Art history

We're all mad here: Clé de Peau holiday 2018

Over the past few years I've really been enjoying Clé de Peau's artist collaborations for their holiday collections.  They select artists with very different styles but ones that somehow always do an amazing job representing the brand's vision and aesthetic.  This year the company partnered with Italian surrealist illustrator Daria Petrilli, who, as you will see, is as mysterious as her dreamlike artwork. 

According to this interview with the Shiseido team responsible for the collection, Clé de Peau's makeup director Lucia Pieroni selected an Alice in Wonderland theme, or a "winter fairyland" per the translation of the French "féeries d'hiver".  Consisting of pale pinks and greys contrasting with bold berry and a dash of soft shimmer, the color scheme is meant to evoke a winter tea party in an English garden.  It was packaging designer Kaori Nagata who suggested collaborating with Petrilli and who translated her beautiful illustrations to equally gorgeous boxes and palette cases.  Simply put, the team was "mesmerized by [Petrilli's] talent."  They were also searching for an artist who could elevate a theme usually intended for children and create a grown-up version of Wonderland to match the style (and price tag) of a high-end line.  As Shiseido rep Saiko Kawahara notes, "Brands of low to mid price range create many products that are 'adorable,' but I think that is precisely why it is necessary to add some refinement, such as 'a grown-up joke' or 'spicy playfulness,' when a prestige brand attempts to create an 'adorable' product."  Indeed, while Disney-fied versions of Alice worked well on mid-end brands like Beyond, Paul & Joe and Urban Decay, I don't think they'd be appropriate for Clé de Peau.  And I don't mean that in a snooty way either - that style just wouldn't be a good fit for the brand.

Now let's get to the goodies!  I picked up the eye shadow quad, pressed powder, stick highlighter, and one of the lipsticks.  I think the colors for the makeup itself are lovely, but what really blew me away is the mix of aqua, light pink and fuchsia with hints of coral and deep wine throughout the packaging.




The playing card embossing is a stroke of genius.


I adore all the packaging, but the white rabbit peeking out of the box for the powder highlighter and the woman's rosy cheeks and chic dark lips on the outer case are possibly my favorites out of the collection.




I'm also very fond of this flower lady, as she embodies the talking/singing flower garden Alice encounters.  (That was my favorite scene when I was little!)


In addition to the key, checkerboard and playing card motifs, the names for each product were also carefully chosen to align with the Alice theme.  This lipstick, for example, is called Paint Me (the other is Follow Me), an homage to both painting the queen's roses red and the "eat me/drink me" signs in Lewis Carroll's classic book.  Meanwhile, the eyeshadow quad is named Tea Party, the pressed powder Pink Push Me, and the stick highlighter Light Me.  



The company even came up with an ad featuring a poem for each item.  The animations are looking a little Monty Python to me, but that's probably just because I've been re-watching it on Netflix the past few weeks.  It's still pretty cute.  

The moisturizer is the one piece I did not buy, as I couldn't justify the $535 (!) price tag for just the outer packaging.  Even if the jar itself was decorated I still couldn't have bought it - too rich for my blood.  Still, it's beautiful, and the keyhole cut out, along with the cut-outs on the other boxes, emphasize a connection to the entire Clé de Peau brand.  Says Ayumi Nishimoto, another member of Shiseido's creative team, "Not only does this tie in with the holiday concept ('open the door to the extraordinary'), it is also brilliantly linked to Clé de Peau Beauté’s tagline, 'unlock the power of your radiance.'"  Indeed, "clé" is French for key, so this detail creates complete cohesion across the holiday collection and Clé de Peau line.  Now that's what I call synergy!


Apologies for the lackluster photo, it was the only one I could find of the cutout.

Keyhole cutout

The keys were also used on the skincare sets, none of which I purchased but still covet.  


Finally, there were some very nice gift boxes and bags featuring different images, which were offered with the purchase of any two items from the holiday collection at the Clé de Peau website.  Since I eagerly bought the collection as soon as it became available at Neiman Marcus (so I could use my store card and also get 10% cash back via Ebates), I missed this as well.  I might hunt for one on ebay.  

(images from

As for the worldwide marketing of the collection, both online and in-store advertising were simply dazzling.  The advertising and design team created a truly magical video where Petrilli's illustrations spring to life.  Unlike the ad above, this one features much more sophisticated animations and cutting-edge 360 degree technology so that the viewer feels totally immersed in Wonderland.  Nishimoto and fellow team member Satoko Tomizawa explain:  "As global campaigns are launched in various countries around the world, it is necessary to create something that is highly versatile and universal. This time, we took on a new challenge of making not just a campaign video, but also a 360-degree video that anyone, anywhere, can experience through their smartphones. Viewers can enjoy more of the wonderland that we have created.  While remaining respectful of Daria’s illustrations, we paid special attention to giving the campaign videos a sense of worldliness unique to 3D animation. We asked the production studio Shirogumi, Inc. to produce the CGI for the story of a rabbit jumping through keyholes and traveling through wonderland."  

Additionally, I must say the set up at their Omotesando Hills location in Tokyo was spectacular, rivaling the decor used for Kathe Fraga's breathtaking collection last year.  Tomizawa states that the collection theme allowed the company to show a more whimsical side of the brand and push the boundaries of not only packaging but also store design. "We created a spatial experience, where visitors could enter as the mysterious wonderland as if their bodies had shrunk small. Not only was the Clé de Peau Beauté Store in Omotesando Hills in holiday mode, but entire complex invited visitors to experience wonderland. Large banners hung from ceiling to the floor, blownup packaging made their appearances in the staircase, a mysterious tea party setting along with the 360-degree video was on display. It was the first time that the holiday collection was featured in such a large-scale event. Inspired by the packaging design, we were able to expand on many playful ideas for digital and spatial design. Through this wonderland we were able to show a more imaginative, playful side of the prestige brand."  I would have loved to visit this magical setup!




(images from

Now that we've covered the collection, let's delve into the world of the highly secretive Daria Petrilli.  Born in 1970 in Rome, she graduated with an MA in Communication and Design at the Università La Sapienza, then moved to London and completed a degree in Experimental Illustration at the London College of Communication, a school within the prestigious University of the Arts London.  Petrilli has been commissioned for magazines (most recently, her work accompanied a rather depressing piece about suicide in Oprah Magazine), children's books and has had several solo exhibitions.  Her illustrations also served as one of the inspirations for fashion label Delpozo's fall 2016 collection.  However, it seems that Petrilli prefers to remain out of the spotlight.  She has no website, Tumblr or Instagram.  The only social media platform she uses is Pinterest, and she uses it to highlight "illustrations made ​​for my personal joy, without bosses, and even publishers ...only for my pleasure."  She has granted only two interviews and her work has been discussed in just two brief articles that I was able to find online, and they're either in Italian or badly translated, so I'm not sure how much of it I'll be able to use.  As we know, relying on Google more often than not results in nonsensical translations, but I will try to decipher everything as best I can.  It's a shame she's not as willing to put herself out there as much as some artists are, because I'm dying to know her thoughts on working with Clé de Peau and her own approach to makeup.  The few photos I was able to find of Petrilli show her seemingly barefaced save for one. 

Anyway, onto her work. I won't pretend that I can explain it or provide any real insight, but here's a brief description. Many of Petrilli's illustrations depict ethereal, brooding women occupying dreamlike landscapes and interiors, often with animals.  As with other Surrealist imagery, the scenes are odd and even a little unsettling at times.  Most of the women appear melancholy and isolated; they seem to be alone even when other figures are included.  Perhaps one is meant to be the real self and other figures/animals are a projection of her innermost thoughts and feelings, or in true Surrealist style, a representation of the unconscious mind.  These women contrast with those in the Clé de Peau collection, who seem to be peacefully relaxing within the magical realm of Wonderland.



While she started out painting, admiring the Renaissance frescoes of her native Rome and using the techniques of the Old Masters, Petrilli found that digital illustration best suited her interest in creating surreal images. She describes how her artistic journey and search for her personal style was shaped by her upbringing in Rome as well as the birth of her daughter:  "Ever since I was a child I lost myself in the images of illustrated books and I was completely fascinated...Taking a course of classical studies and helped by the fact that I live in a city, Rome, immersed in antiquities and ancient splendor I have always had a passion for the history of art, with a predilection for certain representation and historical periods including one on all the surrealism...I was helped by the birth of my daughter, to keep up with her or put aside my commercial work, and I found myself spending a lot of time alone me and my computer. Prior to that I drew and painted especially with the classical techniques especially acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencils, and I used the digital as a compendium...I began to realize that I could convey in a fast and effective manner the ideas that came to me all the time. And I began to compose images like this for my simple pleasure of them without a purpose or aim at something...Digital manipulation was the element that allowed me to give it life, mixing, overlapping and painting my creations and have become increasingly personal."  In looking at her work, it's hard to believe these images are created digitally.  I could easily mistake them for paintings given how seamlessly the individual elements, strange though they might be, are combined.  When I think of digital art my mind immediately jumps to collages.  Not that there's anything wrong with that - I love me a good collage - but I imagine them to resemble cutouts jumbled together rather than the smoothness of paintings.  In the illustration below, for example, I feel as though I can practically see brushstrokes on the fish, and the transparency of the women's fingers also appear to have been rendered in paint.

Daria Petrilli - fish-hat

Petrilli is particularly enamored by birds because "their eyes fascinate me for that sense of primordial concern emanating", or translated another way, "To me they communicate a sense of primordial restlessness.”   Whatever the meaning of that may be, here are some of my favorite avian-themed works by the artist.


Daria Petrilli

Daria Petrilli - a dream-in-china


Stylistically, I'm seeing many different artistic influences in Petrilli's work.  Her appreciation for the Renaissance art she grew up with is exemplified in a variety of ways, such as the clothing her characters wear, use of perspective and generally muted background colors.   This one in particular reminds me of two Renaissance paintings:  da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (both the woman's hairstyle and the position of her hands holding the bird look similar) and Piero della Francesca's Montefeltro Altarpiece, which has a pendant egg suspended in the background.  (Obviously there are entire books on symbolism in Renaissance and Surrealist art so attempting to go into more detail on my humble little blog would be a fruitless effort, but you can start with these two if you're so inclined.  There's also a veritable goldmine of books on women and surrealism, which are relevant given Petrilli's focus on portraying women.)

