Mary Cassatt, Baby in a Dark Blue Suit, Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder, ca. 1889
Hourglass, Modernist Eyeshadow Palette, 2015
Mary Cassatt, Baby in a Dark Blue Suit, Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder, ca. 1889
Hourglass, Modernist Eyeshadow Palette, 2015
Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!
You might remember my post on MAC's Jeremy Scott collection, in which I responded to the criticism it had received for the packaging being too large and impractical. This in turn led to a rude comment on the blog (which I didn't publish since I refuse to entertain that sort of negativity at the Museum) about how "wasteful" the MAC packaging was, as well as the insinuation that I'm a terrible person for having a makeup collection at all. *eyeroll* While it was a rather nasty attack, I will say it had some value: it got me thinking about packaging waste within the beauty industry and how a makeup museum/collector could cut down on it as much as possible. So as to keep my ramblings to a minimum I'm examining only packaging and not product ingredients and other forms of beauty-related waste.
Let's look at the current problems. Outer packaging for beauty products, due to their fragility and contents, gets to be rather excessive. And consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of beauty packaging waste. One of the biggest packaging hurdles for companies is plastic. According to this article, "most beauty products are swathed in plastic, but only 12 percent of plastic is recycled, which means that eight million tons end up in our oceans every year. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and, already, nearly 80 million tons of plastic comprise the Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Also, plastic takes up to 1,000 years (!) to fully decompose. Cardboard is another culprit: "Zero Waste Week, an annual awareness campaign in September for reducing landfill, reports that more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year." This is, of course, to say nothing of the cardboard boxes and packaging used to ship products. I myself shake my head at not only the use of non-recyclable plastic, but the issue of having items from several orders ship separately and in boxes that are much larger than needed. Neiman Marcus is easily the worst offender - recently they sent me boxes this size for one order containing a small item...
...the other huge box was for these tiny samples.
Now I recycle the boxes and paper packaging, but it's pretty ridiculous. I understand no one wants the item to break during transit but there are much more environmentally friendly ways to securely ship items.
Another issue, which I think was mostly what that mean commenter was alluding to, is that the packaging for makeup itself is getting larger and bulkier. As the holiday season rolls in with all its shiny gift sets and palettes, I'm seeing bigger makeup. The size difference isn't noticeably larger when compared only to vintage items - there was a more gradual size increase for every makeup item over the last half of the 20th century - but even in the past 5 years I believe packaging has become larger not necessarily to accommodate more product but to catch the eyes of consumers. Think about it: Not only makeup is physically small, the market is so incredibly saturated companies have to continually up the packaging ante to get people's attention. Some evidence of this super-sizing as an attention-grabber is outlined in quite an eye-opening study published by Fashionista. While it only polled beauty PR reps and recipients (i.e., beauty bloggers and editors) and not plain old consumers like me, the same principles apply to your average beauty customer. One of the most salient excerpts: "While waste abounds in all corners of the industry, responses resoundingly pointed to beauty and skincare brands as the worst perpetrators when it comes to superfluous stuff in mailings. One theory is that there's more pressure to make a big splash with packaging when you're dealing with products that are physically small — a fancy new serum may be just as pricey (and exciting to its new owner) as a pair of shoes, but it doesn't inherently require big, memorable packaging." Not only that, brands are constantly trying to impress bloggers and "influencers" so that they'll be more inclined share their latest collections and products on their social media platforms, so over-the-t0p packaging is slowly becoming the norm. "It's not just an excess of 'normal' packaging items that fashion and beauty people deal with — it's also all the wacky things that may accompany product. Numerous people mentioned single-use video screens that automatically play an ad once the product box is opened as a wasteful novelty that they could do without. 'There is absolutely nothing I hate more than the auto-playing video screens that come in boxes and play obnoxious sounds or video at you without your consent,' wrote one survey-taker. 'It is such a colossal waste of money... and makes me feel annoyed and guilty every time I receive.' Others called out superhero figurines designed to look like them ('what am I supposed to do with that!?'), faux space helmets, neon light-up signs, giant balloon arrangements, a life-size Jenga game and a 'beauty compact' the size of a desktop computer." One recent example from a beauty blogger on Instagram is this gigantic cherry-shaped container for Urban Decay's Naked Cherry collection.
