It's hard to believe I haven't done a Halloween roundup since 2016, but here we are. Hopefully this post will compensate for the makeup I missed the past couple of years, as cosmetic companies continue churning out spooky and fun collections. I would have purchased some for the Museum, but by the time I made up my mind about which ones to add they had sold out and weren't restocked in time to arrive by Halloween. It says something about the demand when these collections are released in late September and sell out immediately...I think consumers and businesses are feeding off each other, both creating the increased frenzy for Halloween-themed makeup collections.
I'm not the biggest fan of either The Nightmare Before Christmas or Hocus Pocus - I've never even seen the latter - but I will hopefully add them to the Museum's collection as I thought they were cute and culturally significant enough to warrant purchasing.
I should probably re-watch Beetlejuice. As a kid it scared me half to death but obviously as an adult I should be able to handle it, plus it's got a good cast. This Melt collection would go nicely with Hot Topic's Handbook for the Recently Deceased palette I bought in 2018.
And now for a couple vintage pieces. I'm pleased to have added this Glebeas (pronounced glee-bay) to the Museum's spiderweb collection. Even though I hate spiders there are some great objects with spiderweb designs. You can read the whole history of Glebeas and see some of their other spiderweb packaging over at Collecting Vintage Compacts.
About three years ago I found a brass version of Volupte's awesome cobweb compact for a very good price in excellent condition and an original ad. The compact dates to about 1946-1952 and there were many variations, including sterling silver and 14kt gold, along with butterflies and ladybugs that had the misfortune of getting caught in the spider's lair.
Interestingly, the spiderweb design was created by Josephine Forrestal, a Vogue writer turned military wife. According to the patent the compact was originally intended for Paul Flato, for whom she created other compacts, so how it ended up with Volupte I'm not sure.
I had the great fortune of getting in touch with Andra Behrendt, curator of the Perfume Passage museum. She's a member of the International Perfume Bottle Association and sends out a quarterly eNews for their Compacts & Vanity Items Specialty group. The eNews focuses on compacts and related vanity items that are a part of the IPBA. She also runs Lady A Antiques, a shop she established in 1993. Andra kindly agreed to an interview, which I am extremely grateful for since not only has it been ages since I've interviewed anyone but more importantly, she has over 35 years worth of beauty history knowledge and experience to share. Enjoy!
Makeup Museum: How long have you been in the antique business?
Andra: I have been an antique dealer since 1993 as Lady A Antiques. As a dealer I specialize in celluloid covered boxes and albums from the 1900s, jewelry from Victorian through Deco, German bathing beauties from the 1920s and ladies accessory items such as compacts, purses, perfumes, hatpins, powders and puffs. I've had a website since 1997 and display at antique shows throughout the Midwest. I admit I don't update the website as often as I used to as I try to save the more unusual items for the shows. I have been a collector since I was a teenager, my aunt collected jewelry and she introduced me to antiques and collecting.
MM: How and why did you end up focusing on perfume and vanity items?
A: I gravitated toward enamel items and starting finding compacts and purses for my inventory. Then as my inventory of these items grew, I started meeting more collectors of these items at the antique shows. Now I specialize in the ladies vanity items!
MM: How did you get involved with the IPBA?
A: In the mid 1990s, before the internet, if you were interested in a special category of collecting, you joined a collectors club! I think at one time I belonged to a collector club for hatpins, combs, jewelry, purses, plastics, compacts and of course perfumes. That's how people met other collectors and shared their knowledge. I love to learn about the items that interest me and collectors are very generous in sharing their knowledge. The International Perfume Bottle Association has always been one of the more professional collectors club with a board of directors, annual convention, newsletters, etc. They believe in educating collectors about the history of the items we love so much. And many perfume collectors also collect related vintage vanity items such as compacts, purses, powders and lipsticks. The IPBA has always included compacts and related vanity items in addition to perfumes.
MM: Tell me about your experience as curator at Perfume Passage. What exactly do you do in your curatorial role?
A: I met the founders of Perfume Passage at one of the IPBA conventions about 10 years ago. When the museum started gathering information about compacts and vanity items to eventually display at the museum, I began evaluating the items they accumulated, providing information on their history, etc. When the museum was ready to begin installing displays, I started assisting with the showcases in the galleries and drugstore displays, focusing on the compacts, vintage makeup items and vanity items. I've been documenting the museum's collections as we are developing an online database for public use. I also assist with writing articles for the museum's website and eNews. As we just opened in May 2019, there are a lot of projects in the works!
MM: What are some of your favorite compacts/lipsticks/other makeup items and why?
A: I've always loved enameled items and the Art Deco time period. So my favorite compacts are the detailed enameled compacts from the 1920s and 1930s. I also like the whimsical figural compacts as they tell such an interesting story.
MM: What is your favorite era for makeup and why?
A: I'm drawn to the 1920s as it was an era of growth and change for women. There was a reason for compacts and makeup for women during this time and it was evident in the products that were produced. Looking back at some of the makeup items, it's almost humorous to think that "ladies really used" some of these products!
MM: Why do you think makeup history is important and worthy of preservation and museum display?
A: Compacts, purses, perfumes, powders and all vanity items were significant of their time periods and their manufacture was influenced by cultural and social trends. Just like most items that we collect today, there was a reason for their use and need. And these initial reasons don't always exist today, but are part of our history. With makeup, compacts and perfumes, people still use them and the reasons for using these products are mostly the same, but the products are different. But it's those early products that evolved into what is being used today and I don't think that should be forgotten. And it's a fascinating history if people take the time to learn about it. Perfume Passage and other related museums, such as yours, provide people with the opportunity to learn about this history as well as view wonderful items that didn't start out as collectible, but certainly are now!
MM: Any thoughts on current makeup/beauty culture? The Makeup Museum focuses on contemporary cosmetics, artist collaborations, etc. in addition to vintage objects, so I'd love to have your insight on what makeup and trends are out there now!
A: That's a very interesting question. I admit that I've really never worn makeup, I use just a little blush as my skin is so pale! I don't wear perfumes either. So it is kind of funny that I'm so in love with the history and products that are vanity related. And I honestly don't follow the contemporary cosmetic industry at all, just what I see on TV or read in magazines.
MM: Do you have any tips for compact collectors?
A: As with any item that we collect, buy what interests you. And while condition is usually the top priority for me, I also like the unusual. And before the internet, when many collectibles could only be found at shops, shows or auctions, collectors seem to buy for quantity. The internet has opened a whole new world for collectors, allowing us to see and purchase items that we would often never have a chance to find. So items that were considered "rare" or "one of a kind" can be found online. So I think collectors have more choices on what to collect or perhaps what to focus their collections on. While many compact collectors have a little bit of everything in their collections, you'd be surprised how many collectors focus on just Deco, or enamels, or figurals.
A 1930s Evans mesh purse with an ornate beaded/pearl/enamel compact lid:
A 1930s green floral enamel double compact with tango lipstick:
A 1958 Chicago White Sox compact. Back then, Tuesday's was ladies day at the ballpark and the owner of the team had a give-a-way of this compact! The other teams that I know of that had a similar promotion with compacts were the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and New York Giants.
Finally, a 1920s celluloid lady compact, the top "dress" slides and there's a mirror and powder puff inside.
(all images provided by Andra Behrendt)
Andra, thank you so much for taking the time to answer the Makeup Museum's questions and for your incredibly valuable insight! I encourage everyone to check out the Perfume Passage website and sign up for their newsletter. If you're in the Chicago area and can visit in person, so much the better. And if you're a collector, be sure to add Lady A Antiques to your shopping list!
Almost as much as flowers, fruit, and butterflies, the signs of the zodiac are leading choices for modern cosmetics collections and beauty inspiration. As a new sign season (Taurus) descends today, I thought it would be an appropriate time to provide a visual history of zodiac beauty and trace the ebb and flow of its popularity in the U.S. As we'll see, the two main components of this particular category (zodiac-themed packaging and beauty tips/makeup looks based on one's sign) and the reasons behind their prevalence at certain times really haven't changed much in the past 100 years.
The story arguably begins in the late 1600s in Europe, when British satire poet Samuel Butler suggested that women used beauty patches to indicate their sun sign. As Aileen Ribeiro explains in Facing Beauty, "According to astrology, certain areas of the face were governed by the signs of the zodiac - Capricorn the chin, Aquarius the left eye, and so on - so that patches placed on the face could echo this respectable link, this time equating such sites with emotions related to love and sexual invitation; this game, perhaps not taken seriously by women at least, was played well into the eighteenth century."1 While I'd love to delve deeper to see if there were any other horoscope beauty mentions prior to then and between the 1700s to the 1900s, I've accepted that I need to fast forward to the modern beauty era. The zodiac-based beauty advice that appears in nearly every online fashionpublicationnowadays has its roots in the 1920s, when an "authority on beauty"/astrology student declared that "the planets will guide one in using cosmetics" at the American Cosmetician's Society convention.
