MM Musings

MM Musings, vol. 29 : Diversity and inclusion

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the preservation, research and exhibition of cosmetics, along with my vision for a physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum occupied a physical public space, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that just because the Makeup Museum does not have a physical space or official nonprofit designation, it is as valid as other museums, and more legitimate than many other profit-driven entities calling themselves "museums". 

Diversity memeLet me just say up front that the timing of this post has nothing to do with the Capitol insurrection that took place a few weeks ago, or the fact that Black History Month starts in two days.  This is something that's been in the works for over a year, as it's extremely important to the Museum's mission and to me personally.  After giving myself a crash course in diversity and inclusion, I feel as though I'm finally ready to write something a little more in-depth than the thoughts I jotted down back in June 2020.  One of the Museum's primary goals is to present makeup and its history differently than what currently exists, and a big part of that is sharing previously undiscovered or underrepresented stories.  So many of them concern BIPOC and LGBTQ+ histories, and it's important to tell them not just for diversity's sake but for history more generally.

This post will not go into detail regarding the obvious facts that 1. Despite good intentions, all museums are rooted in colonialism; 2. U.S. museums have a critical diversity problem; and 3.  Diverse and inclusive museums are better in every way than non-inclusive spaces.  Instead, it seeks to answer the following question:  How can the Makeup Museum, in its current state, be as diverse and inclusive as possible?  I don't have all the answers, but MM Musings are an exercise to think through the heavier issues and ponder how the Museum can be better - more of a journey than an endpoint. To help guide this installment of MM Musings I relied on these two books, along with the anti-racism books I purchased last year. I also looked at all the articles and other resources I could access for free online. 

Diversity in museums books


As I noted previously, there are unique challenges for a cosmetics museum to become a diverse and inclusive space.  But that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.  If the Museum occupied a physical space and had paid employees (well-paid and with full benefits, of course, and while I hope they would not have a need for a union, they would absolutely be encouraged to form one if they want), it would no doubt have a diverse board and staff at all levels that would be treated as integral to the organization and not tokens, along with the other essentials such as diversity training for docents and consultants to continually evaluate the Museum's efforts and provide recommendations.  In its current form, however, the primary focus in terms of diversity and inclusion is on the Museum's content and collection.  Since there are no blueprints as to how to run an online cosmetics museum/blog whose existence and finances depend entirely on one person who is also not technically a museum professional, it's tricky to come up with a concrete plan of action for diversity and inclusion. But here's a start.

Diversify the collection.

Collecting Chinese, Japanese and Korean brands are not an issue, nor are ones founded or owned by LGBTQ+ people - there are plenty of those as well as artist/fashion collaborations - but Latinx and Indigenous brands and collabs remain somewhat elusive.  I can write about my beloved Pai Pai but they no longer ship to the U.S., and I know of only a handful of other Latinx or Indigenous-owned brands.  Contemporary Black-owned brands are easier to find than ever now so I will continue purchasing more from them, but it's still difficult to find many vintage pieces simply because there were so few compared to the big mainstream brands, none of which catered to BIPOC's needs until the 1960s or so (and even then their efforts continued to miss the mark.)  I will continue to keep my eyes peeled and buy from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ brands as much as possible.

Diversify blog, IG and exhibition content. 

  • The Museum's collection may not be diverse enough right now, but that doesn't mean I can't write about objects or other pieces of makeup history related to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, along with topics centered on ageism within the industry and people with disabilities. There are so many that are either have not been fully explored or not mentioned at all. One stumbling block remains: namely, I'm still not sure they're stories appropriate for a white, able-bodied, cis-het woman to tell.  This is particularly important when discussing makeup used by Indigenous people, as in some cases it has a spiritual or religious purpose rather than beautification or self-expression.  I'm afraid I don't have a solution other than to forge ahead and write about topics that may not be 100% appropriate but that are important. I think as long as I'm treating them in a sensitive manner and open to feedback and constructive criticism, it's better to share these histories even if they're from a non-BIPOC/LGBTQ+ person.  One thing I eventually learned last summer was that being totally silent and not even attempting to diversify content is worse than trying and getting it wrong.  I only hope I don't inflict any harm, but if I do, then I can always remove the post and do better the next time.
  • Search for more BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists and brands to feature on Instagram and in Color Connections.
  • Exhibitions: How are BIPOC and LGBTQ+ represented in exhibitions?  If they're not adequately represented, why?  The solutions to this would normally be to have an exhibition that thoroughly incorporates diverse objects and voices, or have one focused on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ themes and ensure appropriate curation and oversight, e.g. not hiring someone who doesn't belong to those groups or has little to no knowledge about the topic at hand. This is a hurdle for the Makeup Museum as the founder and sole curator is not from an underrepresented group.  The only thing I can do at the moment is choose exhibition topics in which marginalized people have adequate representation and make sure they see themselves in the exhibitions.  It must be obvious that they're not niche visitors and that they are essential to the story the exhibition is telling. Theoretically I could explore whether anyone would be interested in co-curating or guest curating an exhibition focused on BIPOC or LGBTQ+, but as the Museum is entirely a labor of love and I'm unable to provide compensation, I'm sure as hell not asking someone from a marginalized group to curate or write for free.  That brings me to my next point.

