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December 2018

Curator's picks and pans for 2018

One of the annual blog traditions I started a while back was gathering my favorite and least favorite releases of the year.  While I neglected to do this for 2017, I'm triumphantly returning to the tradition this year.  Here are my top 3 picks from 2018.  It was hard to choose!

1.  The mermaid-themed goodies illustrator Donald Robertson created for Rodin Olio Lusso took my breath away.  Plus I got a bag customized by the artist himself.

Rodin Olio Lusso x Donald Robertson

2.  I know there was significant backlash to it, but I just loved the MAC Jeremy Scott collection.  So. Much. Nostalgia.

MAC Jeremy Scott

3.  There were so many amazing collections this holiday season, but since I'm forcing myself to choose I'm going with the stunning Shine Classic compacts from Sulwhasoo, which celebrate a part of Korean cultural heritage that nearly went extinct. 

Sulwhasoo holiday 2018

There were a few vintage honorable mentions as well, including some pieces that I've acquired but haven't shared yet (stay tuned!), as well as the plethora of donations the Museum received.  So incredibly thoughtful and generous!

Now for the pans.  Sometimes even brands that have released previous Curator's picks miss the mark.  I guess they can't all be winners, right?

1.  Givenchy African Light highlighter.  Cultural appropriation much?  I found everything from the name to the description ("a gorgeous illuminating powder adorned with African ethnic motifs [that] evokes the color of African deserts, while the light frangipani fragrance reminds of the lush South African gardens") to be fairly problematic. 

Givenchy African Light highlighter
(image from beautyalmanac.com)

2.  I love iridescent packaging, but Shu's spring 2018 Tokyo Spirit collection left me cold.  It was just so uninspired.  The addition of Qee figurines on the lipstick cases did nothing either.

Shu Uemura Tokyo Spirit

Shu Uemura Tokyo Spirit
(images from chicprofile.com)

3.  While I enjoyed Lancôme's spring 2018 collection, the Proenza Schouler collab was a complete snoozefest for me.  It's a shame, as I think they could have done so much more.

Lancome Proenza Schouler
(image from beautyalmanac.com)

Do you agree with these choices?  What were your favorite items this year?  Have a spin through the Museum's archives and Instagram and tell me what you think!

Pearls on the half shell: Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre

Over the years I've become much more aware of brands sold outside the U.S., but this holiday season I discovered yet another new-to-me brand based in Japan.  Mikimoto is a historic purveyor of fine pearls and jewelry, founded in 1899 by Kokichi Mikimoto, the first person to successfully create cultured pearls.  The cosmetics line was established in 1970 and as far as I know is not available for sale in the States.  When a fellow collector alerted me to their holiday lineup, a collaboration with French illustrator Emmanuel Pierre, I took one look and knew it belonged in the Museum.  The appropriately themed Wish on a Pearl collection playfully celebrates Mikimoto's heritage thanks to the delightfully strange collages by Pierre. 

Can we just take a second to appreciate how beautifully the two key pieces from the collection were wrapped?!  A sturdy blue tote bag was also included.  This sophisticated wrapping is a refined contrast to the unbridled weirdness that lies inside.  Get ready, it's gonna be a wild ride!


The eyeshadow palette has a bizarre scene depicting a winged seahorse, several figures whose lower halves consist of a bird, fish and shells, and a cheeky little boy gleefully picking his nose and wearing a hat made of coral.  He sits atop a crescent moon, which is being hugged by a girl-jellyfish hybrid. My favorite character is the lady on the right holding a lipstick above a Christmas tree decorated with coral and pearls.

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

The palette itself has equally peculiar figures:  another half-seashell, half-woman wearing a hat adorned with a tomato and holding a spiral shell sprouting berry sprigs, and a man dressed in 17th century (?) garb with a mandela blooming around his waist. 

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

After spending a solid week looking at these images and others by Pierre, I still couldn't make any sense out of them so I asked my fellow former art history major husband what he thought.  He seemed to think they had a slight fairy tale or children's book vibe, and as it turns out, he was spot on (of course).  The Mikimoto cosmetics site provides a little bedtime Christmas story for the characters represented on the packaging.  As always, Google Translate doesn't help clear things up, but at least I found that there was a brief narrative behind the collection.  The first section is called "In the Sea" and is accompanied by one of the images from the palette box.  The text reads, "Christmas soon. The pearl sparkled in the sea, It seems to be a star hitting the night sky. Fish, shells, starfish, too. I'm counseling gifts. sand of star. A stone mirror. Coral lipstick. One from a gorgeous conversation. The girl is crying. 'You lost the pearl you kept.'"

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

The next segment is called "The Shining Night" (which, from when I can deduce, signifies Christmas Eve in this story) and introduces a mermaid. "A pale girl. The mermaid that can not be left alone, Pearls I owned I will give it to the girl. That night, The mermaid woke up with a bright light. The pearls decorated in the Coral Forest raise the moonlight, It seems as if it melted all over. A young man appears from over there. The two danced together."  The mermaid on the right appears on the box for the stationery set, which I'll show in a minute.

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

The final section is entitled "On Christmas Day" and features the couple from the palette: "The next morning. Mermaid is a night event I noticed that it was not a dream. That young man came over. In his hands the pearl that should have given the girl shine. Mermaid's skin looks like a pearl. It was glossy and transparent. This is transmitted from long ago. The sea Christmas story."

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018
(images from mikimoto-cosme.com)

I can't say I understood any of that, but I do like the overall sea theme and mention of a mermaid.  I'm guessing it's a story about giving the gift of pearl essence for Christmas and how its luster makes one's skin luminous and dewy like a mermaid's?  Anyway, there's no mention of the blonde bird lady or little boy, but they do appear again on the face powder box.  The powder itself is encased in a pearl-shaped container with an iridescent finish. My photos can't even approximate its beauty.  (The palette also has this finish but I couldn't seem to capture it there either.)

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

There was also a little makeup bag and a set of note cards which came free with the purchase of both makeup items.  A brush set and train case were additional gifts-with-purchase, but I was too late to get my hands on them.

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Two of the three postcard designs are the same as those on the makeup, while the third shows a half shell/half woman wearing a hat made out of a crab and holding a heart-shaped gift box.  Additional shells and pearls are scattered towards her "foot".

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

The poems on the cards offer no explanation for the images nor do they seem to align with the narrative from the website, but obviously Pierre continued with ocean/shell/sea creature motifs to tie in to the pearl theme.

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

At first glance, Emmanuel Pierre (b. 1958) seemed like an odd choice for a collaboration with a fairly traditional company like Mikimoto.  It wasn't until I noticed his work for the likes of Hermès and the New Yorker that it started to seem like a good fit.  Still, I find his work to be incredibly strange.  It's one of those "the more you look at it, the weirder it gets" styles.  And that's a great thing for me, given my love for all things offbeat and oddball.  I couldn't find any interviews with the artist and my art history training is failing me yet again so I can't give a thorough or even remotely accurate analysis of Pierre's work, but I will say I think it has a slight Dada feel to it given the emphasis on collages and absurdist imagery and text.  These characteristics provide a different flavor than Surrealism, whose bizarre scenes tended to be rooted in an attempt to represent the unconscious.  Pierre's oeuvre also lacks the occasionally unsettling or menacing vibes of Surrealism; I find it more whimsical and humorous than creepy, and the Dadaists were well-known for their sense of humor and quick wit.  To put it briefly, I'm thinking more Duchamp than Dali when I look at Pierre's work.  So let's take a peek, shall we?

While Pierre certainly proves his mettle at conventional illustration styles, it's his collages - fantastical scenes depicting figures dressed in anachronistic clothing and oddly combined with a range of objects and animals - where I think he truly excels. Take, for example, these ladies engaged in some sort of strawberry/comb exchange...and did you notice the kitty paws on the woman on the right?

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 2.53.43 PM

And this jellyfish lady made me smile. You can see the lower portion of her bell on the makeup bag.

