  These are two of their "French white" items, which were actually enamel that sometimes had a metallic finish.

(image from ebay.com)

(image from ebay.com)

Picking up from where I left off in part 1 of this post, I am curious to know why these types of holders are unpopular now.  Or at least, not liked enough that any company would manufacture any in these styles.  Perhaps it's just a matter of trends and popular opinion - the taste for ornate display pieces has simply disappeared in favor of more practical, space-saving options.  Or could it be that as women gained more freedom in the latter part of the 20th century, unabashedly feminine items were considered a liability to the feminist movement.  I'm not claiming that feminism killed the lipstick holder, but maybe it helped shift the original aesthetic to something that would appeal more to the "liberated" woman.  As more women entered the workforce, a sensible lipstick organizer would make sense in helping them get out the door on time rather than fussing with an overly-designed holder.  It seems very likely that in reaching for a lipstick one would knock over a figurine or one with a large element in the middle, like the third Sam Fink and the Matson holders shown in this post.  And maybe women wanted to shift away from wearing makeup to look pretty or viewing it as a luxury - toned-down makeup became the norm for working women who wanted to appear nothing but professional, and they wanted something equally plain to contain their products.  (I can't back any of this up, of course...just speculating here.)  Fortunately, nowadays we've moved beyond the functionally sound but dully designed acrylic holders.  I think Anthropologie strikes a nice balance between elegant and utilitarian in their lipstick holders.

(images from anthropologie.com)

What's your preference?  Do you enjoy the gaudiness of the gold filigree holders, the super girly porcelain figurines, or a basic acrylic lipstick organizer?  Or a combination of modern design and retro style, as represented by the Anthropologie lipstick holders?  To be honest, porcelain figurines creep me out, I find clear plastic holders extremely uninspired, and the more modern ones just don't have the same appeal as true vintage holders.  So I'm partial to the old-school filigree metal lipstick holders - I love how over-the-top they are!

Vintage ad round-up: not quite all there

Oftentimes I'll be researching a topic for a blog post and stumble across something else entirely that leads me to concoct a new blog post.  This was the case with today's round-up of vintage ads which feature some form of disembodiment.  (In case you're wondering, this idea came up as I was scouring ads for my previous post on cultural appropriation in cosmetics ads.) 

It's common nowadays to see close-ups of models' faces or heads or any other body part by itself to advertise a new beauty product.  However, these images never strike me as odd or somehow detached from the rest of their bodies, whereas with some vintage ads I got a decidedly eerie, surreal impression. 

Let's take a look at these ads, starting with lips. 

Pond's lipstick, 1941:

(image from grafficalmuse.com)

Max Factor, 1942:

(image from jezebel.com)

Lentheric, 1947:

(image from tias.com)

Du Barry "Glissando" lipsticks, 1964:

(image from flickr.com)

In the case of Max Factor and Du Barry, I can sort of see the use of lips by themselves in order to showcase the various shades that the lipsticks come in, but they're still markedly different than what we see today.  The other two ads for Pond's and Letheric are downright strange - in the case of Pond's, a pair of lips is just floating on the right side, while in Letheric multiple pairs of lips are patterned diagnonally across the ad, almost like wallpaper. 

Next up we have hands - or rather, ads for nail polish.

Some of these by the better, more skilled fashion illustrators aren't so creepy, like these Dior and Elizabeth Arden ads from 1957.


But in most other vintage nail polish ads, the hands seem to be severed at the wrist.

Chen Yu, 1942:

(image from hprints.com)

Or in the case of the Peggy Sage ad on the right, emerging from a mysterious opening within the ad:

(images from ebay.com and hprints.com)

In the case of Guerlain, an assortment of white, ghostly hands float against a charcoal background, almost like they're made of smoke.  Interestingly, the company is using disembodied hands rather than lips for a lipstick ad (although they did go that route as well for their original Rouge Automatique circa 1936.)