Identify fees for guest writers, curators and consultants and see if they are feasible without drastically cutting the budget for new acquisitions. 

Like most of the initiatives I would love to pursue such as overhauling the website ($10-20k),  purchasing archival storage containers ($1-2k), establishing a nonprofit (about $2-4k), getting a degree in museum or curatorial studies ($50k minimum) and purchasing and maintaining proper collections management software ($2k per year), I fear I would never be able to afford to hire professionals to work on the Museum with me even if I never bought another object, but it can't hurt to at least ask what their fees are.  And who knows, perhaps I could even work out a plan whereby payments are due in installments rather than the full sum up front.

Further develop a community-focused, collaborative mindset.

Since its inception the Museum has operated in a mostly isolated environment. I'm not only a hardcore introvert and lifelong loner, but I always wanted to have my own space, something that I had full control over and without the involvement of anyone else.  And that impulse is still quite strong.  But I've also always wanted to educate, and though I'm not comfortable with it, being a resource means inviting people to help create it: by the public, for the publicCommunity for the Museum largely means either makeup aficionados/professionals or the local geographic area.  I've always asked blog visitors to respond to my posts, and starting with the Stila girls exhibition in 2019, I began asking visitors to submit memories, photos or anything else they'd like to share to be incorporated into the exhibition.  Lately I started investigating how the Museum might be able to collaborate with local museums, schools and historical centers - obviously I've considered pitching a pop-up exhibition at their spaces for over a decade now, but I realized I have to be more mindful of the approach. There's no way an organization is going to agree to host or be involved with an outside museum offering a pop-up exhibition if it has nothing to do with their mission or at least their collections.  The goal, it seems, is to match interests.  For example, the Maryland Center for History and Culture would be more interested in an exhibition on a history of Baltimore beauty parlors than, say, a display of rose-themed makeup, because their mission and collection have nothing to do with botany or natural history but is focused on the state of MD.  I think there are ways in which the Museum can engage with both the makeup and local communities, and become more diverse and inclusive in doing so.

Establish metrics for the Museum's collection and content and share them publicly.

To keep any organization accountable in their diversity and inclusion efforts, it's necessary to track measurable outcomes of said efforts.  Museums and Race's report card gave me the idea to develop one for the Museum based on the steps listed above.  It would be updated annually each January and indicate the progress or maintenance of goals, which are as follows: 