(images from pinterest)

(image from

(image from

Other surrealist artists may have influenced Petrilli.  In Hypnosis Double, the way the women are posed call to mind Frida Kahlo's Two Fridas.  And while the deer seem unharmed, perhaps they're a nod to The Wounded Deer.

Daria Petrilli

(image from

I'm also seeing a resemblance between Petrilli's work and that of contemporary Surrealist Christian Schloe.  As a matter of fact, doing an image search I thought some of his works were Petrilli's.  


(images from facebook)

Despite these similarities, I'm not implying Petrilli's work is in any way derivative.  Her content and style are unique and deeply personal; the way in which she weaves together a variety of art history styles and techniques breathes new life into digital illustration and reflects her own individual artistic upbringing and training.  Another reason I think Clé de Peau made an excellent decision to commission her for an Alice in Wonderland inspired collection is that Petrilli has explored it before.  Below is Alice's Dream, along with other works that have the same motifs as the Clé de Peau collection: flamingos, keys, butterflies, flower-women hybrids, and a checker-printed floor.  Again, I'm sure there are hidden meanings in these but that's just way too much ground to cover here.


Daria Petrilli - flamingo




(images from pinterest)

In conclusion, I'm massively impressed with both Petrilli's work and the Clé de Peau collection.  This year the company took a chance by exploring a more whimsical theme and succeeded thanks to Petrilli's imagery, which is a far more refined and elegant representation of Alice in Wonderland than any other makeup collection I've seen.  As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely adore the cutesy treatment used by other brands since it reminds me of my childhood, but this was a nice change of pace and obviously suits a luxury brand like Clé de Peau much better. I just wish I could have heard a little more from Petrilli's perspective about working on the collection.

What do you think?  What's your favorite illustration out of these?

Oh deer! Isa x Bambi

I have no idea how I missed this adorable collection when it was released last fall, but I'm glad I managed to track it down.  Since there are so many Disney collaborations I tend to be fairly selective as to which ones to purchase for the Museum, but I thought this Bambi collection from Korean brand Isa Knox was special enough to be worthy.  :)

Isa Knox Bambi

The outer packaging alone is lovely.  The sides of the boxes have delightful floral prints and Bambi illustrations.

Isa Knox Bambi

Isa Knox Bambi

More pretty floral patterns abound on the compacts themselves, and Bambi's brown fur gets a vibrant, overlapping watercolor makeover.

Isa Knox Bambi


Isa Knox Bambi

Isa Knox Bambi

I'm not much of a Disney buff, but I do follow a lot of art blogs, which is how I came across the story of artist Tyrus Wong (1910-2016).   Wong went largely unrecognized for his groundbreaking work on Disney's Bambi until the early aughts, but I'm glad he finally got his due, since his style was instrumental in setting the film's tone and atmosphere and also created an entirely new direction for Disney.  I thought it would be fun to look at the Isa collection within the context of the original Bambi art.

Wong was born in China and came to the U.S. when he was nine (Tyrus is an Americanized version of "Tai Yow" that a teacher assigned him in elementary school).  His father, taking note of his son's interest in drawing, taught him calligraphy every night using a brush dipped in water and "painting" characters on newspapers, as they couldn't afford ink or drawing paper. A junior high teacher noticed Wong's artistic skill and arranged a scholarship for him to attend the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where he studied both Western art and the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279).  Wong graduated in the early '30s and showed his work in exhibitions throughout the country.  In 1938 he got a job at Disney as an “in-betweener" drawing the thousands of frames that occur in between the main animation sequences.  I didn't know this, but "in-between" animation is incredibly dull and repetitive - it's basically assembly-line production.  When Wong found out Disney would be adapting Felix Salten's 1923 book into a film, he jumped at the opportunity to showcase his work. 

Tyrus Wong

"I said, 'Gee, this is all outdoor scenery...I said, gee, I'm a landscape painter. This will be great!'" Wong recalled in a video used in a 2013 exhibition of his work at San Francisco's Walt Disney Family Museum.  Using pastels and watercolors as well as inspiration from the Song dynasty landscape paintings, Wong sketched out a few samples with emphasis on the play between light and shadow rather than meticulously drawing each leaf and branch.  As you can see, it's more of a pared-down, Impressionist approach that evokes the forest rather than being a literal representation. "I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest,” Wong said.  Adds Michael Labrie, director of collections and exhibitions at the Disney Family Museum, "He visualized the forest as being ethereal...the sketches were more of an impression of the forest."

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Wong was definitely in the right place at the right time:  Disney realized that the ornate style used for the forest scenes in their 1937 feature Snow White, despite the success of the film, could not be carried over to Bambi.  The highly detailed leaves and trees were overwhelming, basically camouflaging Bambi and the other animals.  Wong's approach not only was perfect for the film's subject matter, but also presented a strikingly different direction for animated films.  “Walt Disney went crazy over them,” notes John Canemaker, who wrote about Wong in his 1996 book. “He said, ‘I love this indefinite quality, the mysterious quality of the forest.’”  Adds chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter, "This sophistication of expression was a gigantic leap forward for the medium."

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concept art for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concepts for Bambi

Tyrus Wong - concepts for Bambi

Here's short video with a few more paintings and commentary both from Wong himself and other people who worked on the film.  (There's another video here but I couldn't figure out how to embed it into this post. Sigh.)

After his time at Disney, Wong produced illustrations for live-action movies at Warner Brothers.  In his later years he continued painting and also branched out into kite-making.  His story is very inspirational, as he was a poor immigrant who worked incredibly hard to overcome not only poverty, but also endured the rampant racism against Chinese people to become an acclaimed artist.

Tyrus Wong(images from and

Getting back to the Isa collection, I still think it's a solid addition to the Museum (and will look excellent in the fall 2017 exhibition so keep your eyes peeled!), but now a part of me wishes they had used Wong's paintings for the packaging.  As a matter of fact, I'd love to see more companies use original sketches rather than the finished Disney designs.  The only time we've seen the preliminary artwork for a Disney collaboration, at least to my knowledge, is with MAC's Venemous Villains.  

Anyway, what do you think?


Not more of the SAMO: Basquiat x Urban Decay

My thoughts on Urban Decay's collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988) were very tough to gather for many reasons, which is why I'm just getting a post up well over a month after the collection's original release.  It's always difficult to approach beauty collections featuring monumental artists such as Basquiat due to the enormous amount of resources, and while I feel the need to be thorough in exploring the artist's work, I don't wish to embarrass myself by pretending I'm an expert on their oeuvre (art history degree non-withstanding).  This post was made harder to write by the fact that I had already touched a bit on Basquiat's work for Addiction's 2013 collection, so I really didn't have any idea on how to properly approach Urban Decay's collection as I didn't want to repeat myself but still felt I needed to provide some information.  Finally, there was the issue of whether it was even appropriate to be using Basquiat's work for makeup packaging and to collaborate with the Urban Decay brand in particular.  In the end, after a few very frustrating weeks of searching for journal articles at the library and consulting no fewer than 6 books on the artist (3 of which I purchased), I threw up my hands and decided to simply identify which specific paintings appeared on the makeup, giving a little background on them where I could.  I'll go over the makeup first and briefly review the artworks that are on each item, then attempt to wrap my head around the mammoth controversy surrounding the collection.  Get ready for a lot of quotes - I think only around 100 of the nearly 4,000 words here are my own, since my writing and analysis just weren't up to par with those of real art historians and I figured it was best to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.

I was so glad to nab the highly coveted vault, which included the entire collection save for the makeup bags.  I really wanted this bag since it had another artwork that wasn't featured on any of the vault items, but it sold out within minutes and I'm sure not paying $99 for it on ebay.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

The outer packaging is adorned with the 1983 work Danny Rosen, while the inside features a reproduction of Untitled (The Return of the Central Figure) (1983).  These same two works also appear on the lipsticks. 

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

The inner lid of the vault box shows Gold Griot (1984), which is used for one of the eye shadow palettes.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

Interestingly, the painting on the interior of the Gold Griot palette is a completely different work.  Basquiat painted several pieces entitled Per Capita, and the one that appears on the inside of the palette is from 1982.  Unfortunately I was unable to find a decent photo of it online or in any books - only this tiny picture here.  Hmmph.

I love how the individual shade names refer to the titles of some of Basquiat's other pieces.

 Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

The blush palette depicts Untitled (Crown) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

The other eye shadow palette in the collection features Untitled (Tenant) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Finally, we have the lipsticks.

Urban Decay x Basquiat lipsticks

Now here are the original artworks.  But first, in case you aren't familiar with Basquiat and don't feel like googling, I found this bio to be succinct yet accurate.  The immediacy and freshness of his style are still striking nearly 30 years after his untimely death, and I don't think the themes in his work - racism, capitalist greed, the hypocrisy of the art world, among others - will ever be irrelevant. Just a few weeks ago one of his pieces shattered auction records, selling for a cool $110.5 million - more than any American artist.

Let's start with Danny Rosen, titled after one of Basquiat's friends.  Here's an excerpt from an excellent essay on this piece, which I encourage you to read in full: "On a monumentally scaled vertical canvas, Basquiat plays out his own excited narrative using a visual language all his own. Colorful, mask-like faces, cryptic symbols, words and cyphers mix with various anatomical details, vegetation and ethnographical heads jostle with more cartoon-like renditions of the human face. Words appear--and are crossed out for extra emphasis--and then placed innocuously next to objects to which they bear no relation. Basquiat's outpouring of imagery is held together by an exploratory train of green vegetation that winds up through the arrangement, acting as a compositional device and pulling all the various elements together into one harmonious whole...Simultaneously both figurative and abstract, Basquiat's imagery and brushwork formulate a painting that interweaves the human form with a staccato rhythm of signs that convey a sense of the mental hurly-burly of modern urban living. The untamed energy of Danny Rosen provides a window onto the frenetic pulse of Basquiat's life and links his past as a graffitist with his new status as an established artist, presenting us with a raw and vivid impression of the urban world he inhabited."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danny Rosen, 1983
(image from 

Moving on to 1983's Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), I learned that this piece is actually a silkscreen print, part of a series of 12.  The medium may have been Warhol's influence on Basquiat, who quickly saw the potential of silkscreen as it related to his depiction of various dichotomies.  As Fred Hoffman writes in his essay for Basquiat (p. 130):  "Having worked closely with the artist in the production of his editioned silkscreens as well as his first unique paintings utilizing silkscreen-generated imagery, I became acutely aware of the extent of Basquiat’s concern for incorporating the dichotomy between black and white into both the content and the strategies of his artistic production. A primary example is the artist’s fraught self-transformation from black to white in the untitled silkscreen on canvas of 1983: in the original artwork, the artist depicted a black head set on top of a ground of texts and images; but the silkscreen reverses the positive imagery and texts, turning everything originally depicted in black into white, and everything white into black. Basquiat throughout his career focused on other suggestive dichotomies, including wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience."