Here's where things get really weird.  Dura-Gloss depicts not only bodiless hands but ones growing out of the center of a flower (1945 and 1951):

(images from pinterest.com and Found in Mom's Basement)

Then we have the ATTACK OF THE GIANT HANDS!  They're coming after planes and puppeteering women from above.  Not only are the hands/fingers coming out of nowhere, they're in a clearly disproportionate scale to everything else in the ad.  I understand the need to highlight the product that's being sold, but why do it in such a strange way?

(images from ebay.com and hellcat-vintage.com)

And sometimes we a get twofer:  an ad that has both disembodied hands and lips, as in these ads by Mary Dunhill (1946) and Lancome (1955):

(images from hprints.com)

Finally, we have some decapitation.  A single head drifts in an undefined space or several smaller heads are scattered across the ad.

Coty Tan, 1920s:

(image from vintage-makeup.blogspot.com)

Maybelline, 1936:

(image from maybellinebook.com)

Tangee, circa 1930s:

(image from sarapaynemcfarland.wordpress.com)

Richard Hudnut, 1936:

(image from pinterest.com)

And as we saw with lips and hands, we have twofers here as well, except in this case it's disembodied heads and hands.  The ad for Naylon nail polish (1948) on the right is one I find to be especially disturbing - given the pin on the lower right and the envelope on the lower left, is this supposed to be a bulletin board with the woman's head trapped in some sort of sheet that's pinned to it?

(images from vintageadbrowser.com and etsy.com)

This 1943 photo by John Rawlings for Vogue is fairly unnerving as well.

(image from partnouveau.com)

So what does all this mean?  We see disembodiment in contemporary ads, and many argue that it objectifies and dehumanizes women.  So are these vintage ads relentlessly sexist as well?  Many of them appear long before feminism's second wave, and thus also before most women were able to hold a position of authority in many fields, including advertising, so the argument could be made that male ad executives simply reduced women to their parts to sell beauty products. 

However, I do think there's a big difference between today's images and these vintage ads.  I think the impact of surrealism was more far-reaching than we recognize.  For example, here we have a 1931 Guerlain lipstick ad showing a floating, upside-down woman's head.  This would seem creepy...if we didn't consider that the illustrator, Jacques Darcy, was most likely referencing Surrealist artist Man Ray.

(image from vintagepowderroom.com)

As the author of Vintage Powder Room points out, the image is strikingly similar to Man Ray's photograph of Elizabeth "Lee" Miller from 1930.

(image from pedestrian.tv)

Coupled with the tag line, "The lipstick of your dreams", this image shows a strong surrealist bend, as the surrealists were fascinated with the subconcious mind and dreams especially.  And could Man Ray's Observatory Time:  The Lovers (c. 1931) be partially responsible for all the floating pairs of lips we see in advertising over the next 2 decades

(image from wikipaintings.org)

Or what about Horst P. Horst's Hands (1941) and Dali's Portrait of a Passionate Woman (The Hands) (1945)?


(images from pleasurephotoroom.wordpress.com and pinterest.com)

As for heads, there is a parallel between the floating, antiquity-inspired busts of some surrealists and the ones used in some Lancôme ads...perhaps this connection is the inspiration for the other disembodied heads we've seen.

Take, for example, De Chirico's Song of Love (1914) and Magritte's Memory (1945):

(image from moma.org)

(image from en.wahooart.com)

And these Lancôme ads from 1950 and 1957:

(images from hprints.com)

Or this Man Ray photo and a 1945 Lancôme ad:

(images from pinterest.com and paperpursuits.com)

I'm pondering whether the surrealist interest in antiquity carried over into using comparable images in makeup ads.  Of course, there are differences - Lancôme's ads obviously center on Venus, goddess of beauty, while the surrealists generally didn't specify which god/goddess they were referencing. But it's still an interesting theory. 