(image from @rubiredlipstick)
And I'm wondering if the "compact the size of a desktop computer" the article refers to is Chanel's enormous PR kit, which contained their new line of glosses. It could be yours for a mere $520.
(image from @robinsiegel)
The vast majority of bloggers aren't fellow collectors so I'm assuming they throw out this novelty packaging, which obviously kills me since I'd be ecstatic to keep it for the Museum. Anyway, unfortunately this tactic seems to work, and I have a hunch it's starting to bleed over into the packaging made for regular, non-blogger/editor folks. "'It's become an instance that everyone is looking to stand out, and in order to, we're seeing bigger, more elaborate mailings that grab editors' attention. When our clients see this, they want to do the same or bigger/better to make sure they are seen,' one PR professional wrote. Another editor reluctantly admitted that super-cool packaging did in fact make them more likely to post about the brand, even if they aren't proud of the fact." If this sort of packaging is getting the attention of editors, surely regular consumers would be intrigued too. The other reason for such over-the-top packaging is online shopping, especially in the case of indie brands who don't have a presence in brick-and-mortar stores. "Another responder, who runs a direct-to-consumer brand, mentioned that packaging feels like one of the most significant touchpoints they have with their consumer, since there are no physical stores in which to create a customer 'experience.' In that case, the goal of packaging is to create a moment with the consumer, one which can be prolonged by adding more layers to unwrap or sequins to scoop out of the way."
Now that we have an understanding as to why companies go all out with packaging, the solution seems pretty obvious: switch to sustainable materials. You would think beauty companies could modify their packaging pretty easily, right? Not exactly. Retail space, product preservation and cost are the three main factors that prevent companies from adopting green packaging. Allure magazine explains: "Retailers often put restrictions on package sizing to help maximize shelf space in a store (which makes sense: if they can fit more products on the shelves, they can easily sell more). If a brand wants to sell their product at one of these locations, they have to follow the store’s guidelines when designing their packaging...beauty products are a bit like food. That is, they can go bad (yes, you need to throw away that year-old mascara). That deterioration process goes much faster if a product is not stored correctly. The color, odor, and shelf life of a product are all affected by packaging, and many products need air-tight packaging to stay intact. Many skincare ingredients are finicky (a notorious example is vitamin C). When not properly packaged, the nutritive ingredients that promise to keep you ageless can be destabilized and rendered useless. Of course, as with any business consideration, cost plays a huge factor as well. 'Cheap plastics are exactly that: inexpensive, mass produced and wasteful,' says Lori Leib, the creative director at Bodyography Professional Cosmetics, a company that recently overhauled its products to use half as much plastic and incorporate more recyclable cardboard. 'They do not use good quality materials therefore they are able to make the cost of goods next to nothing,' she says." Alternative green packaging is quite pricey due to the processes involved in making it green, not to mention that some materials (like glass, which is heavier than plastic) would be more expensive to transport. In sum, there are significant obstacles to companies making the switch to eco-friendly packaging.
Fortunately, my complaints and those of other beauty consumers aren't falling on entirely deaf ears. A recent study showed that more consumers are checking products for eco-friendly packaging before making a purchase, and the industry is taking miniscule steps to cut down on excessive, non-sustainable packaging. These solutions include: refillable packaging (see and Kjaer Weis - even their refill packaging itself is recyclable), recycled glass packaging, biodegradable/compostable packaging, with vegetable or soy-based inks used for printing directly onto the package instead of adhesive labels. Another article at Fashionista highlights brands like Alima Pure, which uses food-grade plastic for its jars and recyclable paper to securely pack items instead of bubble wrap, and Ethique, which packages its shower products in compressed bamboo and compostable boxes. Some companies, like LUSH, are forgoing traditional packaging altogether. Their "Naked" line of shower gels and lotions completely do away with bottle packaging. (Personally I find the Naked shower gels to be glorified soap, but at least they're trying.) While there is an increased cost associated with these solutions, many companies are now working it into their regular budgets.
