Not sure why, but the month of March really knows how to serve up the misery. Last year my father had a severe stroke from which he is not recovered and left him incredibly vulnerable to this year's global health crisis. Let's hope the coming months are better.
- Maybe don't shop at Sephora until they rehire or at least apologize for laying off their employees after assuring them they would keep their jobs and benefits. I always held out hope that Sephora would one day sponsor the Museum somehow, but if a company that recently had record-breaking profits fires employees who need income at an especially critical time, obviously they're not exactly charitable enough to support a museum.
How are you all holding up? Are you wearing more or less makeup or the same? I discovered that I hate working from home, but at least I still have a job...and I'm actually enjoying being bare-faced most of the time.
I hope to cover Sulwhasoo's beautiful ShineClassic compact that they released for the holiday season a few months ago, but in the meantime I'm focusing on this lovely cushion compact they came up with for spring. Sulwhasoo collaborated with Antoinette Poisson, a design studio specializing in domino wallpaper. I know some folks think it's just marketing hogwash, but Sulwhasoo seems genuinely invested in preserving historic art forms to ensure they aren't forgotten rather than making a quick buck off of a watered-down idea intended solely for mass commodification. The company has consistently highlighted traditional Korean artistic practices for over 15 years by releasing collections based on a particular technique or genre and collaborating with top artisans. Continuing in this vein, for spring 2020 Sulwhasoo is partnering with an outside company that is equally committed to revitalizing centuries-old art production: "Sulwhasoo chose Antoinette Poisson as its collaborative partner for the year of 2020 because of the art studio’s commitment to and philosophy toward carrying on and delivering cultural heritage to present generations, with which Sulwhasoo fully identifies."
The compact features intricate embroidery depicting a blossoming flower branch and a butterfly to represent "spring, hope and joy". Gold and silver threads are interwoven with the pink and red of the flowers and butterfly for an elegant, glamorous touch.
I'm no embroidery expert, but it looks well-made to my eye. I also love the embroidery because it's rare to see embroidered compacts that aren't generic, mass-produced designs. With the exception of Marcel Wanders's 2016 compact for Cosme Decorte, I can't think of any contemporary makeup brand that has done one of these. And while petit-point compacts were quite popular in the early 20th century, they've largely faded now.
I'll get to Antoinette Poisson's work in a sec, but can we take a minute to appreciate the Sulwhasoo box? The gold and silver foil details mimic the embroidered threads on the compact, while the dotted pattern pays homage to the overall aesthetic of 18th-century France.
There was another version available with slightly different colored flowers, which unfortunately was not available in the U.S. - for some reason we only received the Perfecting Cushion and not the Brightening version. I'm debating whether to use some of the Museum's limited budget on purchasing it via eBay. Given that it's the same design I'm hesitant, but it's so pretty and as a collector I feel the need to have both.
So who is Antoinette Poisson? The Paris design studio was founded in 2012 by three paper conservators: Julie Stordiau, Vincent Farelly, and Jean-Baptiste Martin. The brand takes its name from Madame de Pompadour, famed mistress of Louis XV who the team describes as an "art patron and wallpaper enthusiast." I'll let Vogue take it from here, as I'm both lazy and also prepping the spring exhibition - I'm loathe to regurgitate this information in lesser wording. "Antoinette Poisson’s niche is the making of domino papers (papier dominoté), using artisanal techniques that date to the Age of Enlightenment, when these patterned sheets with their distinctive patterns—small geometrics or sinuous floral garlands—were all the rage. These motifs are printed on a single piece of paper using woodblocks and then hand-colored using stencils. Their compact sheet size made dominoes ideal for use as trunk liners or endpapers, but their allure was too great to keep under covers, as it were, and they were adapted for use as (pre-roll) wallpapers. At the time, decorating with domino paper signaled not only the owner’s taste, but also their wealth. Their production stopped with the advent of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution...almost all of [Antoinette Poisson's] products—trays, boxes, fabrics, and wallpapers, et cetera—are fabricated in their Parisian atelier using time-intensive 18th-century techniques. Even the paper sheets they use are handcrafted in a mill that uses methods dating to that earlier, gilded age. The impetus to launch Antoinette Poisson came when the trio re-created a domino paper for a restoration project. The results were so marvelous, that the team decided they 'wanted to propose [this style] for current decoration.'"
