I have no information on how the Mikimoto collaboration came about. I summoned my courage and emailed Evens to see if he could shed any light. He politely declined to be interviewed, but I'm guessing that Mikimoto approached him as he indicated he does not know much about cosmetics. I believe these are new illustrations Evens created especially for the brand, but I find it odd he hasn't included the collab on his website or IG page. I'm also assuming they were done using his usual handmade techniques. For The City of Belgium, he explains: "All the drawings were done on paper and I write by hand. So the creative parts are all computer-less. Where the computer comes in is for research; when I want things to be 'right' or inspired by actual stuff, then I'll look something up... Ecoline [ink] dominates, but I use a mix. Now I have some different inks and, with the same brush, I'll also pick up gouache to make it what I want. Or, I'll mix it with real aquarelle. It all depends on what I'm searching for, what opacity or transparency I need to have. There will also be some pastels and, often, markers." In looking closely at the lines and the way the colors overlap, it appears Evens did indeed draw everything by hand using a mix of markers and pastels on white paper.
Mermaids in pearls: Brecht Evens for Mikimoto
February 17, 2020
Normally I'd wait a whole year and do a Ghosts of Christmas Makeup Past post to be more seasonally appropriate, but I simply couldn't in the case of the amazing (mer-mazing?) Mikimoto holiday collection. As with the 2018 collection, the historic Japanese pearl and jewelry purveyor teamed up with an artist to create some incredibly whimsical underwater-themed packaging. Belgian artist and illustrator Brecht Evens had the honor of being Mikimoto's second artist collaboration. I must admit I think I like his concept even more than the one by Emmanuel Pierre in 2018. If imagery of celebratory mermaids and assorted mer-critters having the ultimate holiday party doesn't do anything for you, I question your humanity.
We'll start with the palettes. The details on everything are staggeringly clever. And while the mishmash of characters and objects may initially seem haphazard, Evens' messiness is actually entirely intentional. "When I draw the jumble of the city or I draw nature…errors, spots and little incongruities make it more realistic. Because when you're in a space and you start to look around, you don't take in the whole. You can't. You don't see the world around you like you see a postcard; it's not organized that way. We're moving, others are moving, and the eye makes constant choices, it decides what to interpret and what to identify. So at any given moment, there's a lot of mess in there and, for me, this kind of mess has to stay in. It's controlled; it's never like I'm creating randomness. It's just that incongruities seem to catch the eye better. They're more natural and they latch onto the eye more realistically. Maybe I do play with a lot of stuff. But I only do it when it serves my narrative. It's all part of calibrating things. When I use a lot of detail, it's very calculated – I'm making sure it doesn't obstruct anything essential." The dozens of scenes may still be overwhelming for some, but I personally enjoyed picking apart all the individual vignettes and then seeing how they came together as a whole.
This is a particularly amusing exchange between two mer-folk and a nosy little fish. The addition of text is representative of Evens' background in illustrated books and comics. The humor reminds me a little bit of Danny Sangra, the artist who designed Burberry's spring 2018 palette.
I'm obsessed with this mer-kitty.
The scenes for the eyeshadow palette are equally spectacular. Sting rays take mer-children for a ride, while a sea elf peeks out from some seaweed to admire a blue-haired mermaid.
On the outer box a school of fish help another mermaid primp for a holiday party. She checks out her reflection in a seashell mirror held by two crabs.
I think the imagery on the sides of the skincare set was my favorite.
The set includes what appears to be a very fancy moisturizer (I didn't want to open the sealed plastic) and what I believe are packets of face serum. Each one tells a snippet of the "First Snow of Pearls" tale. Unfortunately I couldn't seem to locate the story at the Mikimoto website as I did last year, so I'm not really sure what it's supposed to be about.
I love that the images are totally bizarre but also make perfect sense. The concept of a sea-dwelling Santa is absurd, but if one exists, of course his sleigh team would be seahorses instead of reindeer and his bag of presents shaped like a seashell. Ditto for the mermaid taking a ride on the jellyfish "bus", pulling on its tentacles to signal her stop. While the underwater realm Evens created for Mikimoto is entirely imaginary, the usual rules still apply. As he puts it: "I do think I use visuals that might be dreamlike, or psychedelic, but I don’t think I use dream logic...you have to believe in the world you're creating."
There was also a lip gloss, the box for which shared the same illustrations as the skincare set.