(image from lushusa.com)
So where does all this fit within the context of the Makeup Museum? I think it would be very difficult to have a zero-packaging-waste makeup museum right now. From a consumer standpoint, it's fairly simple to recycle outer boxes and bottles. But if you're trying to preserve makeup items and keep track of them, it's basically impossible to get rid of any extra packaging. The outer boxes are required to offer some measure of protection from fingerprints and minor scratches while the items are in storage, not to mention how they're relied upon for organization purposes - given how vast the collection is now I'd never find anything I was looking for without its clearly marked box. The only thing that would allow a makeup museum be remotely close to zero waste would be if all companies used only biodegradable packaging (or, you know, not having a museum at all, which obviously is out of the question). Efforts are being made to achieve this goal, but we're nowhere near 100% implementation. However, I do think there are small steps I could take to allow for a more environmentally-friendly museum. I've already mentioned the recycling of cardboard boxes and paper packaging for new items so there's that. But if I had a physical space I could probably use the excess packaging, as well as any trash the Museum produced, for visitor-created artwork. Take, for example, the Rubbish Exhibition at London's Science Museum. Artists and staff members collected a month's work of the museum's trash - everything from discarded cutlery and food scraps to old metal signage and brochures - and turned it into an exhibition. After it closed everything got recycled/composted/disposed of through environmentally-conscious means.
(image from theguardian.com)
Seems pretty genius! In the case of the Makeup Museum, I'd probably have a "waste installation" where people could make their own artwork out of empty makeup containers, or perhaps scribble/paint using expired makeup on a wall of cardboard made from the boxes used to ship the Museum's items. Another idea is to have special exhibitions devoted to eco-friendly beauty lines, or artists who repurpose cosmetics for their work - could you imagine a whole exhibition full Makeup as Muse artists?
Secondly, for vintage items I reuse whatever packaging I have and label it with a post-it note (reusing ones from my office that we no longer can use because the organization's logo is way out of date), or if it the item arrives from the seller in a gift box, I'll write on the box directly to label it. Also, isn't preserving vintage items sort of recycling, in a way? I like to think of it as rescuing items that would otherwise be destined for a landfill.
Third, I think we all need to demand a radical change from beauty companies regarding their current approach to packaging. I've said it before and I'll say it again: consumers have to do their part by being thoughtful about what they purchase and recycle as much as possible, but most of the responsibility for being environmentally conscious lies with cosmetics manufacturers. Consumers can only do so much; I could recycle cardboard boxes till the cows come home and buy less overall, but wouldn't it be so much more helpful for the environment if companies didn't produce excessive, plastic-filled packaging in the first place? As someone who lacks the clout of major beauty bloggers and editors, I doubt my individual voice will be heard, but hopefully the collective masses will start being more vocal about their expectations for companies to use sustainable materials as well as the implementation of recycling programs until they become the norm rather than the exception. As we saw earlier, there are major challenges in switching to green packaging, most notably cost, but I bet consumers would be willing to pay a tiny bit more for product packaging that won't harm the planet. Plus if small indie brands are adopting zero-waste practices, surely the big manufacturers can do it too. I also don't believe that using biodegradable, recyclable materials would drastically limit the type of designs that appear on packaging or their overall style. While I genuinely care about the sad state of our planet (especially the oceans - all that plastic is killing mermaids and their sea creature friends!), I do shudder at the thought of having boring packaging that all looks the same. And I don't like the idea of never having oversize, incredibly fun items like the MAC Jeremy Scott collection. But I really think you can have beautiful packaging (complete with my beloved artist collaborations) using alternative materials. This way I can have my cake and eat it too - even if the packaging is big and splashy, it shouldn't do any long-term damage if it's made out of earth-friendly materials.
What do you think about the current state of beauty packaging? Do you try to reduce the amount of wasteful/environmentally harmful packaging you buy?
In honor of the 20th anniversary of her cosmetics line, Anna Sui debuted a new collection featuring the iconic dolly heads that have become synonymous with both the fashion and beauty brands. As soon as I saw these three little gals - Marion, Bea, and Sally - I knew they belonged in the Museum. The cases can house either lipstick or eye shadow (they twist off at the bottom.)
There were also three corresponding coffrets sporting little vignettes of each lady's lair. I limited myself to one since holiday collections are a comin', but obviously I'd love to have all three for the Museum. I chose Bea since she seems to be the most badass. The rock 'n roll details on this tin just spoke to me.
I also really liked the colors it came with.
Here are the other two coffrets. How cute is the owl on Sally's tin?!