Zodiac beauty remained relatively obscure in the '30s and '40s. Poudre d'Orsay's use of the zodiac for its face powder containers remains a mystery. As far as I know it did not appear anywhere else in their line of powders and perfumes. Perhaps it's a reference to a detail on a historic building, much like the graphics on Cedib's Arc de Triomph powder, but that's just speculation.
The May 1, 1941 issue of Vogue featured a shop that sold an "all-purpose" cream with ingredients based not on one's skin needs but their zodiac sign. This is possibly the first zodiac-specialized beauty product in the modern era.
As compact sales grew exponentially in the '30s and '40s, zodiac-themed cases offered an alternative to monogramming in terms of customization.
(image from newspapers.com)
The short-lived Ziegfeld Girls brand launched lucite zodiac compacts in 1946, which you can read more about here.
Why this Scorpio compact included a brochure for Capricorn I don't know, but it's interesting to see.
Just two years later Elgin American got in on the zodiac compact game by introducing their "Zany Zodiac" line. The illustrations and rhymes were devised by Stan MacNiel, a Scotsman and former British army captain. He was quite the character and I encourage you to check out my post on him and the Elgin line.
Advertising for both the Ziegfeld Girls and Elgin American compacts emphasize the individualization aspect of the zodiac. Despite the millions of people that share the same sign, zodiac compacts were "all about you" and "individually styled."
As monogrammed compacts gradually became less popular by the mid-20th century, so too did those bearing individual signs. A shift towards including all twelve symbols became more common.
Zodiac-themed compacts from the '50s though the early '70s tended to include all the sun signs.
Clockwise from top left: unmarked Scorpio compact (1950s), Max Factor (1971), Zenette (ca. 1950s), Wadsworth (ca. early 1950s), Kigu (ca. 1950s-70s), Stratton (1969), Le Rage (1950s)
The late 1960s, with its tumultuous social revolution and economic and political uncertainty, is when the astrology craze firmly took hold in American culture. This in turn led to not only zodiac-themed collections but a slew of beauty horoscopes.
These pre-date Fresh's zodiac soaps by nearly 50 years!
Actress Arlene Dahl, who had been penning beauty horoscopes since 1963, published her "Beauty Scope" books in 1969. I need to get my hands on a couple copies but in the meantime check out this blogger's review.
As the astrology fad waned in the mid-late '70s, due in part to scientist killjoys, so too did zodiac beauty. Save for this 1978 Maybelline ad, I was hard pressed to find any other zodiac-themed makeup until the mid '80s.
Zodiac beauty got a little boost during the greed-is-good era, when makeup artist Linda Mason published a book entitled Sun Sign Makeovers in 1985. Like Dahl's series, the book offered specific beauty tips and makeup looks for each sign. Just a couple years afterwards, Mason released her own line of astrology-inspired makeup called Elements, some of which can still be purchased today (with different packaging). There was a "moodkit" for each sign and specialized kits for eyes, cheeks and lips. By the way, in looking these up and learning more about Mason I discovered that her work is exactly one of the main things the Museum is intended for: the intersection of art and makeup. If travel is ever remotely safe again I'm definitely going to check out her store/art gallery in Soho, it sounds dreamy! It's literally called The Art of Beauty.
Maybelline also tried to re-ignite the zodiac beauty flame in 1988 with individual eyeshadows. First lady Nancy Reagan regularly consulted an astrologer during her husband's tenure, a fact made public that same year, so perhaps this news snippet isn't too far off base. (The shades are listed above in a separate clip for reference.)
The '90s and early 2000s experienced a resurgence of zodiac-themed beauty. Nostalgia for '60s counterculture (in which the fascination with astrology played a big role) as well as the renewed interest in customized beauty products were the major drivers of the trend. While Estée Lauder's compacts - another you can still buy today! - were geared more towards adults, many zodiac-themed products seemed to be intended for teens.
Demonstrating that beauty trends are cyclical, the zodiac fad waned again in the late aughts and early 2010s. But around rumblings began in 2015 with Fresh's zodiac soaps and crescendoed to a roar by 2018. Both Fresh and Bite borrowed a page from Flori Roberts and collaborated with noted astrologers for their collections - Susan Miller in the case of Fresh and Tara Greene for Bite.
Wet n Wild (summer 2018), Fresh Sugar lip balm (fall 2018), Colourpop x Kathleen Lights zodiac eyeshadow palette (summer 2018) and single eyeshadows (summer 2019), Missha cushion compact (ca. 2018), Bite Beauty Scorpio lipstick (fall 2018), The Creme Shop sheet mask (fall 2018)
But wait, there's more! These are the ones not in the Museum's collection but still worth a mention. The Milk Makeup zodiac stamps are a thoroughly modern twist on the beauty patches idea from several centuries ago, no? When applied on the face I'd imagine they'd look like beauty marks, albeit ones with a highly specific design.
Lest you think these not-so-wearable looks are solely the creation of 21st century influencers, here's a 1984 Australian beauty pageant where contestants were challenged to come up with the most over-the-top "fantasy" zodiac makeup.
The interest in astrology points to larger societal shifts and is driven primarily by younger generations just as it was some 50 years ago.3 Millennials and Generation Z are reporting higher rates of stress than older generations, and are increasingly turning to astrology and other New Age phenomena to cope. As the Atlantic explained in 2018, "According to American Psychological Association survey data, since 2014, Millennials have been the most stressed generation, and also the generation most likely to say their stress has increased in the past year since 2010. Millennials and Gen Xers have been significantly more stressed than older generations since 2012. And Americans as a whole have seen increased stress because of the political tumult since the 2016 presidential election. The 2017 edition of the APA’s survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they were significantly stressed about their country’s future. Fifty-six percent of people said reading the news stresses them out, and Millennials and Gen Xers were significantly more likely than older people to say so. Lately that news often deals with political infighting, climate change, global crises, and the threat of nuclear war. If stress makes astrology look shinier, it’s not surprising that more seem to be drawn to it now." Case in point: this "stress-busting" insert from a recent Sephora Play! box detailing what beauty products will help with relaxation based on one's sign.
The decline of organized religion and the expansion of the Internet's capabilities are also factors in astrology's revival.3 In 1972 one journalist cited two key reasons for the surge in astrology's rise: "fear in an uncertain time and the failure of orthodox religion to give meaning to problems."4 The same can be said for today's environment. Jessica Roy, writing for the L.A. Times in 2019, details the shift away from traditional religion and the resulting turn towards astrology. "Today, young people still seek the things that traditional organized religion may have provided for their parents or grandparents: religious beliefs, yes, but also a sense of community, guidance, purpose and meaning. But it can be hard for young people to find those things in their parents’ religions. So they’re looking elsewhere. On top of that, a lot of younger people feel alienated by mainstream religion — by attitudes toward LGBTQ people and women, by years of headlines about scandals and coverups, or by the idea that anyone who isn’t part of that religion is inherently bad or wrong...Before the internet, people who held beliefs outside the mainstream — religious, political or otherwise — lacked a public way to connect with one another. With social media, divinatory practices like astrology, crystals and tarot have been able to take up space in a public conversation. It helps that they all look great on Instagram...Young people have grown up contending with a major recession, climate change and a more general awareness of seeing a political and economic system that many feel hasn’t benefited them, so it’s not surprising that they’re pushing back against those systems at the same time they’re exploring nontraditional religious beliefs and finding ways to integrate it all."
As for modern technology, the New Yorker further lays out how the Internet and social media allowed astrology to be more accessible and at a much faster pace than before. "[Astrology] promises to get to answers more quickly. For centuries, drawing an astrological chart required some familiarity with astronomy and geometry. Today, a chart can be generated instantly, and for free, on the Internet. Astrology is ubiquitous on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and in downloadable workshops, classes, and Webinars. A new frontier has opened with mobile apps." While the Internet has radically changed, well, everything, in 1970 some of the first computers were being used to generate horoscopes, with companies pouring millions into new technology just as they are now for the same reason - increased speed of delivery to meet demand.
The second major factor in zodiac beauty's ubiquity is customization. Consumers like to think they're getting a product made or intended just for them. Customization in beauty is trending more heavily than ever before, from nearly every company offering engraving services to personal consultation apps. And astrology is a fairly simple way to advertise a seemingly individualized product. In an interview with WWD, Fresh's chief marketing officer highlighted the trend of "customization and personalization" in the industry. She also noted that "the collaboration was particularly successful in China, which she attributed to Chinese Millennials and their obsession with the zodiac." It's a great point about Chinese zodiac beauty products as there's been an equally explosive rise in lunar new year-themed beauty products in the past few years, many of them depicting the animal corresponding to the year. (See also Shiseido's Chinese zodiac figurines.)5 I think the growing interest in C-beauty is also partially responsible.
