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April 2021

Borrowing from the past: Benefit and House of Platé

This post has been in the making for literally years. I finally conceded that I couldn't find a complete history of either Benefit's Glamourette compact, released in 2002, or the vintage compact it was based on, House of Platé's Trio-ette (ca. 1944-1947). But I did turn up a few nuggets of information, so figured I'd share the little bit that was readily available.

House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947) and Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003)

House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947) and Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003)

The House of Platé company was established in 1944 by Robert T. Plate in Detroit. From what I was able to piece together from various archives, it seems Plate was born in 1897 in Lima, Ohio and received a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1923. Specializing in automobile design, his first job was draftsman for the Willys-Overland Company in Toledo. Beginning in 1932 Plate worked for General Motors, and in 1938 he was doing business as the Plate Manufacturing Company. In 1945 he trademarked the Trio-ette compact under Curly Lox Products.  The biggest mystery for me is why Plate decided to market cosmetics. I'm assuming it was a side hustle to earn a little extra cash, or maybe he thought he could become the next Max Factor. (As a side note, Plate moved quite frequently throughout his life, bouncing around from Ohio to Michigan to New York to LA...if it's the same Robert T. Plate, I'm not sure whether he was trying to help his business take off across the country or moving for engineering jobs.)

Trio-ette trademark registration

The design of the compact was based on a "quaint Victorian rose cameo hand mirror" according to one ad. This one is reproduced in Roselyn Gerson's book Vintage and Vogue Ladies' Compacts (2nd edition).

Trio-ette ad, House and Garden, 1946

It's really fascinating to see how a mechanical engineer who designed cars approached makeup. Compacts with powder, rouge and lipstick had existed for years, but few had the novelty and charm of the Trio-ette's design. (However, one can definitely tell an engineer also thought of the rather unimaginative House of Platé name. I guess Plate thought adding an accent over the "e" would make it sound vaguely French and therefore instantly appealing.) I'm so disappointed that I wasn't able to find patent drawings despite having the serial number. But maybe the trademark is different than patenting the actual design.

Trio-ette compact box

Trio-ette compact

Trio-ette rouge

Trio-ette compact open

Trio-ette compact outer mirror

Trio-ette compact lipstick

The name on the handle is such a sweet little detail.

Trio-ette compact handle

Trio-ette ad in the Californian, October 1946
(image from archive.org)

As the Trio-ette was conceived and launched during WWII, it was made of plastic, specifically tenite, instead of metal. Tenite apparently is the trade name for a cellulosic plastic created by Eastman Chemicals in 1929. (I wish I knew the difference between tenite, bakelite, and celluloid. Alas, I have no clue.) The Trio-ette was also refillable. This snippet from Drug and Cosmetic Industry shows the refill kit, but the really interesting thing about this blurb is that the journal was not falling for the Trio-ette's hype, claiming it was nothing more than a "gadget" and citing the more "streamlined" designs from established big-name brands.  It's true: companies had been making triple compacts for a good 20 years by that point.

Trio-ette - Drug and Cosmetic Industry, January 1945
(image from archive.org)

Whether it was a novelty or a truly handy compact to carry, the Trio-ette seemed popular, or at least, it was readily available across the entire country in department stores as well as drugstores. Plate, though not a businessman by trade, understood the importance of advertising. In late 1945 he hired NY-based firm Norman D. Waters and Associates to oversee a national campaign they would launch early the following year. The Trio-ette allegedly reduced "bag fumbling" and "makeup fatigue".

Advertising Age, February 1946

As with lipstick mirrors, it was considered a social faux pas to be digging through one's purse to look for your makeup, mostly because it was a potential inconvenience for men. Ladies, with the Trio-ette he won't mind waiting for you to touch up since it won't take long at all - all your makeup is in one place so you won't waste his time searching for it. *eyeroll* These ads certainly paint a picture of gender norms, don't they?


There were other products from House of Platé, including a double-ended lipstick called the Duo-ette and the Vista, a lipstick with a built-in mirror (again, you can see my post on those.)

House of Platé ad, 1946

The Trio-ette came in a variety of colors as well as black ones with a pink rose or a rhinestone border.  According to collector's guides, the most valuable colors are blue, pink and green. Personally, while I love all the shades, my most-wanted would be the rhinestone version followed by the green and mock tortoiseshell.

