Welcome to the 2019 edition of Curator's Picks and Pans! It's been a bad year for me and the Museum, but at least there was some great makeup! And some not so great too but again, they were a welcome distraction.
First up are my picks, i.e. the items with what I thought had the best concepts and design.
1. Mikimoto holiday 2019 collection: I haven't even written about this one yet - I hope to get a post up early in the new year - but as with last year's holiday collection as soon as I laid eyes on it I ordered without batting an eye. This year Mikimoto partnered with artist/illustrator Brecht Evens, who created even more mermaid-laden and fantastical underwater scenes than last year's collection.
2. Paul and Joe x Doraemon: I must admit I was totally unfamiliar with Doraemon, a wildly popular manga character from Japan, when I first heard about this collection. It was a perfect fit for Paul & Joe given the founder's love of cats as well as her penchant for quirky, playful prints and collaborations (see the 2016 Warner Bros. collaboration.) I hope to write about it sometime in 2020.
3. Chanel Eiffel Tower Illluminating Powder: I don't have much to say about this other than it was released in honor of the opening of Chanel's first beauty-only boutique in Paris. The embossing was so lovely and intricate, and the exclusivity made it impossible for me to resist - it was only available at Chanel boutiques in France and and the French website (I acquired it through ebay). Plus it's a fabulous piece to have if I ever want to revisit the Museum's fall 2015 Paris/French-themed exhibition.
As the Museum continues to expand its vintage holdings, for the first time I'm including my top vintage acquisitions.
1. Stila paint cans: The picture shows the Museum's entire collection since I was too lazy to weed out exactly which ones I got this year, but back in February I bought 20 rare vintage (okay, maybe not quite vintage yet but very close) paint cans on ebay from a former collector who didn't have room. I was sad for her but glad I could give them a good home. Plus they really added something extra to the Stila girl exhibition.
2. Volupté Petite Boudoir: among my many weaknesses are novelty compacts and palettes. I had been coveting this adorable vanity-shaped compact for ages, so when I saw one in excellent condition at a great price I pounced. For photography purposes (and because I love miniatures) I purchased some mini makeup items as accessories.
Here's an ad for it from one of my collector's guides, in case you're curious.
3. Yardley Glimmerick eyeshadow set: Another I haven't gotten around to sharing, but I was so pleased to get this one in fantastic shape and still with with the insert.
And now for the more lackluster releases this year.
1. Madonna by Too-Faced: A hugely successful brand collaborating with a pop culture icon seems like a surefire hit, but dear lord was this unimaginative. I'm truly shocked at how boring this was. Between the flamboyance of Jerrod Blandino and Madge's propensity to push boundaries, I expected way more not just in packaging but the entire concept.
2. Revlon x Mrs. Maisel: Another squandered opportunity, and much like the Estée Lauder Mad Men collaborations, a good idea but poor execution. You would think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would be a goldmine for inspiration. Midge worked at the Revlon makeup counter so the brand makes sense, but why the packaging didn't get a fabulous retro/vintage treatment I'll never know.
3. Guerlain Rouge G Wild Glam case: Maybe it's sour grapes because I can't afford it, but I wasn't a fan of this one. It's a cool design, but not $290 cool! I honestly have no idea what Guerlain was thinking.
If I'm going to pay 300 bones for a lipstick case (and I've done it before, embarrassingly enough) it better at least have some sort of handmade element or utilize precious materials. As far as I can tell, neither of those things came into play here. It's just plain old rhinestones (not even Swarovski - I mean COME ON) and a silver-toned case, not real silver plating. And it wasn't handmade by a jeweler, just designed by one. It does say the rhinestones were "hand-set", but I'm skeptical. Plus this other rhinestone-encrusted case is within a normal price range, costing a mere $36. Finally, I'm confused by the snake motif, as it doesn't have any significance for Guerlain that I'm aware of. It felt like a very uninspired piece overall.
