An exhibition of royal makeup (that you might be able to buy): Princess Hwahyeop

Here's more makeup awesomeness from Korea.  As usual I completely forget what I was looking for when I stumbled across a couple of articles describing the discovery of cosmetic containers in the tomb of an 18th-century princess, but it was so interesting I had to share right away.  Princess Hwahyeop (1733-1752) was the seventh daughter of King Yeongjo, 21st ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).  Her burial site was discovered 5 years ago and included a variety of cosmetics containers. The containers were already incredibly culturally and historically significant, but researchers noticed there was still some residue in the jars, a very rare find.  This provided clues about the type of makeup and skincare they contained, thereby shedding more light on 18th-century beauty culture.  How exciting!

We'll start at the beginning.*  In August 2015 a farmer living in Namyangju City, about 14 miles north of Seoul, came across a stone box buried in a onion field on her property. The farmer, Kim Jeong-hee, called the Korea Institute of Heritage, which unearthed the box in November that year but was unable to complete the excavation due to a lack of funding. Finally the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) provided support to finish the excavation in December 2016.  The box turned out to contain burial objects for the princess's husband, Shin Gwang-su. From there other items were discovered, including stone tablets identifying the tomb as that of Princess Hwahyeop and, of the course, the jackpot:  a box made of lime cement containing a bronze mirror still in its embroidered pouch, brow ink (!), combs and 12 small porcelain and wooden cosmetic containers. There was also a small black stick that may have been used to apply blush. I wish there was a photo because I can't see applying blush of any kind with a stick, so I'm wondering if it was actually for the brow ink.  The objects were stored in the National Palace Museum of Korea until they could be tested.

Princess Hwahyeop makeup containers

In 2017 the substances found inside the containers were finally went to the lab. The results aligned with our knowledge of women's beauty regimens during the Joseon era. Confucianism was the primary philosophy and promoted natural beauty as ideal beauty, so most women generally adhered to a minimal look with an emphasis on fair, light skin. This meant more effort was put into skincare and less on makeup.  While it wasn't found in the containers, women typically applied miansu, a facial water or essence in today's terminology.  This was followed by myeonyak, a sort of moisturizer/skin protector/primer hybrid made from beeswax and other ingredients such as camellia oil and kelp. After that, face powder and blush would be applied. Traces of beeswax and red pigment made from safflower and cinnabar were found in the containers, so it appears that the princess used moisturizer and blush.  She also used white face powder, as evidenced by lead and talc residue. Lead-based face paint and powder were traditionally used by aristocratic women, while those in lower social strata used a rice-based powder called baekbun.  So it seems that royalty tended to mix non-harmful ingredients with poisonous ones to make for a more effective and long-lasting product, but perhaps they were also trying to find a way to offset the negative effects. One container was found to have crushed ants suspended in acetate.  Kim Hyo-yun, researcher at the National Palace Museum, speculates that “because of their formic acid, ants might have been put in acetate to be used as a skin treatment to treat skin troubles caused by those toxic cosmetics."

Princess Hwahyeop makeup container with ants

Last October the National Palace Museum held a special exhibition displaying the princess's cosmetics, along with a seminar that brought together cosmetic ingredient experts from China, Japan and France.

Princess Hwahyeop and Her Makeup exhibition poster, National Palace Museum, 2019

How beautiful are the containers?  The blue pigment was made with cobalt, which was imported to China from Persia during the Joseon dynasty's rule.  Due to its high cost - it was even more expensive than gold - it was reserved exclusively for use by the royal court.  The motifs included pine trees, dragons, and a variety of flowers such as chrysanthemums, lotuses, azaleas, plum blossoms and peonies.  Also, only one of the jars were made by Bunwon, the official kiln of the Joseon rulers. The others were Jingdezhen ware from China and Arita ware, a type of porcelain from Japan.

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

I would have given my eye teeth to attend. You can see the conference program here, and there's also this documentary/reenactment that shows researchers discussing their findings when recreating the formulas as well as actors imagining the beauty routines of the royal family and how they contrasted with those in China and Japan. (I think...the description is in English but the video itself is in Korean so I'm not 100% sure.)

But the story doesn't end there.  Last week the National Palace Museum announced that they would be collaborating with Korea National University of Cultural Heritage and local cosmetics manufacturer Cosmax to launch a hand cream, foundation and lip color based on the artifacts found in Princess Hwahyeop's tomb.  The products will be formulated with modern ingredients but will also contain some of the ones found in the containers (safflower, beeswax). And obviously they will omit the poisonous materials, along with the crushed ants. 