The customized aspect of zodiac-themed beauty parallels the personalization options in astrology and other New Age trends. One doesn't have to become a certified astrologer to enjoy horoscopes; they can pick and choose whatever suits them. Roy again: "[Millennials] dabble, they find what they like, they take what works for them and leave the rest...spiritual practices appeal to the commitment-wary: You can get a little into crystals or astrology or tarot, or a lot into it. You can buy a few rose quartzes or light a few candles and if it’s meaningful for you, keep it; if not, it’s not like you went through a full religious conversion."
As noted earlier, another time that was popular for customization was the "golden age" of compacts in the '40 and '50s, where many were engraved as personalized gifts or event keepsakes. Some were even designed with spaces specifically to add monograms. Perhaps that explains why two major compact manufacturers decided to add to their repertoire with zodiac lines.
Finally, on a more basic level, the visual appeal of zodiac imagery is fairly irresistible. There are as many different ways to depict zodiac signs as there are artists. Whether it's the caricatures illustrated by Stan MacNiel for Elgin, the refined style of Poudre d'Orsay, or the minimalist approach taken by Demeter, even if customers aren't astrology fans the designs will draw them in. In looking at the Museum's zodiac collection one would suspect I obsessively read horoscope predictions and plan my life around the alignments of stars and planets, but I'm actually not into astrology. I check out my horoscope from time to time just for fun, but the reality is that I collect zodiac makeup mostly because I enjoy looking at the artwork. The fact that it's prominent in makeup history and belongs in a museum is, admittedly, simply an added bonus. The otherworldly nature of the creatures and constellations combined with the twelve symbol structure satisfies both the imagination and the need for orderliness. Plus as a former art history major, it's fascinating to see different artists' takes on the zodiac.
What object here is your favorite? Would you ever try a makeup look or product based on your sign?
1Aileen Ribeiro, Facing Beauty, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 132.
2Barbara Holsopple, "A Longing for Things to Be Put Right", Pittsburgh Press, April 4, 1971.
3It's out of print, but if you're interested I bet this book is great if you're looking specifically for a cultural history of astrology. Or at least, it was the only one I could find.
4Mary Turczyn, "What is the Occult?", Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, March 22, 1972. She adds, "In a poll taken in 1967, 57% said that religion was losing its influence on American life. With religion no longer the bulwark of society, people seek answers in other areas and astrology has rallied as one of these."
5For the purposes of expediency and so as not to be all over the place I chose to focus on the modern, Western zodiac rather than exploring the Chinese zodiac in beauty products. I do wonder how far back it goes...I'm envisioning powder containers hundreds of years old in the shape of dragons and other Chinese zodiac animals. Must research!
I'm still a bit wiped out from the spring exhibition and it's been ages since I've shared some inquiries that made their way in the ol' Makeup Museum Mailbag, so here's a quick review of some questions that have been sent my way.
First up is this lovely compact with a six-pointed star in blue rhinestones - perhaps a Star of David? - and matching lipstick, submitted from a reader in Australia. Her grandmother's brother had brought it back to her grandmother during the second World War. Without any logo or brand markings I can't pinpoint the company that made it, and after looking online and through all my collector's guides I can say I've never seen a vintage compact with this design. Obviously it was made in France, but I'm not quite as familiar with objects across the pond, as it were. It's a beautiful set and I wonder whether it has any wartime or Holocaust significance.
The second inquiry I have to share today was another head-scratcher. Someone had messaged me on Facebook (which I set up earlier this year but rarely use) asking about this little lady. It's a Revlon Couturine lipstick, but her identity remains a mystery.
As I've noted previously, allegedly the Couturines were supposed to be modeled after actresses and other purveyors of style. But this one doesn't seem to match any of the ones that have been identified. The only other actress whose name I've seen mentioned is Shirley MacLaine but it's not her either, according to this photo.
Finally, I received an inquiry from someone asking for proof that suffragettes wore lipstick as a symbol of emancipation. I swiftly directed this person Lucy Jane Santos's excellent article outlining how there really is no solid evidence that the ladies fighting for equality in the early 1900s regularly wore lipstick to rallies, or at least, to the big one in 1912. As she outlines in her article, it appears to be a persistent myth that most likely began circulating in the '90s both in Jessica Pallingston's book and Kate de Castelbajac's The Face of the Century: 100 Years of Makeup and Style (1995). Just for kicks and giggles I took a peek at newspaper archives (I'm finding they're just as fun and informative as magazines) and dug up a couple of interviews with British suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst and a profile of her daughter Sylvia. Their views on makeup are positively fascinating! As it turns out, Emmeline had no moral issue with cosmetics, she just didn't find a made-up face aesthetically pleasing: "Don’t think I am actually censoring the young girls nowadays…the very brief skirts and the overdone makeup are by no means an indication of loose morals. They are, in often rather a pitiful way, an indication of groping toward greater freedom and they are still more a groping towards beauty…the impulse to make one's self look as well as possible is a perfectly sound impulse. It has its root in self-respect. It is quite wrong to think that the use of short skirts and rouge are based on any violent desire to attract the opposite sex. The use of these aids [is] based on the legitimate desire to look one’s best. A woman dresses more for other women than for men. But the too-red lips and the extremely short skirt – I must confess that I dislike them. I dislike them because so few girls look well thus arrayed, and because older women, when thus arrayed, usually look rather ridiculous. But let me point out one fine fact behind all this makeup.It is not added with any idea of deception. The woman today who powders and paints does it frankly, often in public without one iota of hypocrisy. And this, I think, is a splendid gain.” (emphasis mine)
Her daughter, Sylvia, on the other hand, did not approve of makeup at all. "I still don't approve of lipstick and makeup. It's horribly ugly, destroys the value of the face. I've never used it, never shall." Her obituary also states that she thought makeup and lipstick were "tomfooleries".
I did also see this 1910 ad from Selfridge's. This is what I believe to be the only reference to suffragettes wearing lipstick. I'm wondering if this is part of how the myth was generated, since even with this ad there doesn't seem to be any concrete proof that suffragettes wore lipstick. Selfridge's advertised and sold it; whether it was widely worn by suffragettes is still up for debate in my very humble opinion.
"I want a case that glows with fashion. That has such fashion magic it transmits right through the lipstick and onto the faces of women. Makes them feel the beauty touching their lips." - Charles Revson, January 13, 1954.
I know, more vintage Revlon lipsticks. But I promise it's very interesting! There didn't seem to be a comprehensive history of Revlon's Futurama line so I thought I'd take a stab at it. Futurama was a collection of refillable lipstick cases designed by famed jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels for Revlon. The line was introduced in 1955 with much fanfare, especially its debut on the popular game show the $64,000 Question. But how did the collaboration between Revlon and Van Cleef happen? Who was responsible for the design? What is Futurama's significance in makeup history? I can't say I have answers to all of these questions, but I'll do my best.
First, a quick background. Refillable lipsticks had been on the market since the 1920s and became more widespread in the '40s as a way to save metal during wartime. Every last scrap was needed; the country couldn't afford to have women wasting a used lipstick tube.
The notion of makeup as an additional accessory was reinforced by the fact that many compacts were sold in jewelry stores in addition to the jewelry section at department stores, with custom engraving and monogramming available.
Jewelry designers Ciner and Paul Flato also had their own compact and lipstick combinations in the late '40s and early '50s.
By and large, compacts and lipstick cases were already perceived as another item of jewelry thanks to companies like Van Cleef and Arpels leading the way. So what was new and special about Revlon's Futurama cases?