Smile of jellyfish

Mikimoto x Emmanuel Pierre, holiday 2018

Here are the very clever 2015 annual report and Wanderland exhibition catalogue he designed for Hermès.

Hermes 2015 annual report illustrated by Emmanuel Pierre

Hermes 2015 annual report illustrated by Emmanuel Pierre

Hermes 2015 exhibition book illustrated by Emmanuel Pierre

Hermes 2015 exhibition book illustrated by Emmanuel Pierre

Hermes 2015 exhibition book illustrated by Emmanuel Pierre

These illustrations for World of Interiors magazine show that, while Pierre's choice of motifs seem totally out of left field at first, they actually make sense in that they always express the topic they're accompanying.  As with the Mikimoto collection, the artist brings together fanciful images to form a cohesive theme that represents whatever subject he's working on - in this case, the food, tea kettle and brick chimneys signal home decor. 

Emmanuel Pierre, World of Interiors

Emmanuel Pierre, World of Interiors

Emmanuel Pierre, World of Interiors

The husband's earlier observation about the fairy tale quality of Pierre's work made me wonder whether he's illustrated children's books.  Sure enough, he completed a book for kids on the Carnival of Venice.  The strange masks and costumes can be downright scary for little ones (and, um, even for grownups such as myself), but Pierre's skillful, whimsical touch ensures nothing but fun through the canals and streets of Venice during the festivities.

Emmanuel Pierre, Venice Masquerade

Emmanuel Pierre, Venice Masquerade

Emmanuel Pierre, Venice Masquerade
(images from @emmanuelpierre_illustrateur, emmanuelpierre.fr, and tiphaine-illustration.com)

I also wonder whether Pierre is influenced at all by late 19th century greeting cards.  The human-animal-object hybrids and anthropomorphic figures are reminding me of the more bizarre scenes sometimes found in Victorian holiday cards.  Compare a few side by side (Pierre's work on the left/top, antique cards on the right/bottom). 

Emmanuel Pierre/19th century greeting card

Emmanuel Pierre/19th century greeting card

Emmanuel Pierre/19th century greeting card

Here are some examples of the animal-humans (human-animals?).  The first three are by Pierre, the next three are from the late 1800s.

Emmanuel Pierre

Emmanuel Pierre

Emmanuel Pierre

19th century greeting card

19th century greeting card

19th century greeting card
(images from @emmanuelpierre_illustrateur and designyoutrust.com)

Those turn-of-the-century folks had some weird tastes, I can tell you that!  (Their imagery also goes a lot darker and creepier than you would expect, especially for what are supposed to be joyous occasions.)  These also have me questioning whether Pierre comes up with his own vintage styles for these collages or if he uses authentic vintage sources, i.e. does he come up with all these characters and then draw everything by hand or does he somehow trace or cut out pieces from vintage magazines and other ephemera?  I'm very curious about his process.

Getting back to the Mikimoto collection, I'm still wondering how the collaboration came about and why the company selected Pierre.   I guess they wanted some charming French flair for their holiday lineup, which is a good choice.  I love more modern illustration styles, but for the holidays I find myself craving more quaint, vintage styles since I get so nostalgic.  In any case, I'm assuming as with his other clients Pierre created the images used on the packaging especially for the Mikimoto collection, although he never revealed it when he shared them back in April on his Instagram.  I have many unanswered questions, but overall I enjoyed the collection.  As you know I'm obsessed with mermaids and their underwater lairs, so weird half-seashell/fish people are right up my alley!

What do you think?  What's your favorite image from Pierre's work that I've shown here?

Avon's calling for a vintage Christmas

This was such a nice surprise from Avon.  I tend not to pay any attention to this brand as I'm more interested in their vintage products and ads, so imagine how delighted I was to see the company had reached into their archives and used some of the old ads I love so much for part of their extensive holiday collection.  Called "Once Upon a Holiday," the only information from their end that I could find was from the description of this brief video.  "Avon has always known the importance of holiday traditions. That's why we've created a limited-edition iconic collection, inspired by our rich heritage."  I would have liked to know more about why Avon decided to use their vintage ads and why they chose the ones they did, but I will say I think they selected some of the better ones.  

We'll start with my favorite, the 1945 angel ad illustrated by the Ukrainian-born Vladimir Bobri (1898-1986).  You might remember this one from the celestial-themed holiday 2014/winter 2015 exhibition.  I really hope to get around to writing a full post on Bobri and diving into all the ads he did for Avon, but briefly, he was sort of a jack of all trades - illustrator, author, costume designer, composer and classical guitar historian.  In addition to Avon, he did illustrations for The New Yorker, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.  This ad is seriously one of my all-time favorites, holiday or otherwise.  I always interpreted the beautiful angel as a harbinger of peace, keeping watch over a quaint small town on a snowy Christmas night (and making sure the townsfolk get their gifts!) As you can see, this illustration was used on one of the five lipsticks included in Avon's holiday 2018 lineup.

Avon Christmas ad, 1945

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

The lipstick itself is a festive red shade, reminiscent of the one the angel is delivering.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

I couldn't resist picking up the ornament with this illustration! 

Avon ornament

Next up is another by Bobri, this one from 1946.  The scene depicts a Victorian-era couple, with a dapper gentleman on ice skates giving a sleigh ride to his equally well-dressed female partner.   Above them a pine tree garland filled with ornaments and Avon gifts festoons a starry night sky.  You simply don't find this kind of charm in today's advertising.

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

The ad was used for the packaging of Avon's eyeshadow palette.

Avon holiday 2018 palette

Avon holiday 2018 palette

Here are 3 of the other lipsticks.  (In my excitement to order I neglected to add all 5 to my cart. #curatingfail)  I didn't see the original ads for sale anywhere so I will keep hunting, but I was able to find images of them.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

The packaging of the lipstick on the left features an ad from 1942, which ran in Vogue. A woman in a red cloak with a sprig of holly in her well-coiffed hair dashes around New York City to get her Christmas shopping done.  I can't make out the signature - it looks something like Stahlut or Stahlest - but I know it's definitely not another illustration by Bobri.

Avon Christmas ad, 1942

The woman in the green dress on the lipstick in the middle is from a rather patriotic 1943 ad, which makes sense as the U.S. was fully entrenched in the second World War by then.  As the Avon blog notes, this ad was actually part of a series intended to lift women's spirits during wartime.  "Amid the trials of the World War II era, Avon’s 'To the Heroines of America' campaign debuted as a morale-booster depicting present-day women reflecting on brave female icons of the past. Noting 'the brave color of her lips and cheeks,' the series encouraged women to stand strong like their predecessors."  This one is unsigned as far as I can tell, and although he did illustrate several other ads in this series, this doesn't really look like Bobri's work.  A mystery for the ages! 

Avon Christmas ad, 1943

The lipstick on the right is from a 1947 ad for Avon's Wishing fragrance, which depicts a woman wistfully gazing (and presumably wishing) upon a bright star.  A source for this image indicates it's from the June 1947 issue of Good Housekeeping so technically it's not a holiday ad, but it works pretty well in my opinion.  Once again I'm not sure who the illustrator is.