In conclusion, it's my opinion that these vintage ads aren't actually misogynist, but came about as a result of a heavy surrealist influence, a movement that was rooted in the early 20th century, but still pervasive through the early '60s.  And even today we see uncannily similar ads, ads that don't necessarily sexualize and objectify women through disembodiment but rather give off a surrealist energy.  This 2012 video for Lancôme's Rouge in Love was described as "a surrealist take on a typical cosmetics ad — disembodied lips sing along to the words of the song and apply the new lipsticks to their floating pouts while the Eiffel Tower and Times Square loom in the background."


We also saw it earlier today in Stila's holiday palettes - lips and eyes looming across the front of the "canvas" the Stila girl is painting.

What do you think about these vintage ads?  Were they at least partially feeling the effects of surrealism?  Or was it that these types of illustrations just happened to be the most popular stylistically for cosmetic ads at the time?

Guy Bourdin and NARS

Um, wow.  I was pretty excited for the latest NARS collaboration with fashion photographer Guy Bourdin...until I actually started looking at his portfolio.  As a feminist I found it troubling, to say the least.  As someone who enjoys art and fashion, I can appreciate how groundbreaking Bourdin was in terms of fashion photography.  And I understand why Francois Nars chose him as inspiration for this collection, as it was Bourdin's work that inspired Nars to become a makeup artist - the way he captured the rich, saturated hues in many of his photos was truly genius. I recognize that the collection isn't meant to glamourize violence against women but rather to celebrate the bold colors in Bourdin's work.


I'd say about half of the Bourdin photos I've seen portray violence against women, and another sizeable portion seem to signify that women are nothing more than blow-up dolls to be used and discarded.  I could even consider overlooking these disturbing images if they were part of a larger body of work that didn't glorify dead/objectified women, but I found nearly all of his photos to be fairly repugnant.  I could also perhaps consider separating the images from Bourdin himself - just because his photos dehumanize women doesn't necessarily mean he is a misogynist.  Unfortunately, that's not the case on that front either.  He was just as anti-woman as you would suspect from his photos.  Maybe it's because I'm from a different generation.  In the '70s these images would have been considered "daring" and "pushing the envelope".  In 2013, using offensive pictures to sell something isn't a novel idea.  The "edginess" of showing a woman stuffed headfirst into a trashcan has long worn off; this image and others like it are solely abhorrent.

In my cursory research on the matter I found that I'm not alone in my dismissal of this collaboration.  These bloggers said it better than I could, so rather than write any more about this I encourage you to read their thoughts on the topic:  Temptalia and InTruBeauty.

What do you think?  Will you be passing on this collection?

Cultural appropriation in cosmetics ads

This recent post by Jonathan Walford, founding curator of the newly opened Fashion History Museum, briefly discusses some fashion collaborations that caused a stir due to their cultural insensitivity.  It also spurred me to write about how the same issues exist in beauty marketing.  (The many other instances of cultural appropriation in fashion and the "We're a culture, not a costume" campaign launched a few Halloweens ago were also caught in my mind.)   Normally I like to avoid anything remotely controversial, but to fully explore cosmetics history sometimes it's necessary to take a look at the industry's dark side.  I'll be using the fashion industry as a guide for this post, since cultural appropriation is conducted similarly in the beauty industry.

First, what is cultural appropriation?  Entire books have been written on the subject, but in the context of fashion or makeup, it's when companies take a culturally important symbol or idea (usually of a non-dominant or marginalized group) and use it for profit rather than true cultural appreciation.  In short, "when designers take cultural styles and put them out of context, market them in a disrespectful manner, or simply act without permission, this is cultural appropriation."  (You can read this excellent primer on the subject for more information).  Cultural appropriation is marked by a failure to acknowledge the significance behind a cultural artifact or the reduction of a group to a harmful stereotype.  It may not be quite as overt as out-and-out racism (like this sadly unforgettable 2012 Illamasqua ad or these Cibu hair products) which makes it hard to recognize at times.