This work, I think, also is an excellent representation of how Basquiat essentially painted hip-hop.  One of the best discussions I found on this was Franklin Sirmans' essay "In the Cypher:  Basquiat and Hip-Hop Culture".  "Basquiat's art - like the best hip-hop - takes apart and reassembles the work that came before it.  That is to say, it dismantles its historical precedents by showing mastery over their techniques and styles, and put them to new uses, in which the new becomes the final product layered over the past...Basquiat's trademark lists of words spat in paint, visually stuttered, repeated and often crossed out, to be read as incantations with a pause for thought and breath:  in other words, beats that control the flow of the composition." (p. 92-93)  I'm normally drawn to more colorful art, but after reading that analysis I have to say my mind is blown looking at this.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), 1983

The original was a collage of 28 drawings mounted on canvas.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982-83(images from and the Brooklyn Museum)

Gold Griot is also notable for its medium (wooden planks instead of canvas) as well as the subject matter.  Eric Fretz explains in Jean-Michel Basquiat:  A Biography (p.118-119):  "The 'griot' is a West African storyteller:  not just an entertainer but an important and respected figure who keeps a family's history and a community's traditions alive through storytelling...sports figures and jazz musicians had served as metaphors for the position of a black artist in Basquiat's earlier work.  He was now extending his references back to Africa and comparing his work to the griot tradition."  However, I'm more inclined to agree with Marc Mayer's deeper analysis of the griot in Basquiat's work, which proposes that the artist was poking fun at the "primitive" tradition within Western art as well as the American perception of Africa.  "But then there are his emaciated, scarified, and almost extraterrestrial griots - a term for West African bards.  Chilling fetishes, they exploit an American fantasy of an unrecorded ur-Africa of fear and sorcery.  Flexible (page 140), for example, which belongs to a series of similar pictures is a frightening scarecrow of a painting that, judging from the number of its variations, probably amused the artist to no end." (Basquiat, p. 45).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gold Griot, 1984(image from

Possibly the most recognized Basquiat motif is the crown. I discussed the meaning behind this in my previous post on the Addiction collection, but here's a succinct explanation, courtesy of Robert Farris Thompson in Jean-Michel Basquiat (p. 20):  "This symbol comes straight out of the world of the graffiteros.  When Mailer published 'The Faith of Graffiti' in 1974, the two most frequent names on the walls of New York City were 'King' and 'Cool.'  Basquiat never lost that preoccupation with nobility.  He wanted his stature properly appreciated as a kind of creative royalty.  All of which runs parallel with other black Americans who in effect said, 'If you can't see the inherent nobility of our culture then, raising our assertion to a pitch, we will crown ourselves with an alternative hierarchy': thus Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lady Day, and Nat King Cole."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Crown), 1982(image from the Brooklyn Museum)

Untitled (Tenant) was a tricky one to find.  I didn't come across any decent photos of it online or in the books I looked through, so the best I could do was a screen shot taken from this 2011 documentary.  Subject matter wise, I'm not exactly sure what it means, but my hunch is that it's one of the many figural "heroes"  Basquiat was painting at the time.  Dieter Buchhart explains in Basquiat:  Now's the Time (p. 14-15):  "Around [1981], Basquiat began to differentiate his depictions, turning towards full-body portraits, primarily of African-American men.  He represents these men as boxers, sufferers, saints, angels and fighters.  Their halos seem to oscillate between glorioles, laurel wreaths and crowns of thorns, and their weapons stretch from fists, teeth, baseball bats, spears, arrows and swords to brooms, buckets of water and angels' wings...Basquiat's African American men are usually not only read to struggle but also intent on resistance."  The raised hands appear frequently in Basquiat's work, simultaneously representing the more general struggle for equality and resistance to white dominance - his pictures of boxers for example, portray figures with conflicted, and as noted earlier, often dichotomous, meanings.  Coupled with the title of this piece, I think it may show a black squatter in a vacant home caught off guard by  (presumably) white police, especially after reading this analysis by scholar Nathan Brown in his spot-on essay "The Irony of Anatomy: Basquiat's Poetics of Black Positionality":  "And indeed the figure is also powerfully consonant with contemporary struggles against anti-black racism, in which the gesture of raised hands, ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’, expresses a conversion of black positionality – the position of the putative criminal confronted by the cops – into black power: the assertive action of resistance against the persistence of white supremacy in civil society. This conversion of position into power expresses a scathing political irony directed against the physical imperatives of oppression, the bodily postures and submissive attitudes it demands thrown back with avenging anger."  And while Untitled (Tenant) was painted a full year before graffiti artist Michael Stewart was beaten to death by NYC police, an event that shook Basquiat to his core, the figure's pose seems to suggest impending police brutality.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Tenant), 1982

This last one, which appears on one of the lipsticks, was even harder to find.  I didn't see any pictures of it online; fortunately one of the books I bought had it. Untitled (1982) consists of a disembodied head - another often-used motif for the artist - surrounded by various scribbles and shapes including the famous crown.  Interestingly this one does not have any discernible text.  Much has been written about Basquiat's heads, which in some cases like the one below, are partial skulls.  This one particular though got my attention - why is this one wearing a bowtie?  The row of buttons beneath perhaps suggest that he's wearing a tuxedo, which is also the title of a well-known work.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982

Hoffman's interpretation of 1982's Untitled (Head) can be applied to this work as well. "Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull, is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such, it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate its psycho-spiritual recesses...Untitled (Head) depicts the left upper and lower teeth, possibly accounting for the work’s misinterpretation as a skull by some. But Untitled (Head) clearly also depicts functioning facial features as well: the left ear, both eyes, and the nose...the artist also reveals less tangible aspects of the head, such as the subtle neural pathways connecting the sense organs to their internal processor. This concern for sensory and cognitive activity negates the interpretation of the head as an inanimate skull. What this work ultimately captures is the fluidity between external and internal—the complex, living processes connecting seeing, hearing, smelling, and knowing...Untitled (Head) indicates that, from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work introduces the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects. His work appears to break down the dichotomy between the external and the internal, intuiting and revealing the innermost aspects of psychic life. In so doing, the artist extends the concern for spiritual truths advanced most notably by the Abstract Expressionists four decades earlier."  However, I also think given how crazily wide the eyes are and the bared, partially red (bloody?) teeth, there's a sense of madness and/or monstrosity here too.  The description in an essay for yet a different head-themed work, Head of Madman, is relevant for this piece.  "Joining the pantheon of mad, deranged and overtly expressive figures engraved throughout the pages of art history, and their commanding visual references within popular culture, Head of Madman maintains a fine balance between control, spontaneity, menace and wit...Embarking on the grand tradition of illustrating extreme states of consciousness through artistic expression, Head of Madman captures the same emotional tension articulated in the Grotesque Heads of Leonardo da Vinci, the Black Paintings of Goya, Otto Dix's war-torn realism, Egon Schiele's erotically charged portraiture, and Francis Bacon's screaming Popes. And yet here, the artist seems to take his figure one step further. Slowly peeling away the skin of his forebears, Basquiat reveals a certain skeletal rawness, derived from the barrage of inner demons and personal struggles the artist was forced to cope with during his relatively short life...Head of Madman at once evokes Frankenstein's monster, coupled with an amalgamation of super villain traits, and combined with a certain mishmash of boldly heroic comic colors...Not irreducible to a single source of inspiration, Head of Madman is a unique infusion of history, biography and mass media imagery."  

Now that I've briefly looked at the artworks, let's explore the controversies surrounding this collection.  First up, was a collaboration with a brand like Urban Decay appropriate?  On the surface, it would seem like a perfect fit given the grittiness of some of Basquiat's work and Urban Decay's mantra of "beauty with an edge".  Basquiat sought to change the art world and rebelled against the way it functioned, and one could argue that Urban Decay set out to shake up the beauty industry by trying to normalize non-traditional colors (remember the original "Does pink make you puke?" campaign from the '90s?)  So it would seem that Basquiat and Urban Decay would be aligned in spirit.  Says David Stark, president of the firm managing the licensing of Basquiat's work:  "When we think about a program we try and figure out who the right fit would be and vehicles that would be a good platform for us to get our message out. Urban Decay is a company we’ve known for several years. It took us a little bit of time to craft the program we eventually developed with them, but we did feel that as a brand Urban Decay is edgy and had an element of artistry and felt like a good fit." But as ArtNet points out, "One of Urban Decay’s marketing taglines reads 'UD beauty junkies…Addiction has its perks,' a less than ideal message to set against the artist’s life and legacy considering that he died at age 27 from a heroin overdose."  This is quite true, especially when looking at some of their product names like Freebase and Junkie (I admit I own the latter).  Still, if Basquiat's work was going to appear on any makeup brand, Urban Decay is the natural choice by a mile.  And perhaps the collab could even encourage Urban Decay to change some of their product names to non-offensive ones eventually.