House and Garden expands on the pain-staking technique of producing the patterns. "Although these papers are almost indistinguishable from the originals, computer technology ensures the engraving blocks, their designs first drawn by hand, are absolutely precise. Jean-Baptiste stresses that 'all the blocks are perfect, it is the printer who adds their own imperfections in the printing and hand-painting process'." I couldn't really visualize how it all worked, so here's a brief video showing the stenciling and painting.
By 2014 the studio had produced 14 patterns, 8 of which were either exact reproductions of original prints or looser, modernized "reinterpretations" of them. These, for example, are reproductions of papers made by mid-18th century printmakers.
This one is a reinterpretation of a pattern found in the "Chambre aux Amours” within the Museum of Wallpaper's collection (yes, that's a real museum.)
The rest of Antoinette Poisson's patterns are their own creations.
If you look closely at this one, you can see that the dot and diamond pattern in the middle is the same as the one on the Sulwhasoo box.
Speaking of which, the studio is no stranger to collaborations. Besides their usual task of producing bespoke decor for stores and individual clients, Antoinette Poisson partnered with Diptyque to create a pattern for their 2017 Rosa Mundi candle collection.
How does Antoinette Poisson's work relate to Sulwhasoo and their goal of preserving Korean heritage? The pattern they designed is reminiscent of Hwajodo, or paintings of flowers and birds. As with my last foray into traditional Korean art with Sulwhasoo, I'm by no means an expert but I can provide some basic information about Hwajodo. Hwajodo is a genre within Korean folk painting ("Minhwa") and was produced either by painting on paper or embroidered onto screens. Minhwa was especially popular in the 19th century, which I guess is why all of the examples I'm finding online are from that time period*. Typically Hwajodo depict birds in pairs to represent domestic harmony and love between husband and wife, which is why they were often given as gifts to newlyweds.
According to the Folk Painting volume within the Handbook of Korean Art series, the various birds represented particular virtues. For example, peacocks symbolize longevity, while pheasants signal beauty. There were also rules governing the composition of Hwajodo; certain birds had to appear with certain plants, i.e. ducks and egrets were always shown with water plants.
However, given the lack of birds and the inclusion of butterflies, I believe the pattern created for Sulwhasoo would fall under a sub-category of Hwajodo known as Hwajeopdo, or paintings of flowers and butterflies. (The plum blossoms are appropriate, as they are a symbol of early spring in Korea.)
A company specializing in historic French wallpapering doesn't seem like it would be a match, but Sulswhasoo cites the studio's "understanding about and interest in Oriental art" as one of the reasons for the collab. The primary impetus for the partnership, however, was that Sulwhasoo found a kindred spirit in Antoinette Poisson in terms of wanting to protect and celebrate a particular type of art. The production of domino papers was a "largely forgotten process" much like the ipsa featured in Sulwhasoo's holiday 2018 collection. The founders of Antoinette Poisson felt it was up to them to rescue this beautiful 18th century craft and breathe new life into it. Without them and the dedicated artisans Sulwhasoo commissions, these art forms would be erased from history. As co-founder Vincent Farelly notes, "Even though we come from different cultures, we share the same mindset. We both love to find inspiration from our heritage."
While the partnership between Sulwhasoo and Antoinette Poisson makes sense, I still wonder how it came about. Antoinette Poisson isn't exactly unknown given their previous high-profile collaborations, but I'm curious to know at Sulwhasoo who came up with the idea to work with them. I also find it interesting that Les Merveilleuses Ladurée haven't seized the opportunity for an Antoinette Poisson makeup collection of their own given their 18th-century aesthetic and especially since the studio collaborated with the main Ladurée company. In any case, the Sulwhasoo collaboration yielded a well-designed result that combines traditional Korean and French decorative art and gives it a modern spin in the process, while also bringing these lesser-known and nearly forgotten artistic practices to a wider audience. The metallic details of the box and embroidery elevate the compact to a more luxurious objet d'art, while the pattern itself is beautiful and appropriate for spring.