Trioettes and Duo-ette lipstick
(image from pinterest)

Trio-ette compact with rhinestones
(image from etsy.com)

The Trio-ette was quite short-lived. I'm not sure why exactly; it could be that Plate had run into a trademark issue with Curly Lox, or maybe after the war a return to metal compacts was all the rage and plastic fell out of favor. Or it could also be that a copycat was released around the same time. In the UK, a company named Jason released a nearly identical compact in late 1947. The only difference I can see besides the name is that the front of the compact is plain instead of bearing a sculpted rose.

Trio-ette by Jason, ca. 1947-1949
(image from antiquesatlas.com)

According to the British Compact Collectors Society, the Jason Trio-ette was also known as a "three-in-one" and available in blue, green, ivory, black and tortoiseshell and could be ordered by mail from Targett Tools Ltd., London. It's not clear what, or even if, there was a relationship between House of Platé and Jason.

Jason Trio-ette, Board of Trade Journal May 1948

What's undeniable is the impact the Trio-ette had on future compact designs for the bigger brands. Volupté launched a compact with powder, lipstick handle and outer mirror in 1951 within its Demitasse line, and by 1953 it was advertised as the "Lollipop".

Volupte Demitasse Lollipop compact, ca. 1951-1954

Volupte Demitasse Lollipop compact, ca. 1951-1954
(images from etsyc.com)

Volupte Lollipop ad, Hartford Courant, June 1954

Around 1952 Coty launched its Parisienne vanity, similar to the Volupté Lollipop, but with no mirror on the outside of the compact.

Coty Parisienne compact, ca. 1952-1959

Coty Parisienne compact, ca. 1952-1959
(images from etsy.com)

Perhaps another reason for the Trio-ette's brevity was simply that Plate couldn't compete with the more well-known brands, who in addition to name recognition, also had a far bigger advantage in terms of marketing savvy. Coty's Parisienne, for example, was somewhat misleadingly advertised as a "4-in-1" even though it actually only contained two products - the mirror and puff were considered the 3rd and 4th items. While some ads describe the design as a miniature hand mirror just like the Trio-ette, some others claim the Parisienne to be a "replica of a Cartier-designed original," which sounds way fancier than a Victorian hand mirror. Maybe if Plate had hired an agency with sneakier copy writers to advertise the compact differently, it might have had some longevity. As I noted earlier, he was educated as a mechanical engineer and not a businessman, so navigating the world of ad agencies and cosmetics marketing was a tricky prospect.

Anyway, House of Platé dropped the accent over the "e" and inexplicably shifted to making plastic toys by mid-1948, which continued through 1951.

House of Plate ad in The Billboard, 1949
(image from archive.org)

Unfortunately Plate was no longer running a legitimate business at that point. According to a 1951 FTC ruling, essentially the House of Plate was mailing people products they did not order and then demanding payment. It's a common scam that persists today in the form of "free trials" of various products. (A few years ago my own mother was the victim of one of these schemes in the form of a trying out a "free" face cream she was sent.) In 1951 the company was officially dissolved. Plate passed away on December 10, 1966 in Athens, Greece.

Now let's investigate Benefit's Glamourette. First, a little background. Founded as a San Francisco boutique called The Face Place by twin sisters Jane and Jean Ford in 1976, the company was renamed to Benefit in 1990 and launched at Henri Bendel in 1991. The cheeky names and retro vibe quickly made their products best-sellers across the country. In 1997 Benefit made its international debut and was acquired by LMVH in 1999. Using vintage mannequins as their mascots and creating packaging inspired by everything from '20s face powders to '70s lip glosses, Benefit was widely recognized as a fun brand that lightheartedly saluted beauty products of yesteryear.

Benefit ad - Vogue, May 2000

Benefit ad - Vogue, May 2000(images from archive.vogue.com)

The company had firmly established its playful kitschy take on cosmetics by the early 2000s, but why they decided to draw on the Trio-ette specifically is unclear. None of their other products seemed to be literal remakes of a particular piece of makeup from earlier times. As with the Trio-ette, I wish I could hunt down the patent drawings for their version of the compact. I also wish I could find anyone who worked for Benefit during that time and see if they have any inside information as to what inspired the company to update the Trio-ette.  We know that the Ford sisters were vintage collectors, so maybe one of them came across a Trio-ette and thought it was the perfect compact to use in their line, but why?