Avon Wishing ad, 1947
(images from the Hagley Digital Archives)

My only gripe with the Avon collection is that the images weren't printed on the palette or lipstick caps themselves, only on the outer packaging.  Still, the inner packaging was adorned with stylish prints:  tortoiseshell for the palette and leopard, houndstooth, chevron and plaid for the lipsticks.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

I wasn't able to track down the ad used in the packaging for the final lipstick, which I accidentally left out of my order and didn't realize until I went to take pictures for this post.  Whoops. However, the font is identical to one used in other Avon ads from the early '40s so my best guess is that it's from 1940-1942.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick
(image from avon.com)

Avon ad, 1940

Avon ads, 1941 and 1942
(images from the Hagley Digital Archives)

There were a few other items in the "Once Upon A Holiday" collection; however, since they did not feature any additional vintage ads I skipped them. Overall I'm really pleased that Avon came up with a nostalgic, vintage-themed collection using their old ads and I hope they do this again next year with different ones, as there's no shortage of adorable Christmas ads in their archives.  It's a great way to highlight the company's history while delivering fully modern products that meet the needs of today's makeup wearers.  I wish more companies would do this!  Lancôme, Shiseido and Bourjois have been known to occasionally celebrate their heritage by modernizing some of their iconic packaging or incorporating significant design elements from their vintage products into new ones, and obviously fashion houses (Chanel, Dior, Armani, YSL, etc.) look to their fashion archives for inspiration, but I'd love to see more brands take a look back and pick out some vintage ads or other items to feature.  Estée Lauder, I'm looking at you.

What do you think?  Which vintage ad is your favorite?

Mosaic muse: Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

The Marcel Wanders compact for Cosme Decorte is another holiday series I've been looking forward to since I discovered it back in 2012.  While I enjoyed last year's offering, I couldn't find much about the pattern.  This year also proved to be meager in terms of information, but I had enough to pull together a quick blog post.  For 2018 Marcel Wanders designed a gorgeous mosaic inlaid compact case with a garden nymph embossed on the powder. 

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Close-up, there's a slight resemblance to stained glass.

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

It's not actually mosaic work, but the way it's printed makes it appear quite real.  If you run your fingers over the case you can definitely feel a slight tile-like texture. 

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Entitled "The Enchanted Garden", the story is more or less the same as in recent years:  a ethereal muse frolics in a botanical paradise and enjoys all the beauty nature has to offer.

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018 promo

I was able to translate some of the story from the original Japanese. "The sweet smell of the flowers that are lush and blooming in the mysterious paradise where only the chosen goddess (muse) was allowed to exist. The shine of trees that shines in the sun and illuminates the leaves. Gently stroke cheeks like sheep, looking at the breeze ...The mosaic-like face powder born from the 'eternal garden' fits closely with the single goddess of lady, filling with elegance that overflows. It is a face gem powdered with beautiful scenery spreading in the 'eternal garden' where the goddess spends peaceful time, born."

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

The description on the box makes a little more sense.  And I learned that mosaic does indeed come from the Latin for "work of the muses".  #factchecking

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

Cosme Decorte x Marcel Wanders 2018

So let's take a peek at some of Wanders' mosaic work. As we've seen from previous Cosme Decorte collections, Wanders is an extraordinarily multi-talented designer who has created some of the world's most inventive and imaginative interior designs for everything from furniture and rugs to wallpaper and lighting.  Most of his mosaic work was created for leading Italian tile company Bisazza starting in 2004. I couldn't find much in-depth information about it, however, so I'm afraid this short blurb from his website will have to suffice.   "In a world dominated by minimalism and white walls, Marcel Wanders disrupts the dogma by investigating and disrupting surfaces, including wallpaper, tiles, textiles and mosaiques. Inspired by nature and geometric shapes, an extensive collection of applied mosaiques (2004 -2015) for walls, sculptures and furniture has been applied to restaurants, kitchens, corridors and other spaces. In addition, other iconic designs include brightly coloured coffee tables (2004-2012) that radiate life and joy in any room. Created and shaped to look like stones, these imaginative low tables feature flower patterns and are made with thousands of small hand-cut mosaiques. They seem to be out of a fairytale that guests stumble upon with each having a woman's name."  Indeed, the mosaic pieces are representative of his quirky, whimsical style and desire to "create an environment of love, live with passion and make our most exciting dreams come true."

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic

This glass tile pattern is called Daylight Garden, and there's another made of ceramic called Frozen Garden, which is the pattern used on the Cosme Decorte boxes as well as the 2012 "pocket watch" compact.  The "Eternal Garden" theme for this year's compact, therefore, is in keeping with Wanders' focus on flowers.

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic - Daylight Garden

Marcel Wanders Frozen Garden pattern

Here's the box from 2016, as I was too lazy to take a picture of this year's box.

Marcel Wanders x Cosme Decorte 2016 box
(images from marcelwanders.com and perini.com)

The tulip is my personal favorite out of all the patterns Wanders did for Bisazza, as I think it's both visually stunning and a lovely nod to Wanders' Dutch heritage.

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic
(images from marcelwanders.com and architonic.com)

And here are the pebble-shaped mosaic ottomans and coffee tables, which The Guardian claims "recall Versace prints at their most gaudy."  I don't think they're gaudy per se, but definitely an incredibly unique application for mosaics. This is why Wanders is a world-class designer - I would never think to use mosaics this way.

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic

While these are amazing, I find the mosaic he installed in his former home in Amsterdam to be the most spectacular.  It's a custom design by Dutch surrealist artist Femke Hiemstra that also, unsurprisingly, has "garden" in the title.  Says the New York Times:  "The mosaic is a masterpiece, a huge enchanted-forest swirl of fantastical creatures custom-designed by the Dutch pop-surrealist Femke Hiemstra. Titled 'Secret Garden,' it runs covers most of the back wall. A row of specially cut skylights bathes the artwork in light.  'Femke does amazing work — she’s in galleries all over the States,' Mr. Wanders said. She made a small drawing for me and I had it made into a large mosaic — a magical opportunity. We decided to put hand-cut crystal stones between some of the glass tiles, so it glistens as you walk by. It is something exquisite.'"  I wish I had the kind of money where having something like this in my home would be a reality.  (We do own a Wanders table and love it to pieces, mind you, but a mosaic wall would be mind-blowing.)

Marcel Wanders Secret Garden mosaic by Femke Hiemstra(image from nytimes.com)

Marcel Wanders Secret Garden mosaic by Femke Hiemstra(image from femtasai.nl)

Marcel Wanders Secret Garden mosaic by Femke Hiemstra(image from lookboxliving.com)

Getting back to Cosme Decorte, I think this floral pattern is the most similar to the one on the compact.  This is the Bloem (Bloom) pattern, which Bisazza compares to the textile designs of William Morris.  I'm inclined to disagree - I'm actually getting more of a modern '60s Scandinavian vibe...the Clinique Marimekko collection must still be lingering in my brain.

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic - Bloem

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic - Bloem

Marcel Wanders for Bisazza mosaic - Bloem
(images from marcelwanders.com and bisazza-australia.com)

While I think the compact is exquisite, I would have liked to have seen a more "enchanted" garden, i.e. something more magical and colorful like the mosaic furniture.  On the other hand, a design like that would have been pure Wanders and may have erased Cosme Decorte's more sophisticated aesthetic from the picture.  In this case, playing it a bit safe is a better match for the likes of Cosme Decorte.  I also like that they didn't take an existing Wanders mosaic pattern and slap it on there, but honestly I might have been fine with that since I find them all to be so beautiful.  I will say that while the garden theme fits with Wanders' botanical inspiration in his mosaics and elsewhere, I'm getting a little fatigued from the usual garden/forest muse narrative.  Why not shake it up and tell a story about an underwater sprite, or dare I say, a mermaid?  Just some (sea)food for thought.

What do you think?  Feel free to check out the previous Cosme Decorte releases and tell me where you think this one ranks.  :)

Fit for a princess: Shiseido x Sirivannavari

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

As you may know, I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram.  On the one hand it's usually the first place I spot new collections so it helps keep me head of the curve; on the other hand, occasionally I see things I want for the Museum and can't acquire.  So when I saw this lovely Thailand-exclusive collection from Shiseido on their feed, I was overcome with sadness since I figured there was no way I could get my hands on it.  Just to exhaust my options I emailed my personal shopper in Japan to see if he had any contacts in Thailand, and lo and behold he put me in touch with someone who was able to get it for me!  I now present the Princess Hanayaka collection, a collaboration with Her Royal Highness Sirivannavari Nariratana, princess of Thailand.  The "Hanayaka" moniker apparently means “the lady with joyfulness and beauty of a princess.”