There were two key factors that Revlon advertised as the differentiators: design and price point. The concept for the design is a fascinating story. As he explains in the book Business Secrets That Changed Our Lives, Revson was inspired by a business trip to Paris. “The candlelit room, the elegant service, the fine furnishings bespoke good taste and an appreciation of beauty. Next to me sat a chic and lovely woman. What interested me most about my dinner partner was not her beauty but a small object she had taken out of her purse. My eyes returned to it again and again, until finally, with an amused smile, she handed it to me saying, ‘I would not have expected an American man to be so interested in a lipstick.’ The beauty of the case, hand-engraved and diamond-bedecked, was one outstanding feature. What really caught my eye, though, was that the lipstick could be removed with a single click-in, click-out action in just one section. And because the lipstick was contained in its own cylinder, removal of it was not only easy, but smudge-proof. My dinner partner's remark kept goading me-‘I would not have expected an American man to be so interested in a lipstick.’ Of course not! All that an American man ever saw was one of those undistinguished brass bullets!”2 Revson took a similar case back to the U.S. and less than a month later, on January 13, 1954, summoned Earl F. Copp into his office. Copp was Chief Operation Officer for Risdon Manufacturing Company, which had been making Revlon’s cases since 1947. Revson explained what he had in mind: “I want a case, a refillable case. You have to make it different from this one. This is too much like the others, refillable perhaps, but not elegant enough. I want to see luxury, fashion, expensive jewelry. No more bullets. Can you see what I mean? I want a case that glows with fashion. That has such fashion magic it transmits right through the lipstick and onto the faces of women. Makes them feel the beauty touching their lips…I don't want just one case, but a whole line. So that women will want one for morning, one for evening, one for special occasions-all suitable for refills with whatever different colors they prefer.” While refillable lipsticks existed previously, the way Futurama was advertised suggested a totally new frontier. According to design historian Matthew Bird3, Lurelle Guild (1898-1985), a prominent industrial designer at the time, was brought on board to oversee the aesthetics of the cases. As another design scholar notes, Guild was the ideal choice to design a cutting-edge, futuristic lipstick case, as he had been responsible for other iconic '50s styles such as Electrolux's Model G vacuum, which sported "rocket-like fins".4 While the cases were being advertised in 1955, Guild filed a patent in early 1956. Grace Gilbert van Voorhis, Raymond Wolff and Henrieta Manville are also named on the patents, with Manville’s name on the “utility” patent for the inner mechanism of the case. Based on census records, Manville most likely worked with Earl Copp at Risdon Manufacturing, while Wolff may have worked in Guild’s office. As for Van Cleef’s role, it appears they signed on in name only and let Revlon deal with the designs themselves; this seems especially likely given that none of the cases really resemble anything Van Cleef was making at the time.5
The designs on their own were modern for the time, but another aspect that Revlon claimed as new was the actual refill mechanism. While they weren't quite the hardship Revlon's Futurama ads made them out to be, earlier versions of refillable lipsticks could get a little messy and took a minute or two to change as compared to Revlon's alleged 3 seconds.
Futurama's "click in, click out" was certainly less involved than wartime lipstick refill instructions!
The second aspect that set Futurama apart from previous lipsticks was that customers were made to feel as though they were getting a luxury item by a brand name at an affordable price. "Like rubies and emeralds, a really luxurious lipstick case has seemed out of reach to most women...though Revlon's new cases look loftily priced, some are a low $1.75, including lipstick. Besides which, women find Futurama a money-saver since refills only cost 90c."
The cases themselves were presented as affordable, but Revlon also promoted the idea of the refillable lipstick as a cost-saving measure - once the customer "invested" money in a case, refills would be less expensive in the long term than buying a whole new lipstick.
You would think a company as large as Revlon wouldn't take a chance with their reputation by participating in price fixing, but in 1958 their shady tactic of setting refill prices was admonished by the FTC, who cracked down on them for conspiracy. The author of the fabulous Cosmetics and Skin website explains: [Futurama] went on sale in 1955 after Revlon acquired the Braselton lipstick patents for lipstick cartridges in 1954. Revlon then entered into an agreement with Helena Rubinstein and Merle Norman – along with a number of container manufacturers, including Scovill and Risdon – to fix the price of lipstick refills, including non-patented lipstick inserts, until they were charged by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with conspiracy."
Even though it had been advertised previously, the breakout moment came when Revlon featured a commercial for Futurama on the game show The$64,000 Question, which they were sponsoring. (Revlon's sponsorship of the short-lived quiz show is a fascinating history in and of itself.) It was during this commercial that viewers could witness in real time the ease and tidiness of Futurama lipsticks, making video even more critical than print ads. As Bird notes, "YouTube allows us to watch a vintage television ad and learn that the design separated the lipstick from the case, and saved money by offering refills. The line was marketed to women, but also to husbands and children as an affordable but seemingly luxurious gift. Without this TV advertisement, the design is easy to write off as mere decoration. With this added information, the design transcends mere aesthetics to address user needs, perceived value, material use, marketing, and problem-solving. Seeing the design in action gives it a life and sophistication not evident in the brutality of an elevation view patent drawing or two-dimensional photograph."6
Overall, Futurama was presented as the wave of, well, the future. The case designs, particularly the elongated styles that were tapered in the middle and wider at the ends, were intended to reflect the modern era rather than mimic shapes of the past. Revson discusses the design selection process. "When the designs started to come in, it was an exciting and stimulating experience. Many shapes were proposed: prisms, octagons, ribbons and bows, pencils, thimbles and countless others. But the most inspired was the hourglass, a shape that four designers suggested independently. We experimented with many surface treatments, too: brocaded gold on silver, silver-plated with a gold spiral, wedding bands en circling the cylinder. With Bert Reibel, our packaging designer, I selected two basic shapes by the end of March, 1954. One group of cases, shaped like hourglasses, would retail at $2.50 or more; the other group, thimble-shaped, would be less expensive. Of all the samples submitted, only one surface treatment resembled that of expensive jewelry. We had to make arrangements with Fifth Avenue jewelers and designers, visit art museums and study color photographs of good-looking jewelry from the archives. Almost every major jewelry shop in Manhattan was visited, to study expensive, hand-designed compacts and cases. But we were still little closer to our goal. During the next eight months, we made up many thousands of designs and some five hundred actual models, each with a different surface or slightly modified shape. Parts were interchange able, so we could produce still different combinations. We invented our own special language: 'belts,' 'skirts,' 'balances,' 'waistlines.' Which 'belt' looked best with which 'skirt'? Which 'waistline' went best with which 'collar'? It got to be a joke that I was often awake all night worrying about a dimension of one-sixteenth of an inch. And it was true! The search for new surface treatments inevitably brought us face to face with the limitations of machinery. I had become intrigued by one finish we found on expensive compacts-'Florentine' by name-which was a texture of minute, finely etched lines. In 1954 no case manufacturer had the facilities or know how to produce it in volume...[Copp] finally, after long weeks of experimentation, had devised belts and grinding wheels that would simulate the 'Florentine' finish. To produce other finishes, he had to dispatch engineers to Switzerland and Italy before he could locate and buy the only turning machines on earth that could do a mass production job."
You'll notice there are very few scratches on this black case, which was the result of Revson's insistence that all the finishes should last at least 2 years before showing significant wear. "Two coats of high-bake vinyl lacquer" did the trick. The longevity of the pavé settings on the tops of some of the cases was also difficult to ensure.
After nearly a year of design work, Revlon began working on the marketing, with Vice President Kay Daly (who later came up with the questions for Revlon's iconic Fire and Ice quiz) leading the way. "Early attempts missed the boat because they emphasized the fashion element, but did not adequately sell the 'refillable' idea. The most frustrating task [Daly] undertook was the selection of a name for the cases. Hundreds were suggested, considered and rejected. l could not agree-no one could agree-on any of them. Finally, she hit on Futurama. To my mind, this suitably brought home the newness, the excitement, the fashionableness of the product...A market research organization reported that Futurama 'is not a good name. It is too masculine. It sounds too much like General Motors.'...In the end, I had to make the decision. There was, of course, only one way to look at it: from the viewpoint of the American woman herself. I decided to rely on my original reaction that the name was good, and that it would appeal to the consumer I knew best." The name was rumored to be taken from the Futurama exhibition at the 1939 New York World's Fair and speaks to the post-World War II futurist trend in American design and technology. Additionally, Revlon declared both the economic practicality and new designs to be the most cutting-edge ideas in cosmetics, and any modern woman should want to join the party. "Are you ready for Futurama?" asks this 1958 ad.
If you weren't on board with Futurama, you were getting left behind; the ads not so subtly implied that women who didn't purchase Revlon's latest offering were unfashionable and stuck in the past. According to one commercial, "The days of old-fashioned, un-style-conscious mothers are about as out-moded as old-fashioned brass lipstick...modern mothers may be old-fashioned on the inside, but they want to be the picture of glamour and style on the outside."
By late 1957 Futurama had expanded to compacts, which were also refillable. While not as notable as the lipsticks, the compacts solidified Futurama as the most recognized line for Revlon at the time. Something that is of note, however, is the fact that Andy Warhol may have been involved in the design of at least one of the compacts. A while ago a private collector sent me some photos and surmised that Warhol might have been responsible for a Revlon Futurama compact featuring his drawing of an early 1900s style shoe. This is what she had to say: "I emailed Van Cleef and Arpels about who exactly designed these lovely creations and I actually got a call from a representative wanting to find out information on a specific compact I have that she called 'the Warhol Boot'...It was supposedly one of 5 display/prototypes that went missing between 1959 and 1961. It was designed by Andy Warhol but rejected by Revson because it didn't fit the 'mood' of the collection." If this is true, what an amazing find! Take a gander at the second compact from the left in the second row.
I reached out to another collector whose father worked for Revlon, but she was unable to find any definitive proof that Warhol designed the compact. Still, it resembles his shoe illustrations.