Why is cultural appropriation a problem?  Because it not only erases important cultural meanings and histories, it also directly ties into the larger issue of racism.  As one fashion blogger writes, "I don't think the issue of institutional racism and discrimination can be completely divorced from the question of cultural appropriation.  They feed into one another. One would not exist (at least not in the same way) without the other...reducing an entire culture to a simple 'inspiration' for your outfit, art project, fashion collection, or photoshoot is disrespectful and unhelpful, especially when we look at the bigger picture."  I also think it speaks to the cluelessness and/or indifference of some beauty/fashion industry leaders, which, given that it's 2013, I find ridiculous - that lack of cultural unawareness is inexcusable, and given that they're clearly not doing their research on the culture they're appropriating, extremely lazy. 

Now let's take a look at some examples of cultural appropriation in beauty ads from the past.  I'm going to keep my comments on each one brief, since unfortunately there are a lot.

A 1940 ad for Coty's latest shade Tamale references "dark-hued" skintones - not necessarily in a perjorative sense, but it's problematic since not all "Latin-American" women have the skintone Coty describes. 

Coty Tamale
(image from vintageadbrowser.com)

As for this Harriet Hubbard Ayer ad for "Mexican Rose" lipstick, I dislike that merely slapping a sombrero on the model's head signifies Mexico.

(image from hprints.com)

In 1963 the film Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor debuted.  Prior to the film's release, in 1962 Revlon created an entire Egyptian-themed collection that included Sphinx Pink lipstick and a Sphinx Eyes eye shadow and liner set.

(image from flickr.com)

And even before that, other companies romanticized ancient Egypt to sell products, including Angel Face (1958) and Harriet Hubbard Ayer (1960).  

(image from flickr.com)

Harriet-hubbard-ayer-rose d'egypte
(image from hprints.com)

These strike me as problematic due to their fetishisation of women in ancient Egyptian history, the watering-down of a culture to highly glamorized images, and the exoticising of non-Western cultures.  Multiple companies participated in this last tactic as well.  These ads for Revlon Persian Melon (1957), Dorothy Gray Jewel of India (1960), and Elizabeth Arden Sheik lipstick (1963) present a strong othering through the depiction of a variety of Middle Eastern cultures while at the same time using Western-looking models - I suppose to make these faraway places to seem, as one of the ads suggests, "mystic" rather than threatening.

(image from weheartvintage.co)

(image from etsy.com)

(image from hprints.com)

This idea of non-Western cultures as "exotic" curiosities is persists today, although perhaps it's not quite as blatant. Take, for example, this ad for Catrice's summer 2013 collection. The first part of the ad copy reads,  "African appeal: colourful, traditional, exotic."    


(images from chicprofile.com)

Another feature of cultural appropriation, or at least, insensitivity, is the lumping together of distinct groups without recognizing their unique characteristics.  I'm a bit embarrassed to say I own a lipstick from MAC's 2008 Style Warrior collection and have actually used it in an exhibition.  Not only does the ad copy mention stereotypes ("Amazonian Princess, African Queen, Crouching Tigress"), it combines all the discrete cultures from whence they came.  I frankly don't care that they tried to justify this with the word "cross-cultural".

(image from kingsrowe.com)

(image from hotbeautyhealth.com)

There's a similar issue with this Art Deco ad for their summer 2013 collection.  The ad copy says that it's inspired by the "amazing colors and warmth of Africa".  One could argue that this isn't really cultural appropriation because the inspiration is so vague and doesn't reference a specific people within the continent, but at the same time that very fact is troubling - does the model accurately represent how all African women dress?  I guess it's not supposed to and simply be evocative of Africa as a whole, but it looks like a costume some marketing director dreamed up.

(image from makeup4all.com)

The Art Deco ad brings me to my next point.  One of the biggest offenders in cultural appropriation within beauty advertising is the use of exclusively white models to represent a non-white culture, like this ad for indie brand Lime Crime's Chinadoll collection from 2012.