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari graduated with a major in Fashion & Textile at the Fine and Applied Art department of Chulalongkorn University in her native Thailand, then earned her MA at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne.  She launched her own clothing line in 2005, which quickly became a favorite among Thai's elite and includes ready-to-wear, couture and accessories.  A makeup collaboration was the next logical step.  While the likes of Vogue and Glamour think otherwise, I have to say I personally think the fashion line is little more than a pet project for Sirivannavari. However, I admit the packaging for the Shiseido collaboration is beautiful, and given that it took two years to come to fruition, I believe the princess put some serious effort into it.

I purchased the full collection, which came in a gorgeous printed box.

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

The inside was lined in velvet with compartments for each of the 4 pieces.  I felt so special and fancy opening it, it's the kind of thing I imagine other beauty bloggers get as a PR item.

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

The color story of the makeup itself was driven by a desire for versatility to accommodate, you know, all your princess needs. I'm kidding, of course - it does sound like Sirivannavari tried to ensure the collection would have something for everyone, and in looking at the makeup there's a nice range of textures and shades.  “For this collection, my intention is to create the beauty products that are compact, easy and convenient to apply. The colors in the palette must be beautiful and highly flexible for various combinations of mix and match for different occasions, from daytime natural look to nighttime glamour. One palette can be applied for eyes, cheeks, and lips makeup while the texture of the cosmetics must make it easy for different color combinations. I chose all the color schemes and different shades for this collection myself based on what color combinations I think will best bring out women’s beauty," Sirivannavari explains. This vision, she adds, aligns perfectly with Shiseido's.  "[I've] always wanted to create beauty products that can fully answer the needs of women in Asia. This is also what Shiseido wants as a premium makeup brand that understands the needs of Asian women well. That’s how our collaboration started. I’m delighted that we both share the same intentions, which is to create what will enable the beauty of women in Asia to glow from inside and out naturally.”  Once she had the color story down, she used them as reference point for the packaging.  "I then used [the] colors to work with the graphics and drawings inspired by previous Sirivannavari collections to design the packaging. The drawings of rice ears, bees, and lovebirds are used as the main designs. When combined with a Japanese touch, the lines and feels become perfect for the packaging designs of this collection." 

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

The main motifs on the packaging were borrowed from several recent collections and combined to form some truly beautiful prints.  Here are some closeup shots of the shopping bag and lip collection box so you can see the details a little better.  I found the outer cases of the palettes very hard to photograph, so I think the bag and box work better in terms of getting a good look at the designs. The embroidered wheat sheaves and bees on the palettes were key elements in the spring/summer 2015 collection.  Sirivannavari used her study of Napoleon-era uniforms as the jumping off point for the collection.  "This latest collection began with the review of my dissertation I did at the Ecole De La Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne, which was about the Napoleonic uniforms. As I was looking at my works, I had the idea to turn the sketches to reality with a modern touch and add some Neoclassic and Roman details into the collection. For example, there is embroidery of motifs such as the ear of rice, bee, olive wreath, leopard and stars. Traditionally, these symbols signify all great meanings."

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari spring 2015 embroidery

Sirivannavari spring 2015 wheat embroidery

The origami-esque birds also figured prominently in the spring 2015 collection.

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari spring 2015 scarf

Sirivannavari spring 2015

The vibrant floral prints found throughout the packaging are best exemplified by the spring 2016 collection, which was inspired by the gardens of Versailles as well as the work of Monet and Renoir.

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari spring 2016

Sirivannavari spring 2016

Sirivannavari spring 2016

Finally, the constellations and star patterns, which are the highlight of the eyeshadow palette, come from the spring 2017 collection.

Sirivannavari x Shiseido

Sirivannavari spring 2017 scarf
(images from @sirivannavari_shop)

In looking at Sirivannavari's other work (which was relatively hard to find given that the website still appears to be under construction) I don't think she's particularly groundbreaking as a designer, and if she wasn't a young, attractive member of a royal family I doubt she'd make it very far in the cutthroat world of fashion.  Not to mention that she doesn't have to worry financially if her line fails or if she doesn't feel like working on it, which explains why she took a few breaks since she established it over a decade ago.  Having said all that, I think she did an admirable job with the Shiseido collaboration.  The various prints and motifs she uses in her fashion pieces translated well to makeup packaging and were a good fit for the Shiseido brand.  Additionally, I think it was a wise choice to mainly use her signature delicate yet colorful floral prints instead of, say, the darker themes that dominated her spring 2014 collection. The fact that the Shiseido lineup was so exclusive is also very appealing to collectors like me, although it would have been nice to see it around the globe so that everyone could purchase it if they wanted.  Then again, I'm not surprised a collection designed by a princess with seemingly little understanding of how regular people live would be accessible only to a few.  I guess you could say I'm a bit conflicted with this one.

What do you think about this collection?  What's your favorite print or item?

We're all mad here: Clé de Peau holiday 2018

Over the past few years I've really been enjoying Clé de Peau's artist collaborations for their holiday collections.  They select artists with very different styles but ones that somehow always do an amazing job representing the brand's vision and aesthetic.  This year the company partnered with Italian surrealist illustrator Daria Petrilli, who, as you will see, is as mysterious as her dreamlike artwork. 

According to this interview with the Shiseido team responsible for the collection, Clé de Peau's makeup director Lucia Pieroni selected an Alice in Wonderland theme, or a "winter fairyland" per the translation of the French "féeries d'hiver".  Consisting of pale pinks and greys contrasting with bold berry and a dash of soft shimmer, the color scheme is meant to evoke a winter tea party in an English garden.  It was packaging designer Kaori Nagata who suggested collaborating with Petrilli and who translated her beautiful illustrations to equally gorgeous boxes and palette cases.  Simply put, the team was "mesmerized by [Petrilli's] talent."  They were also searching for an artist who could elevate a theme usually intended for children and create a grown-up version of Wonderland to match the style (and price tag) of a high-end line.  As Shiseido rep Saiko Kawahara notes, "Brands of low to mid price range create many products that are 'adorable,' but I think that is precisely why it is necessary to add some refinement, such as 'a grown-up joke' or 'spicy playfulness,' when a prestige brand attempts to create an 'adorable' product."  Indeed, while Disney-fied versions of Alice worked well on mid-end brands like Beyond, Paul & Joe and Urban Decay, I don't think they'd be appropriate for Clé de Peau.  And I don't mean that in a snooty way either - that style just wouldn't be a good fit for the brand.

Now let's get to the goodies!  I picked up the eye shadow quad, pressed powder, stick highlighter, and one of the lipsticks.  I think the colors for the makeup itself are lovely, but what really blew me away is the mix of aqua, light pink and fuchsia with hints of coral and deep wine throughout the packaging.




The playing card embossing is a stroke of genius.


I adore all the packaging, but the white rabbit peeking out of the box for the powder highlighter and the woman's rosy cheeks and chic dark lips on the outer case are possibly my favorites out of the collection.




I'm also very fond of this flower lady, as she embodies the talking/singing flower garden Alice encounters.  (That was my favorite scene when I was little!)


In addition to the key, checkerboard and playing card motifs, the names for each product were also carefully chosen to align with the Alice theme.  This lipstick, for example, is called Paint Me (the other is Follow Me), an homage to both painting the queen's roses red and the "eat me/drink me" signs in Lewis Carroll's classic book.  Meanwhile, the eyeshadow quad is named Tea Party, the pressed powder Pink Push Me, and the stick highlighter Light Me.  



The company even came up with an ad featuring a poem for each item.  The animations are looking a little Monty Python to me, but that's probably just because I've been re-watching it on Netflix the past few weeks.  It's still pretty cute.  