Benefit Glamourette trademark filing

Benefit Glamourette box

Let's compare the Glamourette with the Trio-ette. I would have done a smackdown because they are nearly identical but pitting a spry 20-year-old against a 70+ relic didn't seem like a fair fight.  Obviously the formulas for the makeup itself were updated with newer ingredients.

Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003) and House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947)

The lace pattern on the inside of the lid is a nice nod to the pink floral pattern that appears on the insert included with the Trio-ette.

Benefit Glamourette box

Instead of a rose on the lid Benefit used an abstract squiggle design. Also, I don't think the Glamourette was offered in other colors; to my knowledge, only black plastic was available.

Benefit Glamourette

Benefit Glamourette outer mirror

The lipstick mechanism appears to be the same between the two compacts, but Divine's rosy brown hue is unmistakably '90s/early 2000s. Instead of the company's name on the cap there's a sticker saying "lipstick". I would have strongly preferred Benefit's name rather than a totally unnecessary sticker. I know people are dumb but it's pretty obvious it's lipstick...no need for a sticker.

Benefit Glamourette lipstick in Divine

Benefit Glamourette blush in Divine

Interestingly, the powder and blush are reversed from the Trio-ette, i.e. the blush is on the inner part of the compact and the powder is on the outer side. You could also swap out the powder for Fancy Lady cream highlighter.

Glamourette Fascinating Finish face powder

The shade range for the face products had not improved since the 1940s. In fact, I suspect the Glamourette's was even worse. I'm not 100% sure, but it's my understanding from reviews that Fancy Lady didn't come in any other shades besides a pale ivory/champagne. And while I can't make out this tiny photo, it looks like Fascinating Finish powder, appallingly, also only came in one very light shade.*  I know it was 2002, but I was pretty into makeup by then and I distinctly remember just about every line having at least 3 options for face powders and tinted moisturizers by then: light, medium and dark. It's absolutely inexcusable that Benefit didn't offer the bare minimum for face powder shades in the Glamourette compact.

Benefit Glamourette ad
(image from amazon)

Getting back to comparing the two, unlike the Trio-ette, the Glamourette came with a wristlet that could be used as a storage pouch. It's a very sheer piece of organza that I don't think would have been too helpful in terms of preventing wear and tear, but interesting to note.

Benefit Glamourette wristlet

Obviously the advertising for the Glamourette was similar to its 1940s counterpart. Both touted ease of use, refillable products and chic, vintage-inspired packaging. Bag fumbling was still presented as a tedious time waster for the new millennium's busy modern woman. Perhaps as a sort of snooty counterpoint to the golden age of trashy reality TV and super glossy, frosty makeup finishes that appealed more to teens than adults, the Glamourette was also described as "discreet" and something a "real lady" would carry, whatever that means.

Benefit Glamourette ad in the Orlando Sentinel, November 2002


The Glamourette was generally well-received. There are a few reviews on Makeupalley gushing over its cuteness and convenience while acknowledging it was a gimmick. One reviewer mentioned she would pass it on to her 11 year-old daughter in a few years, so Benefit helped rekindle the notion of makeup as a keepsake. While most MUA'ers felt the amount of product was a bit stingy for the price point, overall they loved the style and found the compact practical for a night out. Several reviews also pointed out the similarity to the black plastic packaging of Anna Sui's line. 

Speaking of product amounts, I don't have the exact numbers for the Trio-ette, but if they were the same as the Glamourette, the latter was actually a better deal. The Trio-ette retailed for $5.50 in 1946, and according to an inflation calculator it would have cost about $51 in 2002 when the Glamourette was being sold. Glamourette's retail was $38 ($55 CAD and £32.50 in the UK). I also find it amusing that the reviews commented on how streamlined and tiny the compact was when Glamourette is actually a smidge larger than the Trio-ette, which was described as "bulky" in the Drug and Cosmetic Industry article. As we know, makeup packaging gradually got bigger over the years, so the Glamourette demonstrates how both design and consumer expectations changed. 

Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003) and House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947)

Despite the amount of press and good reviews, the Glamourette was a limited edition item that did not return to the market after its brief two-year stint. Even against the backdrop of '90s/early aughts' nostalgia for mid-century styles (see also Too-Faced's Quickie Chronicles) maybe the Glamourette was too retro for most customers. I know when I laid eyes on it I thought it was cute but overly vintage-looking for my taste. It could also have been the type of products included. While there absolutely was and will always be a demand among those sticking to simple polished looks and makeup classics in neutral tones, in the early 2000s traditional lipstick, face powder and blush weren't the most wanted product categories among the younger crowd. Says one Makeupalley reviewer, "It has powder and blush which I never use to touch-up, so I'd never carry this with me. And it also has lipstick, and I'm not a fan of lipstick. If they replaced it with concealer, bronzer, and lipgloss, I'd sell my soul for it!!"  Perhaps a tiny sifter of body glitter may also have been more palatable for a Y2k audience. Finally, the lack of shades for anyone whose skin was deeper than mayonnaise obviously eliminated a good portion of the market.

Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003) and House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947)

I still can't wrap my head around why Benefit chose this exact compact. I'm just spitballing here, but maybe it's precisely because House of Platé wasn't a well-known brand that's still sold today. Perhaps Benefit didn't want to risk running into copyright issues that may have occurred if they chose to release an updated version of, say, Revlon's Futurama cases. The patents for those designs may have expired, but the companies are still around and significantly larger than Benefit was - although it was owned by LMVH by that point, Benefit's rivals had the potential to take legal action if the company tried to update an iconic product from their archives.

Even though there's a 55 year age gap between the Trio-ette and the Glamourette, their advertising and reception were remarkably similar. So much had changed between 1947 and 2002, yet the design appealed to totally different audiences. As Drug and Cosmetic Industry noted with the Trio-ette, people love a novelty product even if the underlying concept - in this instance, having three makeup products in one attention-getting case - has been done before. It got me thinking about how a third iteration of the compact would be marketed and received today. The small sizes and refills would be attractive to today's makeup consumers, but the compact would have to be made out of sustainable packaging; plastic won't play well. Maybe the products could be even smaller to make space for brushes rather than puffs. There would probably have to be some kind of emphasis on "wellness" and "self-care" or at the very least, "clean" (sigh), vegan and ethically-sourced ingredients. Most importantly, the shades would need to accommodate all skintones. One parting thought: I'd also be curious to see what would happen if a company released it not today but 55 years after the Glamourette. I wonder how makeup customers in 2057 would react.

House of Platé Trio-ette compact (ca. 1944-1947) and Benefit Glamourette compact (ca. 2002-2003)

What do you think of the designs of these compacts? Do you have a preference for one or the other? And do you like having your makeup all in one place? I could see using something like this for touch-ups, but it would still fall short. Until a product is developed that combines concealer, powder, blotting sheets and lip color all in one, I'm destined to dig around in my bag.


*There was an article in Global Cosmetic Industry from 2002 that lists the following colors for Glamourette blush and lipstick refills. It doesn't make any mention of multiple shades being available for the highlighter and powder. "Rouges in Divine, Fickle and Coy, Fascinating Finish Translucent Powder and Fancy Lady Highlighting Creme are priced at $11.00 each. The line offers Lip shades priced at $9.00 each in Keen (champagne pearl), Vain (vibrant red), Divine (rich plum), Swell (dusty rose), Prim (pink-cocoa pearl), and Coy (mocha apricot) varieties." I cannot for the life of me locate the article now but I know it existed!

Morag Myerscough for Bobbi Brown

I'm quite far behind on artist collaborations, so I'm doing some more catching up. Today we have British artist Morag Myerscough for Bobbi Brown, whose collection was released in the spring of 2020. It was a small collection consisting of an eyeshadow palette, highlighter and two lipsticks. I purchased one of the lipsticks and the two other items...and of course I can't seem to find the lipstick. (I'm really hoping to take a full week off of work this summer to properly re-organize the Museum's collection, as things keep going missing or take literally hours to locate. Sigh.)

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough eyeshadow palette

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough eyeshadow palette

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough highlighter

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough highlighter

Born and raised in London, Myerscough came from a family of artists. Her father was a highly sought-after session musician in the 1960s and '70s, while her mother was a textile artist. Myerscough was settled on an artistic career even before she was out of elementary school. After graduating from St. Martin's where she studied graphic design, Myerscough attended the Royal College of Art.  In 1993 she established Studio Myerscough, and in 2010 Supergrouplondon, a collaborative studio with fellow artist and partner Luke Morgan, was born. You can read more about her professional background at Eye Magazine.

