A lipstick is forever: Tattoo
July 20, 2018
Around this time 2 years ago I got my first tattoos. In honor of that momentous occasion, I thought I'd take a look at a vintage brand that featured some truly wild advertising. I had come across Tattoo years ago, as well as its sister line Savage, and was immediately struck by the images used in their ads and on the products themselves. I managed to snag two of the ads, as well as the lipstick case and rouge container. Given their tropical feel I had originally intended on including them in the summer exhibition, but upon closer inspection I decided against it. Let's see why, shall we?
Sadly I was unable to make out the name of the illustrator who created the imagery on this one. It's something with an R, but beyond that I'm completely lost.
This one is by John LaGatta (1894-1977), and as you can tell by the publication name and spelling of "colour", appeared in a British magazine.
As with Po-go Rouge, the compact is teeny compared to today's blushes.
The puff is imprinted with the same design.
There was another compact with "U.S.A." inscribed beneath the Tattoo name. (Of course, I totally forgot I had this one and ended up with two...I could be wrong, but I don't think the "U.S.A." imprint presents any real significance; I believe it's just a slight change in production.)
There was also a difference in the bottoms of the compacts. The one with U.S.A. on the front doesn't have any inscription on the back. Again, I don't think there's any real significance to this, just a negligible difference in the manufacturing.
What IS an interesting difference, however, is an alternate design on the lipstick and rouge. It appears these were sold around the same time as the more commonly seen design. It may have been a mini version, but I'm not sure.
(image from pinterest)
(image from pinterest)
This is the only ad I found in which the alternate design appeared. It's from 1947, so maybe it only showed up towards the end of Tattoo's reign (the latest newspaper ad for Tattoo was from September 1949).
(image from pinterest)
However, the shade I own is Coral Sea, which was trademarked in 1946. So maybe this wasn't new packaging after all.
(image from tsdrapi.uspto.gov)
I also own a Savage powder box, which you might remember from this post and then its later appearance in the 2015 summer exhibition. I deeply regret including it now.
I don't have the complete story of Tattoo/Savage, but thanks to Collecting Vintage Compacts and what I was able to cobble together from old newspaper ads, the lines were introduced in the early 1930s by James Leslie Younghusband, a Canadian military/stunt pilot turned Chicago-based businessman. Younghusband was the brains behind another "indelible" lipstick line called Kissproof, which he invented in 1923. Despite its poisonous ingredients, the lipstick was sold until the early 1940s. I'm not sure why Younghusband felt compelled to develop not one but two "permanent" lipstick brands while Kissproof was still being sold, since I've compared the copy from the Tattoo and Savage ads to the Kissproof ones and all touted them as long-wearing lipsticks that were also comfortable to wear - formula-wise, there doesn't seem to be much difference. The author of Collecting Vintage Compacts has promised a second installment about Younghusband and the launch of Tattoo and Savage so I'll update this post with additional information, but in the meantime I wanted to share some thoughts and other questions I have about these lines.
First, I'm not going to dance around the obvious here: there's no way any company could get away with this sort of fetishizing of "exotic" people and cultures today. The ads and product design certainly are eye-catching - who wouldn't want to wear colors inspired by a tropical paradise? - but when you look closely and read the ad copy, you realize how racist they are. Tattoo and Savage represent the pinnacle of white men's fantasies about "native" women's sexuality, which in their minds is completely untamed and animal-like. By wearing lipstick shades appropriated from these "uncivilized" cultures, white ladies can show off their racy side while still adhering to traditional American/European standards of female decorum. Take, for example, the copy in this ad. "From South Sea maidens, whom you know as the most glamorous women on earth, comes the secret of making and keeping lips excitingly lovely and everlastingly youthful. In that land where romance is really real, you'll naturally find no coated, pasty lips. Instead, you'll find them gorgeously tattooed! Not with a needle, but with a sweet, exotic red stain made from the berries of the passion-fruit...Tattoo is the civilized version of this marvelous idea." Yes, it's so very uncivilized to wear a lip stain made of crushed berries - only cavewomen do that!1
Savage is even more blatantly racist, highlighting the fact that their colors were inspired by "primitive, savage love".
And their reds are "paganly appealing hues that stir the senses...rapturous, primitive reds, each as certainly seductive as a jungle rhythm." Bonus points for this ad linking "wickedness" to indigenous cultures.
The Tattoo ads (including the two I own) feature a variety of tan-skinned women catering to pale white women, imagery that dates back at least to the Renaissance and is still used today in an effort to make a scene appear "historically accurate." You'll notice that these particular women are depicted in stereotypical garb that existed solely in white people's imaginations, i.e. hula skirts and flower necklaces. And just to further the idea of their supposedly insatiable lust, they are also shown topless. Women of color are reduced to othered, highly sexualized props whose only purpose is to serve white women. (Somewhat unrelated, but if you want to take a gander at the lipstick display shown in this ad, you can see it here. I remember one popped up on ebay a couple years ago with an starting bid of a mere $199.99.)
