Books

Book review: Compacts and Cosmetics

Compacts-and-cosmetics-bookCompacts and Cosmetics:  Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day by Madeleine Marsh provides a brief history of both the U.K. and U.S. beauty industries from the 19th century through today.  Sorted roughly by decade, the book features an abundance of photos depicting items from each period.  It's an accessible, easy read that both beauty culture  newbies and long-time fans alike would enjoy. 

While I enjoyed the first chapter on beauty rituals in ancient Egypt and Greece, I thought the immense chronological jump from this period to Chapter Two (covering Victorian times) was a bit awkward.  From there, however, the narrative flows nicely.  Marsh sprinkles the text with choice anecdotes, noting the beginnings of  such familiar beauty brands such as Pond's, Maybelline and U.K.-based Boots. She also includes some very helpful guidelines to buying vintage makeup items in the appendix.

Where the author really shines, however, is in explaining how makeup went from being firmly in the realm of prostitutes/actresses in the 1880s to the huge business we know today.  She does this by weaving in the broad cultural and political influences that affected how women used cosmetics as well as the type and packaging of the products themselves.  For example, she traces how the rise of the film industry, which made actresses "more socially acceptable", flapper culture, and World War I all contributed to beauty's breakthrough as a regular part of most women's daily routines.  By the 1930s, "the question was no longer whether to wear make-up at all, but what to choose from an ever-expanding range of products....women's magazines [started] featuring dedicated beauty columns providing tips and advice, whilst salons were offering an endless variety of services." (p. 88).  And with the flurry of products introduced during these decades, packaging came to the fore.  The rest of the chapters, each covering a decade from the 1940s through the aughts, similarly place beauty trends and products within a general cultural context, with plenty of pictures along the way.  Most of these photos show items from Marsh's personal collection.  Here are some of my favorites.

Art Deco compacts:

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An Art Deco palette - what struck  me about this is the fact that it includes products for lips, cheeks and eyes.  I usually associate any vintage cosmetics with powder compacts, but this has a variety of products, similar to today's palettes.

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Boots Christmas ad:

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Compacts from the '40s and '50s - love the rotary telephone.

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Getting psychedelic with Avon lipsticks and Mary Quant crayons from the late '60s.  Groovy, man.

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Bottom line:  this is one of the most satisfying tomes on beauty history available, on par with Kathy Peiss's Hope in a Jar.  Definitely one to buy!


Book review: Mueller's Overview of American Compacts and Vanity Cases

Vintage compact bookI must say that the title of this blog entry is misleading.  There isn't really much content to review in this book, but there sure are some wonderful vintage compacts to drool over!  I guess it will be an overview of an overview.

Mueller provides a very brief (a mere 3-page) summary of American compact companies at the start of the book, and explains that it's not a pricing guide.  While I am curious to know what these pieces might go for if they were for sale, I was not disappointed that the book doesn't contain pricing information.  From there on it's all pictures of glorious compacts and even some ads for them.  Each one includes the sizes of each piece and the manufacturer.

I thought I'd give you a little taste of what you'll find in the book if you decide to purchase it.  And you really should if you like admiring pretty makeup* - because compacts are relatively small objects, there were usually 4-5 pictures of different ones per page.  So. Much. Eye candy!  You can buy it here.

Here are some of the compacts that jumped out to me immediately.

These iris and poppy compacts are from the early 1940s and according to the book, are very rare.

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I love the little legs on this Volupté "Petit Boudoir" compact from 1950:

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These four are by Rex Fifth Avenue.  The two on the right bear the signature of cartoonist Hilda Terry, whose designs of "bobby soxers" somehow made their way onto these compacts.

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How adorable are these Bell lucite compacts featuring charming Paris scenes?  They're pretty similar in style to Nathalie Lété's Paris designs for Bourjois.

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In addition to illustrated compacts, there were some fantastic blingy pieces, like these from Volupté and Evans.

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I thought I'd save my favorite for last:  a zippered compact bearing a mermaid (!!!) and seahorse:

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There are so many more pieces to ooh and aah over, including one with a map of New York designed especially for the 1939 World's Fair, the famous Dali compact, and even an enameled compact with a picture of fruit.  Mueller notes that depictions of fruit were very rare in compacts - how unlike the abundance I found in vintage ads!

I know I'll enjoy re-perusing all the compacts in this book, and I do find it helped me get a sense of what to look for in terms of vintage compacts.  As you know, the Makeup Museum is mostly focused on contemporary cosmetics, but I really want to add vintage pieces to the collection.  This was a great primer.

*I am not affiliated with the author in any way and received no compensation for writing about this book.


It's catching on!

I'm pleased to see that the topic of beauty is slowly becoming a legitimate field of study.   It hasn't been looked at as critically or academically yet the way fashion has, but we're getting there.  Recently I came across several things that I found to be very encouraging.

Compact book Musingonbeauty posted about this book.  While I'm a bit chagrined someone else came out with a coffee table book on makeup, I'm not completely beat down - there's plenty of room for more makeup books! 

Then I read in the June issue of Lucky magazine that there's an exhibition called Beauty Culture that's going on at the Annenberg Space for Photography.  The exhibition "examines both traditional and unconventional definitions of beauty, challenging stereotypes of gender, race and age.  It explores the links between beauty and violence, glamour and sexuality and the cost (in its multiple meanings) of beauty" and "encourages a social discussion about the allure and mystique of the pursuit of female beauty, as well as its cult-like glorification and the multi-billion dollar industries that surround it."  A little different than what I'm trying to do, but it's exciting to see a dialogue being started about the impact of the beauty industry.

Finally, I stumbled on the coolest blog on vintage compacts while researching an inquiry I received.  It is so incredibly detailed and gives a thorough history of early cosmetic companies, many of whom don't exist anymore.  

So, yay!  It's nice to see that makeup is finally being recognized as something more than to paint your face with - there truly is history and art involved, which is one of the things I strive to point out through the Museum.


(image from amazon.com)


Curator's Corner

100209_XX_GirlPower  I had an easy week on account of all the snow here, which I have to say was pretty sweet.  Too bad I didn't get more done blogwise, but at least I got a lot of decluttering done - as a beauty addict, I am constantly drowning in samples so I finally had a chance to weed through most of them. Anyway, here's what I'm liking/coveting/generally interested in this week.

- LUSH Magic Mushroom bubble bar - If you like bubble baths this is a must-have, plain and simple.  Get it now before it's gone!  

- New book on music in the 90s that prominently features the Riot Grrrl movement, a subject that's near and dear to the Curator.  Will definitely have to buy!

- Even more exciting, I found out via Slate that there will be an entire book devoted to Riot Grrrl due out in October!

- Finally, along those lines, an online Bikini Kill archive has been created.  It says your experience with the band doesn't have to be "fancy" but I do want mine to be compelling, so I'm not sure whether I should contribute...my story isn't all that interesting.

- Another book I would snap up immediately if it wasn't so darn expensive!

- Cool Arshile Gorky exhibit opened this week at the Tate Modern.

- Roundups of amazing Valentine's Day cards from Oh So Beautiful Paper.

Hope everyone had a lovely V-day!