The second questionable decision was the selection of model Ruby Rose to front the Urban Decay campaign.  Some were dismayed that a white woman was being used to promote the collection, and I'm inclined to agree.  Stark addressed the issue:  "I’ve seen some of that criticism. It wasn’t that we chose her because she was white or black, she was already selected by Urban Decay to be the spokesperson for their brand. As far as looking at Jean-Michel as an individual, people would very often try to pigeonhole him and call him a black artist and Jean-Michel would say: 'I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist.' He would say a lot of the protagonists in his work are black figures, and he would say, 'I didn’t see a lot of black figures in paintings,' so he would have his own subversive angle towards these things. In terms of an agenda as a black person or a black artist, it’s hard to attribute that to him. Even though he grew up in a middle-class black family, his family was Caribbean. They didn’t have the African-American experience. His heritage was Haitian and Puerto Rican. He had a very multicultural background."  Uhhhh...I'd argue Basquiat DID have the "African-American experience" - it's not like strangers looking at him could know where his family was from; all they saw was a black man.  This is to say nothing of the incredibly prominent African-American cultural references and figures that comprise so much of Basquiat's work.  Stark's comment makes me wonder if he ever actually looked at Basquiat's paintings.  Also, I understand his point about Rose already being the brand's model, but in this day and age, where non-white models are still so underrepresented, it just makes more sense to have a woman of color for this collection.  Writing for BET, Lainey Sidell says, "We get that Urban Decay didn't do anything outright 'wrong' with using its normal spokesmodel in this campaign, but it begs a wider, more comprehensive discussion. Are creatives really doing all they can to level the playing field for POC models? With this Basquiat campaign, the answer is looking like no. Our hope is, by continually bringing attention to such decisions, change will come."  I understand using a model who was already under contract, but I think Urban Decay could have made an exception for the Basquiat collection - using a model of color wouldn't have hurt.

Finally, there's the continually difficult question that can never really have an answer:  would Basquiat have approved of his work being used on makeup?  Of course we'll never know, but I always like to explore the different sides.  The artist's estate approached Urban Decay, not the other way around, so it's not like Urban Decay was chasing after them to make a buck. (I'm not sure how much that means, though, given what we've seen of Kahlo's estate, where it seems her niece is in fact after the sweet dinero.)  Some say that Basquiat would be aghast at seeing his art slapped on makeup (or skateboards or dishes or watches) to make money, especially given the anti-consumerism, anti-commodification stance in his work and his own refusal to "sell out" as an artist.  As writer Glenn O'Brien, who cast Basquiat in his 1981 film Downtown 81 remembers in Jean-Michel Basquiat:  Now's The Time (p.178): "He wanted the big money, but that's because the big money was about respect.  He wasn't in it for the money.  He was in it for the audience."  But O'Brien also points out that Basquiat was committed to making art accessible.  "He didn't make work for collectors, dealers, curators or critics. He painted for the public.  He didn't paint for those who would hold title to his pieces, but for all those who would see them." (p. 180, emphasis mine). What's better than the average person being able to hang a Basquiat on their wall at a price that's even lower than a print?  Urban Decay made sure people could enjoy simply looking at the art in addition to the makeup by including cut-outs on the back of the palettes.

Urban Decay x Basquiat detail

I'd also argue that Basquiat would be tickled at the wide appeal of his art and that it actually appeared on a makeup line that proved to be a quite lucrative deal.  O'Brien once again:  "I wish he could see his shows now - how they draw the crowds - and I know he'd like his prices.  I remember him laughing at a painting he sold at the Fun Gallery show that he'd made in ten minutes.  He had figured out his hourly rate was something like $15,000." To see millions of dollars being made off of his work appearing on makeup, I think, would have been greatly amusing to the artist.

At the end of the day, and this is probably my own bias since, you know, I've been running an online makeup museum featuring artist collabs for nearly 9 years, I'm all for makeup featuring artists because it helps spread their work to a wider audience.  Even though I questioned Stark's other comments, I fully agree with his perspective on sharing art via makeup packaging:  "We like the idea of introducing Basquiat to a new audience and a new generation. This is a way for us to get out in a very public way and engage people with his art and hopefully get them to do a little research and learn something about Basquiat. The other thing is, there are plenty of people, when it comes to beauty, who are not necessarily the museum-going audience. There may be a consumer from Urban Decay who never steps foot in a museum and this is a subversive way of getting Basquiat into different people’s eyeballs that they wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise. Basquiat was a great communicator and this is a way for that art to get out and communicate on a different plane."  Again, I'm biased and obviously Stark is too, as the president of a company that makes money off of these types of collaborations, but I'm absolutely on board with this sentiment. 

Okay, that was long!  If you read my shallow ramblings this far, what are your thoughts?  I don't think I did Basquiat justice, but I'm pleased I could at least identify all the works in the collection and aggregate some good analyses from people more adept than I am at writing about art.

Friday with Frida: more Kahlo-inspired makeup

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  In honor of this festive day I thought I'd do a quick follow-up to Republic Nail's Frida Kahlo-themed polishes.  Turns out, another beauty brand beat them to the punch in early 2016 with a line of lipsticks featuring packaging inspired by the artist.  You might remember how enamored I was of Mexican company Pai Pai back in 2015, when I was positively drooling over their concept of collaborating with a different Mexican artist each season to create limited edition packaging.  Anyway, I spotted their summer 2017 collection on Instagram and was once again smitten, so I decided to catch up and see what else they had been up to since I posted about them.  That's when I found these lipsticks.

Paipai - Talia Cu

The fashion illustrator/journalist behind these, Talia Cu (Castellanos)1 had a less literal interpretation of Kahlo's work than Republic Nail.  Cu was interested in expressing the essence of Kahlo herself rather than reproducing her work, wanting to explore Kahlo's personality and fashion sense more than her art.  To accomplish this, Cu looked to both Kahlo's general surroundings and the pictures of her personal belongings photographed by Ishiuchi Miyako.  As I noted in the Republic Nail post, Kahlo's clothing, accessories and other items weren't discovered in her home until 50 years after her death.  In 2011 Miyako embarked on a breathtaking series that captured Kahlo's spirit through her personal effects (over 300 were photographed!).  It was these photos, along with other meaningful items from Kahlo's day-to-day life, that Cu used as a jumping off point for her designs.  I tried translating Cu's explanation as best I could (my Spanish is incredibly rusty) from this Vogue Mexico article.2  "I wanted to give a unique perspective and not necessarily focus on her art.  Mainly, I took inspiration from the photographs Ishiuchi Miyako took of Frida Kahlo's things, and I also wanted to revisit certain iconic motifs in her art (watermelon, monkeys, the phrase 'viva la vida') to create this small universe that built her personality."  If any illustrator is suited to take on this task, it's Cu - one look at her Instagram, which is chock full of vibrant street fashion sketches and animations, told me she could breathe new life into Kahlo's style as expressed through various items.

Paipai - Talia Cu
(images from

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #2" and "#11"

Ishiuchi Miyako, "Frida by Ishiuchi #50"
(images from and

Cu imagined what Kahlo would look like wearing those cat-eye sunglasses, borrowing (I suspect, given the shape of the flowers atop her head) a portrait by Nickolas Muray.  The green and white polka dot print on the lipstick may also have been a nod to the green floral background from one of Kahlo's most famous photos.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo
(image from

As noted previously, Kahlo kept several monkeys, along with a host of other animals, as surrogate children. (One thing I didn't know before was that monkeys were also a symbol of lust in traditional Mexican folklore.)  Cu created a charming monkey print to represent Kahlo's attachment to these animals.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943(image from

Frida Kahlo, 1943(image from

I thought a cactus print was kind of strange since I don't remember these plants appearing in any Kahlo paintings, until I did a little more digging - I spotted many cacti in the garden as well as a cactus wall surrounding Kahlo's beloved home, La Casa Azul (it's now a museum and I want to go!), so I'm assuming that's where it came from.

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo - Casa Azul(image from

Watermelons were a popular motif in Kahlo's still-life paintings.  Once again Cu gives them a fun, playful twist - they seem much less heavy than the fruits that appear in Kahlo's work.   Knowing that Kahlo added the inscription on Viva La Vida, Sandias just a few days before her death, for example, is rather bleak.  Cu's color choice of bright blue and peach, as well as the exuberant, lightweight lines of the fruit, transforms the phrase into an upbeat slogan of sorts.  (Oddly enough, you can actually buy a ceramic watermelon with the inscription from La Casa Azul's gift shop.)

Paipai - Talia Cu

Frida Kahlo, Viva La Vida, 1954

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Watermelons, 1953

Frida Kahlo, The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened, 1943

Frida Kahlo, Coconuts, 1951(images from

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm using stock photos of the lipsticks instead of my own, there's a simple reason:  Pai Pai's shipping cost was completely prohibitive.  I was finally ready to pull the trigger on some items from this collection as well as the summer 2017 collection, but when I saw the shipping cost my heart dropped.  I thought the prices were mistakenly listed in Mexican pesos, but no, they were clearly U.S. dollars.  I was going to do a screenshot of the cost, but in prepping the photos for this post it seems PaiPai's check out isn't working (I keep getting an "internal server error" message) so I can't show you.  I do remember the cost though: I had 3 lipsticks in my cart for $66 and shipping was $184.  I have no idea why shipping to the U.S. from Mexico is so steep.  I order from sellers all over the world and have never seen anything like this!  But I simply can't justify more than double the price of the lipsticks themselves.  It's not the total amount that's an issue - I've spent $200-$300 in one go before - but it's a waste to pay that much for shipping alone.  It's very sad for me and a little for the company, as they could have gained quite a loyal customer.  If shipping wasn't ridiculous I'd probably snatch up every collection in full.  As a last-ditch effort, I repeatedly called the one salon in the U.S. that carries Pai Pai and never had anyone pick up, and also DM'ed them on Instagram with no reply.  Hmmph.  Unless Pai Pai comes to their senses and reduces their shipping to a reasonably affordable price, or starts carrying the line in more locations within the U.S., I'm afraid I won't be acquiring any for the Museum.  :(

I don't want to leave on a negative note, as it's both Friday and Cinco de Mayo, so I will say that I think Cu's interpretation of Kahlo is both more inspired and uplifting than Republic Nails.  The illustrations are lighter and speak to the less tortured side of the artist - the objects chosen by Cu were ones that I imagine brought Kahlo happiness, fleeting though it was.  The idea of telling her story through her personal items and other things that had meaning for her, especially when combined with the emphasis on her fashion sense, is a unique way to represent Kahlo.  By consciously choosing not to focus solely on Kahlo's art, Cu gives us a fuller impression of her personality with these illustrations.

What do you think?  And are you doing anything for Cinco de Mayo?


1Normally with these sorts of collabs I'd show more of the artist's work but I think these lipsticks really encapsulate Cu's I had no idea how to work it in with all of the Kahlo stuff!