Princess Hwahyeop makeup line prototype

The packaging appears to be gorgeous reinterpretations of the original containers.  The prototypes shown here are ceramic, but as porcelain doesn't preserve makeup very well the final packaging will be plastic.  The collection will initially be sold online at the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation website, so presumably the proceeds will support the organization.  Once the COVID situation improves the collection will be sold at duty-free stores and museum gift shops. The line will also be affordable (think drugstore pricing vs. department store) but there are plans to expand into higher end products as well.

Princess Hwahyeop makeup line prototype

Princess Hwayeop "character goods", i.e. dolls, are also in development.

Princess Hwahyeop beauty line dolls

For the most part, I think this is a great idea.  It brings about fresh awareness of makeup history and helps preserve cultural heritage, and the objects themselves are beautiful.  I do think it's a little weird to market a makeup line based on such a tragic figure.  Princess Hwahyeop may have been royalty, but her life didn't sound fun despite her luxurious beauty products.  She was married at the age of 11 and died at 19 from measles. I mean, I know things were different back then but being a child bride and then dying when not even out of one's teens seems quite sad.  I also think it's a little tacky that they trademarked the Princess's full name - the brand is literally called Princess Hwahyeop - but then again, I'm not sure what else you'd call a line whose entire basis is a particular princess. In any case, her burial site was an amazing find for cosmetics history.

What do you think?  Would you buy the Princess Hwahyeop collection if it was readily available?  The line will be released in November and I'm trying to figure out a way to get my hands on it. I have personal shoppers and online buddies who can get me things in 5 countries but not Korea!


*In addition to the links provided throughout this post, I cobbled it together from a bunch of different articles online.  Additional sources for info and images:

Curator's Corner, September 2020

Curator's corner logoLinks for September. 

- Any makeup history fan must check out Lisa Eldridge's video showcasing highlights from her amazing collection.

- Estée Lauder will be the first company to send beauty products into space, to the tune of $128,000.  To what end I'm not sure.

- Byrdie had a good summary and history of Black-owned beauty brands, while Allure discusses the deathknell for skin whitening products and why getting rid of them is only the start of the conversation surrounding colorism.  Elle also featured several Black influencers who sounded off on the areas the industry still needs to improve in terms of inclusion and diversity.

- Like these makeup artists, I predict lipstick will make a huge comeback once masks are no longer part of our daily lives.

- I don't know what's more ridiculous - press-on nails to match your phone's pop socket or the fact that someone started a beauty line in Joe Biden's honor. I guess if the latter helps get people to the polls, who am I to complain?

- September 29 was National Coffee Day! Here's most of the Museum's coffee-themed collection. (I couldn't find my Hard Candy caffeine lipstick.) I'm really enjoying Beauty Bakerie, it would be perfect for a revisited Sweet Tooth exhibition.

Makeup Museum coffee collection

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air will have a 30-year reunion on HBO, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar turned 25. You can also enjoy this new column on PJ Harvey.

- This new museum in Amsterdam looks pretty interesting.

- It might be impossible to keep your cute aggression in check upon seeing these Japanese dwarf flying squirrels. Unbelievably adorable.

How did you fare in September? 

No cities to love: Yoon Hyup for Bobbi Brown

I was hoping to post about Bobbi Brown's collaboration from this past spring, a partnership with British artist Morag Myerscough, but I realized I never got around to writing about an Asia-exclusive collab from last year so I'm covering that first.  In the spring of 2019 the brand teamed up with Korean-born, New York-based artist Yoon Hyup, whose abstract urban landscapes, appropriately enough, have been created and displayed in cities across the globe.  For Bobbi Brown's cushion compacts the artist made three designs:  New York Skyline (Manhattan), Spread Love (depicting the Brooklyn Bridge) and Band of Light (representing Times Square). 

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Hyup (b. 1982) was born and raised in Seoul. He began what would become a lifelong love affair with skateboarding and skate culture at the age of 9. 

Childhood photo of artist Yoon Hyup
(image from

While skateboarding is a key inspiration for his work - his lines and dots represent how he feels when skateboarding (like "flowing water", he says), music remains his primary influence.  He studied violin for most of his childhood, getting scolded for improvising during lessons.  As a teenager Hyup discovered hip-hop and graffiti magazines at a nearby U.S. naval base, further feeding his appetite for skate culture, music and art.  In college he started out studying graphic design as he wanted to design skateboards, but quickly realized he enjoyed painting more.  One night at a party a DJ asked him to paint while he spun, and for Hyup, there was no turning back. He has painted to music ever since. "From the early 2000’s, a hip hop party called “Afroking Party” was getting popular in Seoul. I would hang with DJs, MCs, B-Boys, skaters, writers and photographers there. It was the first place where I exhibited my artworks and perform live painting. A DJ crew wanted me to paint live while he performed his set, a mix hip hop, funk, disco, we’d perform all night. That was when I was 23 or 24 years old, and then I met more and more people, they would learn about me and ask me to do more paintings.  I started to use lines and dots when I performed live painting, because I wanted to express something quick while DJ Soulscape and DJ Plastic Kid were spinning."  Hyup listens to a variety of jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul and disco. To get an idea of what such a mix sounds like, you check out one of his playlists here.