Getting back to the lipsticks, Revlon's competitors were just as cutthroat as they would be today in that several companies released jewelry-inspired cases of their own. Take, for example, DuBarry's Showcase. Model Suzy Parker was featured in DuBarry's ads - an unusual move given her appearance in Futurama ads. What is not surprising that the company doing this is DuBarry, who you might remember would go on to shamelessly rip off Revlon's Fire & Ice lipstick with their Snowball of Fire shade in 1959.
Cutex was even more blatant in their plagiarism (but at least they used a different model, Sara Thom). In 1958 the company introduced their "designer's cases" which were apparently similar to something one would find in a "Fifth Avenue jeweler's window". The notion of previous lipstick case styles as being "passé" was also copied from Revlon. I'm not sure these were refillable, but they were definitely lower priced than Revlon's refills.
There was also this Avon clone making a series of "jewel-like" cases at a price "every woman can afford."
Can you say "knock-off"? Then as now, this sort of plagiarism was rampant in the industry (more on that in another post). To my knowledge none of these brands had partnerships with actual jewelry companies the way Revlon did, but they were definitely capitalizing on the makeup-as-inexpensive-jewelry concept.
As of December 1960 Futurama was still being heavily promoted by Revlon. A vast array of designs had joined the original lineup, while the older styles received elaborate outer packaging to suit any occasion.
Something that I have not been able to confirm is the numbering of the cases. This one is listed in the ad as 9029, but engraved on the bottom is 587. I believe the numbers on the bottoms of the Futurama cases correspond to the lipstick shades, not the case model, but I can't be certain.
Futurama was phased out by the mid-1960s, but its influence is alive and well today. Many makeup companies have collaborated with jewelry designers either for their permanent collection or limited edition collections. The idea of owning luxurious yet modestly priced jewels via makeup persists. As with the beauty lines of fashion houses or artist collaborations, if one cannot afford vintage jewelry or an original piece by a high-end designer/artist, makeup allows the customer to get a taste of the real deal. Here's a quick list of some of the more memorable makeup/jewelry collaborations. I'm also keeping my eyes peeled for one of these Cutex lipstick bracelets, which were sold around 1955-1958.
Some high-end lines go the Cutex route by creating makeup that can actually be worn as jewelry. Dior, YSL and Louboutin have all released lip products in pendant form.
Refillable lipsticks with outer cases meant not only to last but also displayed are thriving in 2020, given the increasing demand for sustainable packaging. The most recently unveiled jewelry-inspired line, and probably the one most similar to Futurama besides Guerlain's Rouge G, comes from fashion designer Carolina Herrera. “We wanted to give women an opportunity to wear their makeup like a piece of fabulous jewelry," Herrera stated. The entire line is refillable and offers customization options in the form of detachable charms and a variety of case styles.
Would all of these examples have existed without Revlon Futurama? Sure, but Revlon did a lot of the heavy lifting. Despite the exaggerated tone of the ads, Futurama was groundbreaking in that it popularized the notion of attainable luxury within the cosmetics arena and simplified the lipstick refill process. The cases also serve as a prime example of the futuristic flavor of 1950s American design. These factors make Futurama a significant cultural touchstone on par with Revlon's previous Fire & Ice campaign. At the very least, Futurama represents several key developments in cosmetics advertising and packaging that helped lay the groundwork for today's beauty trends and shape consumer tastes.
Which Futurama design is your favorite? Would you like to see a history of refillable lipsticks or an exhibition expanding on the makeup-as-jewelry concept? I have to say I'd be curious to see what Revlon would come up with if they did another collab with Van Cleef...it would be awesome if Futurama 2.0 incorporated Van Cleef's signature Alhambra motif.
1 Give yourself a crash course in learning the lingo for various makeup cases and the differences between them. Noelle Soren's website is a treasure trove of knowledge!
2Revson elaborates on existing cases. "For a long time it had been bothering me that American women-so alert in many ways-had been content with that old smooth brass cylinder . It had no distinctive shape, color, finish or design. It looked like a cartridge case. They would buy them and discard them when they were used up, and then buy another…A number of cosmetics manufacturers had for years tried to make cases more distinctive. We had played around with the idea at Revlon. But all that any of us ever came up· with was an other version of the cartridge case. For one thing, all case manufacturers, including Risdon, had the same kinds of machines, with the same old limitations." ("The Matter of Beauty: The Development of the Futurama Lipstick Case" in Business Secrets that Changed Our Lives, edited by Milton Shepard (1964), p. 294.
3 Matthew Bird, "Using Digital Tools to Work Around the Canon" in Design History Beyond the Canon, edited by Jennifer Kaufman-Buhler, Victoria Rose Pass, and Christopher S. Wilson (2018), p.114-117.
4 Through this paper I discovered that there are two folders worth of Revlon correspondence and sketches for lipsticks in the official Lurelle Guild papers, which are housed at Syracuse University. I have requested electronic copies of these but obviously since the library is closed due to the coronavirus I will have to wait to receive them and see if they shed any more light on the Futurama design process. I'm also still trying to figure out whether Van Cleef designed this beautiful jeweled case, as Pinterest is literally the only place I've ever seen it.
5 There is an ad in the January 1956 issue of Reader's Digest that mentions Charles Revson "commissioning" Van Cleef and Arpels to design the Futurama line. Google, however, will not let me see the entire ad, and I've purchased 2 copies of that particular edition of Reader's Digest to no avail - there was no Revlon ad in either of them. Either Google has the date wrong or, as one eBay seller noted, the ads differed between Reader's Digest even if they were the same exact editions (i.e. same month and year.) If anyone knows how to access Reader's Digest in full online, please let me know!
6 Matthew Bird, "Using Digital Tools to Work Around the Canon" in Design History Beyond the Canon, edited by Jennifer Kaufman-Buhler, Victoria Rose Pass, and Christopher S. Wilson (2018), p.114.
I love when I get an inquiry to which I can actually give a solid response. A gentleman sent in this picture he had of an old lipstick and asked if I could identify it and provide any sense of its monetary value.
I recognized it immediately as one of the Revlon Couturines doll lipsticks released between 1961 and 1963. But which one? The only one I recognize off the top of my head is Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, since it's pretty obvious.
Fortunately the Revlon Couturines appear in Lips of Luxury (which I highly recommend for any beauty aficionado - check out my review here and in-person pics here.) According to the photos in the book it's not Marilyn Monroe.
Or Ava Gardner.
So it must be one of these ladies.
Aha! Looks like it's Jackie Kennedy (last one on the right.)
What's fascinating to me about the submitter's photo is that his doll appears to be wearing a little fur stole around her neck, whereas in the photo from the book she doesn't have one. As for the value, Revlon Couturines can fetch a pretty hefty price. Even though the photo is blurry, the one submitted to me looks to be in excellent condition. And given that she has a stole, which I'm assuming is original (the original Marilyn Monroe figurine has neckwear as well, which isn't shown in the picture in Lips of Luxury), that would probably increase the value. I think a fair asking price would be $150-$250. At the moment I don't even see any Jackie figurines for sale.
What do you think of these? This post reminds me that I really need to track down at least one for the Museum - I can't believe I don't own any. Another one (or 8) to add to the old wishlist.
Update, 2/6/2020: It only took 5.5 years, but I finally procured a few of these lovely ladies for the Museum!
I am sorry to say that I can confirm these are not cruelty-free. As a matter of fact, Revlon made it a point to highlight the "genuine" mink, fox and chinchilla used. How times have changed. I'm also wondering whether all the ones listed for sale over the years as having brown mink are actually fox fur, as indicated in the ad below. Then again, this was the only ad I saw that referenced fox fur, so maybe the brown ones are mink as well.
The white mink one is not in the best shape - there's a little bit of wear on the paint on her lips and discoloration around her "waist" - but she does have the original box. I'm suspecting the black mark is remnants of a belt, as shown here. (Apologies for changing the background in these photos but I was shooting across several days and was too lazy to retrieve the paper I had used originally.)
The chinchilla-clad lady, however, is basically new in the box. One hundred percent museum quality!
From what I was able to piece together from newspaper ads, the ones without animal fur were advertised as "mannequins" and originally released in 1961, while the chinchilla, fox and mink ones were referred to as "girls" and debuted during the holiday season of 1962. Both series fell under the Couturine name.
There were originally 12 designs, according to this ad. Of course, you paid a little more for the Mannequins with hats and jewelry.
Most of them were similar but had a few details switched up. This is especially true for the Girls series. For example, the brown mink/fox one I procured has the same color velvet at the bottom and one pair of rhinestones, but the one in Lips of Luxury has pink velvet and 4 rhinestones. The colors of the velvet and type of fur were also mixed and matched.
