I'm thinking there has to be a vintage makeup fan among Les Merveilleuses Ladurée's design and marketing team, since their holiday 2019 collection carries on the tradition of yet another popular motif for beauty packaging: the swan. This graceful bird also ties into the company's commitment to infusing their line with the style introduced by the Merveilleuses. Let's look at the collection and all its downy soft details.
Can I just say how much I love the color scheme? The blue is so perfect - not too bright, not too aqua, not too dark - and plays amazingly well against the pink and white of the makeup shades and swan imagery. First we have the brightening powder. The outer case depicts a swan holding a rose in its beak, while the powder itself is embossed with a white swan swimming in a pastel-colored lake.
Next is this beautiful set containing a double swan-embossed blush and lipstick, housed in a blue embroidered pouch with a tiny silver swan for the zipper pull.
Lastly is the star of the collection, a white swan-shaped jar filled with blush "roses". LM Ladurée is famous for their blush resembling rose petals, but these are next level.
I couldn't bear to open the blush itself, but it looks like this.
(image from bonboncosmetics.com)
Even the box is gorgeously printed with pristine white swan feathers.
So how do swans relate to the Merveilleuses? Prior to becoming Empress in 1804, Josephine was one of the most revered Merveilleuses, possibly even more so than Madame Recamier. While the more over-the-top Merveilleuse trends generally died down after Napoleon rose to power, Josephine was still considered a top arbiter of style. During her time as Empress she also adopted the swan as her signature motif. According to the Met: "At the approach of danger, with feathers puffed up and anxiously hissing, these birds protect their young within the wall of their white wings. Napoleon's consort, Josephine, and her children were frequently compared to a swan and its cygnets. The swan was chosen as her symbol by Claude, wife of Francis I, the French Renaissance king whom Napoleon greatly admired." Thus the reason for the abundance of swan decor at her and Napoleon's residence, the Château de Malmaison.
(image from wikimedia.org)
(images from ssa.paris.online.fr)
(image from the National Gallery of Victoria)
(image from metmuseum.org)
The Empress even had black swans imported from Australia and kept them as pets, along with emus and kangaroos. Sadly the swans outlived her. :( Anyway, while the swan motif correlated more to the aesthetic of a post-Directoire era Josephine, its incorporation into LM Ladurée's holiday collection is a subtle nod to one of the original Merveilleuses.
In addition to serving as one of the Empress's emblems, swans have a long history in the world of cosmetics, most likely since they are one of the symbols associated with Aphrodite/Venus, goddess of love and beauty.1 Vintage compacts with images of swans abound.2
(image from pinterest)
This one has a really interesting history behind it, the Etsy seller dug up some great information on it.
(image from etsy)
(image from etsy)
(image from ebay)
Coty's "Golden Swan" sets were perennial holiday favorites from about 1950-1955. I stumbled across some newspaper ads for them, and lo and behold this great blog on Coty's history had an actual photo.
(images from newspapers.com and cotyperfumes.blogspot.com)
I couldn't find a real-life photo of this swan lipstick bouquet but it's fantastic. I'm guessing they're copying and expanding on the concept of Max Factor's popular flower pot lipstick set, which debuted in 1969.
I couldn't resist picking up a few vintage swan items for the Museum, including these adorable lipstick hankerchiefs (ca. 1940s-50s) and a lipstick case (ca. 1980s).
I think this vintage powder jar may have been LM Ladurée's inspiration. They came in a variety of colors, and the little niche created by the swans' wings was intended to store a lipstick.
All of these are lovely, but Tetlow's Swan Down face powder and accompanying ads are my favorite vintage swan-themed pieces...and they don't even depict swans on the outer packaging! Tetlow's Swan Down powder was introduced in 1875 and sold through the early 1930s. Collecting Vintage Compacts has a very thorough history of Henry Tetlow if you'd like to read more.
I was so pleased to get this one in good condition for the Museum along with an original ad.
While the one I have is in good shape, I'd love to own one of these boxes that still has the swan insert!
(image from cosmeticsandskin.com)
As was the case for many goods in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Tetlow's used small trading cards to advertise Swan Down. The portraits depict various stage actresses and other fashionable ladies of the time. The fan shape is a nice touch.
(images from worthpoint.com)
Another item I've become rather enamored of are vintage swan's down puffs. Before the dawn of synthetic brushes and puffs, in the Western world swan's down was one of the most common materials to apply powder in addition to silk and lambswool. The swan's down really is incredibly soft! (I forgot to take a picture of the vintage puff I bought...stay tuned for an update.)
I would love to try it out and compare it to my softest squirrel hair brushes but it's so fragile I'm afraid it would get ruined. And as I learned, vintage swan's down puffs are not cheap, especially the ones with sterling silver handles (drool).
(image from rubylane.com)
Fast-forward to the 21st century, when some more swan-themed items joined their vintage counterparts. Here's what I'm sure is an incomplete group. Also, I guess I should give an honorary mention to Etude House's 2015 Dreaming Swan collection, which oddly enough did not feature any swans on the packaging.
- Who can forget the frenzy over the makeup for the 2010 film Black Swan? This kit contained each element of the look.
- Monica Rich Kosann designed the Swan Dreams powder compact for Estée Lauder's holiday 2018 collection.
- Too-Faced's holiday 2018 Dream Queen set also featured swans.
- One can never have enough novelty lip glosses.
- Sugar Cosmetics chose a swan for their clarifying sheet mask packaging.
Finally, here are the other contemporary swan treasures in the Museum's collection: a Paul and Joe eyeshadow from their fall 2010 collection and Guerlain's spring 2018 Blanc de Perle compact, which was a collaboration with Ros Lee.
So that about wraps it up! What do you think of the swan motif both for Empire-era decor and makeup? Which piece here is your favorite?
2Tons of other vintage non-makeup beauty items use swans in their advertising and packaging, including Dior Miss Dior perfume, Cashmere Bouquet soap, Swan soap, and J. Lesquendieu face cream. Obviously I want to keep the focus on makeup but they were worth a mention.