Soaring beauty: The butterfly in modern cosmetics
April 16, 2020
Welcome the Makeup Museum's spring 2020 exhibition! "Soaring Beauty: The Butterfly in Modern Cosmetics" explores the many ways butterfly imagery is used across all aspects of beauty culture. For 100 years the butterfly has been an endless source of inspiration for makeup artists and collections, ad campaigns and packaging. As the butterfly is perhaps the ultimate symbol of transformation, there is no motif more appropriate to embody the metamorphosis that makeup can provide. Like flowers, various butterfly species are a favorite reference for makeup colors, textures and finishes. More broadly, butterflies represent springtime, rebirth, hope, and freedom. With "Soaring Beauty", the Makeup Museum seeks to embrace this optimistic spirit and provide a peaceful oasis in the midst of a very uncertain and trying time.
The exhibition focuses on 5 main elements of butterfly makeup, which I will examine briefly before getting to the main show. Hover over the image for information, and additional details (when available) are listed in some of the captions.
The vibrancy of butterflies' coloring and their wings' gossamer texture figure prominently in the beauty sphere. Makeup shades and artist creations include every tone from earthy moth browns and greens to bold blue and orange hues to slightly softer pastels.
(image from blanckdigital.com)
(image from designscene.net)
(image from sheriterry.com)
(image from pinterest)
(image from pinterest)
As butterflies are largely synonymous with spring, rebirth and rejuvenation, the vast majority of butterfly-themed collections are released then and feature bright, fresh colors.
(image from magi-mania.de)
However, some color stories reflect different seasons via butterflies' natural habitats. Chanel's summer 2013 collection featured rich greens and blues reminiscent of the tropical morpho butterfly, while Anastasia Beverly Hills and Colourpop's fall releases opted for warmer tones inspired by monarch butterflies and their migration in the cooler months.
(images from popsugar.com)
(images from anastasiabeverlyhills.com and ulta.com)
II. Texture and Finish
The delicate, lightweight nature of butterflies and the softness of their wings is repeatedly referenced in early 20th century advertisements for face powder.
(image from maudelynn.tumblr.com)
(image from lesanneesfolles.ocnk.net)
(image from hprints.com)
(image from wikimedia.org)
For Australian brand Lournay, the "butterfly touch" was an integral part of their marketing for two decades.
As for finishes, butterfly-themed makeup excels at imparting an iridescent, pearlescent or metallic sheen that reflects light similarly to that of a butterfly's wing. New technology is being developed to artificially yet seamlessly recreate the iridescent butterfly wing effect in cosmetics, among other areas.
(images from vogue and stylecaster)
(image from pinterest)
(image from lookfantastic.com)
(image from pinterest)
The fascination with butterflies' iridescent quality is also expressed in "morpho" compacts of the 1920s and '30s. These were made with real morpho butterfly wings or foil and commonly depicted tropical locales. Popularized by jeweler Thomas Mott at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, morpho designs were also used in jewelry and other accessories.
(images from etsy and pinterest)
Butterfly beauty products embraced the notion of flight and the insects' graceful motion, at times linking them to dance or music to more fully capture the joyous, free-spirited movement of a butterfly soaring through the air. K-beauty brand Holika Holika simply titles their butterfly embossed blushes "Fly", while jeweler Monica Rich Kosann named the compact she created for Estée Lauder "Butterfly Dance". Pat McGrath's "techno butterflies" look at Dior's spring 2013 combines pastel "wings" with rhinestone details to impart a rave-like vibe.
(image from neimanmarcus.com)
(images from beautyfw.com)
But the fluttering movement of a butterfly is best captured in makeup via the eyelashes.
(image from paperself.com)
(image from pinterest)
(image from buro247.sg)
Butterflies proved to be a popular design element in general. As far back as the 1900s, jewelers created exquisitely detailed butterfly compacts made with fine glass and sterling silver, and many compact manufacturers incorporated the motif in their offerings. The butterfly's more whimisical side is expressed in Max Factor's acrylic "Butterfly Kiss" set and more recently, in a Jill Stuart Beauty lip gloss filled with iridescent butterfly-shaped glitter.
(image from pinterest)
- Austrian sterling silver and glass compact, ca. 1920s
- Lady Wilby compact, ca.
- Jill Stuart Butterfly lip gloss, spring 2019
- Vantine powder box, ca. 1923
- House of Sillage lipstick case (in collaboration with the film The Aeronauts), fall 2019
- Nacon compact, ca. 1982
- Volupte compact, ca. 1946-1952
V. Mood and Metamorphosis
Whether it's subdued or taking a more literal approach, butterfly inspired makeup is a universally recognized symbol for spring and transformation. Many companies release items embossed with butterflies or incorporate them in the advertising for their spring campaigns to express the larger ideas of hope, joy, freedom and rejuvenation.
(image from worthpoint.com)
(image from hprints)
Shown here are Pop Beauty, Mark and Paul & Joe blushes/bronzers/highlighters from spring 2012 and a spring 2016 Clinique GWP bag with a Vera Neumann butterfly print.