The moisturizer is the one piece I did not buy, as I couldn't justify the $535 (!) price tag for just the outer packaging.  Even if the jar itself was decorated I still couldn't have bought it - too rich for my blood.  Still, it's beautiful, and the keyhole cut out, along with the cut-outs on the other boxes, emphasize a connection to the entire Clé de Peau brand.  Says Ayumi Nishimoto, another member of Shiseido's creative team, "Not only does this tie in with the holiday concept ('open the door to the extraordinary'), it is also brilliantly linked to Clé de Peau Beauté’s tagline, 'unlock the power of your radiance.'"  Indeed, "clé" is French for key, so this detail creates complete cohesion across the holiday collection and Clé de Peau line.  Now that's what I call synergy!


Apologies for the lackluster photo, it was the only one I could find of the cutout.

Keyhole cutout

The keys were also used on the skincare sets, none of which I purchased but still covet.  


Finally, there were some very nice gift boxes and bags featuring different images, which were offered with the purchase of any two items from the holiday collection at the Clé de Peau website.  Since I eagerly bought the collection as soon as it became available at Neiman Marcus (so I could use my store card and also get 10% cash back via Ebates), I missed this as well.  I might hunt for one on ebay.  

(images from cledepeau-beaute.com)

As for the worldwide marketing of the collection, both online and in-store advertising were simply dazzling.  The advertising and design team created a truly magical video where Petrilli's illustrations spring to life.  Unlike the ad above, this one features much more sophisticated animations and cutting-edge 360 degree technology so that the viewer feels totally immersed in Wonderland.  Nishimoto and fellow team member Satoko Tomizawa explain:  "As global campaigns are launched in various countries around the world, it is necessary to create something that is highly versatile and universal. This time, we took on a new challenge of making not just a campaign video, but also a 360-degree video that anyone, anywhere, can experience through their smartphones. Viewers can enjoy more of the wonderland that we have created.  While remaining respectful of Daria’s illustrations, we paid special attention to giving the campaign videos a sense of worldliness unique to 3D animation. We asked the production studio Shirogumi, Inc. to produce the CGI for the story of a rabbit jumping through keyholes and traveling through wonderland."  

Additionally, I must say the set up at their Omotesando Hills location in Tokyo was spectacular, rivaling the decor used for Kathe Fraga's breathtaking collection last year.  Tomizawa states that the collection theme allowed the company to show a more whimsical side of the brand and push the boundaries of not only packaging but also store design. "We created a spatial experience, where visitors could enter as the mysterious wonderland as if their bodies had shrunk small. Not only was the Clé de Peau Beauté Store in Omotesando Hills in holiday mode, but entire complex invited visitors to experience wonderland. Large banners hung from ceiling to the floor, blownup packaging made their appearances in the staircase, a mysterious tea party setting along with the 360-degree video was on display. It was the first time that the holiday collection was featured in such a large-scale event. Inspired by the packaging design, we were able to expand on many playful ideas for digital and spatial design. Through this wonderland we were able to show a more imaginative, playful side of the prestige brand."  I would have loved to visit this magical setup!




(images from shiseidogroup.com)

Now that we've covered the collection, let's delve into the world of the highly secretive Daria Petrilli.  Born in 1970 in Rome, she graduated with an MA in Communication and Design at the Università La Sapienza, then moved to London and completed a degree in Experimental Illustration at the London College of Communication, a school within the prestigious University of the Arts London.  Petrilli has been commissioned for magazines (most recently, her work accompanied a rather depressing piece about suicide in Oprah Magazine), children's books and has had several solo exhibitions.  Her illustrations also served as one of the inspirations for fashion label Delpozo's fall 2016 collection.  However, it seems that Petrilli prefers to remain out of the spotlight.  She has no website, Tumblr or Instagram.  The only social media platform she uses is Pinterest, and she uses it to highlight "illustrations made ​​for my personal joy, without bosses, and even publishers ...only for my pleasure."  She has granted only two interviews and her work has been discussed in just two brief articles that I was able to find online, and they're either in Italian or badly translated, so I'm not sure how much of it I'll be able to use.  As we know, relying on Google more often than not results in nonsensical translations, but I will try to decipher everything as best I can.  It's a shame she's not as willing to put herself out there as much as some artists are, because I'm dying to know her thoughts on working with Clé de Peau and her own approach to makeup.  The few photos I was able to find of Petrilli show her seemingly barefaced save for one. 

Anyway, onto her work. I won't pretend that I can explain it or provide any real insight, but here's a brief description. Many of Petrilli's illustrations depict ethereal, brooding women occupying dreamlike landscapes and interiors, often with animals.  As with other Surrealist imagery, the scenes are odd and even a little unsettling at times.  Most of the women appear melancholy and isolated; they seem to be alone even when other figures are included.  Perhaps one is meant to be the real self and other figures/animals are a projection of her innermost thoughts and feelings, or in true Surrealist style, a representation of the unconscious mind.  These women contrast with those in the Clé de Peau collection, who seem to be peacefully relaxing within the magical realm of Wonderland.



While she started out painting, admiring the Renaissance frescoes of her native Rome and using the techniques of the Old Masters, Petrilli found that digital illustration best suited her interest in creating surreal images. She describes how her artistic journey and search for her personal style was shaped by her upbringing in Rome as well as the birth of her daughter:  "Ever since I was a child I lost myself in the images of illustrated books and I was completely fascinated...Taking a course of classical studies and helped by the fact that I live in a city, Rome, immersed in antiquities and ancient splendor I have always had a passion for the history of art, with a predilection for certain representation and historical periods including one on all the surrealism...I was helped by the birth of my daughter, to keep up with her or put aside my commercial work, and I found myself spending a lot of time alone me and my computer. Prior to that I drew and painted especially with the classical techniques especially acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencils, and I used the digital as a compendium...I began to realize that I could convey in a fast and effective manner the ideas that came to me all the time. And I began to compose images like this for my simple pleasure of them without a purpose or aim at something...Digital manipulation was the element that allowed me to give it life, mixing, overlapping and painting my creations and have become increasingly personal."  In looking at her work, it's hard to believe these images are created digitally.  I could easily mistake them for paintings given how seamlessly the individual elements, strange though they might be, are combined.  When I think of digital art my mind immediately jumps to collages.  Not that there's anything wrong with that - I love me a good collage - but I imagine them to resemble cutouts jumbled together rather than the smoothness of paintings.  In the illustration below, for example, I feel as though I can practically see brushstrokes on the fish, and the transparency of the women's fingers also appear to have been rendered in paint.

Daria Petrilli - fish-hat

Petrilli is particularly enamored by birds because "their eyes fascinate me for that sense of primordial concern emanating", or translated another way, "To me they communicate a sense of primordial restlessness.”   Whatever the meaning of that may be, here are some of my favorite avian-themed works by the artist.


Daria Petrilli

Daria Petrilli - a dream-in-china


Stylistically, I'm seeing many different artistic influences in Petrilli's work.  Her appreciation for the Renaissance art she grew up with is exemplified in a variety of ways, such as the clothing her characters wear, use of perspective and generally muted background colors.   This one in particular reminds me of two Renaissance paintings:  da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (both the woman's hairstyle and the position of her hands holding the bird look similar) and Piero della Francesca's Montefeltro Altarpiece, which has a pendant egg suspended in the background.  (Obviously there are entire books on symbolism in Renaissance and Surrealist art so attempting to go into more detail on my humble little blog would be a fruitless effort, but you can start with these two if you're so inclined.  There's also a veritable goldmine of books on women and surrealism, which are relevant given Petrilli's focus on portraying women.)

(images from pinterest)

(image from wikipedia.org)

(image from pinacotecabrera.org)

Other surrealist artists may have influenced Petrilli.  In Hypnosis Double, the way the women are posed call to mind Frida Kahlo's Two Fridas.  And while the deer seem unharmed, perhaps they're a nod to The Wounded Deer.

Daria Petrilli

(image from fridakahlo.org)

I'm also seeing a resemblance between Petrilli's work and that of contemporary Surrealist Christian Schloe.  As a matter of fact, doing an image search I thought some of his works were Petrilli's.  