So who are these ladies and why are the dolly heads so prominent in Anna Sui's branding? Let's start with the individual dolls in the collection, all of whom were inspired by real or fictional women.
Marion was inspired by Marion Davies, a popular 1920s and '30s screen siren.
(image from huffingtonpost.com)
Bea, as I suspected, is a rock star. Her hair was inspired by another old-school actress, Louise Brooks, while the eye patch is a nod to the "space pirate" iteration of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona. (A more modern interpretation might also be an homage to Elle Driver from Kill Bill...but probably not since Elle was not exactly any sort of role model.)
(image from independent.co.uk)
(image from morrisonhotelgallery.com)
Sally was named after Liza Minelli's character in the 1972 film Cabaret, Sally Bowles.
(image from lecinemadreams.blogspot.com)
Now let's explore the origins of these dolly heads. Fortunately I didn't have to do a lot of digging to find out the full scoop. In an interview with The Thick, Sui explains how the dolly heads came to be. “I first noticed papier-mâché dolly heads like this while watching the ‘60s-era British TV series, The Avengers, as a kid. I found this one years later at a New York City flea market, right before I opened my first store on Greene Street in 1992. The back of its head was cracked open, so I could see how it was constructed, and I thought, I could make this.’ So, I and friends of mine like [stylists] Paul Cavaco, Bill Mullen, and [illustrator] Tim Sheaffer started to make our own, which I used to decorate my store. And, over time, papier-mâché dolly heads kind of became symbolic of Anna Sui.” Like Benefit and Stila, who in their early days used mannequin heads and illustrations, respectively, the dolly heads' initial creation was primarily a cost-saving measure. "I found a space on 115 Greene Street, and while I was waiting to hear whether I'd gotten the lease, Bill, Paul, Tim Scheafer, and I would sit around making dolly heads out of styrofoam and papier-maché because I had absolutely no budget for decor. We competed against one another to see who could give our heads the most character: big noses, high cheekbones, prominent chins," Sui notes in The World of Anna Sui (p. 14-15).
(image from twitter)
(image from thethick.com)
(image from The World of Anna Sui, p. 28)
Sui was also inspired by the work of papier-mache artist Gemma Taccogna. It's quite the coincidence she mentioned this artist and the lipstick tubes she made since I've spotted a few during various vintage searches and have been meaning to write a post about them. Sui reflects on the artist's influence: "[Taccogna] made everything: dolly heads, jewelry, compacts, desk accessories, and more. I love how she drew; you can recognize a lot of her stuff by the eyes...at one point, I would go to the flea market on 6th Avenue in New York City every weekend to look for Taccogna pieces. I have so many now, I can’t even count them. Taccogna works weren’t expensive when I first started collecting them, but recently I’ve seen some for as much as $500 on eBay...Carolyn Murphy gave me my first lipstick tube. She saw it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me." She's not kidding - even the knockoff imitation Taccogna lipstick tubes go for several hundred dollars. I'd love to have some of Sui's collection for the Museum!
(image from thethick.com)
By 1994, a mere two years after the opening of the Sui's first store, the dolly heads - along with black lacquer, roses and butterflies, and extensive use of purple (her favorite color) - had become synonymous with the brand. Together these design elements formed a cohesive aesthetic that represented Sui's whimsical vision. Store spaces brought these motifs to life, allowing customers to be fully immersed in the designer's unique world: "Externalizing my aesthetic clarified it. Everything became more iconic. Macy's and Galeries LaFayette opened a shop-in shop for me with all the decorative elements that defined 113 Greene: the dolly heads, the art nouveau butterflies and roses, the Tiffany glass. It wasn't about authenticity - the Tiffany glass was plastic - it was about the Look, so recognizable that it made my brand successful." (The World of Anna Sui, p. 15)
(image from The World of Anna Sui)
Artist Michael Economy created the first dolly head illustration, which appeared on the clothing in the 1994 fall collection.
(image from annasui.com)
By the late '90s, so easily recognizable as a key aspect of the brand's identity were the dolly heads that they received their own full-body mannequins from renowned designer Ralph Pucci, as well as recreations of the original papier-maché heads. Says Sui, "We did them in blue, yellow, lavender, and ivory ‘skin,’ and Michele Hicks, my favorite model for a long time, was the body model. I still use them in my stores."