  • Increase the number of posts that focus on or incorporate BIPOC and LGBTQ+ makeup and related topics (for example, the "multicultural" makeup of the '90s).  Originally I wanted to follow U.S. demographics and keep a strict 60/40 split in which 40% of posts would be BIPOC-focused, with 18% Latinx topics/artists/brands, 15% Black, 6% Asian and 1% Indigenous. Alas, after crunching some numbers I realized that it would be impossible unless I both greatly scaled back the number of Asian-focused posts and hired or collaborated with BIPOC/LGBTQ+, and there's no telling if I will be able to achieve the latter.  So for now, I'm going to take stock of what was written in 2020 and plan on more diverse posts in 2021. In terms of Instagram, taking a cue from the 15% pledge, my goal is to ensure at least 15% of IG posts feature Black makeup history, artists, models or Black-owned brands.  I've been doing 11% since June (or 1 out of every 9 posts) and it has proved challenging. It's difficult because I don't want to repeat the same brands, models or artists ad nauseam and also want to provide meaningful and unique content, i.e. I don't want to toss up some ad that people have seen a thousand times before, especially without offering any new insight, just because I need to fill a quota that I set.  Representation is critical, but can easily veer into tokenism. Having said that, I'd still like for 1 post out of every 6 (or 17%) to have Black-focused content and I'm working on how I can do that without blindly regurgitating things that are readily available and well-known. I'm also going to count other topics towards this goal even if they don't show a Black model or brand.  For example, I have a bottle of Revlon's Touch and Glow foundation from the early 1950s in the deepest shade they made up until about 1957.  As you may have guessed, it's medium toned at best.  This is an example of how mainstream brands simply did not care about the needs of BIPOC customers, especially Black ones.  I'm still not sure how to handle other demographics, however; as noted above, Latinx and Indigenous brands, artists and topics are somehow more difficult to find than Black ones.  Nevertheless, Instagram makes it easy to track so I will take stock of 2020's posts and work on at least increasing the number of posts involving these groups.
  • Increase the number of Museum objects from BIPOC-owned brands.  I will keep track of what was acquired each year and work out the proportion of objects that came from BIPOC-owned brands.  Then monitor those numbers each year to ensure they increase.  For example, I purchased 22 makeup ads in 2020 and 6 of them were from Black-owned brands or featured Black models.  So this year, let's say I purchase 22 ads again, 7 or more of them should be from BIPOC-owned brands or feature BIPOC models.  The acquisition of objects from white-owned brands will still soundly outpace BIPOC-owned ones, especially for vintage pieces, but the goal is to increase that number and work towards a bigger percentage of BIPOC-owned objects in the collection.
  • Track the number of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people or organizations I reached out or donated to, along with community organizations.  While nothing may come of these attempts on my part to collaborate with them, I feel it's important to at least get in touch. And there are plenty of BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals and organizations that can use donations.
  • Ensure all exhibitions meaningfully represent BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals and brands, and if not, discuss why.

I think this sort of report card is more valuable than some bland diversity statement.  Most of the statements I found lacked substance - they were just a bunch of jargon with no actionable steps outlined.

The Museum's diversity efforts are ongoing, of course. And I plan on tackling the related topics of social change and accessibility as future installments of MM Musings. But this is a beginning of a shift towards meaningful action.  Thoughts?  I'm off to create a report card for 2020 so I will have something to compare 2021 to. 

MM Musings, vol. 28: on legitimacy and the definition of a museum

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done! 

Too legitAs I enter the 12th year of managing the Makeup Museum, I want to arrive at sort of conclusion as to its nature.  The purpose of this exercise isn't to determine once and for all what a museum is or isn't, but how the various criteria and definitions laid out to date can be applied to the project I've been spending every ounce of spare time on for over a decade.  The big question I want to tackle:  Is the Makeup Museum a museum?  If we examine the previous definitions and also consider what a museum is not, the answer is a resounding yes. 

What makes a museum, well, a museum?  Let's take a brief look into how various stakeholders across the globe have attempted to define it.  The most recent efforts came in July 2019, when the International Council of Museums (ICOM) proposed an updated definition for the one they had established in 2007.  The ensuing controversy and media coverage was actually the impetus for this installment of MM Musings.  ICOM's previously agreed-upon definition of a museum was as follows: 

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

The new definition emphasized the need for inclusiveness and clarified that museums do not exist primarily to make money.

"Museums are democratizing, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artifacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.

Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being."

ICOM's definition was met with a swift backlash. Many organizations decried it not only for being too "ideological"/"political" rather than a straightforward definition, but also because it didn't distinguish between museums, libraries or cultural centers. (But I don't think the old definition did either?  Also, what is a "polyphonic space"?  Still scratching my head on that one.)  In September, ICOM delayed their vote on the new definition with no new voting date scheduled. If the entire museum world cannot come to a consensus, obviously it's difficult to say how museums are defined.  Having said that, I'm not sure why we can't agree on a definition that essentially combines the old and new proposals.  Here's an excerpt from Time's coverage of the debacle in which a Danish curator states that it's not an either/or proposition.  "'As museums become more and more conscious of the strong social role they play, there’s a need for a more explicit platform of values from which we work,' says [Jette] Sandahl, who is the founding director of the Museum of World Cultures in Sweden and the Women’s Museum of Denmark. 'Saying that museums can only fulfill traditional functions or play these new roles is what I feel we’ve outgrown in the 21st century.' Sandahl wants that 'or' to be replaced with an 'and.' She also firmly rebukes the criticism that the new definition has a 'political' tone: 'When you say that something is political or ideological, well, is it political to work with marginalized communities and women, as many museums are doing now, or is it political not to?'" I'm fully aware of the #MuseumsAreNotNeutral concept, and I think it can be added to the old museum definition. Hell, you can just copy and paste like so:

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. Museums are democratizing and inclusive spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artifacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.  Museums are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to enhance our understanding of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being."