2The full quote is as follows: “Por mi antecedente en el campo de la moda, me interesé en Frida Kahlo no solo por su trabajo como artista, sino por la personalidad que lograba capturar en su vestuario, y su estilo icónico...Quería darle una perspectiva distinta y no necesariamente enfocarme en su arte. Principalmente, tomé inspiración de las fotografías que Ishiuchi Miyako tomó de los objetos de Frida Kahlo, y a la par retomé también ciertas figuras icónicas en su obra (la sandía, los monos, la frase "viva la vida") todo para crear este pequeño universo que la construye como personaje. Los colores por supuesto, tenían que representar esa alegría en su vestuario.”


Executing makeup on the astral plane: Addiction x Hilma af Klint

image from

I thought for sure Addiction's spring 2017 compacts featuring the work of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) would be unattainable, as they were only available as a gift with purchase in Japan.  Fortunately a seller I frequent was able to get both for me!  I had heard of af Klint before and was intrigued by her work since I have a soft spot for colorful abstraction, but this collection made me admire it even more.  I really have no idea how the collaboration came about as the description at Addiction's website is pretty vague:  "We learned that a woman had painted these magnificent paintings at the beginning of the 20th century and wanted to know more about her." In any case I really enjoyed learning about af Klint and I hope you do too.

Much has been written about the artist, although that's a recent development due partially to the fact that af Klint stipulated that a group of her most significant paintings not be revealed to the public until 20 years after her death, fearing that they wouldn't be understood.  In fact, it took even longer for her work to be recognized; it wasn't until a major exhibition in 1986 that her name was on the art history map, so to speak, and I'm guessing this was also due to the patriarchy at work.  I don't want to spend much time reviewing her entire oeuvre, since I am not an expert and also because af Klint was a prolific artist, producing over 1,000 works (!) in her lifetime.  I'll provide a brief bio and then focus on the paintings reproduced on the Addiction compacts.  (Sources are linked throughout.)

Af Klint was born in 1862 and entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1882.  This was a rarity for the time, as the art schools in most European countries allowed only men.  While producing the usual landscapes, botanical and animal drawings - af Klint was a vegetarian and animal-lover who worked as a draughtswoman at a local veterinary school - she had started experimenting with abstract designs before she graduated in 1887.  Af Klint, along with her contemporary Edward Munch (who, incidentally, once had a show in a gallery in the same building as her studio) were inspired by recent scientific developments involving phenomena unable to be perceived with the naked eye.  Hettie Judah at The Independent explains: "This was a period in which the 'unseen' world exerted a growing fascination – not only the emotional, experiential world of the human spirit explored by Munch, but the discovery of physical forces and elementary particles that formed the known world on a microscopic level.  In the late 1880s Heinrich Hertz proved the existence of electromagnetic waves: in 1895 Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays. A vision of the world pulsing with forces and transmissions invisible to the naked eye was emerging."  Af Klint's interest in abstraction was also influenced by her spirituality - having attended seances since the age of 17, she was greatly intrigued by the spiritual realm, and the death of her 10-year-old sister in 1880 only intensified her interest in the occult.   In 1896 she formed a group with 4 other like-minded women artists and together called themselves The Five.  Roughly 30 years before the Surrealists, these women tried their hand at automatic drawing and writing.  Talk about being ahead of the times!  During one session in either 1904 1905 af Klint was "commissioned" by Amaliel, one of several spirits she claimed communicated with her, to create an extensive collection that would become known as The Paintings for the Temple.  In af Klint's words, the spirit guided her to "execute paintings on the astral plane" to represent the "immortal aspects of man." Completed between 1906 and 1915, the collection of 193 large-scale paintings were divided into several thematic series that "convey[ed] the unity of all existence beyond the fractured duality of the modern world. Different series within The Paintings for the Temple relate to the creation, man’s progress through life, evolution, and the human soul as divided into masculine and feminine halves striving for unity."  It was this collection that af Klint stipulated could not be shown until 20 years after her death, a decision influenced by the opinion of a prominent Swiss philosopher who visited af Klint in 1908 and speculated it would be at least another 50 years until people understood her art.

Anyway, The Ten Largest is the second series in the collection and was completed between August and December of 1907, quite a feat given their enormous size (10 feet tall) and af Klint's petite stature (5 feet).  The Ten Largest traces the human life cycle in 4 stages - childhood, youth, adulthood, old age - and the two paintings chosen for the compacts are No. 1, Childhood, Group IV and No. 5, Adulthood, Group IV.  Why Addiction selected these two in particular I don't know, but they do look lovely on the compacts. 

Addiction Hilma af Klint compacts

Addiction Hilma af Klint compacts

Interestingly, af Klint noted that she wasn't all that aware of what she was painting, taking on the role of a receiver or medium.  She explained, "The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke." 

Addiction Hilma af Klint compact

There's something so beautifully organic about these - they appear to be idealized representations of cells, flowers and other natural elements.  I'll let the Royal Academy Magazine give a much better description:  "Snail-shell spirals, concentric circles and zygote-like forms nestle amongst coiled fronds and splayed petals (she also produced intricate botanical drawings), all dancing against radiant tempera backgrounds from terracotta orange to faded lilac. Forms bulge, overlap, conjoin in what an eye informed by contemporary science might liken to celestial bodies or cell mitosis; they are extraordinary pictures, immense and ecstatic." The 26,000 pages (holy crap) of notebooks af Klint kept provide some clues as to the meaning of various colors and motifs.  Blue and lilies symbolized femininity, yellow and roses stood for masculinity, and green was a universal color.  The letter "U" designated the spiritual realm, while "W" denoted physical matter, and spirals symbolized evolution.  This underscores that there was nothing passive about her process; in fact, she essentially studied her own work over the years, an example of which is a 1,200 page notebook that further analyzed the meaning of the images she had painted.  

Addiction Hilma af Klint compact

Here's the original so you can see how it's actually oriented - Addiction re-situated the paintings horizontally to better fit on the compacts.

The Ten Largest, No. 1, Childhood, Group IV - by Hilma af Klint (1907)(image from

Addiction Hilma af Klint compact

Addiction Hilma af Klint compact

The Ten Largest, No. 5, Adulthood, Group IV - by Hilma af Klint (1907)(image from

Here are some of the eyeshadows.  I have 4 of them but couldn't bear to take the plastic off, so I hope you'll forgive me for the tiny stock photos.  I can absolutely see how the colors are inspired by af Klint. I guess they couldn't use the real names of the paintings, so some of them, like Flower Evolution, are merely reminiscent of af Klint's themes.

Addiction Hilma af Klint eyeshadow
(images from

I'm really glad Addiction is helping to bring af Klint to a wider audience because for so long she didn't get the recognition she deserved.  Five years before Kandinsky declared to have painted the first abstract work, af Klint was completing Primordial Chaos, the first collection in her monumental series.  Some art critics claim that af Klint's paintings were merely diagrams of the spiritual world or depictions of scientific concepts we can't see, not true abstraction (or at least, a different form of the genre).  That sounds plausible, but given that in 1970 the then-Director of Sweden's Moderna Museet turned down the offer of af Klint's entire estate because of her relationship to spiritualism and a more recent incident at MoMA in which af Klint's work was left out of an exhibition on early abstraction per the argument that it wasn't actually art, I'd say there's definitely sexism at work here.  When you consider that Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, etc. all drew inspiration from spiritualism and are heralded as the pioneers of abstraction, leaving af Klint out of the conversation seems blatantly sexist.  When male artists borrowed spiritualist principles they were geniuses but when a woman did she was written off as a kook - not a real artist, just some crazy lady who happened to draw and paint a lot.  Perhaps there's also an unconscious bias over the fact that af Klint subscribed to theosophy, an area of spiritualist belief that was founded by a woman and is notable for being the first European religious organization that actively welcomed women and allowed them to have senior positions.  Additionally, the lack of renown could be the result of societal conditioning; women simply weren't encouraged to be at the forefront of art.  Af Klint was no exception - as noted earlier, she worked largely in isolation and didn't participate in the avant-garde discussions going on in the rest of Europe.  As Jennifer Higgie writes in Hilma af Klint:  Painting the Unseen (p.16): "[...It's] irrefutable that although women artists were tolerated, they were rarely, if ever, encouraged to express the kind of radical ideas that marked their male contemporaries as innovators...even though af Klint was one of the earliest Western artists to wholeheartedly engage with abstraction, the most visible discussions of it as a viable new artistic language were conducted by men, all of whom were proficient at self-promotion."  (Kandinsky was particularly known for puffing himself up.)  In any case, I think these issues make it all the more important to acknowledge her work.  Even if they're not "truly" abstract, af Klint's paintings are still vital to understanding the evolution of modern Western art.  And when you consider the fact that she was  producing these pieces in an atmosphere not exactly hospitable to women artists, it makes her accomplishments even more mind-boggling.  Adrian Searle at The Guardian agrees: "Too often for it to be an accident, Af Klint had an innate sense of how to make a painting, often with no artistic models to turn to. Her best paintings are airy, their forms and geometries delivered with an evident pleasure and openness...The scale and frontality and freshness of her work still stand up, in a way that many Kandinskys don't. Yet looking at photographic portraits of the artist, we see a stern woman who was far from cosmopolitan, and in whom there are few outward signs of emancipation. For a woman to be an artist at all in Sweden in the early 20th century was difficult enough. To be an artist who believed as she did must have made matters even more difficult."

Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how Addiction got the rights to use af Klint's work on the compacts.  Having a collection inspired by an artist's work is one thing, but actual reproductions are trickier legally.  There is a Hilma af Klint Foundation governed by her family members, so possibly they granted the rights to Addiction, but that would be a huge feat for the company to pull off since the guardians of af Klint's estate protect the use of her work rather fiercely.  And of course there's the age-old question of whether a deceased artist would approve of their work being used this way.  I really can't say in the case of Klint.  On the one hand she seems like someone who wouldn't be interested in makeup - given that her life's work consisted of representing tremendously complex philosophical and spiritual ideas, she may have perceived cosmetics as frivolous.  On the other hand, this may also mean she'd be okay with people enjoying her art in whatever format it appeared.  Says Iris Müller-Westermann, Director of Moderna Museet Malmö, "This was really an artist who dared to think beyond her time, to step out of what was commonly accepted...she had visions about bigger contexts where it was not about making money or being very famous, but about doing something much more humble: trying to understand the world and who we are in it." Af Klint also seemed to believe that women should be equal, and part and parcel of equality is being able to express ourselves however we choose.  I'm not able to paint on a canvas but I can get creative with makeup.  I think af Klint would have appreciated that. 