(image from beautyandbrainsblogger.wordpress.com)

Two beauty bloggers have expressed quite well all the things wrong with this ad, so I won't rehash it here.  I will say that, as the others have pointed out, it basically reinforces some very negative stereotypes.

And sometimes, the company is so lazy it doesn't even point to which culture it's ripping off.  This was my frustration with Pupa's China Doll collection (which, as I revisit it, seems to align with Lime Crime's offenses), and Marcelle's Riviera Maya collection.  Then there's also Essence's "Tribal Summer" collection this year, which confuses Aztec culture with Native Americans. 


(image from chicprofile.com)

The ad copy:  "Tribal dance! The new essence trend edition “tribal summer” ensures a stylish mix of patterns, trendy Aztec prints and cool tribal designs in warm colors like orange, pink, red, purple, lilac, copper and gold to spread the pure feeling of summer. This trend edition offers lots of must-haves for all urban squaws. These include our popular pigments in bright colors, longlasting lipsticks and a bronzing powder with a tribal embossment. The absolute highlight is the tip painter set so you can create THE nail trend of the summer – Aztec nails – on your nails. And there are also cool nail feathers and a feather hair extension for the ultimate tribal look!"  I'm not really sure how you get from tribal to Aztec to "squaws" back to Aztec and finally back to feathers.  

In 2010 there was a collection that was considered so offensive it was pulled even before it could hit the shelves (good job, beauty bloggers!)  The fashion label Rodarte collaborated with MAC for a collection inspired by the city of Juarez, Mexico:  specifically, the bloodshed from the city's drug wars and the innumerable women who have disappeared served as a point of departure for Rodarte's fall 2010 collection, and was the foundation for the MAC collaboration.  The product names included Ghost Town and Factory, while the promo image...well, it speaks for itself.

(image from blog-3-2-1.blogspot.com)

Long story short, after a huge public outcry the collection was not distributed for sale to MAC stores.  (The Awl has a great piece describing the whole debacle.)  I think what bothered me most wasn't that the Mulleavy sisters were ignorant to the situation in Juarez; rather, they had actually visited the town and decided to romanticize the women workers waiting in lines for their factory jobs in the middle of the night.  Essentially, they directly used the suffering of the people of Juarez to sell clothes and makeup.

Now that we've seen some obvious examples of cultural appropriation in beauty ads, let's talk about how one can determine cultural appropriation.  Looking at the Makeup Museum's collection, there are some pieces that walk the very fine line between appreciation and appropriation.  What makes some okay and some not?  As one author points out, "The former is acceptable when designers or companies create completely unique items that are only inspired by cultures, not direct imitations...it’s important for companies to understand the importance of a certain object, pattern, design, or idea to a culture before using it."  More guidelines are offered by Fordham law professor Susan Scafidi:  "Consider the 3 S's: source, significance (or sacredness), and similarity. Has the source community either tacitly or directly invited you to share this particular bit of its culture, and does the community as a whole have a history of harmful exploitation? What's the cultural significance of the item — is it just an everyday object or image, or is it a religious artifact that requires greater respect? And how similar is the appropriated element to the original — a literal knockoff, or just a nod to a color scheme or silhouette?"  These are important things for me to consider moving forward. 

I do think there's a benefit to cosmetics companies borrowing from various cultures or groups - it brings that culture a little closer to those who might not be able to experience it firsthand in a way that's different from other means.  As scholar Johanna Blakeley writes, "Like other art forms, fashion is a powerful conduit for cultural diplomacy, translating the aesthetics of one nation or culture to people in far-away places who wouldn’t necessarily have had the occasion to think about that other world. What’s unique about fashion as an aesthetic object is that it’s something you wear: it provides the opportunity for an extremely intimate connection with a foreign perspective and it gives people the opportunity to literally walk in the shoes of another culture. The fact that fashion design elements can be sampled quite freely makes it even more likely that cross-cultural communication can occur…at the very least, in the form of fashion trends."  I think the same can be said for makeup.