Some lovely extras were included as gifts, like this silver toned box topped with a manta ray, a gold seashell cardholder and two cosmetic pouches. I noticed the powder brush was a bit scratchy, but 1. it was free and 2. I don't intend on using it anyway.
Let's learn a little more about the artist behind these fantastical scenes. The Belgian-born, Paris-based Brecht Evens (b.1986) studied illustration at Sint-Lucas Gent in Ghent, Belgium. Building on his country's tradition and notoriety for comics, he focuses on these and illustrated books, but has also completed murals in Brussels and Antwerp, created fabrics for Cotélac, and collaborated with Louis Vuitton on a Tokyo travel book.
(image from theculturetrip.com)
(image from cotelac.fr)
(image from brechtevens.com)
Stylistically, Evens is influenced by his mentors, illustrator Goele Dewanckel and cartoonist Randall Casaer. You can also see glimpses of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, M.C. Escher and Picasso. Take, for example, the resemblance between the artwork Evens created for French publisher Actes Sud and Bruegel's Battle Between Carnival and Lent. Both utilize a bird's eye perspective and include dozens of different vignettes.
(image from brechtevens.com)
(image from smithsonianmag.com)
While Evens published several award-winning books early in his career, he is best known for more recent works Panther (2014) and The City of Belgium (Dutch and French versions released 2018; forthcoming editions in English in 2020). In terms of content, most of Evens' narratives tend to be a little dark. Panther is about a young girl named Christine whose cat dies. Her mother also threatens suicide, drives away and never comes back. Panther arrives seemingly to be Christine's friend and help her cope, but ends up being far more malicious than he appears. One reader called it a "apologism of pedophilia, zoophilia and incest". Yikes.
The City of Belgium (titled Les Rigoles for its French audience and Het Amusement for Belgium) is actually part of the same universe as Evens's 2009 work The Wrong Place, and the various versions of the book are meant to be connected. "I wanted something like a paperback copy of Balzac, a whole world that would be portable. But, instead of just one city, I wanted to make it a kind of European amalgam...the fun result would be for everyone to think it's their city."
(image from lefigaro.fr)
The City of Belgium also reflects Evens' struggle with bi-polar disorder and gradual recovery from a particularly bad episode. While not as unsettling as Panther, the book follows three characters having parallel urban adventures throughout a single evening, one of whom suffers from depression. Evens discusses how the book came to be and acknowledges the "heavy" themes alongside the humor. "The germ was just me coming back to life. A state of depression never carries any potential or interest. Then, once the interest starts returning – bit by bit – it's like you're back at zero. At that point, it's just lines in old sketchbooks, dreams you have, something you happen to see sitting on a terrace. Because it's so surprising to have ideas again, you notice every little thought and you get them down in a sketchbook...[in 2013 and 2014] things were so messed up; I couldn't ever have considered such a massive project. The book is a product of peace having descended...the themes may be heavy, but I hope the treatment is light. Don't forget to mention it's full of gags and jokes!"
(image from brechtevens.com)
Evens appropriately chose a more lighthearted story for the Mikimoto collection while maintaining the concept of connected times and spaces. The characters and scenes appear disparate at first, but as you look more closely you can see that they're all part of the same underwater universe - preparing for the holiday season and the First Snow of Pearls. If anyone is going to create a fanciful mermaid-laden paracosm or "expanded reality" as one reviewer put it, Evens is the perfect choice, as he had been making these sorts of "imaginary worlds" since he was a child. "Practically all I did was try to make imaginary worlds come to life, which meant: visible to other people, in comics, designs for buildings, fantasy world maps, board and card games, cassette tapes... No teaching, no explaining, no argument, just a portable world, bound together, with maybe a dust jacket around it or even some leather," he says. He also did a fantastic job incorporating the pearls, which appear throughout all the scenes. My favorites are the fish helping construct a pearl garland and telling the lazy sea dog to wake up because it's snowing pearls.
The illustrations were incredibly fun on their own, but the addition of Evens' signature text provided another layer of humor.
"A lot of people, when they write dialogue, just go 'A, B', 'A, B', 'A, B.' They'll have the characters neatly wait their turn. Whereas I don't think our brains really work that way. In reality, it's more of a constant traffic jam – even when we like each other and we're interacting well. When we're interacting less well, it's more extreme," he says. You can see the more realistic dialogue (at least, as "realistic" as this mermaid world can be) Evens was aiming for in this scene depicting crabs and fish wrapping holiday presents.
So that about wraps it up. What do you think about this collection? What's your favorite scene or character? I'd party any time with these mer-folks!