Overall I'm delighted with this collaboration.  I am possibly the least spiritual person I know, but looking at af Klint's work I feel simultaneously curious about our place in the universe and incredibly at peace.  I can only imagine how I'd react if I saw these in person; an anecdote from the blockbuster 2013 af Klint exhibition notes that many visitors cried when faced with af Klint's monumental works but couldn't explain why, something that's happened to me when standing in front of certain works of art.  As for the Addiction collection, the colors and textures make me want to try to "paint the unseen" - just like af Klint but using my eyelids as a canvas!

What do you think?  Had you heard of af Klint before now?

Republic Nail's homage to Frida Kahlo: ¡Viva la vida!

"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can." - Frida Kahlo

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo

I became obsessed with tracking down a collection of nail polishes and lipsticks featuring Frida Kahlo after Karen at Makeup and Beauty Blog posted about them back in December.  After having no luck finding them in Baltimore, on December 23, 2016, while visiting my family in Pennsylvania, I was granted an early Christmas miracle and came across them at a CVS near my sister's house.  Needless to say I was over the moon, since this collection is exactly the kind of thing the Museum was meant for.  While I still haven't been able to get my hands on all of the designs, I'm happy with what I did find.  :)

I've said before with other major artists that it's beyond the scope of my humble little blog to write a very long essay about the artist's work/biography, especially given the staggering amount of resources on Kahlo - everything from films to exhibitions on her fashion and personal possessions to her diary have been made available - but I at least want to give a brief summary for those not so familiar with her.  Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a Mexican artist who is best known for her self-portraits, which expressed her tumultuous life and impassioned personality.  "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best," one of her most famous quotes explains.  To say that she had not been dealt an easy hand in life would be an understatement.  After surviving polio at the age of 6, at 18 she suffered a terrible bus accident that nearly killed her and left her in constant pain for the rest of her life despite over a dozen surgeries to help her heal.  This is to say nothing of her turbulent marriage to (and subsequent divorce from and remarriage to) fellow artist Diego Rivera, or the fact that she badly desired children and ended up with 3 near-fatal miscarriages instead.  While Kahlo's paintings are a direct reflection of the trauma she endured, I also believe she channeled her emotional and physical pain into her art rather than letting it consume her spirit. In looking at her paintings, you clearly see her pain but also fierce will and determination to keep going.  She was a fighter who approached everything in life with a ferocious intensity, which is especially apparent in some personal details.  For example, towards the end of her life she was bedridden from chronic pain but attended the opening of her first solo exhibition, arriving in an ambulance.  And I love this photo of her in bed, still painting away. 

Frida Kahlo painting

In the year before her death, she also lost of most of her right leg to gangrene yet created a work of art from her prosthetic.

Frida Kahlo prosthetic
(image from

It's these incredible displays of strength, I think, that make Kahlo such a fascinating and enduring icon. 

Now let's get to the beauty collection, shall we?  I wasn't familiar with Republic Nail before now, but it looks like they released this collection sometime in the summer of 2016.  I was only able to find 5 of the 12 designs, but I figured I'd discuss each one anyway and compare the designs to Kahlo's work and photos.  First up are the ones that I was able to buy. 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

I'm fairly certain the image of Kahlo comes from this 1939 photo taken by fashion/commercial photographer Nickolas Muray, Kahlo's lover and close friend, who photographed over 40 portraits of the artist. "Viva La Vida" is a title of one of Kahlo's paintings.

Frida Kahlo, 1939
(image from

This design also borrows a portrait of Kahlo by Muray but combines one of her best-known works.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

Frida Kahlo, ca. 1938
(image from

Besides the above design, others in the Republic Nail collection feature images of hummingbirds, most likely inspired from this 1940 self-portrait.  Hayden Herrera, one of the most prominent Kahlo scholars, explores the possible meanings behind the painting's hummingbird in her excellent book Frida Kahlo: The Paintings: "Hanging from the thorn necklace is a dead hummingbird, whose outstretched wings echo Frida's joined eyebrows.  The bird must point to Frida's feeling of being cut down in flight or to her rejection by Diego:  in Mexican folk tradition dead hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love.  In Aztec mythology the hummingbird symbolized reincarnation - the spirits of dead warriors returned in the form of hummingbirds.  In Christian symbolism birds in general stand for the winged soul.  Given the religious atmosphere of this painting, in which Frida looks as solemn as a Pantocrator, the bird might also refer to the Holy Ghost." (p. 142).  Interesingly, other artists such as Ashley Longshore (whom I featured at the Museum for Clé de Peau's holiday 2016 collection), have also depicted Kahlo with hummingbirds.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait, 1940

This design is a copy of Kahlo's "Wounded Deer" from 1946.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

There's a lot going on in this painting and I'm too lazy to rehash it all, so if you're curious you can check out a good explanation here.

Frida Kahlo, The Wounded Deer, 1946

More hummingbirds (I think).

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

As far as I know Kahlo never painted herself in Day of the Dead makeup; however, sugar skulls and skeletons figured prominently in her work.  During her recovery from the bus accident in 1925, "she dressed papier-mache skeletons in her own clothes and hung them from her bed's canopy so that they jostled in the wind.  One of her favorite possessions was a sugar skull of the type that children eat on the Day of the Dead.  Frida ordered the skull to be made with her own name written in bold letters on its forehead." (Herrera, p. 36) 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick and nail polish

Physically Kahlo never fully recovered from the accident, and suffered numerous other ailments afterwards.  Death never seemed far away, hence the frequent references to it in her work.

Frida Kahlo, Girl with Death Mask, 1938

Frida Kahlo, Four Inhabitants of Mexico, 1938

Frida Kahlo, The Dream, 1940

Frida Kahlo, Thinking of Death, 1943

The sugar skull with her name on it makes an appearance in this very sad work from 1945.

Frida Kahlo, Without Hope, 1945

While the sugar skull design on the polish refers to Kahlo's more macabre works, I liked the inclusion of the hand-shaped earrings.  These were a gift to Kahlo from Picasso.  She wore them frequently, even for two of her self-portraits.  They appear in black on the Republic Nail items, but they look to be ivory or shell in Kahlo's versions.  (There are tons of imitations available for sale too, if you're so inclined.)

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo lipstick

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo nail polish

Frida Kahlo, ca. 1939
(image from

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser, 1940

Here's the other portrait with the earrings.  I found this in another book I purchased for research for this post, Martha Zamora's highly acclaimed Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Marte R. Gomez, 1946

Now for the Republic Nail items I couldn't find.  I'm only showing the nail polishes here but the same designs appeared on lipstick cases.

These four aren't quite so inspired, just more of the same motifs we've seen.  I do appreciate the little monkey on the cap of the polish second from the left below.  Kahlo liked monkeys, keeping them as surrogate children (along with a host of other animals) and incorporating them into her portraits.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polishes

Another animal she was fond of was the parrot.  The one on the nail polish looks similar to one that appears in a 1951 still life. 

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Parrot, 1951

The design on this one refers to a painting from 1944, one of the more devastating representations of Kahlo's physical trauma.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

The Broken Column was painted during a 5-month period when Kahlo was encased in a steel corset to heal her back.  She wrote to her doctor, "I got a little better with the corset but now I feel just as sick again, and I am now very desperate because I do not see anything that improves the condition of my spine." (Herrera, p. 182)  Unable to move and in pain, she stares out at the viewer tearfully yet stoically.  The painting also includes clear sexual overtones given that the artist depicts herself topless and penetrated by a rather phallic column.

Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944

The banner wrapped around the column on the nail polish bottle's design appeared in several works, such as this wedding portrait.  The inscription on the banner reads, "Here you see us, me Frida Kahlo, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera.  I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco California for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April of the year 1931."

Frida Kahlo, Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931

The banner also appeared in the 1940 self-portrait with the hand earrings shown above, along with this rather disturbing work.

Finally, we have a heart pierced with a sword.  As with the previous depiction of Kahlo in Day of the Dead makeup, I don't think this specific motif ever appeared in her paintings, but there were a few featuring hearts.

Republic Nail Frida Kahlo polish

Or perhaps it's a reference to Memory, the Heart:

Frida Kahlo, Memory, the Heart
(images from and

Naturally I was curious to know how Republic Nail was able to use these images.  I did a little digging and saw that the designs are licensed by a company called Ask Art Agency through the Frida Kahlo Corporation.  I don't understand the exact legal ins and outs, but I guess once the corporation grants a company the rights to use Kahlo's works, they can design whatever they want. The same designs from the Republic Nail line were also used for a line of phone cases produced by Ask Art Agency, and Korean cosmetics company Missha has just debuted 4 cushion compacts with similar designs.  Given that the tag line "Pasión Por La Vida" is featured on the cases and at Ask Art Agency's website section on their Kahlo license, I'm assuming they're also behind the Missha collection.

Missha x Frida Kahlo

Missha x Frida Kahlo
(images from

The Frida Kahlo Corporation, meanwhile, seems very eager to grant licenses to use Kahlo's likeness and paintings.  Founded by Kahlo's niece, the corporation has issued licenses for the artist's work to appear on everything from sneakers to planners to an upcoming line of hotels.  The company's Twitter feed, with the constant references to Frida Kahlo branded tequila and other items, makes me think it's a rather unscrupulous money grab forged by greedy relatives.  Indeed, while many Frida fans were overjoyed to see her images used for a beauty collection, there were a handful of killjoys detractors on Twitter lamenting the "crass" nature of putting Kahlo's work on cosmetics, especially seeing as how Kahlo was a communist.  Having said all this, my personal opinion, and this is obviously pure speculation, is that Kahlo would have been delighted to see her paintings and likeness on this particular beauty collection.  For starters, Republic Nail is a Mexico-based company, which I think Kahlo would be pleased to support.  As for the anti-capitalist sentiment, Republic Nail is an affordable drugstore line, which at least aligns better with Kahlo's communist politics than a high-end department store line.  Finally, Kahlo herself enjoyed beauty products, as evidenced by these nail polishes that were revealed when her wardrobe was finally able to be opened to the public, along with a lipstick-kissed love note to Muray. 