This is another one by LaGatta.
(image from pinterest)
More proof: the ideal "Tattoo girl" was white and blond.
Savage also threw in a nod to colonization with the use of "conquer".
All of this begs the question of what Younghusband was trying to accomplish with these lines.* Indelible lipstick was all the rage in the '20s and '30s; no doubt Younghusband's company faced stiff competition from the likes of Tangee and others. Perhaps he felt that this manner of cultural appropriation, i.e. creating what was probably the decade's most risqué and raciest makeup line by portraying the indigenous people of the South Pacific as feral and completely unfettered by "civilized" society's code of conduct, and then offering white women a socially acceptable way to channel that imagined freedom via lipstick, was the best way to stand out in a crowded market. The ads repeat words like "thrilling", "maddening", and suggests that the color will last through late-night activity. Sounds very exciting, yes?
(all ad images from lantern.mediahist.org unless otherwise noted)
The other possible reason Younghusband looked towards the South Pacific was the rise of tourism to Hawaii and other islands during the 1930s. As the blog author of Witness to Fashion astutely points out in a post on Tattoo, the increased tourism heralded a cultural love affair with anything tropical. "Tourism to Hawaii, via luxurious cruise ships, increased in the 1930s. The “white ships” of the Matson Line sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii and the South Seas. Quite a few movies with a tropical setting were made in the thirties, including Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Hurricane (1937) and Her Jungle Love (1938) — both starring queen-of-the-sarong Dorothy Lamour, Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), and Honolulu (1939). Bing Crosby and his movie Waikiki Wedding (1937) popularized the song 'Sweet Leilani,' written in 1934." Sounds plausible.
Getting back to my other questions, I'm unclear on the difference between the Tattoo and Savage lines, or why Younghusband would launch both nearly simultaneously. As I noted previously, there doesn't seem to be an appreciable difference between the two, and they were released at approximately the same time - around 1933 for Tattoo and 1934 for Savage. Tattoo lasted till about 1949, while the last newspaper ad I found for Savage dates to October 1941. At first I thought perhaps Savage was a drugstore line, whereas Tattoo was sold only in department stores, since their respective prices were 20 cents and one dollar. This 1939 Gimbel's ad for Savage, however, kills that theory.
Finally, and you may be wondering this as well, why on earth did I knowingly purchase such racist items for the Museum and then choose to blog about them? Unfortunately I can't really answer that myself. It's not like I wasn't familiar with these lines or thought they were okay and then realized they weren't, which has happened before. I also like to consider myself at least somewhat conscious about racial and cultural appropriation issues within the beauty industry. I guess I thought that, distasteful though they are, they're important from a historical perspective. I wanted to have tangible reminders of what was acceptable back then. Items like this also help me remember to be a little more mindful when purchasing contemporary pieces. So while I've made the decision not to feature such items in exhibitions, since it dawned on me that I prefer exhibitions to have more of a celebratory spirit and racist beauty products aren't things I necessarily want to champion, I think a cosmetics museum should have these types of items and open a dialogue about the ugly side of the beauty industry and its history. My main goal for the Museum is for it to serve as a happy, magical place full of wonderful and beautiful things, but sometimes it's necessary to take a good hard look at some of the problematic issues within the world of cosmetics.
Well, that's enough of my blather, except to say that I'm sorry I don't have more concrete information on these lines - hopefully Collecting Vintage Compacts will shed further light on them. Thoughts?
1 While I was poking about at newspapers.com I came across an article from 1934 that serves as historical evidence of how indigenous people were viewed by Americans/Europeans in the '30s. This one tells the tale of one young woman "explorer" (read: colonizer) who attempted to "civilize" the "ferocious Amazonians" in South America by bringing them cosmetics. I literally can't even with this.
2I do really wonder what the hell was wrong with Younghusband. In the news articles I found, his first wife passed away in 1927, and he went on to remarry 4 different women in the span of 13 years, all of whom accused him of adultery. The rough timeline is that he divorced the 2nd wife in 1931, married his third in April 1933 and divorced her in 1935. I'm not sure about the 4th wife, but in November of 1937 he married his fifth. A 1950 article regarding the divorce of his 5th wife states that he went so far as to "spend thousands of dollars on detectives, photographers, wire tappers and gigolos in attempt to frame [his wife] in an embarrassing position in a Florida hotel so he could gather divorce evidence." What a psycho. The same article also claims that during the wedding, Younghusband hit a police reporter in the head after inviting him to cover the wedding. So yeah, something wasn't right with this guy, and it's not just the rampant racism in his company's lipstick lines.