But one question remains. I'm wondering where Jean-Marie Martin Hattemberg, whose book Lips of Luxury I referenced earlier, retrieved his information. Obviously I don't think he just made up the idea that each Couturine was intended to be a replica of an actress or other famous woman. But I'm so curious to know how he came to that conclusion since I've never seen them advertised or referred to that way anywhere other than his book. Perhaps he knew someone at Revlon who designed them? Or maybe they were marketed differently outside of the U.S.? In any case, there's no mention of the chinchilla Couturine and several other of the original 12 dolls in Lips of Luxury, so I'm not sure who they're supposed to be. Hopefully one of these days I'll solve another makeup mystery. ;)
I'm thinking there has to be a vintage makeup fan among Les Merveilleuses Ladurée's design and marketing team, since their holiday 2019 collection carries on the tradition of yet another popular motif for beauty packaging: the swan. This graceful bird also ties into the company's commitment to infusing their line with the style introduced by the Merveilleuses. Let's look at the collection and all its downy soft details.
Can I just say how much I love the color scheme? The blue is so perfect - not too bright, not too aqua, not too dark - and plays amazingly well against the pink and white of the makeup shades and swan imagery. First we have the brightening powder. The outer case depicts a swan holding a rose in its beak, while the powder itself is embossed with a white swan swimming in a pastel-colored lake.
Next is this beautiful set containing a double swan-embossed blush and lipstick, housed in a blue embroidered pouch with a tiny silver swan for the zipper pull.
Lastly is the star of the collection, a white swan-shaped jar filled with blush "roses". LM Ladurée is famous for their blush resembling rose petals, but these are next level.
I couldn't bear to open the blush itself, but it looks like this.
Even the box is gorgeously printed with pristine white swan feathers.
So how do swans relate to the Merveilleuses? Prior to becoming Empress in 1804, Josephine was one of the most revered Merveilleuses, possibly even more so than Madame Recamier. While the more over-the-top Merveilleuse trends generally died down after Napoleon rose to power, Josephine was still considered a top arbiter of style. During her time as Empress she also adopted the swan as her signature motif. According to the Met: "At the approach of danger, with feathers puffed up and anxiously hissing, these birds protect their young within the wall of their white wings. Napoleon's consort, Josephine, and her children were frequently compared to a swan and its cygnets. The swan was chosen as her symbol by Claude, wife of Francis I, the French Renaissance king whom Napoleon greatly admired." Thus the reason for the abundance of swan decor at her and Napoleon's residence, the Château de Malmaison.
In addition to serving as one of the Empress's emblems, swans have a long history in the world of cosmetics, most likely since they are one of the symbols associated with Aphrodite/Venus, goddess of love and beauty.1 Vintage compacts with images of swans abound.2
I couldn't find a real-life photo of this swan lipstick bouquet but it's fantastic. I'm guessing they're copying and expanding on the concept of Max Factor's popular flower pot lipstick set, which debuted in 1969.
I couldn't resist picking up a few vintage swan items for the Museum, including these adorable lipstick hankerchiefs (ca. 1940s-50s) and a lipstick case (ca. 1980s).
I think this vintage powder jar may have been LM Ladurée's inspiration. They came in a variety of colors, and the little niche created by the swans' wings was intended to store a lipstick.
All of these are lovely, but Tetlow's Swan Down face powder and accompanying ads are my favorite vintage swan-themed pieces...and they don't even depict swans on the outer packaging! Tetlow's Swan Down powder was introduced in 1875 and sold through the early 1930s. Collecting Vintage Compacts has a very thorough history of Henry Tetlow if you'd like to read more.
I was so pleased to get this one in good condition for the Museum along with an original ad.
While the one I have is in good shape, I'd love to own one of these boxes that still has the swan insert!
As was the case for many goods in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Tetlow's used small trading cards to advertise Swan Down. The portraits depict various stage actresses and other fashionable ladies of the time. The fan shape is a nice touch.
Another item I've become rather enamored of are vintage swan's down puffs. Before the dawn of synthetic brushes and puffs, in the Western world swan's down was one of the most common materials to apply powder in addition to silk and lambswool. The swan's down really is incredibly soft! (I forgot to take a picture of the vintage puff I bought...stay tuned for an update.)
I would love to try it out and compare it to my softest squirrel hair brushes but it's so fragile I'm afraid it would get ruined. And as I learned, vintage swan's down puffs are not cheap, especially the ones with sterling silver handles (drool).
Fast-forward to the 21st century, when some more swan-themed items joined their vintage counterparts. Here's what I'm sure is an incomplete group. Also, I guess I should give an honorary mention to Etude House's 2015 Dreaming Swan collection, which oddly enough did not feature any swans on the packaging.
Who can forget the frenzy over the makeup for the 2010 film Black Swan? This kit contained each element of the look.
Finally, here are the other contemporary swan treasures in the Museum's collection: a Paul and Joe eyeshadow from their fall 2010 collection and Guerlain's spring 2018 Blanc de Perle compact, which was a collaboration with Ros Lee.
So that about wraps it up! What do you think of the swan motif both for Empire-era decor and makeup? Which piece here is your favorite?
As with lipstick holders and tissues, another piece of makeup ephemera has seem to gone nearly extinct: the built-in lipstick mirror. Sure, there are still some run-of-the-mill fabric and leather lipstick cases with mirrors inside, and some contemporary companies have recycled the basic designs, but no current lipstick mirrors are as novel as their vintage counterparts. Today I'll take a look (haha) at the various vintage contraptions and mechanisms that allowed for a quick lipstick touch-up. As usual this exploration is not intended to be a comprehensive history of lipstick mirrors, but a brief overview and theories as to why they have mostly disappeared from the beauty milieu as well as the reasons they were even produced in the first place.
The simplest design consisted of a mirrored tube, favored by the likes of Avon and Flame-Glo.
The second most basic and inexpensive option was the humble lipstick clip, which attached directly to the lipstick tube. The adjustable design meant that it could fit virtually any tube and was easily removable.
I purchased a couple of these clips for the Museum's collection. Here we have the "Looky" mirror, which was patented in 1957, and Compliments, which most likely dates to around the same time.
The only design flaw with these types of mirrored tubes and clip-on mirrors was that they would be easily smudged since the mirror was exposed. Enter the folding lipstick mirror and clip! Elizabeth Arden's Rolling Mirror lipstick debuted in 1959, and while I couldn't find an exact date for Stratton LipViews, they probably were released around the same time and continued to be sold until the early '90s.
Avon also made a far less elegant plastic version.
The mirror could also be protected from smudges and scratches via a sliding mechanism instead of a folding one, as shown in this fan-shaped Stratton lipstick holder.
These next few will put a spring in your step. Spring-loaded, sliding cases in which the mirror popped up when the lipstick was opened were also quite popular. Shown here is Volupté's Lip Look, which dates to 1949-1950. Elgin, Elizabeth Arden and Kotler and Kolpit offered similar cases.
Given how many came up in my search for lipstick mirrors at Ebay and Etsy, it appears that the most widely available model of the spring-loaded variety of lipstick mirrors was a silver carved case accented by gemstones. They're unmarked, meaning no particular company patented the design and choice of metal. I believe they were mostly sold in department and jewelry stores.
Despite the silver cases' ubiquity, I'd say the most recognized name-brand spring-loaded lipstick mirror was Max Factor's Hi-Society, which was heavily advertised from their debut in 1958 through approximately 1965.
You might remember I featured these in the Museum's holiday 2016 exhibition. I'm still hunting down all the designs, which actually isn't difficult given how many the company produced.
Next up is a more complex version of the folding mirror. Instead of a tube clip, this was an entire folding hand mirror with the lipstick hidden within the handle. Here's an unmarked, super blingy version. Stratton also made a bunch.
Here are some rather dainty petit point and floral versions by Schildkraut.
Finally, there are the handle inserts. This item from Revlon would appear to be a regular hand mirror, but the lipstick is cleverly hidden in the handle. It was introduced in 1950 as the "biggest news in lipsticks since swivels were born". How very exciting.
Of course, Max Factor upped the design ante with their "Doll Set" lipsticks, which were introduced in 1967.
Now that we have a good sense of the types of mirrors that were available, let's spend a little time thinking about why they were made, or at least, why the advertising claimed they were the greatest things since sliced bread. The first reason built-in lipstick mirrors were a necessity - again, according to the advertising at the time - was the ease provided by a fused lipstick and mirror. Presumably women who wore lipstick also would have also carried around mirrored powder compacts, which could be used for lipstick touch-ups. Fumbling around in your purse for a mirrored compact when you just needed to touch up your lips and not your face powder, apparently, was too difficult to handle on a regular basis. As this 1935 newspaper blurb states, "Keeping lipstick and mirror together is the biggest trouble." Oh, the horror! (Bonus points for the blatant racism at the beginning of the piece.)
Such a "harrowing experience" to not be able to find a mirror!