(image from craftandtravel.wordpress.com)
As a natural progression, the mannequins took on the personalities of the dolly heads. An In Style article detailing the 2015 Ralph Pucci exhibition, a show in which Sui's mannequins were prominently featured, demonstrate the significance of the dolly heads and their full-sized counterparts for Sui's design and branding. "'I’ve always been fascinated by mannequins,' Sui said. 'They give you a chance to create a character, or a symbolic person for your brand. It’s so important to show clothes with a head on top, so then you get a scale of the person. Even though the head is not you, you can picture it. And then, why not make it stylized? It’s your fantasy person...All of the idiosyncrasies of my dolly heads went into the mannequins,' Sui said. 'Through the years, the black lacquer furniture, and the purple walls and red floors of my stores, all became icons of the brand, but so did the dolly head – to the point we did a perfume bottle based on that.'" Interestingly, Sui is so taken with mannequins and their power to convey various personalities that she has one in her home. "[Sui] has a mannequin, a giant doll really, modeled after Diana Vreeland, given to her by the artist Greer Lankton. She dresses Diana up in vintage Courrèges, and poses her with guests who have passed by, from supermodels to Marc Jacobs to Liza Minnelli."
(image from The World of Anna Sui)
(images from ralphpucci.net)
Given their iconic status, it's not surprising that the dolly heads have appeared before on Anna Sui's cosmetics packaging. Previously Russian doll-inspired versions of lipsticks and mascaras were released in the spring of 2011. Sasha, Vlada and Natasha adorably complemented Sui's fall 2011 fashion collection.
(images from atouchofblusher.com)
And of course, the motif was used for the famous Dolly Girl fragrance bottle, which debuted in 2003.
(images from fragrantica.com)
You could even buy your own dolly head as decor thanks to Sui's 2017 collaboration with Pottery Barn Teen. Personally I think they're kind of creepy - I much prefer them in cosmetic form.
(image from pbteen.com)
Anyway, getting back to the fall collection, I'd say it was well done and quite appropriate to use such a meaningful design element for a 20-year anniversary. These dolly heads represent a significant part of the brand's DNA; they were there from the very beginning and still help define the Anna Sui identity today. I also liked that the dolly heads were recreated in miniature form and used to house lipstick and eye shadow rather than just appearing on the tins, as it's a way for Sui to put her own spin on the tradition of doll-shaped cases (in addition to Gemma Taccogna, there were also the lovely Revlon Couturine cases.)
What do you think? Which of the three dollies is your favorite?
Aaaaaaaaand we're back! Hopefully. I'm not sure if the domain registration issue I had during almost the whole month of September is completely resolved, but for now the website seems to be functioning. Of course, it threw off my schedule entirely so I'll do my best to catch up on some fall posts. First, here's a look back on September.
- "Is it in any way preferable for the term 'anti-ageing' to become taboo while all its apparatus remains intact?" An article at The Guardian points out the beauty industry's hypocrisy in marketing skincare for, ahem, mature women.
- Along those lines, wouldn't it be nice to for brands to regularly show un-Photshopped pictures of products on their models?
- I Need This Unicorn shared some vintage Too-Faced items and the history behind them (plus a shout-out to the Museum!) I so wish I had any items from the '90s and early aughts. They are surprisingly hard to come by.
- Does this sound, like, super creepy to anyone else?
- In '90s nostalgia, Google and two fairly huge '90s albums turned 20 in September, while one of the most legendary celebrated a quarter-century. Ditto for the premiere of The X-Files and Dazed and Confused. I must say while I'm not a fan of the latter - too much bullying for me - I will say that "Wipe that face off your head, bitch!" is one of the most hilarious lines ever.
- Speaking of liking problematic pop culture, I must confess that me and my sister used to watch Sixteen Candles on repeat - we can still recite it verbatim. In recent years I've been navigating the guilt I feel over having enjoyed one of the '80s most racist, ableist, rape culture-supporting movies, so I'm grateful to Vox for the timely reminder of just how wrong it is. #whatwerewethinking
How are you? Are you feeling fall yet? It's still fairly warm here and I'm not happy about the ever-growing lack of daylight, but I have been enjoying some PSLs. :)