Yoon Hyup, Rhythm, 2019

Hyup likens his improvisational process to jazz or rap.  For larger projects he sketches the overall structure, but generally does not draw beforehand.  "I don’t sketch when I paint. If I need to sketch, I would only put the big structure. Other than this, I only do with free-hands on canvas or wall paintings without sketches. It may be similar to a jazz performance which only has a plan but plays impromptu. It’s similar feeling from listening improvisational music, funk or freestyle rap. When I skate, I feel rhythm and flow...I like to express these feelings with lines and dots." 

Yoon Hyup, Night in Paris, 2020

Hyup's forté is vibrant city life, but he is equally adept at representing more calming scenes, such as tropical vistas and clouds.  And while he cites American graffiti artists such as Futura, Lee Quinones and Mark Gonzales, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and designer Don Pendleton as influences (I'd add Mondrian to the list), Hyup also reinterprets elements of traditional Korean art.  Paintings of clouds, along with the use of obangsaek - five colors associated with the cardinal directions - are the artist's way of paying homage to his cultural heritage. "Many traditional Korean forms, such as vine clouds and wind clouds, surface in my paintings. I often paint with the five colors associated with my native country – red, blue, yellow, black and white.  This color palette can be found in many things that relate to Korean culture, such as art, dress, and the painting for architecture. I use those colors to pay honor to my roots. I also find other colorways from nature and things around me."

Yoon Hyup, High Up, 2019
(images from 

Hyup's work generally consists of cityscapes, but occasionally his playfulness shines through via characters from pop culture.  I'm delighted with these portraits of Cookie Monster and the Pillsbury Dough Boy!  Fun fact: I was obsessed with the Pillsbury Dough Boy when I was little and have a decent collection of memorabilia.  I'd love to see Pills on a shirt, similar to the Mickey Mouse ones Hyup made for Uniqlo.

Yoon Hyup, Cookie Monster

Yoon Hyup, Pillsbury Dough Boy

Also, how precious is this holiday wonderland he created in Shanghai last year?

Yoon Hyup, Shanghai Times Square, 2019
(images from @ynhp and

As for the collab with Bobbi, I'm not sure how it came about or why Hyup decided to partner with the company. (I emailed to request an interview but never heard back, sadly.)  "I collaborate when I already know the brand well enough or when it naturally happens. Honestly, I haven't had to think about a brand I want to collaborate with because luckily, clients have always come to me and proposed collaborations. Sometimes I don't do it when I don't understand the brand well enough or it doesn't fit well with my style," he says.  A cosmetics collaboration doesn't seem like it would align with the artist's interests, especially given his previous work for sportswear and apparel stores located in urban locations, like Nike's Gangnam headquarters and the Rag and Bone store in Soho.

Yoon Hyup mural for Nike headquarters in Gangnam

Yoon Hyup mural for Nike headquarters
This mural centers on the number 23, worn by basketball star Michael Jordan.

(image from

Yoon Hyup mural for Rag and Bone in Soho, 2014
This mural, entitled Wishing a Bright Sunny Day, has rightfully drawn comparisons to the work of Keith Haring.

(image from

Hyup also designed the cover art for a CD box set for Ella Fitzgerald in honor of the singer's 1ooth birthday in 2017, which was fitting given jazz's influence on his process. 

Yoon Hyup - Ella Fitzgerald 100th birthday box set

So makeup seems a little out of left field.  I also can't figure out why only the city of New York was featured on the compacts, as these were would have made a bit more sense to include Seoul as well.  Perhaps it's Hyup's love for NYC that propelled the focus on New York. In any case, I believe all three of the designs were new for Bobbi Brown, but there are similarities.  Here's Rooftop Jam (2019) and Spread Love (2014) - the latter has the same name as the cushion compact showing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Yoon Hyup, Rooftop Jam, 2019

Yoon Hyup, Spread Love, 2014
(images from

Yoon Hyup for Bobbi Brown

While I'd still like to unravel the mystery of the collaboration's origin, I enjoyed this collection nevertheless.  Hyup's improvisational method perfectly captures the frenetic pace of cities, and I don't think his work would have the same effect if he painted without music.  And New York is always magical so if they had to focus on any one city I'm glad it was the Big Apple.

What do you think?  Which case is your favorite?  Mine is Band of Light. I don't like to actually visit Times Square in person, but this image is so vibrant I can practically hear its pulse.