Morag Myerscough(image from colourstudies.com)

Myerscough's vibrant color combinations are influenced by her mother as well as several artists, including Josef Albers and '80s collective Memphis (remember them from my Hermès post?) She explains, "[My style of] colour could be from my mother, I think my colour sense comes from being very young and understanding the difference between a dye made from a natural source and one from an artificial source. When I make my big pieces of work I much prefer to paint them as I can get pure pigments and as they are used in spaces it is important how colour responds to light. There is nothing better than to see an amazing colour in the right environment, it can change your whole mood. I like to be brave with colour, at college I was introduced to Albers, and I was very interested in his theories on how colours respond to each other."  She adds, "I really hate when people say that colour is exclusive to children, what sad people they must be. Adults need colour in their lives as much or maybe more than children. Colour is so abundant in nature and we need it more in our built environment." Hear hear!

Artskickers stage designed by Morag Myerscough
In 2017 Myerscough designed the Artskickers stage for a beloved community hub in Dalton Garden. Over 200 events are held here each year.

Her color choices combined with the tidy, modern geometric patterns reflect both her graphic design background as well as the influence of artists such as Bridget Riley and Dan Flavin. Here are a couple examples so you can see the resemblance.

Bridget Riley, Nataraja, 1993
Bridget Riley, Nataraja, 1993

(image from tate.org.uk)

Dan Flavin, "Untitled (In Honor of Leo at the 30th Anniversary of his Gallery)", 1987
Dan Flavin, "Untitled (In Honor of Leo at the 30th Anniversary of his Gallery)," 1987

(image from thoughtco.com)

You know I adore big bold swathes of color, but it's Myerscough's dedication to community engagement and overall approach to art that speak to me the most. Adopting a Chinese proverb as her mantra, "make happy those who are near and those who are far will come," Myerscough aims to instill a sense of belonging among the people using the space she's been commissioned to reimagine. She believes art is a unifying concept that can bring people together and connect them to certain places. A beautiful example is the Burntwood School, where Myerscough designed many of the interior and exterior wall patterns. "I put a narrative in the building, we make places where people feel they belong. I like working collaboratively with architects...we have made some great steps in how schools are used and how the students connect with their schools. The team needs to want the same result and for the project to be successful this involves everybody. The students' grades have increased hugely, I believe this is because they have a building that works for them, that they can be proud of, with teachers that care about them and when you put all the parts together it produces success," she says. I wonder if my anxiety would have been mitigated if I had attended a school with this sort of art everywhere. Probably not, but it's at least nice to look at.

Burntwood school walls designed by Morag Myerscough

Burntwood school walls designed by Morag Myerscough

I also love the Vinyl Lounge, a mixed-used space that used to be an office owned by British music company EMI in the '70s. Myerscough carefully researched the history of the buildings to design something that paid homage to their past while accommodating modern needs. The furniture and other decor consisted of vintage eBay buys or made by Luke Morgan with reclaimed materials.  The "lounge" itself served as a gathering place. In this way the space incorporates local heritage and engages the community. "I do focus on belonging. I want to find out from people what it means to them. Because it may mean different things to different ages, like for the older ones it might be family, while with young ones it might be friends. I also try to see what part of it makes you feel belonged; is it just your culture or is it about talking with each other? It does not matter that you do not come from the same place but can still belong together."

Vinyl Lounge by Morag Myerscough

Vinyl Lounge by Morag Myerscough

But I do have some mixed feelings towards other projects. While I admire Myerscough's approach and would be honored to be able to visit one of her works in person, at the same time I'd most likely want to punch it. Perhaps I'm too cynical not about public art in general, but Myerscough's optimistic outlook more specifically. It's a bit too cheerful and positive for my grumpy, pessimistic self, or at least, the text is. If I was confronted by Love At First Sight, for example, I'd roll my eyes and walk right on by. Ditto for the billboards painted in honor of the frontline NHS workers during the early part of the pandemic. It's a really nice thought, but calling them "heroes" is problematic, and frankly a mural comes off as much as an empty gesture as clapping did. Overall, I think her installations work better with no words, because there's no direction then and people can take whatever they want from it. Words create additional meaning and context, so without them there's more freedom of interpretation. However, I don't think Myerscough would be offended if she read this because at least I have some sort of reaction. We share the same belief that art should have some kind of impact on the viewer, whether it's bad or good. She says, "The main aim is that people aren’t indifferent to it. I want people to react. I totally understand some people might hate my work and I would rather have that than just dismiss it with indifference. I want people to have conversations; to experience something they didn’t expect. That’s why I love making work in public spaces, where people might stumble across a piece of work and have it change their thoughts for the day – ideally for the better." I agree that part of art's purpose is making one feel something and not nothing.