As long as companies put some thought into these types of collections and not be insensitive to the cultures they're celebrating, that they can successfully launch a collection inspired by a particular group.  (One of the best examples of cultural appreciation, rather than appropriation, that immediately came to mind was NARS's 2011 Modern Kabuki collection.)  And while some companies may remain indifferent or unaware of how their next collection may be perceived, others recognize their previous missteps, demonstrating that redemption is possible.

That was long!  If you made it this far, thank you.  And I'd love to hear your thoughts.

That's not what I heard: Beth Ditto for MAC

(image from maccosmetics.com)

I'm a big Gossip fan, so when I first heard about Beth Ditto collaborating with MAC I could hardly contain my excitment.  However, once the collection arrived I couldn't help but be a little disappointed - there is no special limited edition packaging, and just one product that is only marginally interesting from a design perspective:  the face powder in Powder to the People.




With flash:


I didn't really get the whole polka dot thing until I read the "behind the scenes" interview in which Ditto reports that her beauty icons are Grace Jones and Peggy Moffitt.  Perhaps this picture of Moffitt inspired her?

(image from blog.stylesight.com)

While I liked her thoughts on beauty and color ("Makeup offers someone the unique freedom to become someone else for the day, 10 minutes or the rest of their life...I’m passionate about colour. My best friend and I sit and look at Pantone books for fun"), I was still slightly taken aback by the choice of polka dots for the promo image and the powder.  Beth Ditto, to me, is incredibly fierce and untameable and awesome, and I don't think polka dots capture these qualities.  She's such a badass, and then...clownish dots.  There just seems to be a disconnect there.  Then again, I don't know her at all - I only have my own perception of her as a really cool singer, so this might embody her personality better than I think.  Also, the collection doesn't have to represent her, necessarily, just her beauty inspiration.  Still, I maintain that overall this collection is uninteresting design-wise, and it's disappointing given the amazing person MAC worked with - so much more could have been done, I think.

What are your thoughts?  And do you like Gossip and Beth Ditto?  Actually, don't answer that unless your answer is yes.  ;)

It's a mad, mad, mad world for Estée Lauder

So, was everyone excited for the season 5 premiere of Mad Men?  I have to admit that I don't watch the show, but I'm still intrigued by Estée Lauder's two-piece collection.  It includes a cream blush and lipstick, outfitted in pleated gold cases inspired by the company's original 1960s designs.  The outer boxes have a swirly, ultra-feminine floral motif in pale blue and gold.

EL.mad.men(images from esteelauder.com)

I wanted to see whether this collection had any relation design-wise to the company's vintage packaging to so I did a little research.  As these examples show, pleated gold did figure prominently in Estée Lauder compacts from the '60s.

El.vintage.examples(images from juliasbeadedjewelry on etsy.com and artfire.com)

It's okay that the Mad Men collection echoed Estée Lauder's chic '60s packaging, but I would have liked to see an exact replica of a real compact from their archives, rather than a new design that was vaguely inspired by older pieces.  Anyway, while it's lucrative to have product tie-ins to a hit show at any time, it's especially fitting that the company chose this season to introduce the collection.  Recent issues of Lucky, Vogue, and Elle magazines feature the retro trend that rocked the spring 2012 runways.




Elle did an especially long feature with this style (thanks to my H. for scanning all these!)





The gingham in this picture reminds me of MAC's Shop/Cook collection.


So Estée is right on trend. 