What do you think? Have you ever heard of domino paper or Hwajodo before? I have to say I was dazzled by the versatility of Antoinette Poisson - I want one of their creations as wallpaper, boxes and pillows in addition to makeup!
*This website provides more background on minhwa, if you're curious: "Minhwa, an artistic style that reflects the lives and spirits of Korean people, became widely popular during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was in high demand from the new merchant class and civilians, as the centralised authoritarian rule of the Joseon Dynasty slowly collapsed starting in the late 17th century and through the 19th century. Up until the middle of the Joseon Dynasty, minhwa paintings were painted by court artists for use in palaces. However, with the societal changes in the late Joseon Dynasty, they started to be painted by anonymous artists of the middle and lower classes, who produced and disseminated minhwa. The common people’s wishes for a healthy and prosperous life and desire to beautify their own living environments gave birth to the development of minhwa that reflects Koreans’ daily life, customs, and aesthetics."
I know, more vintage Revlon lipsticks. But I promise it's very interesting! There didn't seem to be a comprehensive history of Revlon's Futurama line so I thought I'd take a stab at it. Futurama was a collection of refillable lipstick cases designed by famed jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels for Revlon. The line was introduced in 1955 with much fanfare, especially its debut on the popular game show the $64,000 Question. But how did the collaboration between Revlon and Van Cleef happen? Who was responsible for the design? What is Futurama's significance in makeup history? I can't say I have answers to all of these questions, but I'll do my best.
First, a quick background. Refillable lipsticks had been on the market since the 1920s and became more widespread in the '40s as a way to save metal during wartime. Every last scrap was needed; the country couldn't afford to to have women wasting a used lipstick tube.
The notion of makeup as an additional accessory was reinforced by the fact that many compacts were sold in jewelry stores in addition to the jewelry section at department stores, with custom engraving and monogramming available.
Jewelry designers Ciner and Paul Flato also had their own compact and lipstick combinations in the late '40s and early '50s.
By and large, compacts and lipstick cases were already perceived as another item of jewelry thanks to companies like Van Cleef and Arpels leading the way. So what was new and special about Revlon's Futurama cases?
There were two key factors that Revlon advertised as the differentiators: price point and design. Customers were made to feel as though they were getting a luxury item by a brand name at an affordable price. "Like rubies and emeralds, a really luxurious lipstick case has seemed out of reach to most women...though Revlon's new cases look loftily priced, some are a low $1.75, including lipstick. Besides which, women find Futurama a money-saver since refills only cost 90c."
The cases themselves were presented as affordable, but Revlon also promoted the idea of the refillable lipstick as a cost-saving measure - once the customer "invested" money in a case, refills would be less expensive in the long term than buying a whole new lipstick.
You would think a company as large as Revlon wouldn't take a chance with their reputation by participating in price fixing, but in 1958 their shady tactic of setting refill prices was admonished by the FTC, who cracked down on them for conspiracy. The author of the fabulous Cosmetics and Skin website explains: [Futurama] went on sale in 1955 after Revlon acquired the Braselton lipstick patents for lipstick cartridges in 1954. Revlon then entered into an agreement with Helena Rubinstein and Merle Norman – along with a number of container manufacturers, including Scovill and Risdon – to fix the price of lipstick refills, including non-patented lipstick inserts, until they were charged by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with conspiracy."
Second, while refillable lipsticks existed previously, the way Futurama was advertised suggested a totally new frontier. According to design historian Matthew Bird2, the idea to sell an easily refillable lipstick case came from Lurelle Guild (1898-1985), a prominent industrial designer at the time. As another design scholar notes, Guild was the ideal choice to design a cutting-edge, futuristic lipstick case, as he had been responsible for other iconic '50s styles such as Electrolux's Model G vacuum, which sported "rocket-like fins".3 While the cases were being advertised in 1955, Guild filed a patent in early 1956. Alas, I was unable to find any information on Guild's design partner, Henrietta Manville, whose name appears on the patents. I'm also still puzzled by the role of Van Cleef, as it seems that Revlon hired their own designers. Perhaps Van Cleef signed on in name only and let Revlon deal with the designs themselves, especially since that none of them really resemble anything Van Cleef was making at the time.4
The designs on their own were modern for the time, but another aspect that Revlon claimed as new was the actual refill mechanism. While they weren't quite the hardship Revlon's Futurama ads made them out to be, earlier versions of refillable lipsticks could get a little messy and took a minute or two to change as compared to Revlon's alleged 3 seconds.