Morag Myerscough - Heroes billboard, May 2020

Morag Myerscough - Heroes billboard, May 2020

Anyway, I wholeheartedly applaud and respect the incredible work she's done for children's hospitals, but I fundamentally disagree with the notion of art in hospitals. The rooms at the Sheffield's Children's Hospital are very welcoming, and at the Royal London Children's Hospital, she used the children's own drawings part of the decor.  "In hospitals I really do want to brighten people’s days, to raise their moods, to make them feel positive and hopeful. I want to make spaces that feel like home, which people enjoy being in. And ultimately to help people feel better...when I was commissioned by Vital Arts to design the five dining rooms at the Royal London Children’s hospital, I proposed to work with [poet Lemn Sissay] on the project. He did poetry workshops with the young patients and I ran visual workshops with the words. We then made murals by combining the words with the visuals, so the dining rooms belonged to the young patients – it was their ideas on the walls. I also displayed all the young patients’ original drawings in frames on the walls, so they and their parents could see it and it was clear the patients were at the centre of the artwork. It’s important that young patients and their families feel comfortable in these environments, because often they stay for long periods of time or return regularly as a child grows." 

Sheffield Children's Hospital(images from moragmyerscough.com)

Royal Children's Hospital ward by Morag Myerscough

These are wonderful, innovative ideas and Myerscough's style is absolutely perfect for this type of project, but as someone who has spent far too much time in hospitals on account of ailing parents, I can tell you that absolutely zero amount or style of art is going to combat the dread and fear. Hospitals are for the very ill and dying, and despite some spotty evidence of the benefit of art in hospitals, I still think there's no artist in the world whose work can even come close to offsetting that type of negative energy. As both a patient and a visitor I'd honestly prefer it if art wasn't in hospitals and have them remain drab and depressing - it's far more appropriate for the space. Again, this is all just a matter of opinion. (And I certainly support art therapy where the patient creates art themselves.) 

Royal Children's Hospital ward by Morag Myerscough(images from designboom.com)

Getting back to the Bobbi Brown collab, I'm not sure how or why it came about. Nor do I know why she designed the patterns she did for the collection, or if she had an input on the makeup shades. I did reach out for an interview with the artist but didn't hear back. I will say I think her work translated well to the packaging, which can be tricky for artists who typically work on large-scale designs. But I'd love to hear Myerscough's thoughts on makeup colors, how makeup can help bring people together and why she took on the collaboration. She works primarily on big environmental graphics for community spaces and doesn't have a lot of commercial collabs - the only other thing with her work that you'd find in a store was a collection for Method cleaning products, and even that was part of the larger Sheffield hospital project - so I'm curious to know what attracted her to designing the packaging for a makeup collection. It's a bit inconsistent with Myerscough's usual commissions.  Perhaps it's precisely how different it is that piqued her interest. In any case, the Bobbi Brown collection is not even mentioned on her website.

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough

Bobbi Brown x Morag Myerscough

Thoughts on Myerscough's work? What does the makeup community mean to you? Do you feel as though you're part of it?

Quick post: a bit of stage makeup history

A few months ago I was perusing an auction site and came across this interesting-looking makeup case.  As it turns out, it belonged to Hanna Rovina (1888-1980), a.k.a. the "first lady of Israeli theatre". 
Hanna Rovina makeup case
(image from liveauctioneers.com)
Originally a kindergarten teacher, in 1917 Rovina left her teaching job to pursue acting, becoming a founding member of a Hebrew theater group in Moscow that later became Habimah, the national theatre of Israel and the first professional Hebrew theater in the world. She became a leading actress after her breakout role as Leah in An-ski’s The Dybbuk in 1922. Rovina was soon renowned in the international theater community due to impressive performances that ranged from Hebrew productions to Shakespeare and classical plays across Europe and the U.S. Her stage makeup was fittingly dramatic, keeping with the style of the time. Historian Raphael Patai describes the "masklike" look Rovina used for the role of Leah in the 1920s. "Her face was powdered or painted chalk white, her black wig hugged her head and face, her eyes were framed with thin black lines, and the areas between her eyes and her thinly penciled-in black eyebrows, and even more so between the eyes and the ridge of her nose, were painted almost black...the only color livening up this somber black-and-white appearance was her mouth, painted blood-red in the form of a narrow double bow that is familiar to those who still remember the heroines of the early silent Hollywood films."