And those are some makeup highlights and lowlights of 2019. (I was going to do picks and pans for the past decade but immediately got overwhelmed, so I'm keeping it simple.) What do you think of these choices? Please visit the archives and let me know!
Clé de Peau continues their streak of beautiful and inspired holiday collections. This year's theme, Kimono Dream, is an homage to two venerable Japanese art forms: the kimono and bijin-ga ("pictures of beautiful women"). Obviously a deep dive into the history of both of these is way beyond this blog post, but as usual I'll provide a condensed version. First, let's take a look at the collection itself.
Each piece is packaged in a sturdy paper sleeve. Remove the sleeve, and the package opens to reveal a bijin-ga painting featuring a woman wearing a kimono. The intricate folding is reminiscent of how the traditional kimono is held in place with an obi, the decorative sash worn around the waist, as well as tatou, the folded paper used to wrap and store silk kimonos to protect them from humidity. The patterns on the sleeves are inspired by obi patterns as well. The unfolding aspect of the packaging is gorgeous and highlights traditional Japanese art, but it's also perfect for the theme Clé de Peau wanted to express, which was revealing women's inner beauty. Each painting represents one of four traits: passion, strength, charm and gentleness.
It's a bit contrived, but I appreciate that Clé de Peau took the time to align the products with the traits they wanted to convey and write little descriptions for each. Here's the one for the lipsticks, which symbolize passion. "Intense. Dynamic. Instantly revealing the passion within. Represented by plum, and evergreens pine and bamboo, against bright red silk. Despite your elegant façade, the force of your passion is unmistakable. A signal of powerful emotion that can’t be concealed."
The eyeshadow quad was my favorite piece - I loved the striking black kimono shown on the woman contrasted with the delicate embossing on the shadows. "Strong, essential, with a flash of feminine red. Peonies and daffodils bloom in the snow, showing determination and vitality. A woman at one with her inner strength. Noble, dignified, the plum tree signifies resilience. You look outward at the world, through confident eyes."
Next is the face powder, signifying charm. "Evoking prettiness and innocence. Symbolized by the peacefulness of wisteria and chrysanthemum against soft salmon-pink. Inspired by the simplicity of flowers, you rest sweetly in softness."
Finally we have the face oil, which embodies gentleness. "Your open, unbounded heart. Fresh blue silk accented with vermillion and soft pink. The serenity of a goldfish in water. Cooling, refreshing, harmonious. Surrounded by gentleness, you are wholly embraced."
There was also a matte liquid lip color, but that didn't seem to be included in the four traits. Nevertheless it is stunning and the packaging was different than the others so I had to include it!
I couldn't resist sharing the embossing on the outer boxes. Such a nice little touch.
Now here's where the real history and collaborations come in. First up is the kimono Clé de Peau commissioned exclusively for the holiday collection. Fortunately for me (less work, haha!) the company did a fantastic job explaining the partnership and kimono-making process. "The kimono commissioned by Clé de Peau Beauté, created in collaboration with Tachibana, an embroidery and dyeing studio in Kyoto that plays a role in preserving kimono culture.1 Crafted using a valuable dyeing technique called Surigata-Yuzen, which uses dozens of stencils to dye different patterns, layering one color over another. Since Tachibana’s foundation in 1947, its colorful works have been captivating kimono fans. Founder Zenzo Sodesaki (born in 1911) learned the basics of making kimono at Chiso, a traditional Japanese textile producer and one of the oldest yuzen coloring companies in Kyoto. Current representative Yohei Kawai is the third generation, following Zenzo Sodesaki and second generation president, Kenichi Kawai." The red and pink colors were chosen specifically to match Clé de Peau's two holiday lipstick shades.
After the pattern is determined and sketched, it's time to stencil. The Clé de Peau kimono used a particular technique called Surigata-Yuzen. I'll let Clé de Peau describe the process in a nutshell. "The Surigata-Yuzen method uses dozens of stencils to dye patterns onto kimono silk, layering one color over another to produce a gradation. Every gradation is done by hand, adding another layer to the painstaking art of the kimono...For each color, dyeing is repeated in different tones, the layers achieving a complex and extraordinary beauty." A whopping 34 stencils were used for Clé de Peau's kimono.