Futurama's "click in, click out" was certainly less involved than wartime lipstick refill instructions!
Even though it had been advertised previously, the breakout moment came when Revlon featured a commercial for Futurama on the game show The$64,000 Question, which they were sponsoring. (Revlon's sponsorship of the short-lived quiz show is a fascinating history in and of itself.) It was during this commercial that viewers could witness in real time the ease and tidiness of Futurama lipsticks, making video even more critical than print ads. As Bird notes, "YouTube allows us to watch a vintage television ad and learn that the design separated the lipstick from the case, and saved money by offering refills. The line was marketed to women, but also to husbands and children as an affordable but seemingly luxurious gift. Without this TV advertisement, the design is easy to write off as mere decoration. With this added information, the design transcends mere aesthetics to address user needs, perceived value, material use, marketing, and problem-solving. Seeing the design in action gives it a life and sophistication not evident in the brutality of an elevation view patent drawing or two-dimensional photograph."5
Overall, Futurama was presented as the wave of, well, the future. The case designs, particularly the elongated styles that were tapered in the middle and wider at the ends, were intended to reflect the modern era rather than mimic shapes of the past.
Even the name, which is rumored to be taken from the Futurama exhibition at the 1939 New York World's Fair, speaks to the post-World War II futurist trend in American design and technology. Additionally, Revlon declared both the economic practicality and new designs to be the most cutting-edge ideas in cosmetics, and any modern woman should want to join the party. "Are you ready for Futurama?" asks this 1958 ad.
If you weren't on board with Futurama, you were getting left behind; the ads not so subtly implied that women who didn't purchase Revlon's latest offering were unfashionable and stuck in the past. According to one commercial, "The days of old-fashioned, un-style-conscious mothers are about as out-moded as old-fashioned brass lipstick...modern mothers may be old-fashioned on the inside, but they want to be the picture of glamour and style on the outside."
By late 1957 Futurama had expanded to compacts, which were also refillable. While not as notable as the lipsticks, the compacts solidified Futurama as the most recognized line for Revlon at the time. Something that is of note, however, is the fact that Andy Warhol may have been involved in the design of at least one of the compacts. A while ago a private collector sent me some photos and surmised that Warhol might have been responsible for a Revlon Futurama compact featuring his drawing of an early 1900s style shoe. This is what she had to say: "I emailed Van Cleef and Arpels about who exactly designed these lovely creations and I actually got a call from a representative wanting to find out information on a specific compact I have that she called 'the Warhol Boot'...It was supposedly one of 5 display/prototypes that went missing between 1959 and 1961. It was designed by Andy Warhol but rejected by Revson because it didn't fit the 'mood' of the collection." If this is true, what an amazing find! Take a gander at the second compact from the left in the second row.
I reached out to another collector whose father worked for Revlon, but she was unable to find any definitive proof that Warhol designed the compact. Still, it resembles his shoe illustrations.
Getting back to the lipsticks, Revlon's competitors were just as cutthroat as they would be today in that several companies released jewelry-inspired cases of their own. Take, for example, DuBarry's Showcase. Model Suzy Parker was featured in DuBarry's ads - an unusual move given her appearance in Futurama ads. What is not surprising that the company doing this is DuBarry, who you might remember would go on to shamelessly rip off Revlon's Fire & Ice lipstick with their Snowball of Fire shade in 1959.
Cutex was even more blatant in their plagiarism (but at least they used a different model, Sara Thom). In 1958 the company introduced their "designer's cases" which were apparently similar to something one would find in a "Fifth Avenue jeweler's window". The notion of previous lipstick case styles as being "passé" was also copied from Revlon. I'm not sure these were refillable, but they were definitely lower priced than Revlon's refills.
There was also this Avon clone making a series of "jewel-like" cases at a price "every woman can afford."
Can you say "knock-off"? Then as now, this sort of plagiarism was rampant in the industry (more on that in another post). To my knowledge none of these brands had partnerships with actual jewelry companies the way Revlon did, but they were definitely capitalizing on the makeup-as-inexpensive-jewelry concept.