Hanna Rovina as Leah in The Dybbuk, 1920s
(image from haaretz.com)
Her theatrical cosmetic style changed slightly from role to role, as seen in this 1955 photo of Rovina portraying Medea.

Hanna Rovina as Medea, 1955
(image from picclick.fr)


Love this shot of her dressing table, probably taken in the 1960s. There's a red jar on the far right that looks like it could be Leichner, but that seems unlikely. Beyond that, embarrassingly, I can't make out any of the items.

Hanna Rovina dressing room
(image from wikipedia.org)
So why am I posting about Rovina and her makeup case today? Well, on this day in 1956, Rovina was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for her contributions to Israeli theatre. As for the makeup case, judging from Rovina's dramatic stage looks and her dressing table, I can only imagine what treasures it holds! Too bad the keys to the locks are missing. But despite bidders not being able to see the contents - or even IF there was anything inside - the case sold at auction for $750, far exceeding the original sale estimate of $150-$200. I can only hope whoever the new owner is figures out a way to open it and publicly share what's in there, even if it turns out to be empty.
Hanna Rovina makeup case
Had you ever heard of Hannah Rovina? What are your best guesses as to what's inside her makeup case? And if anyone can identify the items on her dressing table I'd love to know!

Curator's Corner, March 2021

Curator's cornerLate links as usual...I get so frustrated at not being able to stick to even the most basic of schedules. But as I'm demanding more of the Museum these days it's hard to keep up.  ;)

- The Curator's favorite publication turned 30 this month, and I was so pleased to add a copy of their very first issue to the Museum's collection a while back. For some reason though they started celebrating back in February, but I'm including a link to their 30th anniversary content anyway.

- The beauty industry has a renewed focus on fighting racism against the AAPI community, which is long overdue. 

-Beauty enthusiasts have been making this argument for ages, but it's always worth repeating.

- The U.S.'s ever-shrinking middle class is still buying beauty products, but their habits are different now. One word: masstige.

- On the one hand, it's good that this website is available for domestic violence victims; on the other hand, as with roofie-detecting nail polish, I feel like it shouldn't exist.

- I'm baffled as to why Hourglass's new vegan red lipstick getting so much buzz, considering that there's no shortage of vegan red lipsticks on the market. Obviously, not killing insects to make lipstick is a good thing, but I'm not sure what the breakthrough is here.

- Also not wowed by the removal of the word "normal" from Unilever's products. I understand shifting language is necessary for social change, but "normal" when referring to skin type isn't really offensive or exclusionary despite the company's market research. ("Normal" hair type and body weight...now those are different stories.) Thank goodness for r/skincareaddiction telling it like it is.

Astrology-themed beauty is still going strong, perhaps even more so due to the pandemic.

- Sad that I missed this oh so spicy collab before it sold out for the second year in a row.

The random:

In 90s nostalgia, HBO will feature a documentary on actress Brittany Murphy (Clueless, Girl Interrupted) and Netflix has released a documentary on the last Blockbuster video store (the irony). Also, while it doesn't take place in the '90s, Moxie is apparently brimming with Riot Grrrl vibes. I need to see it, obviously!

- How adorable is this mini art gallery?

- I enjoyed this article on the work of fashion illustrator Marcel Vertes, who also created ads for a number of perfumes and cosmetics.

- If you ask me, mermaidcore is always trending.

How did March treat you?  Generally speaking I hate it so I was glad to see it go. Here's to longer days and warm weather!

Speed reviews: makeup history reads

In an effort to condense a few posts I'm doing some quick reviews of recent additions to the Museum's library. Hopefully they'll be of use...I mean, they can't be any worse than my usual long-form reviews, right?