Tachibana's bowtie website provided a little more insight into the process. "Dedicated professionals hand-carve patterns to create the stencils, which were at one time made simply of layered paper but are now mixed with resin to give them strength. Hoshi-awase, the positioning of the stencils, is one of the most important parts of the dyeing process. All of the stencils in a given pattern have small holes called hoshi. By aligning the hoshi of each stencil at the exact same place, dozens of stencils can be positioned on the fabric with great accuracy. Senshoku is the process of dyeing a pattern on fabric using brushes with colors. Various-sized brushes are used according to the size of a pattern. Once part of the fabric is dyed, a stencil is moved to the next place on the fabric. Stencils are accurately aligned using the hoshi holes. Pattern dyeing is followed by a process called noribuse, in which the whole pattern is covered with rice glue before dyeing with ground colors."
Next, the entire kimono was hand-dyed with a brush via a process called Hikizome. Hikizome is used not just for kimonos but can be applied to all kinds of textiles - pillows, curtains, towels, etc. I believe this is true for yuzen as well, but once again I'm not certain.
The last step is to wait for the dye to dry in its own good time. According to Clé de Peau, "To make a kimono is to live by the laws of nature. So as not to alter the natural drying process, temperature condition is maintained the same throughout the year. The fate of the color finish is in the hands of nature, as the outcome is never the same." This aspect of the process fascinates me, especially for the Clé de Peau collection. The company wanted very specific colors that perfectly matched their two lipstick shades, so given that the drying is left to nature, how could they know for sure the color would turn out the way they wanted?
Obviously it doesn't really matter, but it's interesting to consider that no one can predict the exact color. That makes the control freak in me rather anxious, but I can also appreciate the respect for nature. While I enjoyed reading about the kimono production process, I would have liked to see a little guide on how to fold and secure a kimono and how the obi fits in, as this aspect of the kimono was emphasized in the collection's packaging. Oh well.
Now let's take a look at the amazing paintings by Ayana Otake, which graced the interiors of the packaging. Again, I didn't have to do much digging to get some information about Otake, for Clé de Peau also provided a brief bio. "Born in Saitama in 1981, Otake-san grew up surrounded by traditional culture and kimono. In 2007, she graduated in the Japanese Painting from the Department of Painting at Tokyo University of the Arts. She has produced works for galleries and department stores in Tokyo, and also practices bookbinding and package design." I would have liked to interview Otake to hear more about the Clé de Peau collaboration - I'm always curious to know how companies and artists find each other - but looking at Otake's other work as well as finding out a little about the tradition of bijin-ga will have to suffice.
Otake specializes in a modern version of bijin-ga. "Ga" means "picture" and "bijin" means "beautiful person", but is nearly always translated to "beautiful woman". Like kimonos, bijin-ga has an incredibly rich and long history. Part of me feels guilty for reducing it to a few paragraphs, but mostly I feel that since I'm not a Japanese art expert, I need to reign it in.