(images from facebook)

Despite these similarities, I'm not implying Petrilli's work is in any way derivative.  Her content and style are unique and deeply personal; the way in which she weaves together a variety of art history styles and techniques breathes new life into digital illustration and reflects her own individual artistic upbringing and training.  Another reason I think Clé de Peau made an excellent decision to commission her for an Alice in Wonderland inspired collection is that Petrilli has explored it before.  Below is Alice's Dream, along with other works that have the same motifs as the Clé de Peau collection: flamingos, keys, butterflies, flower-women hybrids, and a checker-printed floor.  Again, I'm sure there are hidden meanings in these but that's just way too much ground to cover here.


Daria Petrilli - flamingo




(images from pinterest)

In conclusion, I'm massively impressed with both Petrilli's work and the Clé de Peau collection.  This year the company took a chance by exploring a more whimsical theme and succeeded thanks to Petrilli's imagery, which is a far more refined and elegant representation of Alice in Wonderland than any other makeup collection I've seen.  As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely adore the cutesy treatment used by other brands since it reminds me of my childhood, but this was a nice change of pace and obviously suits a luxury brand like Clé de Peau much better. I just wish I could have heard a little more from Petrilli's perspective about working on the collection.

What do you think?  What's your favorite illustration out of these?

Peace and longevity from Sulwhasoo

My heart skipped a beat when I spotted what Sulwhasoo had up their sleeve for this year's ShineClassic compacts. Every year the company collaborates with an artist who represents an aspect of Korean artisan culture to create a design for two compacts, a tradition Sulwhasoo began in 2003.  Master craftswoman Hong Jeong Sil was selected to produce the ShineClassic compacts for the 2018 holiday season.  We'll delve more into the traditional metal inlay technique known as ipsa that Hong used to create these stunning pieces, but first, let's take a look at them in all their glory.  Unlike last year's release (another that I never got around to writing about, sigh), this year I was so smitten with the design I got both compacts, steep price tag be damned.  I really try to only buy one since the designs are the same, just with different color schemes, but I simply couldn't resist these!

Even the boxes are works of art inside and out. 

Sulwhasoo 2018 ShineClassic compact



So luxurious!


The inside of the lids are etched in a metallic finish depicting a charming nature scene with trees, waterfalls, birds, deer and even a turtle.  According to the Sulwhasoo website, these "symbolize longevity and great fortune, carry the message 'One can achieve his or her purposes and lead a healthy, peaceful life.'"  As it turns out, the inclusion of these motifs is not accidental.  Like many Korean artists, Hong is inspired by a traditional group of ten symbols of longevity collectively known as Ship-jangsaeng:  Sun, mountains, water, cranes, turtles, pine trees, bamboo, mushrooms, deer and clouds. I thought the whole scene was merely cute and whimsical and that Hong just personally found these images enjoyable - I had no idea how culturally significant these motifs are.



The intricacy of the compacts themselves is exquisite.



Of course, I managed to nick the powder on this one...I must learn to control my excitement when handling Museum objects.




Here's some of the pamphlet that tells a little bit about the ipsa tradition.





So what exactly is ipsa?  I'm afraid I can't go into too much detail since I completely didn't see this entire book on it until it was too late, but hopefully what I was able to gather online will suffice for now.  (I plan on ordering the book and updating this post accordingly, if I remember.)  Basically ipsa is the art of inlaying thin, delicate strands of silver, copper or gold onto a metal surface.  It's similar to damascene and other metal inlay techniques found around the globe, but two elements make ipsa uniquely Korean:  the focus on graceful lines and the preference for silver over other metals.  This very helpful article from Koreana magazine explains the history and general style of ipsa.  "During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), it was developed into a brilliant art form, representing the epitome of metal craft.  Still, Korean metal inlay is unique for its emphasis on the 'art of lines.' The designs made with lines of a consistent width are simple yet artistic, basic yet whimsical. Designs expressing wishes for good fortune and prosperity, health and longevity, abundance and fertility, or images of the ten symbols of longevity (including birds and flowers, grass and insects, and landscape scenes with ducks in a stream under weeping willows), were crafted onto incense burners, braziers, tobacco cases, clasps, and stationery items, which were always kept close at hand and appreciated for their refined appearance...Though gold was rarer, silver was the preferred choice...Silver is rather plain by itself but radiates brilliance when combined with other materials. It has a subtle elegance that endures over time, rather than something fancy that can quickly fade. These qualities of silver appeal to the inherent nature of the Korean people, which is why silver was most commonly used for metal inlay work."  Hong's work for the Sulwhasoo compacts definitely represents the traditional ipsa style through the "basic yet whimsical" lines and symbols of longevity. 


Like the other holiday collabs we've seen so far, ipsa requires precision and painstaking labor.  The patterns must be carefully drawn out on the surface before the inlay is applied.  Each strand of metal, some as thin as .25 millimeters, must be formed by hand and then attached to the surface individually. This means even a very simple line takes hours.  Over 30 types of tools are used - everything from pliers and hammers to tweezers and chisels.  As Hong says, it's essentially "embroidery with metal."  Sulwhasoo provided a few snapshots of the process, but I would have loved to see a video showing Hong creating the original design.


Additionally, there are two main types of ipsa.  I'll let Koreana take over again:  "The first, called kkium-ipsa, involves incising a decorative design onto the surface of a metal object using a burin, and inlaying the threads of silver into the incisions. This technique was widely used during the Goryeo Dynasty. Because Goryeo had adopted Buddhism as its official religion and ideology, the metalworks that were produced primarily included bronze Buddhist implements, such as incense burners, incense cases, and kundikas. During the subsequent Joseon Dynasty, Buddhism was suppressed and supplanted by Confucianism. The production of bronze Buddhist implements thus diminished, while large quantities of ironware items were supplied to the royal palace and the homes of the elite class. Since the major material for metalworks was now iron instead of bronze, it was necessary for the metal inlay techniques to be adjusted accordingly.  This led to a second technique, jjoum-ipsa, in which the entire surface of a metal item is uniformly incised and then silver thread hammered into the incisions. This is the technique that Hong learned and applies in her works today. The surface has to be engraved four times, each time in a different direction, which calls for painstaking patience and perseverance."  There was only one design for Sulwhasoo intended for a small surface so it may not have taken that long, but the shapes clearly require a lifetime of skill.  I might be able to inlay a single pre-made strand of silver onto a surface in a straight line, but could I form many strands into deer and trees?  No way!

Production_process(images from sulwhasoo.com)

In addition to the Sulwhasoo compacts, another impressive example of the labor involved to produce an ipsa piece is this vase by Hong.  I can't even imagine how long it took, since it appears to use three different kinds of metal of varying lengths to form a pattern.  There must be hundreds of individual strands.


I also wanted to share this image from Hong's protege, who is taking ipsa in a very futuristic direction by creating a QR code that can be scanned and connected online.  The code is made with very thin strands of silver inlaid on an iron plate.  Again, each strand is handmade and applied individually.  It must take hours to get them to perfectly line up; otherwise, I suspect the code might not work.

(image from ipsajangproject.tumblr.com)

The final element of the ipsa technique is making a black background (historically from burnt pine soot) or leaving it unfinished.  "Those parts of the surface not inlaid with silver thread are colored black, using traditional techniques, or left unfinished to emphasize the natural color and texture of the metal. The black background surface contrasts with the sheen of the silver thread and highlights its brilliance. In the past, the soot of burnt pine was mixed with vegetable oil to make the black coloring, but these days powdered graphite is used. After applying the black coloring, the surface is rubbed with vegetable oil and then polished to a lustrous finish."  I'm not sure how the background for the original design of the gold ShineClassic compact was created, but it's truly striking.  I am a bit puzzled as to why the silver toned compact is on a white background, however.