Frida Kahlo's nail polish

(images from

I'm not sure how she would have felt about her face appearing on things like mouse pads, or even the Missha collection, but I think she would have been supportive of the Republic Nail lineup.  The only thing I could see Kahlo questioning would be the particular images used - I could see her being very opinionated on which photos of her and which paintings should be included, as well as the color selection itself.  I also think she might be adamant that her actual work appears rather than the amalgams created by the licensing company.  They seemed to be prettied-up versions with none of the visceral edge that we associate with Kahlo, and for that they lose some of their impact.  But I guess the original works may have been too gruesome/depressing for commercial use?  Powerful though Kahlo's paintings are, they are admittedly difficult to look at, and I'm not sure if I'd want to be confronted with her suffering as I'm painting my nails.  Using some original pieces by an artist, like, say, Andy Warhol is entirely different.  So perhaps watered-down designs for Kahlo's works are a good thing since they celebrate her art and spirit but aren't too you can see, I'm a bit conflicted.  On the one hand I think Kahlo would have liked to see her work being used on items that help women express themselves, and I'm happy to see a beauty collection pay homage to her.  (This opens up the bigger issue of artists putting their work on everyday items, which I discussed in my Shu/Murakami post a while back - I'm firmly of the opinion that these collaborations are worthwhile overall since it allows one to have a little taste of the artist's work if you can't afford the real thing.)  On the other hand, I probably would have liked the collection more if they used more sophisticated designs rather than the somewhat bland ones used by the licensing agency, which remind me of old school tattoos.  I also would have liked it more if they were restricted to one cosmetics company rather than being used by another brand - it would be more special if it was just a one-off collection. 

What do you think about all this?   

Letting the sunshine in with Dolce & Gabbana's Sicilian Bronzer

Sooooooo glad I was able to snag this Dolce & Gabbana bronzer!  As of right now it's sold out everywhere in the U.S. and going for double the retail price on ebay, which I find to be pretty obnoxious.  (It's still available at Harrod's but shipping to the U.S. is steep.) In any case, the colorful design is borrowed from part of D & G's spring/summer 2016 fashion collection, which in turn is based on traditional Sicilian "carrettos" - handmade donkey carts.

I really can't stop staring at it.  So many details!

Dolce & Gabbana summer 2016 bronzer

Dolce & Gabbana The Sicilian Bronzer - summer 2016

Dolce & Gabbana The Sicilian Bronzer - summer 2016

Dolce & Gabbana The Sicilian Bronzer - summer 2016

A closeup of our little lady friend:

Dolce & Gabbana The Sicilian Bronzer - summer 2016

Here's the bronzer itself, in case you're curious about the shade.  It's #30 (Sunshine).

Dolce & Gabbana The Sicilian Bronzer - summer 2016

A few of the carretto collection pieces made it onto the D & G runway.

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016
(images from

But at their website you can see the entire collection, which is way bigger than I thought it would be.  Some of my favorite pieces:

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016 carretto

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016 - carretto

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016 - carretto(images from

What I loved is that D & G presented a great history of the carretto, so you can tell it was definitely a well thought-out collection.  I don't want to rehash the whole thing, but basically these carts were in use at least as far back as the early 19th century, and typically utilized to transport everyday items like lumber, grains, lemons and wine barrels.  The custom of painting these carts stemmed from several things: a practical solution to help protect the wood from damage, superstition (most carts were adorned with religious figures), and, if they were commercial carts, a way to advertise.  Styles varied from town to town, but all shared bright, vibrant color and patterns. 

Sicilian carretto - wheel(image from wikipedia)

I think I spy mermaids on each side of this one!

Sicilian carretto detail

Sicilian carretto(images from

Nowadays the carts aren't used for anything but tourist attractions, but I'm glad some artisans are still painting and keeping the tradition alive.  (You can also check out this site for another brief history.) 

Sicilian carretto(image from wikipedia)

D & G's passion for Sicily's culture is, as with their coin palettes, made abundantly clear in their description of the carts - I actually found it to be the most informative piece in my online search.  I also appreciated that it's a new spin on an old theme; this is not the first time the company has used the carretto as inspiration.

As we look at some more cart photos, you can see the resemblance between them and D & G's adaptation.  Some of the bags, for example, are  high-fashion versions of traditional Sicilian coffa bags, which typically share their pompom decorations with the horses that pull the carts.  The influence also spread to a pair of flat sandals.

Sicilian carretto
(image from

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016(images from

Meanwhile, the carved figures on the wheel spokes and other areas served as inspiration for the heels. I just wish they had worked in a mermaid somehow!

Carretto wheel / D & G shoes(images from and

D & G's decorative patterns overall look like the interiors and side panels of the carts.  Check out these examples from the Museo Carretto Siciliano in Palermo (yes, there is an entire museum devoted to these carts - actually, there's also a second one!)

Sicilian cart museum

Sicilian cart museum

Sicilian cart museum(images from

The knights refer to those in Sicilian puppet theater.  Sicily apparently has a medieval/chivalry-themed folk tradition, according to this book, so the theaters and carts share the motif as they are both part of the same history.

Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2016 - carretto
(image from

Sicily-puppet-knights(image from

As for the little lady in the center of the bronzer, I'm guessing she's some sort of a queen based on this photo of the Puppet Theatre.  I spy a queen on the left with a crown and red dress, just like the one on the D & G pattern.

Sicilian Puppet Theatre(image from

Incidentally, for the holidays D & G expanded the carretto line to Christmas ornaments, candles, stationery and more recently (and most astonishingly) a collection of 100 hand-painted Smeg refrigerators completed by 8 genuine Sicilian cart artists.  That would add quite a pop to your kitchen!

Dolce & Gabbana carretto refrigerator(image from

Dolce & Gabbana carretto refrigerators(image from

Overall, I am seriously in love with this bronzer.  I always enjoy learning, especially through makeup, about some cultural practice or artist that I wasn't aware of previously.  Plus, so few couture houses' makeup have such a specific connection to their fashion - in the case of Chanel and Dior, it seems rather vague and uninspired as of late, and don't get me started on YSL - their Chinese New Year palettes were not a full comeback.  D & G goes the extra mile to ensure that the makeup collection aligns with the clothes.  (Although I do find it odd that they used the carretto as a springboard for the makeup line, but the model for the beauty collection's promos is wearing the lemon print, also from D & G's summer collection.  Why not wear something from the carretto collection?  Eh, I guess it's not important.)  More than that, the original culture behind the fashion itself appears to be at least somewhat researched.  This is what gets me excited - to see aspects of a particular culture that are celebrated and modernized, and that the designer takes care to explain the history behind their designs.  It's a stark contrast to, ahem, other approaches.

So what do you think of this bronzer and D & G's take on carretto style?

La plus belle à l'unanimité: Madame Récamier, 18th/19th-century beauty icon

Once again I stumbled across something very interesting but also completely unrelated to what I had been searching for.  In this case, it was an 1890's ad for Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Récamier Cream.  I was intrigued by it since it reminded me of a painting that I had looked at in my art history days in college, but couldn't quite place it. 

Harriet Hubbard Ayer Recamier Cream, ca. 1890s

Fortunately, Cosmetics and Skin refreshed my memory.  The image for Ayer's ad was taken from this 1802 painting of Madame (Juliette) Récamier by François Gerard.

Juliette Récamier by Francois Gerard, 1802
(image from

Known for her great beauty, graciousness and tact, Madame Récamier was the Napoleonic era's "it girl", ruling French society from the late 1700s until her death in 1849.  New York-based entrepreneur Harriet Hubbard Ayer saw an opportunity to capitalize on her beauty approximately 40 years after her passing.  This is the summary of the skincare line's origins from Cosmetics and Skin:  "In 1886, Harriet Hubbard Ayer founded the Recamier Manufacturing Company at 25 Union Square, New York. Incorporated in 1887, the company’s product range addressed most of the beauty concerns of the day. The cosmetics were restricted to skin-care and did not include decorative products such as rouge or lipstick – these were still considered to be ‘paints’ and therefore unsuitable for general use in polite society. The company therefore produced, marketed and sold ‘toilet preparations’ rather than ‘cosmetics’...The recipes for her skin care products were claimed by Harriet to have come from a French countess said to be a descendant of Madame Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier, a well known beauty from Napoleonic times. The recipes that Madame Récamier’s used had supposedly been handed-down to the countess and she sold copies to Harriet. The concoction of this story was a great marketing idea by Harriet as it gave her company a name, a visible symbol of beauty, and some supposed ‘beauty secrets’ from France, the centre of fashion and beauty at the time.  Another version of the story states that on a trip to Paris, Harriet visited a certain M. Mirault who made the Parma Violet Perfume she used. M. Mirault had a formula for a skin salve his grandfather had made for Julie de Récamier and he sold it to Harriet for a ‘tremendous price’.  A third explanation for the origins of the cream came in 1889 when Harriet was sued by Lutie Frenzel. Lutie suggested that the French-made cream had been analyzed by a New York chemist and subsequently copied."  That's the story in a nutshell, but there's also quite a thorough history of Ayer's use of Madame Récamier's name and reputation to sell skincare in Annette Blaugrund's wonderful biography of Ayer, "Dispensing Beauty in New York and Beyond: The Triumphs and Tragedies of Harriet Hubbard Ayer" (which I have just added to my book wishlist!)

Anyway, as you can see from the ads below, the Récamier line encompassed a variety of products, from balm and cream to powder and soap.  There was even a lotion designed remove "moths [moth patches] and freckles".

Ayer Récamier ads, 1887 and 1890

Ayer Récamier ads, 1891 and 1893

Ayer Récamier ads, 1895(images from

What I'm curious about is how Madame Récamier established her reputation as a legendary beauty and the most charming, courteous socialite of her time. Was she really that gorgeous, her skin that flawless?  What was it about Madame Récamier that resulted in an enterprising beauty mogul essentially exploiting her name to sell skincare nearly 40 years after her death?  I just had to find out more about this woman's mystique.  Here are some historical accounts.

From "Madame Récamier: With a Sketch of the History of Society in France" (1862), p. 11:

"It is probable that the keen appetite for all social enjoyment, sharpened by the long privation caused by terror, war, and famine, much increased the effect that Madame Récamier's beauty produced.  The few survivors from those days can scarcely find words to express the rapture she excited in a large and mixed public.  By the revolution all distinctions of rank had been not only abolished but forgotten; every one pushed on pell-mell to see the beauty; and some few remember being half crushed to death in the Tuileries by the suburban crowds who would have a look at her." 