The genre of bijin-ga originated in the late 17th century and was popularized towards the end of the 18th century via ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). The women depicted at the outset were prostitutes, but over time bijin-ga expanded to include women from all walks of life. This website hosted by the Atsumi International Foundation explains the early origins of bijin-ga. "[W]ith the changes in society related to the rise of the merchant class, there was a new interest in depicting daily activities and pleasures of contemporary life. Popular entertainments were used for subject matter in paintings and then an interest developed in the beauty of personal appearance and form of women, including their clothing. Women of the brothels and pleasure quarters were predominately represented, and bijinga became a principal genre of the new *ukiyo-e 浮世絵. Single female figure portraits developed in the Kanbun 寛文 era (1661-73) with the Kanbun beauty *kanbunbijin 寛文美人. Typically, a yuujo 遊女 (courtesan or licensed prostitute) in a standing position was depicted in the bijinga of early ukiyo-e. Bijinga gradually broadened to include tea shop waitresses, the daughters and wives of tradesmen, etc. Nishikawa Sukenobu 西川祐信 (1671-1751) and Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 (1725-70) produced pictures of women of various social classes, in addition to courtesans."2
In addition to portraying a variety of women, bijin-ga gradually expanded in the late 19th century to emphasize a woman's inner beauty as well as outer. "During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), portraits of beautiful women — which later became known as bijinga — evolved to focus on not only physical beauty, but also inner beauty. During this time, many artists excelled at bijinga, including Kiyokata Kaburaki (1878-1972), who was acclaimed for emotionally rich portraits; Shinsui Ito (1898-1972), who depicted real women rather than models; and Uemura Shoen (1875-1949), a female artist who brought a sense of dignity and refinement to the women she portrayed." As we'll see, I think Uemura Shoen's work in particular is a precursor to Otake's in that her paintings seek to express not just internal beauty but perhaps an inner monologue. The women in both artists' paintings appear very contemplative - I'd love to know what's going on in their heads. I'd also propose that both artists' perspectives are more feminist than they appear at first glance.
Anyway, the shin hanga ("new prints") art movement of the early 1900s cultivated further evolution of the bijin-ga genre. As the century progressed, the women portrayed became fully liberated from the earlier negative connotations, and the emphasis on capturing their internal beauty and positive traits became the primary attribute of modern bijin-ga. Otake's work continues the tradition of bijin-ga on a very basic level in that her paintings are of beautiful women; however, they have a thoroughly modern sensibility. Gone are the perfectly coiffed and made-up ladies of the old bijin-ga, as Otake shows women in a more natural, relaxed state - half-dressed with loose hair, lounging in bed or on the floor. There's a greater sense of intimacy and introspection in these scenes, as well as personal agency. These women don't seem to be waiting for anyone, they're simply enjoying some time alone.
As far as I know Otake created original works for the Clé de Peau collection rather than recycling existing pieces. They tie into the collection not just through the inner beauty aspect but also by Otake's particular process, as her technique mimics one the methods used for kimono production. In the video below, she says: "When I'm not painting I look at greenery and try to be in touch with nature as much as possible...If it isn't sunny or a dry day, I can't work. So I look to the weather. Nothing beats natural drying. And authenticity is not about going against nature, but to live with nature, which I think is important." Otake notes that while sometimes she uses a dryer to speed up the drying time of her paintings, she usually "messes up". Her respect for nature and allowing it to complete her paintings serves as a parallel to letting the kimono dry naturally according to the weather, without any other intervention.
Overall, this is another winner from Clé de Peau. The intricacy of the packaging echoes the labor involved in the traditional kimono-making process, while the paintings serve as an updated version of a centuries-old artistic genre - it's a perfect marriage of old and new. I admired that for this collection, instead of doing a straight-up artist collaboration as in years past, (nothing wrong with those, of course!) they honored waning cultural traditions to raise awareness and educate people, a concept perhaps borrowed from Sulwhasoo's Shine Classic compacts. Finally, I loved all the details: the folding of the packaging, the fact that the paintings were on the inside to represent inner beauty, dyeing the kimono the same colors as the lipsticks, even the embossing on the boxes all came together to form a cohesive collection. I must congratulate the design team, as every last detail served a purpose. They were stunning, sure, but they also weren't superfluous - every single one contributed to the theme. I will say I'm scratching my head as to the whereabouts of Clé de Peau Creative Director Lucia Pieroni, as she doesn't seem to be as involved with this collection as in previous years, but the collection itself turned out beautifully.
What do you think of this collection? Which painting was your favorite?
2This author points out that while they were euphemistically labeled as "courtesans", the prostitutes depicted in early bijin-ga had rather tragic lives. "Often the images were published with the prostitutes' names. Such prints were usually commissioned by high-ranking oiran as a kind of advertising posters. In today's print descriptions by ukiyo-e dealers or auction houses, the women shown on bijin prints are usually named 'courtesans'. The life for these 'courtesans' was not so beautiful. They were kept like slaves in these licensed quarters." Yikes.