The second reason was that the lack of digging around for a mirror meant lipstick could be applied more discreetly, you know, for "when you want to sneak a look while the boyfriend's back is turned." (More bonus points for the weight/food shaming piece below the lipstick article.) Much like lipstick tissues, lipstick mirrors were meant to be used to avoid an etiquette faux pas.
This 1940 column takes the idea of discretion a step further. As we've seen time and time again, a woman's makeup habits are dictated by what men think. "We suspect that the bold-face manner of applying lipstick is due for a set-back as a table pastime. Recently we heard more than one rumor that men are expressing a dislike for the practice. And it is a smeary, messy looking operation for a beloved with his own dreams about a natural beauty. Better keep him, if not guessing, then not too much in-the-know about your coloring source." Heaven forbid a man actually see a woman mend her lipstick! Ladies, please keep your silly frivolous face painting to yourself so as not to ruin TEH MENZ' unrealistic expectations of so-called natural beauty. I can't roll my eyes hard enough.
Thirdly, one can't be seen with a beat-up compact. Women should always present the prettiest possible cosmetic cases when in public. Seriously though, at least this 1956 clip is straightforward in proclaiming that a lipstick mirror is merely aesthetically pleasing instead of a necessary accessory in the battles against flaunting your makeup application and a messy purse in which no separate mirror can be easily unearthed. Just a little dose of "extra glamour".
And of course, let's not forget that as part of their goal of making a healthy profit, beauty companies are forever trying to invent another superfluous gadget or product and declaring it the next must-have. Perhaps lipstick mirrors were the mid-century version of vibrating mascaras. In any case, despite the lack of popularity for the built-in lipstick mirror as well as the cynicism of modern-day makeup wearers like myself, several brands forged ahead with attempting to resurrect the lipstick mirror over the past 20 years or so.
In late 1999, with much fanfare, Givenchy introduced their Rouge Miroir lipstick designed by by sculptor Pablo Reinoso. Reinoso became Givenchy's Artistic Director for their fragrance and beauty line shortly after the lipsticks' release.
The March 2000 issue of Vibe magazine proclaimed the sleek, futuristic design to be the height of convenience: "No more knives or rearview mirrors". Wait, who uses a knife to apply lipstick?!
Guerlain's Rouge G series was introduced in the spring of 2018 and comes in a variety of collectible cases (and, duh, I'm working on acquiring them all). The mechanism is similar to Stratton's in that they won't close unless there's a lipstick bullet inside. While practical, it makes for quite the hassle to take photos of the cases only as they keep popping open. I have to tape them closed, which is a less expensive option than buying lipstick bullets to go in each case.
Finally, I spotted this folding lipstick mirror from J-beauty brand Creer Beaute, which was included in their 2018 Sailor Moon-themed collection.
Still, these designs are not nearly as common as their predecessors from the early-mid 20th century. Why did the popularity of the built-in lipstick mirror fade over time? One theory is that lipstick packaging with built-in mirrors is more expensive than non-mirrored packaging, and therefore, not as appealing to consumers. Guerlain's Rouge Gs, for example, cost $55 ($33 for the bullet and $22 for case) while their KissKiss lipsticks are priced at $37. Going further back in time, Elgin's spring-loaded mirrored case by itself was $5.50, while the price of an average lipstick was $1.10. Why pay for a mirrored lipstick case if you (most likely) already have another mirror available? Yes, you might have to dig around in your purse a bit, but at least it won't be lighter for having spent money on a lipstick/mirror combo. This theory could also explain why clip-on mirrors were seemingly everywhere, as they were the cheaper route to fusing lipstick and mirror.
Another theory for the continuing disinterest in built-in lipstick mirrors could be that for the last 5-10 years there's been increasing demand for less, or at least recyclable, packaging. While some higher-end brands are refillable, most lipsticks sold with a built-in mirror don't appear to have a refill option, and consumers may be less likely to buy a mirrored lipstick tube knowing yet another packaging component will eventually end up in the ocean. Plus, while the new designs are relatively slim, they're still bulkier than lipsticks without built-in mirrors. The majority of beauty consumers, myself included, don't want anything taking up more room in their purse or makeup bag.
Finally, I believe beauty consumers are savvier than they were in the early days of the industry and are less susceptible to marketing and gadgets. A built-in lipstick mirror may have been considered revolutionary in the '40s because swivel tube lipstick had been invented just a few decades prior, but by the '70s these mirrors may have seemed old hat. So certainly by the 21st century we know these designs are not truly a breakthrough, nor are they anything that would be considered a necessity. I featured no fewer than 6 Kailijumei lipsticks in the Museum's spring 2017 rainbow-themed exhibition, and just now noticed there were mirrors on the tubes. The fact that the mirror didn't even register with me, a person who enjoys re-applying her makeup and has spent countless hours poring over product packaging, until now when I'm actually discussing lipstick mirrors shows just how unnecessary a built-in lipstick mirror is. And again, the majority of beauty consumers is likely to be carrying a compact mirror anyway, rendering a lipstick with a built-in mirror redundant. We also know that makeup companies update older designs and market them differently to see what sticks. To cite Guerlain's Rouge G, the description at the website highlights how the user can select both the color and case to suit their individual taste. "Every woman is unique...choose your lipstick from a wide range of shades to match your look: from the most nude to the most extravagant. Choose your case from an array of styles – from the most timeless to the most trendy". Rouge G has the same basic mechanism as the spring-loaded lipsticks of yore - it's especially similar to Max Factor's Hi-Society with the array of designs - but the marketing focuses on the customizable aspects (a concept that has spiked in popularity over the last two or so years...I've been meaning to write something about the craze for nameengraving/customization) rather than the newness and convenience of a dedicated lipstick mirror.
What do you think of the built-in lipstick mirror? Would you consider it a must-have? While I certainly appreciate the aesthetics, it's nowhere near a necessity for me.
As you know, from time to time I receive email inquiries from people with cosmetics objects they've stumbled across and would like to know more about. I'm always flattered that people think that I know what I'm talking about and can help them, especially since most of the time I have no idea about the item in question, but sometimes I get irritated when the inquirer's sole objective is to determine how much money they can make off an object they found. At first it seemed this way when the original owner of this very rare compact approached me, asking for more information and how much it might be worth. As we'll see, he turned out to actually have an interest in the compact's history and wasn't after profit.
This was an epic find indeed, easily one of the rarest and most valuable in the Museum's collection. I now present the Ramses powder compact, which debuted in 1923. The design shows an Egyptian woman in profile, holding a perfume bottle in one hand and a flower in the other, which she brings to her nose to enjoy its scent. The pyramids of Giza are just barely visible in the background, while lotus flowers on each side towards the lower third of the compact bloom into an arc of leaves.
I'm not sure if the woman is supposed to be anyone in particular - perhaps Cleopatra - but given that the design is most likely not historically accurate, I'm not going to dwell on it too much.
While there are other ads for the powder that show the compact, which we'll see in a second, I wasn't able to locate any originals. I did, however, find this ad in a French publication from February 1920.
I was hoping to find some good information about the compact for the person who contacted me, and of course, the ever-thorough Collecting Vintage Compacts blog had an excellent post on the history of the Ramses perfume company so I directed the inquirer over there. I don't wish to regurgitate all of the author's hard work on Ramses' backstory - I highly encourage you to check out the post for yourself - but I will provide the abridged version. The Ramses brand was founded in 1919 in Paris and selected Le Blume Import Company to distribute the line in the U.S. in 1921. By 1923 ads for the powder boxes and compacts were appearing in Vogue magazine. As Collecting Vintage Compacts points out, the ad copy is pure nonsense: neither the perfumes nor the powders were produced in Egypt and their formulas certainly did not date back to 1683. How the company even arrived at that arbitrary date is beyond me. However, with the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in November 1922, the Ramses moniker turned out to be quite fortuitous given the ensuing craze for anything Egyptian - clearly the ads wanted to milk the fad for all it was worth. The world was now swept up in the latest wave of Egyptian Revival, a style that incorporated various elements of Egyptian art and culture and encompassed design, fashion and beauty (see this compact depicting Theda Bara as Cleopatra and this ad as examples).
Egypt's influence on Western beauty from the Renaissance to today is a subject I'm looking to cover more thoroughly this year, either in a blog series or an exhibition (or both!) so stay tuned. As viewed through 21st century eyes, it was clearly unabashed cultural appropriation, a white person's fantasy of "exotic", far-off lands and artifacts. However, Egyptian inspired-beauty is such a rich topic that I can't bear not to fully explore it...especially now that I have this gorgeous piece in my hot little hands. Anyway, Collecting Vintage Compacts notes that the Ramses powder case was made by the Bristol, CT-based Zinn Corporation, a company that produced some of the earliest and most memorable compacts in the U.S. I find it interesting that while the powder was scented with the "Secret du Sphinx" fragrance, the compact itself shows a woman rather than the mythical creature. Collecting Vintage Compacts speculates, as I did, that the woman could be Cleopatra, but offered the additional option of Ramses' wife Nefertari. I agree with his conclusion that it really doesn't matter who she is - just a vague Egyptian theme was more than enough to get the point across.