From "The Memoirs of the Duchess of Abrantes" in The Atheneum (1832), vol. 31, p. 391:

"She was a compound of ingenuous gracefulness, talent and goodness, harmonized by that delicacy which alone forms the charm of loveliness.  I have often discovered a resemblance between her and the Madonnas of the pious Italian painters; but this resemblance was purely intellectual.  It proceeded not from regularity of features, but from that soul which animated her eyes and beamed forth from under her long eye-lashes, and from the high and intellectual forehead, blushing under its fillet of leno, the only head-dress with which, for many years, she set off the charms of her countenance.  In the smile which so often separates her lips of rose, you might perceive the innocent joy of a young and ravishing creature, happy to please and be loved - who saw nothing but bliss in nature, and answered the salutation of love which met her on all sides, by an expression of silent England Madame Récamier encountered the same enthusiasm.  There was always a crowd wherever she passed.  The charm, whose power I have before expressed, has the same magic influence among all nations."

My favorite description comes from "The New Monthly Magazine" (1859), p. 455:

"She was at once graceful and exquisitely modelled, her neck was admirable in form and proportion, her mouth small and vermilion, her teeth pearly, her arms charming, albeit somewhat spare, her chestnut hair curled naturally, her nose was delicate and regular, especially French...her walk was that of a goddess on the clouds.  Such was Madame Récamier at eighteen years of age.  The appearance of a young person so pre-eminently beautiful in public caused, as may be imagined, a prodigious sensation...she was declared la plus belle à l'unanimité."

After reading these I decided I wanted more visuals since, as they say, the proof is in the pudding (or in this case, the portrait.)  While some portraits depict idealized representations of their sitters, I think these give a fairly realistic picture of Madame Récamier.  We'll start with a close-up from the Gerard portrait.  Rather lovely, yes?

detail - Madame Recamier by Gerard

Here she is in 1807, painted by Firmin Massot:

Juliette Récamier by Massot, 1807(image from

Back in time to a portrait painted around 1798:

Madame Récamier by Eulalie Morin, ca. 1798(image from

And of course, we can't forget Jacques-Louis David's iconic portrait of Madame Récamier, which inspired both a sofa style and a rather unsettling Surrealist work by Magritte.  (Interestingly, this is an unfinished portrait.  Madame Récamier had commissioned David to paint her portrait, but after finding that he worked too slowly for her taste, she had David's pupil Gerard to repaint the portrait.)

Madame Récamier by David, 1800

Given all we've seen and read, I think if I had existed in Ayer's time, I would have bought the Récamier cream in a heartbeat if it meant even approximating her skin.  Alas, the claims for Ayer's skin "preparations" were debunked by the Boston Journal of Health in 1902.  There were even accusations of harmful ingredients such as "corrosive sublimate," which was made from mercury.

Despite the fact that Ayer's Récamier line fizzled out by 1920, the original Madame Récamier continues to inspire today.  Take, for example, the moody, slightly goth twist on the lady's look at Kinder Aggugini's spring 2010 show.  I especially love it with the modern Empire silhouettes.

Kinder Aggugini fall 2010(images from

While the eyes and lips took a dark turn, the skin was still perfect and glowing - exactly how you'd imagine Madame Récamier's healthy, youthful complexion.  The disheveled hair, I think, is a nod to Madame's crop of wild curls.

Kinder Aggugini fall 2010

Kinder Aggugini fall 2010(images from

I also think we see a little bit of Madame Récamier in Ladurée's line.  While Ladurée does not verbally refer to Madame Récamier, there is a picture of her from Gerard's portrait at their website.  Additionally, the overall style is reminiscent of the beauty ideals of the Napoleonic era, ideals which Madame Récamier shaped and was the undisputed leader.  The brand story states, "[Les Merveilleuses were] beautiful 'goddesses of liberty' who lived in Paris after the Revolution in the late 18th century and pursued their own beauty depending on a unique and individual sensibility.  In the 18th century young Parisian women cast off the post-revolution reign of terror and strict morals, aspiring for freedom and liberation. They remained loyal to France and believed in their senses without losing the pride of the aristocrats who lived in the period of the monarchy.  Merveilleuses (French) refers to a 'marvelous,' eccentric and elegant woman."  This description, combined with the illustration and small picture of Madame Récamier, definitely point to her continuing influence.

Ladurée website screenshot

Illustration of "les Merveilleuses" from the Ladurée website
(images from

What do you think?  Would you have wanted to be in Madame Récamier's circle?  I must agree that she's rather exceptional beauty-wise, and while I tend to see modern-day socialites as vapid and/or pretentious, I think I would have wanted to hang out with Juliette.  I also think she may have been disappointed at her image being used to sell skincare, but would have, no doubt, been rather polite about it.  :)



Couture Monday: Monkeying around with Armani

Happy Chinese New Year!  This Armani palette will help you celebrate in shimmery style. YSL and MAC both occasionally release items in honor of the holiday (and both are this year), so I guess Armani is following suit.  

The red lacquer case depicts the Chinese symbols for fortune and luck.

Armani Chinese New Year palette

Armani Chinese New Year palette

Inside, the powder is inscribed with a silhouette of a monkey.  I thought this was well-done.  While more detail might have been interesting, keeping the design limited to a simple outline is probably the best way to go so that it doesn't veer into cartoon territory.

Armani Chinese New Year palette

Those born in a year of the monkey are said to be curious, sociable, mischievous and clever.  In fact, China may see a significant increase in births this year since the traits associated with this sign are so desirable.

Armani Chinese New Year palette

Armani Chinese New Year palette

I guess Couture Monday is a misnomer in this case, as I couldn't find any relationship to Armani's fashion - no special Year of the Monkey capsule collection or anything like that.  So in lieu of fashion, today I will bring you some of my favorite monkeys in art.  There's even a whole Tumblr devoted to the topic!  Some Chinese and Japanese examples.

Yi Yuanji, Monkeys and Cats, 11th century(image from

Gibbons at Play, 1427
(image from

Monkeys on a Limb by Mori Sosen, 18th century

Gibbon Reaching for the Moon's Reflection, Ohara Koson, 1926
(images from

And here are some monkeys in Western art:

A Monkey Smoking and Drinking with an Owl by Ferdinand Van Kessel, 17th century
(image from

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884

Tropical Forest with Monkeys by Henri Rousseau, 1910(image from

The Monkey by Franz Marc, 1912
(image from

Self Portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo, 1943(image from

Some other monkey business includes these home goods, a collection of lovely cards by Japanese designers, this exhibition at the Met, and you simply must check out these monkey orchids.

What do you think of the Armani palette?  And do you like monkeys either in general or as a decorative motif?

Shaking it with Lancome and Manet

In honor of the birthday of Edouard Manet (1832-1883), today I thought I'd share this 1949 Lancôme ad that refers to one of the artist's most famous works.   It looks like Lancôme released a lip color inspired by Manet's 1863 painting Olympia.

Lancome ad, 1949
(image from

Here's the original painting:

Manet - Olympia, 1863
(image from wikipedia)

It's not surprising a French cosmetics brand referred to a well-known work by an equally well-known French painter; however, I am curious to know why they chose Olympia.  The woman in the painting was Victorine Meurent, who served as Manet's model for many of his works.  Meli at Wild Beauty wrote an excellent post on Victorine and how scandalous the painting was considered when it debuted at the Paris Salon in 1865.  As she points out, not only was Victorine posing as a prostitute, she was daring to confront the viewer with absolutely no shame: "...she was staring straight at the viewer – without a hint of embarrassment or coquettishness. Once again, Manet had painted the viewer into an awkward encounter.  Even in modern times we expect our whores to project either seduction or shame, so Victorine’s matter-of-fact expression is startling in any age. But in 18th century Paris it hinted at a moment many had never seen – and those that had probably pretended they hadn’t. This might be a 'backstage' moment – before the courtesan greets a lover, and it’s almost too revealing in its frankness – we see the courtesan’s youth, beauty, cynicism, and business acumen all at once."  Indeed, the bold, thoroughly non-traditional presentation of a prostitute (or even a reclining nude, for that matter) that brings to the forefront the harsh reality behind the trade was cause for an uproar in 1860s Paris.  So this goes back to my question of why Lancôme chose to use Olympia, given that critics, having no idea what to make of the depiction of this woman, called her everything from a "grotesque India rubber" to an "ape on a bed."  Olympia seems to be a highly unlikely candidate for a beauty icon, but as Meli notes, perhaps her unconventional looks and fearless gaze were being celebrated by 1949.

In any case, this ad offers another bit of intrigue.  I noticed that the packaging for the lipstick is referred to as a "carquois", which translates to "quiver".  If you look really closely at the lipstick on the right in the ad you can see a Cupid holding a quiver of arrows.  Interestingly, Lancôme released their Fleches (Arrows) fragrance in 1938, the ads for which also feature Cupid and arrows, so maybe the theme of the "carquois" was borrowed from the perfume.  But that's not the only thing:  the "carquois" is also listed as a "shaker".  Another Lancôme ad, this one from 1951, uses this name for a particular case.  (Side note:  I like how the curved shape of the lipstick on the left is still in production today for their L'Absolu Rouge line.)  Apparently you could choose which jewelry-inspired case you wanted to house the new Rose Printemps shade (this assumption is based on me typing the ad copy into Google Translate, which we know isn't all that accurate).

1951 Lancome ad
(image from

Why is this notable?  Well, for spring 2016 Lancôme is introducing their "Juicy Shakers", a new "two-phase" formula consisting of oil and pigment that requires shaking before application.  I imagine it's similar to YSL's Volupté Tint in Oil but more fun to use - I like the idea of jiggling my lip stuff around in a cute martini shaker-like package.

Lancome Juicy Shakers
(image from

Lancôme seems to have taken a great deal of care in coming up with the name/idea, as they filed a trademark for it nearly 2 years ago.  I doubt any of their people used the Olympia ad or other vintage Lancôme ads that refer to the "shaker" when naming this new product, but it's a very interesting coincidence nonetheless. 

So, two separate and quite fascinating ideas provided by Lancôme's Olympia ad.  Which do you find more intriguing, the use of a rather scandalous work or the fact that Lancôme previously had the idea over 60 years ago to house one of their lip products in a so-called shaker?