As of December 1960 Futurama was still being heavily promoted by Revlon. A vast array of designs had joined the original lineup, while the older styles received elaborate outer packaging to suit any occasion.
Something that I have not been able to confirm is the numbering of the cases. This one is listed in the ad as 9029, but engraved on the bottom is 587. I believe the numbers on the bottoms of the Futurama cases correspond to the lipstick shades, not the case model, but I can't be certain.
Futurama was phased out by the mid-1960s, but its influence is alive and well today. Many makeup companies have collaborated with jewelry designers either for their permanent collection or limited edition collections. The idea of owning luxurious yet modestly priced jewels via makeup persists. As with the beauty lines of fashion houses or artist collaborations, if one cannot afford vintage jewelry or an original piece by a high-end designer/artist, makeup allows the customer to get a taste of the real deal. Here's a quick list of some of the more memorable makeup/jewelry collaborations. I'm also keeping my eyes peeled for one of these Cutex lipstick bracelets, which were sold around 1955-1958.
Some high-end lines go the Cutex route by creating makeup that can actually be worn as jewelry. Dior, YSL and Louboutin have all released lip products in pendant form.
Refillable lipsticks with outer cases meant not only to last but also displayed are thriving in 2020, given the increasing demand for sustainable packaging. The most recently unveiled jewelry-inspired line, and probably the one most similar to Futurama besides Guerlain's Rouge G, comes from fashion designer Carolina Herrera. “We wanted to give women an opportunity to wear their makeup like a piece of fabulous jewelry," Herrera stated. The entire line is refillable and offers customization options in the form of detachable charms and a variety of case styles.
Would all of these examples have existed without Revlon Futurama? Sure, but Revlon did a lot of the heavy lifting. Despite the exaggerated tone of the ads, Futurama was groundbreaking in that it popularized the notion of attainable luxury within the cosmetics arena and simplified the lipstick refill process. The cases also serve as a prime example of the futuristic flavor of 1950s American design. These factors make Futurama a significant cultural touchstone on par with Revlon's previous Fire & Ice campaign. At the very least, Futurama represents several key developments in cosmetics advertising and packaging that helped lay the groundwork for today's beauty trends and shape consumer tastes.
Which Futurama design is your favorite? Would you like to see a history of refillable lipsticks or an exhibition expanding on the makeup-as-jewelry concept? I have to say I'd be curious to see what Revlon would come up with if they did another collab with Van Cleef...it would be awesome if Futurama 2.0 incorporated Van Cleef's signature Alhambra motif.
1 Give yourself a crash course in learning the lingo for various makeup cases and the differences between them. Noelle Soren's website is a treasure trove of knowledge!
2 Matthew Bird, "Using Digital Tools to Work Around the Canon" in Design History Beyond the Canon, edited by Jennifer Kaufman-Buhler, Victoria Rose Pass, and Christopher S. Wilson (2018), p.114-117.
3 Through this paper I discovered that there are two folders worth of Revlon correspondence and sketches for lipsticks in the official Lurelle Guild papers, which are housed at Syracuse University. I have requested electronic copies of these but obviously since the library is closed due to the coronavirus I will have to wait to receive them and see if they shed any more light on the Futurama design process. I'm also still trying to figure out whether Van Cleef designed this beautiful jeweled case, as Pinterest is literally the only place I've ever seen it.
4 There is an ad in the January 1956 issue of Reader's Digest that mentions Charles Revson "commissioning" Van Cleef and Arpels to design the Futurama line. Google, however, will not let me see the entire ad, and I've purchased 2 copies of that particular edition of Reader's Digest to no avail - there was no Revlon ad in either of them. Either Google has the date wrong or, as one eBay seller noted, the ads differed between Reader's Digest even if they were the same exact editions (i.e. same month and year.) If anyone knows how to access Reader's Digest in full online, please let me know!
5 Matthew Bird, "Using Digital Tools to Work Around the Canon" in Design History Beyond the Canon, edited by Jennifer Kaufman-Buhler, Victoria Rose Pass, and Christopher S. Wilson (2018), p.114.