The theme of metamorphosis is reinforced through the fusing of faces and butterflies. By adhering butterflies to the cheeks, lips and even eyes, the effect is a physical transformation intended to turn the mundane into the magical and capture the essence of the butterfly as it emerges from its cocoon.
(image from fashionista.com)
(image from trendhunter.com)
(image from vogue.com)
An outstanding example of this concept is the spring 2020 runway show by Manish Arora. Makeup artist Kabuki was responsible for the dazzling, otherworldly looks. Some of the models were drag queens, emphasizing the transformational nature of both makeup and butterflies.
(images from buro247.sg)
As noted in part 1 of the introduction, butterfly-inspired makeup usually features an array of colors found on various butterfly species. However, when combined with butterfly application directly to facial features, barely-visible makeup speaks to butterflies' undomesticated environment and conveys the human bond with nature.
(images from fashiongonerogue.com)
All of the above elements are well represented throughout the objects in the exhibition. So let's get to it!
Top row, left to right.
Let me just say that the story of Lucretia Vanderbilt makes Tiger King look tame by comparison. I tried to summarize it the best I could, but for the full story head over to Collecting Vintage Compacts.
Possibly my favorite pieces in the exhibition and one of my all-time favorites: Chantecaille Les Papillons eyeshadows and Garden in Kyoto palette.
I had to do several labels to cover the Mamechiyo and Chinese New Year collections for this shelf. I was also going to include the Lisa Kohno collaboration, but given the lack of space and the fact that there's another Shu collection in the exhibition I left it out.
I'm hoping to dig up more information on the artist behind the design on this Stratton palette, which may be tricky as his archives are located in the UK.
Second row, left to right.
I couldn't find much information on the inspiration behind Marcel Wanders' compact for Cosme Decorte. I'd love to know how he came up with the design. All I know is that the model in this video is wearing a dress made with the same pattern.
Slightly better shot of the powder so you can see the lovely little butterfly details.
(promo images from cosmedecorte.com)
(runway images from vogue.com)
I wish I could have found a little more info on the Hampden brand and DuBarry's Vanessa face powder. I remember adoring the 3D butterfly in my brief history of DuBarry but could not find any reference specifically to Vanessa.
Third row, left to right.
You might remember I featured the La Jaynees powder box in the spring 2016 exhibition. I managed to scrounge up a rouge box. No rouge, but the box is lovely on its own. Once again Collecting Vintage Compacts did an amazing brand history.
Recent acquisition, which you can read more about here.
I wish I could have cleaned up this Avon palette a little better, but I was afraid of damaging it. However, one in better condition and with the original box popped up on ebay, so get ready for new photos!
I wonder if Sears has archives that I could look at to find out anything about their cosmetic line.
Bottom row, left to right.
I have the lipstick somewhere but am unable to locate it at the moment. What I really regret is not buying the accompanying Météorites powder or pressed powder compact, but they were so pricey and at the time I just couldn't afford them.
I was unable to find any information at all on this powder box, but yet again Collecting Vintage Compacts had everything on the Jaciel brand.
(Advertisement image from Collecting Vintage Compacts)
Some more items that were included in the spring 2016 exhibition.
For the life of me I couldn't get decent pictures of them on the shelves so here are the images from my original post on them.
There was one more item I wanted to include, but couldn't fit it so I'm using a photo from when I wrote about it.
I had been wanting to cover the butterfly theme for about 8 years now. An article on butterfly compacts called "High Fliers" in the February 2017 issue of the BCCS newsletter also inspired me. I wish I could have written a deep think piece on the idea of makeup as metamorphosis or was able to do more research besides what's online, but given the current situation I kept it simple and decided to save my energy for different topics that I can tackle when the libraries reopen, which will hopefully happen in the summer. (I discovered some local university libraries may have the resources I'm looking for, but I cannot access them remotely as I'm not a student or faculty member.) But access to certain archives might have allowed some examples of runway/editorial butterfly makeup that's older than 2012 and more images featuring models of color. And I know it seems like I included every instance of butterflies in makeup that is at my disposal, but I promise it was thoughtfully edited (curated, if you will.) There were actually even more looks that I wanted to include but got frustrated at the lack of basic information about them like the makeup artist or year. As for the objects themselves, I don't think any of them are vegan or cruelty-free, even though some of the companies that made them are now cruelty-free/vegan, such as Chantecaille.
The husband did an amazing job of "butterflying" the Museum's logo for the exhibition poster and labels. I was going to buy a paper butterfly garland or use the mini paper butterflies I had gotten for Instagram props in the exhibition, but in the end decided it was too gimmicky (and the garland reminded me too much of a baby shower for some reason.) I figured given the current space the focus should be more on the ads and objects. But if the Makeup Museum occupied a physical space, here is some art I would include as decor. It would be like stepping into a very artsy butterfly garden!
(image from rebeccajcoles.co.uk)
(image from mymodernmet.com)
(image from eden-gallery.com)
(image from axelradart.com)
(images from @omsi)
And that wraps it up! Remember you can participate in the exhibition - find out how here. In the meantime, one easy way to weigh in is to tell me what your favorite objects, looks or ads were (either in the intro or main exhibition or both) and why. :)