Up first is historian Cheryl Woodruff-Brooks's biography of Sara Spencer Washington, who established the Apex News and Hair Company in 1919. Over the years the company expanded to include 11 Apex Beauty Colleges in the U.S. (including one right here in Baltimore - more on that later!) and abroad, Apex Laboratories to manufacture hair care, cosmetics and even household goods, and Apex News, which produced publications for her estheticians and sales agents. The Apex empire, as it came to be known, employed roughly 45,000 sales agents at its peak. Madame Washington wasn’t just a savvy entrepreneur; she regularly gave back to the Black community by offering scholarships to Apex schools, establishing a golf course that welcomed people of all races and economic status, and even founded a nursing home, Apex Rest.  Golden Beauty Boss: The Story of Madame Sara Spencer-Washington and the Apex Empire is relatively short but incredibly informative.  I can only imagine how many hours the author spent digging through various archives.

Golden Beauty Boss by Cheryl Woodruff-Brooks

Quality research and an intriguing story about one of the most successful Black entrepreneurs in history is a must-have for well, anyone! You can buy it here.

Next we have Howard Melton's and Michael Mont's American Compacts of the Art Deco Era: The Art of Elgin American, J.M. Fisher, and Others. This isn't a collector's guide; it's more along the lines of Jean-Marie Martin Hattemberg's tomes on powder boxes and lipsticks in that there are many images of beautiful objects to drool over with some wonderful history along the way. It also includes a good amount of ads, which are very helpful in identifying compacts - of course, you can also see some Elgin compact catalogs over at the Elgin History Museum archives

American Compacts of the Art Deco Era

American Compacts of the Art Deco Era

What I love about American Compacts is that it focuses on the compacts of a particular era and country so it's not overwhelming, yet still provides useful information throughout. The story of Elgin's Bird in Hand compact is a particularly great highlight.  Overall, American Compacts is a necessity for the vintage makeup collector or anyone with an interest in Art Deco design. As for purchasing, you remember my interview with Andra of Lady-A Antiques, right? Well, she's offering this book at a reduced price at her store, so be sure to buy it there!

Moving along, I read Color Stories: Behind the Scenes of America's Billion Dollar Beauty Industry by journalist Mary Lisa Gavenas. It's a bit dated at this point since it was published in 2002, but still a good read as it provides a very fascinating behind-the-scenes, soup-to-nuts description of how makeup color stories were selected and marketed each season during the 1990s and early 2000s - essentially a full, unbiased story of the process. 

Color Stories by Mary Lisa Gavenas

It's very useful for anyone looking for cosmetic marketing history as well as '90s makeup history (ahem), but I think it would also be interesting for fashion or business historians more generally.  I would dearly love to see an update for the age of social media, Millennials/Gen Z'ers and the increased demand for diversity and inclusion among beauty consumers. So much has changed in 20 years!

Next up is another drool-worthy book I found on ebay. It's in Japanese so I can't actually read any of the text, but the photos are more than worth it. You'll find lots of vintage Shiseido and other Japanese brands along with a sprinkling of Western lines such as L.T. Piver packaged for the Japanese market. While powder boxes, skincare and perfume comprise most of the objects, there's also personal hygiene products like deodorant and tooth powder.

Japanese labels and packaging book

Japanese labels and packaging book

If you love vintage powder boxes, vintage design and typography, or Japanese culture in general, this belongs on your book shelf. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an English version so I can read the history behind some of the brands that are covered.

Finally, there's Lucky Lips: Stories About Lipstick, written by René Koch (a.k.a. the founder of the Lipstick Museum.) When I purchased the book I mistakenly thought it had English text alongside the German. Oops. Still, it's a nice supplement to Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg's Lips of Luxury as it contains different vintage lipsticks, some of which I hadn't seen before.

Lucky Lips book by Rene Koch

Lucky Lips book by Rene Koch

I wish I could compare the information offered in both books, but at the very least I can tell that Lucky Lips has some tips on lipstick application and 20th century lipstick history organized by decade. Overall, it's good to have on hand and a quality addition to the vintage makeup collector's library, especially if you can read German. (I've said this before, but if I could have any superpower it would be fluency in all languages within a matter of minutes.) If you had to choose between this one and Lips of Luxury, however, I'd go with the latter as it's a bit more extensive.

Are you interested in any of these? What books, beauty-related or otherwise, have you finished recently?