The thing that's sticking in the back of my head, though, is this article at The Gloss.  Writes Jamie Peck, "[T]his leaves me a bit ambivalent. On the one hand, I love the cat’s eyes, curvy figures, and red lips of 1960s style. On the other, I’m wary of mindless nostalgia for an era that was actually pretty terrible for women in a lot of ways, ways Mad Men examines with unflinching honesty. Much like the men who see Don Draper and go out and buy a Brooks Brothers suit in an effort to be like him (i.e, tortured and constantly lying?), I worry some women might be taking the utterly wrong message from the show if thinking about Mad Men gets them in a happy, makeup-buying mood and not a gutted, 'this shit’s not fair, why won’t they let Joan fulfill her intellectual potential?' mood.  Then again, it’s totally possible to appreciate an era’s aesthetic beauty while acknowledging that said beauty is tied to some very problematic history. I just wish that sentiment had been present anywhere in the press release."  Like Peck, I do think it's possible to enjoy the '60s look (and packaging design, of course) while remembering that that time period wasn't exactly enlightened in terms of how women were perceived.  I mean, that's kind of my point in getting  into collecting vintage compacts - while the objects are beautiful in and of themselves, they act as an historical reminder that women didn't always have the rights they have now.  

But I think the thing that really prevented me from buying the collection, however, was that these were vintage-inspired from actual Estée Lauder designs.  Don't get me wrong, I love retro-looking packaging.   As I noted earlier, however, I think the company could have dug through their archives a little more thoroughly - they could have taken an amazing design from the '60s and recreated it.  

What do you think?  And do you watch Mad Men?  Am I missing out?

Friday fun: The Balm Girls lipsticks

I was perusing The Balm's website for a post on some of their newer creations (Meet Matte, Nude 'Tude palettes) and I stumbled across these.  I'm not sure why they're not up at Sephora but they should be.  Not only are they cute representations of film's famous Bond girls, they have funny names.

Anita ima

Foxxy amanda

Mia mai
(images from perfumania.com)

I don't think they're meant to be exact reproductions of Bond girls (except for Ima Goodkisser, whose white bikini getup is identical to that of Ursula Andress in Dr. No) but they spot-on  '60s Bond girls. 

I'm not going to go into a lengthy essay on the feminist (or unfeminist) implications of packaging like this, but I do want to mention the topic.  Some scholars have made the argument that Bond girls are feminist icons (see the book Shaken and Stirred:  The Feminism of James Bond), or at least, not the symbols of patriarchy they appear to be on the surface.  However, these particular illustrations seem to make the girls  eye candy and nothing more.  Notice that the men, although relegated to the background, are leering at the girls, their gaze ever present.  Plus there's the issue of putting these women - who arguably have been seen over the years as mere accessories - on an accessory itself.

All my feminist leanings aside, I'd still argue that these are harmless and fun.  These retro items always makes me wonder who did the illustrations!

Quick post: The Help, Stila girl style

Late to the party, as usual, but I thought I'd do a quick post on this anyway.  I'm not really sure how I feel about the fact that Stila released this palette.  Yes, they've done movie tie-ins before (Legally Blonde, Just My Luck, Vanity Fair) but after reading Jill's piece at Feministe on the movie, I don't think Stila should have jumped on the marketing bandwagon with this.  In addition to the Stila website, the palette appeared on HSN website as part of a bunch of The Help product tie-ins.

First, some pics:



With flash:


Quote - they really should have used something from the book or movie...does anyone know if this appeared in either?


Anyway, to get back to the feminist angle on this, Jill says, "I’m not sure what to do with the fact that the Home Shopping Network is featuring a collection inspired by The Help...sure, the American south is very beautiful and there’s no reason to demonize every aspect of it, but the marketing of products inspired by the movie (and events on plantations) works not just because those things are aesthetically pleasing but because there’s a romantic attachment to the Antebellum South. And, well, you can’t divorce that white person nostalgia from slavery and segregation.  So marketing KitchenAid mixers and gumball-sized faux-pearl necklaces as being 'inspired' by a movie about segregation and racialized domestic work strikes me as… clueless, to be generous."  I think this is a really good point and now I feel a bit bad about buying this palette.  Especially since, once again, it's uninspired.  Sigh.