As did Yang Huazhen and Zhang Xiaodong, a Qiang embroiderer and kite maker, respectively, who collaborated with Shu Uemura, Hong answered the call of reviving a dying cultural tradition and more or less single-handedly brought it back from the verge of extinction. Born in 1947, she graduated in 1969 from Seoul Women's University with a degree in crafts, followed by a graduate degree at Seoul National University in 1971.  While studying there, she came across an old ipsa piece in an antiques district and it was "love at first sight":  "'The silver thread embroidery of the old metal artifact seemed to reveal the purity of the artist's heart and spirit. I was spellbound by the beauty and started to ask around about learning metal inlay. But I was surprised to find that it was a disappearing art. In a book, Human Cultural Treasures, that I had come across by chance, it said that 'traditional metal inlay is no longer practiced,' which bothered me so much I couldn't sleep that night.'"  Hong was struck by the fact that there were so few artisans left, and took it upon herself to learn ipsa in order to preserve Korea's cultural history. "It was almost like the book was assigning me a mission," she says.  After five years of searching, she found one of the few remaining ipsa artists, Lee Hak-eung, who took her on as an apprentice.  Even though Lee was nearing 80 years old and hadn't actively practiced ipsa in over 10 years, he agreed to be Hong's instructor.  At first he was reluctant to teach her ("Why do you want to learn this? It is a difficult road paved with poverty," he told her) but knowing that ipsa was nearly wiped out, coupled with Hong's dedication and talent, eventually he relented.  There was a steep learning curve, as Hong soon found out.  "The hardest part about learning everything was the lack of ‘curriculum,’ so to speak, because there was so little information available about ipsa at the time. Nobody had really researched it because hardly anyone even knew about it.  It had basically been abandoned," she says.

(image from magazine.seoulselection.com)

Under Lee's tutelage, Hong quickly realized that ipsa needed to be officially recognized by the Korean government in order to not disappear completely.  For her, getting ipsa on the government's radar, along with educating a new generation about it, were just as important as learning its technique in terms of preservation.  “If people don’t know about it, then it won’t stay alive.  You can’t keep something alive simply by being very good at it, because then it ends with you. You have to let people know; you have to show them."  Hong submitted a comprehensive report documenting every ipsa piece she could find, and because of this effort, the craft was registered as an "important intangible cultural property" in 1983.  Hong went on to establish her own school, the Gilgeum Handicraft Research Institute, and in 1996 she was awarded the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea No. 78, making her the official holder of ipsa (Lee was the previous holder and had passed away in 1988).  Making ipsa modern was also an important lesson.  "I learned that metal inlay could not be done if the hands did not follow the heart. I also realized that although I was learning a traditional art I would have to develop it to fit modern times," Hong says.  While the Sulwhasoo compacts depict fairly traditional Korea motifs, Hong's other work expresses a more modern sensibility.  Take, for example, this sculptural paperweight/brush rest from 1980 that resembles a post-modern mountain range.

Hong Jeong Sil, paperweight, 1980
(image from ganoskin.com)

And the painterly flourishes on this vase from 2013 merge a classic silhouette with 21st century abstraction.  As Hong notes, "Tradition and modernity, past and present, aren’t separated by some boundary like some people think. They are inevitably linked.  The past isn’t over; it illuminates the present and helps reveal the future."

Hong Jeong Sil - Afterglow  2013
(image from constancychange.kr)

While Hong has made a career out of rescuing ipsa, she doesn't think Korea's modernization necessarily caused it to be almost completely erased from history.  In fact, she believes the modern era helped Korea reflect on its cultural heritage. Explains Hong, “Some people despair at the disposal of traditional culture that occurred throughout Korea’s often rushed modernization, but I think it couldn’t have been any other way. Only now can we afford to look back and reflect on what can be learned from our past, on what can be salvaged. Only now do we have the economic status that affords us the ability to value our traditional culture...Korea’s culture and traditional arts are getting more attention these days, not because they’ve gotten better or more beautiful – they’ve always been beautiful – but because people’s perceptions have changed.  Korea’s original sense of beauty, something only we can intuitively know, is finally getting some attention."  I'd add that it's far easier to connect with aspiring artisans and reach the public at large nowadays. While educating new generations via the usual methods (schools, museums, etc.) is critical, a beauty collaboration is a wonderful way of bringing people's attention to an otherwise little-known art form and in this way, helps preserve it. 

In conclusion, I thought Hong's work translated beautifully to the compacts.  While perhaps not as intricate as the original ipsa design they're based on, the engraving captures the essence of the technique and ipsa's overall style.  Ipsa is heavily focused on lines, and the beauty and grace of Hong's shapes remained intact on the compacts (i.e. they didn't get out of proportion or distorted).  Elaborate metal compacts such as Sulwshasoo's ShineClassics are obviously the perfect vehicle to showcase a historical metal inlay technique.  And as with all artist collabs, I'm happy to have learned about such a historic part of Korea's culture, and I appreciate people like Hong keeping it alive.  Hong is equally pleased to share her work: "I want to make Korean-style beauty known to the world. I want people to exclaim: 'So this is what Korea is about. This is the beauty of Korean silver inlay.'"  Mission accomplished!

What do you think of these?  Have you ever heard of ipsa? 

The gift of beauty: Shiseido x Ribbonesia


Yet again I find myself completely entranced by another artist collab this holiday season.  For their 2018 holiday collection, Shiseido teamed up with Japanese artist collective Ribbonesia.  Like last year's partnership with Sisyu, the product lineup is fairly small, consisting of two cushion compacts, puff, lipstick set and Shiseido's famous Ultimune serum.  I skipped the lipstick since the packaging design wasn't as interesting as the cushions and the serum since I try to avoid spending precious Museum dollars on skincare rather than makeup.  The chosen theme for the collaboration was "beauty is a gift", and according to this site, "[uses] satin to express the bud of life in nature and the red string of fate that connects people." Mmmkay. Unfortunately I couldn't really dig up much more information on how the collab came about or the particular designs on the makeup.  I will say that they are beyond festive.  Folding, looping, swirling shiny ribbons that form bows, flowers and even birds evoke a joyous holiday complete with beautifully wrapped presents.  The color scheme is also seasonally appropriate:  red and gold with hints of green, blue and pink are reminiscent of the multicolored strands of lights adorning a Christmas tree.





So who is Ribbonesia?  The group consists of artist Baku Maeda and creative director Toru Yoshikawa.  Maeda, who originally started out as an illustrator, began experimenting with ribbon designs in 2008.  Given their success, in 2010 he and Yoshikawa officially established Ribbonesia.  Maeda has a lifelong fascination with origami, so manipulating ribbon to make elaborate shapes came naturally.  (In fact, given Maeda's focus on animals, his designs remind me a bit of origami artist Hoang Tien Quyet, who I featured in this Guerlain post.)  Maybe it's because the Jen Stark/Smashbox collab is still fresh in my head, but elements of Ribbonesia's work sound similar: specifically, taking a fairly simple, flat material and creating very intricate and three-dimensional pieces entirely by hand.   Says Maeda, "Wrapping ribbons are everywhere, but they are purely decorative: familiar but unessential. We wanted to put it to use. It’s like three-dimensional painting: each twist is a brushstroke. The reflectiveness of ribbon and the way it reacts to light gives it a new face and new impressions at different angles, creating this wonderful energy. Of course, it can be tricky to use – you can’t make any shape you want. You have to work with the physics of the fabric, because it has its own tension and character. But that’s what makes it so interesting...growing up in Japan, I was always playing with paper and making origami. I think that has influenced the way I use my hands. I like tactile art: translating a flat illustration into a 3D object and forming flat ribbon into something with body."  I can only imagine how long each piece takes; it doesn't sound like Maeda uses any kind of advanced technology or shortcuts to make the shapes he does.  And like Stark's work, each piece shifts as viewers walk around it, albeit in different ways.