Another version of the compact sported silver edging, a beautiful contrast to the warmth of the brass.
I also spotted some ads in newspapers. They're not as visually striking as the Vogue ads so I'm not including them here, but they did come in handy for indicating the original retail price of the compact, which was $1.00. The latest ads I could find were from 1925 and both the perfumes and powder were heavily discounted, which indicates Ramses was a flash in the pan.
But why? You would think given the era's craze for Egyptian-inspired design, combined with the slight French flavor (another huge selling point - this was a time when companies actively tried to give their lines and products authentic French or at least French-sounding names) the Ramses company would be able to get more a little more mileage out of their products. Collecting Vintage Compacts unraveled the mystery. As it turns out, the perfumer behind the Ramses brand, one Léon de Bertalot, had begun quite a shady scheme to sell another one of his fragrances. In 1914, 5 years before he launched Ramses, de Bertalot named one of his fragrances Origan. As we know, Coty's L'Origan (launched in 1909) was wildly popular, pulling in roughly $3 million in sales in 1921 alone. De Bertalot decided to capitalize on the company's success and began using the Coty name to sell his own Origan, essentially passing it off as a real Coty product. Coty, rightfully so, cracked down on this very quickly. On May 15th, 1923 a French court found de Bertalot guilty of "unfair competition", and a few days later the U.S. Treasury mandated that any inauthentic products bearing the Coty name were unable to be imported unless they specifically spelled out that they were not affiliated with Coty in any way. Since the Ramses brand had nothing to do with Coty I don't know if the Treasury's mandate applied to Ramses as well, but I'm sure the 6-month jail sentence and fine of 100,000 Francs handed to de Bertolot essentially meant the Ramses brand was out of business. Hence the price markdown of their products by 1925 - I'm guessing stores in the U.S. were trying to offload any leftover stock that was originally imported two years prior. The Le Blume Import Company, in turn, was no longer allowed to distribute any perfumes from any company whatsoever. However, it did import dusting powder tins and glass jars using the Ramses name in the late 1920s.
Getting back to the original inquiry that was the impetus for this post, here's the story of how the compact got into my hands from the person who emailed me originally (we'll call him C.) He had found it for $10 in a thrift store (!) but given the unique design, figured it was worth more. After looking through all my collector's guides and not turning up anything, I directed C. to Collecting Vintage Compacts and asked him to please let me know when/if he decided to put it on the market. Obviously I also indicated my great interest in obtaining the compact, but lamented that it was most likely out of my price range. Well, don't you know C. actually wrote back telling me that he was going to put it up for sale on Ebay, but said that while he'd like to get a good price for it (that's only fair, who wouldn't?), he believed that the Museum was the rightful place for the compact, given its rarity and my passion for lovingly researching and preserving these sorts of items. Thus he kindly offered to sell it to me directly and negotiate on price. In the end I think we both got a great deal - he got way more than what he had originally purchased it for and roughly the amount he would have gotten for it if he had put it up for public sale, and I got an amazing find at a fair price for which I was able to avoid an ugly bidding war.
After reading the Ramses history at Collecting Vintage Compacts and browsing the Museum's site, C. seemed genuinely interested in the compact and in the Museum's mission, so I was very happy to see he wasn't just in it for profit and was willing to work with me to ensure the compact went to a great home instead of merely to the highest bidder. :) I really appreciated it, as so many people who ask about value just want to know how much they can get for an item and have absolutely no consideration for the object's history or the Museum, which, as a reminder, is funded entirely out of my own pocket. Not that anyone is obligated to donate rare and valuable items, of course, but they could follow C.'s example and be open to selling their item to me at a price that works for both of us. I know if I came across an object I have no interest in but that other collectors might - say, a rare Barbie Doll - I'd seek out someone who would truly treasure it and give them first dibs.
What do you think? And yay or nay on a series/exhibition on Egyptian-inspired beauty?
This was such a nice surprise from Avon. I tend not to pay any attention to this brand as I'm more interested in their vintage products and ads, so imagine how delighted I was to see the company had reached into their archives and used some of the old ads I love so much for part of their extensive holiday collection. Called "Once Upon a Holiday," the only information from their end that I could find was from the description of this brief video. "Avon has always known the importance of holiday traditions. That's why we've created a limited-edition iconic collection, inspired by our rich heritage." I would have liked to know more about why Avon decided to use their vintage ads and why they chose the ones they did, but I will say I think they selected some of the better ones.
We'll start with my favorite, the 1945 angel ad illustrated by the Ukrainian-born Vladimir Bobri (1898-1986). You might remember this one from the celestial-themed holiday 2014/winter 2015 exhibition. I really hope to get around to writing a full post on Bobri and diving into all the ads he did for Avon, but briefly, he was sort of a jack of all trades - illustrator, author, costume designer, composer and classical guitar historian. In addition to Avon, he did illustrations for The New Yorker, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. This ad is seriously one of my all-time favorites, holiday or otherwise. I always interpreted the beautiful angel as a harbinger of peace, keeping watch over a quaint small town on a snowy Christmas night (and making sure the townsfolk get their gifts!) As you can see, this illustration was used on one of the five lipsticks included in Avon's holiday 2018 lineup.
The lipstick itself is a festive red shade, reminiscent of the one the angel is delivering.
I couldn't resist picking up the ornament with this illustration!
Next up is another by Bobri, this one from 1946. The scene depicts a Victorian-era couple, with a dapper gentleman on ice skates giving a sleigh ride to his equally well-dressed female partner. Above them a pine tree garland filled with ornaments and Avon gifts festoons a starry night sky. You simply don't find this kind of charm in today's advertising.
The ad was used for the packaging of Avon's eyeshadow palette.
Here are 3 of the other lipsticks. (In my excitement to order I neglected to add all 5 to my cart. #curatingfail) I didn't see the original ads for sale anywhere so I will keep hunting, but I was able to find images of them.
The packaging of the lipstick on the left features an ad from 1942, which ran in Vogue. A woman in a red cloak with a sprig of holly in her well-coiffed hair dashes around New York City to get her Christmas shopping done. I can't make out the signature - it looks something like Stahlut or Stahlest - but I know it's definitely not another illustration by Bobri.
The woman in the green dress on the lipstick in the middle is from a rather patriotic 1943 ad, which makes sense as the U.S. was fully entrenched in the second World War by then. As the Avon blog notes, this ad was actually part of a series intended to lift women's spirits during wartime. "Amid the trials of the World War II era, Avon’s 'To the Heroines of America' campaign debuted as a morale-booster depicting present-day women reflecting on brave female icons of the past. Noting 'the brave color of her lips and cheeks,' the series encouraged women to stand strong like their predecessors." This one is unsigned as far as I can tell, and although he did illustrateseveralother ads in this series, this doesn't really look like Bobri's work. A mystery for the ages!
The lipstick on the right is from a 1947 ad for Avon's Wishing fragrance, which depicts a woman wistfully gazing (and presumably wishing) upon a bright star. A source for this image indicates it's from the June 1947 issue of Good Housekeeping so technically it's not a holiday ad, but it works pretty well in my opinion. Once again I'm not sure who the illustrator is.
My only gripe with the Avon collection is that the images weren't printed on the palette or lipstick caps themselves, only on the outer packaging. Still, the inner packaging was adorned with stylish prints: tortoiseshell for the palette and leopard, houndstooth, chevron and plaid for the lipsticks.
I wasn't able to track down the ad used in the packaging for the final lipstick, which I accidentally left out of my order and didn't realize until I went to take pictures for this post. Whoops. However, the font is identical to one used in other Avon ads from the early '40s so my best guess is that it's from 1940-1942.
There were a few other items in the "Once Upon A Holiday" collection; however, since they did not feature any additional vintage ads I skipped them. Overall I'm really pleased that Avon came up with a nostalgic, vintage-themed collection using their old ads and I hope they do this again next year with different ones, as there's no shortage of adorableChristmasads in their archives. It's a great way to highlight the company's history while delivering fully modern products that meet the needs of today's makeup wearers. I wish more companies would do this! Lancôme, Shiseido and Bourjois have been known to occasionally celebrate their heritage by modernizing some of their iconic packaging or incorporating significant design elements from their vintage products into new ones, and obviously fashion houses (Chanel, Dior, Armani, YSL, etc.) look to their fashion archives for inspiration, but I'd love to see more brands take a look back and pick out some vintage ads or other items to feature. Estée Lauder, I'm looking at you.
What do you think? Which vintage ad is your favorite?