I'm so very excited to announce the Makeup Museum's special exhibition in honor of Stila's 25th anniversary! I was too overwhelmed to do a full history of the brand, so I decided to just focus on the famous Stila girl illustrations. If you've been following me for a while you know that the Stila girls were sort of the gateway drug for my interest in collecting makeup and seeing cosmetics packaging as art. For such a milestone anniversary I knew I wanted to pay tribute to them, even though the year is almost over (thankfully - it's been miserable for a number of reasons), especially given that I've been itching to put together a special exhibition for them since at least 2016. I also wanted to try something totally new for the Museum in terms of exhibitions. Technically all of them are online, but instead of putting things on shelves and taking photos, I wanted it to have a more "real" online exhibition feel. I've been doing a lot of thinking the past year or so about how to improve the exhibitions even though I'm so limited in what I can do, and I was really inspired by the Kanebo Compact Museum website, and once the husband showed me Squarespace I was sold. Well that, and the fact that he kindly offered to design the entire exhibition site for me. ;) So I set up a domain there which, if this exhibition is well-received, will serve as the space for the Museum's special exhibitions going forward. The seasonal ones will remain here if I decide to keep going with them. Looking ahead, I think I'd rather focus on more specific topics than general seasonal trends. Not that I can delve too deeply into particular themes given the never-ending lack of resources, but I still want to at least try to do slightly more in-depth exhibitions even though they won't be exactly how I want them. I'm looking at them as a starting point for bigger things.
Enough of my blabbing about the basic stuff, I want to give some more details about the exhibition itself. It came together nicely, or at least, it was the one I worked most on with the possible exception of Sweet Tooth (still want to revisit that one!) I really wanted to get interviews with the key people behind the illustrations, so I put my crippling fear of rejection aside and boldly contacted Jeffrey Fulvimari (Stila's original illustrator), Caitlin Dinkins (illustrator during Stila's early aughts heyday) and Naoko Matsunaga (who took over for Dinkins in 2009). While I was disappointed at not hearing back from two of the three, if only one responded, I was glad it was Jeffrey since I've been following him for a while on Instagram and I love his approach to art and his personality. He is quite the character! It ended up giving me so much confidence I reached out to the grand poobah herself and my curatorship namesake, Jeanine Lobell. Yes, I actually DM'ed the founder of Stila on Instagram and asked if she'd be up for an interview. And...and...are you sitting down?? You really need to. Okay, now that you're sitting and won't have far to fall in case you faint, I can tell you that she agreed to do it!!
Not only that, she actually answered all of my interview questions!! You have no idea how ecstatic I was to finally be heard by a major industry figure. Took over a decade but I finally made contact with a big name! So that was most exciting, easily one of the most exciting things to happen in the Museum's 11-year history. And her answers were really good too, I've incorporated them throughout the exhibition so make sure to read through.
As for the items, I didn't take photos of everything in my collection because again, too overwhelming. The Museum has over 130 Stila items, nearly all of which feature the girls. I mean...
The photos I did take have purposely plain backgrounds because I wanted the emphasis to be on the illustrations. I tried to have a good mix of memorabilia and the makeup itself. I even had to iron a few items.
I also included a couple photos of things that I don't actually own but are important in getting a full picture (haha) of the illustrations. I'm pleased with how the sections are arranged, and I must thank my husband for organizing them so perfectly in addition to designing the whole site. I'm thinking of adding a section called Soundbites, a repository of quotes from the both the beauty community and general public telling me why they like the Stila girls or really anything related to the brand, so be sure to email me or comment here. I really wish I could have an app that would "Stila girl-ize" the user, i.e. you upload a picture of yourself and it would automatically generate a Stila girl style illustration of you, just like this. And of course, if the Museum occupied a physical space I'd definitely hire an artist to do live drawings at the exhibition opening - how fun would that be?