(image from spoon-tamago.com)

I have to point out that it takes considerable skill to be able to go from 2D to 3D.  One of the menial tasks I'm required to perform on occasion at my miserable job is assembling bankers' boxes.  It usually takes me about 20 minutes and several tries before I get it right.  Needless to say, I'm always amazed by how artists can bend and fold various materials to create recognizable forms, and beautiful ones at that.


Another similarity between Ribbonesia and Jen Stark is the focus on the complexity of natural forms and making it more visible.  While Maeda's work is more literal and doesn't delve as deeply into mathematical concepts, the two artists share a love of bringing overlooked natural phenomena to the surface.  "I look to nature for inspiration – animals, flowers, the seas and ocean. The movement of ribbon feels very organic, and the natural world is full of wonders. A lot of our art highlights the little things that you know are there but didn’t notice before," explains Maeda.   In addition to Ribbonesia, Maeda's other work (see his "leaf beasts" and "bit leaves" series) demonstrates his passion for emphasizing the often-missed parts of nature and transforming the mundane into something new and different.  “I do not consider myself a designer but as someone trying to create something that has never been seen before."

There were so many breathtaking designs in Ribbonesia's oeuvre that I had a significant amount of trouble narrowing down and organizing the images I wanted to feature in this post.  In the end I decided to go in rough chronological order, as I think it shows the evolution of Ribbonesia's work.  These whimsical animal brooches are fairly early on in Ribbonesia's history, around 2011 or so.  Once again, the idea of taking some ribbon and making a sculpture out of it blows my mind.  In addition to any sort of box, I can't fold a nice gift bow to save my life - hell, I can barely tie my shoes, and you can see my sad attempt at styling ribbon in my photos above - so while these are less intricate than Maeda's future creations, I'm still in awe.  Yes, these are the "simple" designs.  This particular image comes from a book of Ribbonesia's early work.  If only I had known about it before writing this post, I would have bought it since books are my favorite background for blog photos.  (The Ribbonesia scarf I obtained is pretty sweet though - the story of how I managed to get that will be in a later post.)

(image from pinterest)

(images from ifitshipitshere.com)

Here they are in action.  I'd love a mermaid with scales made of different colored ribbon.  Or maybe even a little lipstick!

(image from edgyjapan.jp)

As you can see, Ribbonesia began producing more complex designs.  I'm particularly fond of these Chinese zodiac critters. 


By 2013 Ribbonesia had reached new heights, literally and figuratively, with a series of incredibly elaborate headdresses.  I'm struck by the various patterns formed by intertwining different ribbon colors, such as the ears of the goat (?) on the left and the middle section of the piece on the right. 


In 2015 Ribbonesia launched a forest-themed exhibition.  It was an absolutely magical wonderland that depicted a variety of flora and fauna in all sizes and colors. 


I appreciate the strands of ribbons hanging down as garlands, as they heighten the energy and dynamism of the sculptures.  In their natural, basic state, they also serve as a reminder of how a simple material can be transformed into something magnificent.





A year later, Ribbonesia created a series called Eternal Cosmos.  When combined with titles like "Gift from God", the works' flowers and animals appear slightly less playful and perhaps linked to the spiritual realm.  This connection is an avenue Ribbonesia seeks to explore: "Ribbonesia focuses on natural shapes because we see an essential beauty in every regularity and complexity within the natural world, its necessity, and how it functions as a whole.  Normally beauty appears in nature as the ‘result’ of natural habitats being reborn over and over again. Ribbon forms are also the ‘result’ of elastic and tensile forces ‘working with each other’. This unexpected beauty is almost a ‘property of the gods’. Ribbonesia experiences this encounter between beauty and a universal nature, out into the cosmos, and beyond."


While the floral inspired piece above is beautiful, it's the sea creatures that captured my heart.  Crabs, squid, jellyfish and an octopus swim alongside sand dollars, shells and even coral.  These perfectly rendered seascapes are a testament to Maeda's incredible talent and creativity. 


(images from ribbonesia.com)

I know I'm repeating myself but I could sit there with a pile of ribbon for a hundred years and never figure out how to make anything that would remotely resemble an animal, let alone one with this kind of detail - look at the suckers!


Last year Ribbonesia continued showcasing their work at an exhibition in Tokyo entitled Murmur.  I'm not exactly sure what this one was about, but the works are stunning.


Ribbonesia-murmur-ribbon-art-japan-9(images from japantrends.com)

Naturally, Ribbonesia caught the attention of various companies eager to collaborate.  In 2014 Ribbonesia was charged with designing the windows and interior spaces for Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford. 




This endeavor was followed up in 2017 with a holiday display for the Shibuya location of Japanese department store Seibu.

Seibu-shibuya-201(image from sogo-seibu.jp)

Earlier this year, Ribbonesia lent their talents to fashion label Comme des Garcons with a trio of t-shirts.

Ribbonesia-comme-des-garcons(images from @ribbonesia)

In light of these collaborations, it's no surprise Shiseido wanted to work with Ribbonesia.  While I liked the collection and obviously adore Ribbonesia's work, I'm not entirely sure it's the best fit for makeup or clothing.  Given the emphasis on three-dimensional contours, I feel that the magic of these ribbon sculptures is a bit diminished when applied to a 2d surface.  I'm not sure how a makeup collection could have been designed to maintain the texture and shapes of intricately folded ribbon, but seeing the designs on a flat cushion compact doesn't have quite the same impact as viewing a sculpture.  Maybe they could have gone the MAC Shiny Pretty Things route and embossed a bow or two onto a highlighter or blush to have some semblance of a 3d effect, or even somehow have ribbons affixed to the outer cases.  Having said that, I always appreciate an artist collab, especially when it's an artist I'm not familiar with, as it introduces me to a whole new body of work.  In this case I was delighted to learn that such a thing as ribbon art exists.  And the colors and designs are perfect for the holiday season. I just wish I had more information about how the collection came to be and if the designs were created by Ribbonesia especially for Shiseido.

What do you think of Ribbonesia and the collection?  Are you good at wrapping gifts?

Curator's Corner, November 2018

CC logoHoliday madness is in full swing around the Museum but before I get on with the rest of the collections, here are November's links.

- Yay, CoverGirl!  Now we just need every other company to get on board.

- I was fortunate enough to visit both Armani's and YSL's NYC pop-up shops around this time last year, so this season I really wish I could get to Chanel's.

- I'm siding with Allure on this new makeup line for kids.  It's not that I don't think children shouldn't enjoy makeup - I just bought some as a Christmas present for my 9 year-old niece (per her request) - but as the article notes, I'm uncomfortable with the marketing and bigger issues that go along with the makeup itself.  The fact that it even has "pretty" in the name is troubling.

- There were lots of "big picture" articles on beauty this month, from Temptalia's Christine pondering the ever-quickening pace of new beauty releases to Nylon's state of the industry in the U.S. Along those lines, while we're making slow progress towards racial inclusivity, we still have a long way to go.

- Glamour has more on the "death" of mascara.  I can honestly say I don't think this product will ever go away unless we genetically engineer everyone to have naturally long, full, dark lashes.  Not everyone has the money and time for extensions or Latisse.  (I use the latter and still feel the need for mascara, as another delightful side effect of aging is that the tips of my lashes aren't as dark as they were.)

- "It’s clear that some Korean women weren’t doing a double-cleanse simply because they wanted to, and that now they’re fighting back."  The Cut has an interesting piece on Escape the Corset, a Korean backlash against ridiculous beauty standards.

Why should your eyes, cheeks and lips have all the fun?  Let your teeth in on some color play.  

The random:

- We have official premiere dates for two of my favorite shows, which is helping me cope with the thought of enduring the cold dark winter days.

- This is a really good idea and I'm wondering how I could implement something similar for the Museum.

- I wasn't the only one who had a big birthday in November.  One of my idols celebrated her 50th!  Her latest venture is pretty amazing (of course) so make sure to check it out. 

How are you?  Are you ready for the holidays?