Was that so hard?  You're welcome, ICOM.  I'm kidding, obviously, but examining my combination of these definitions and seeing how it aligns with the Makeup Museum's activities demonstrates that the Museum meets the criteria outlined above, even if the art world can't be in perfect harmony. 

Is the Makeup Museum a "non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society?"  Check, check and check.  I've never sold anything and have never aspired to make money off the Museum, which is why you've never seen ads here.  I might need to pay for Google search ads down the line, but I won't ever have ads on the website. And while I recently experimented with a promoted post on Instagram, it was purely to increase the Museum's visibility in the face of some horribly unethical imitators who are actively trying to erase its presence.  Since I don't sell anything or have ads at the website, obviously I don't make any money off of "clicks" (i.e. more website traffic doesn't equal any sort of monetary benefit); I was only trying to raise awareness that there is an existing makeup museum in the U.S.  I can't even bring myself to do basic fundraising, and if the Museum occupied a physical space there would be free admission.  As for permanence, I've been running this site for over 11 years and collecting for even longer.  I don't anticipate stopping either activity soon, unless something really awful happens, so in that sense the Museum is permanent.  And while I enjoy collecting for my own sake, the whole point of being online/trying to establish a physical space, which has been a goal since the Museum's inception, obviously means this little space of mine is "in the service of society".  The internet is available 24/7 which means the Museum is always "open to the public".  The next part of the sentence, "acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment" and part of the third sentence, "hold artifacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations" is essentially the Museum's mission statement:

- Preserve and document contemporary and vintage cosmetic items, both for beauty consumers and the general public.

- Promote these items as legitimate cultural artifacts by examining the history, design, and artistic inspiration behind them.

- Explore the sociological and cultural impact of makeup objects, including their usage and advertising.

- Research and record the history of the beauty industry and the culture therein.

- Educate the public on the artistic, cultural, and historic value of makeup from all eras through exhibitions and publications.

The other salient words in the ICOM definitions, "democratizing", "inclusive", "participatory" and "transparent" may seem a bit empty and meaningless in that sometimes business and politicians throw them around with no real follow-through, but the Makeup Museum strives to be all of these things.  I'm very clear about how the Museum functions and where I obtain objects.  It's a unpaid gig run by myself (with help from the husband and plushie staff) and everything outside of donations from random people - NOT anyone working for or affiliated with makeup companies - is paid for with my own money.  I try to make sure the Museum is as "participatory" and "democratizing" as possible by laying out my ideas and asking the public to weigh in on what topics they'd like to see, and I invite comments on each post and exhibition.1  In fact, for the most recent exhibition I wanted to have a section for people to share their fond memories of Stila - alas, no one participated, but I plan on offering this feature for every exhibition going forward.  And I love the idea of visible storage, which is a way of democratizing the collection itself.

Does the Museum work on "acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present?"  Through discussing beauty's ugly side and recognizing the areas the industry still needs to work on, I'd say so.  Another idea I'd like to implement is including information in posts and exhibition labels on whether a particular brand or object is cruelty-free, or if the company producing it is controversial in some way.2 Does the Museum "work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to enhance our understanding of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being"?  Yup. Whether it's the countless links in Curator's Corner that lead to articles about the struggles of the art/museum/beauty industries with representation and diversity, intersectional feminist critiques of current and past beauty trends, or explorations of an ethical and environmentally-friendly museum, I think the Museum continually checks all these boxes.  And as I mentioned in the past, inclusiveness and accessibility are topics to be covered in future MM Musing posts so as to lay out a concrete plan with specific steps to implement it.

Finally, I'd like to highlight that there's nothing in either of ICOM's definitions about a museum requiring paperwork stating it's a nonprofit organization or occupying a physical space. This brings me to another interesting point, which is the impact that online-only museums have.  I was informed in December by someone who shall remain nameless that my museum wasn't real because it doesn't have a physical space.  I wish I could somehow anonymously send her these articles about the advantages of online museums and how they can, in fact, be "real" experiences.  Not only that, they can provide much more in terms of participation, inclusiveness, engagement and customized experiences.  They're the wave of the future!  Don't get me wrong, I'd still like to have a physical space.  If some investor came along and offered to set one up for me entirely for free and without me having to lift a finger I'd do it - ideally the Museum would have both physical and online spaces.  But since I have to choose how to spend my time and money, right now I'd rather go the extra mile to make a really amazing online space that would blow any building right out of the water.

Another point to consider is that we might not be able to determine the exact criteria that makes a museum, but we know when one isn't.  The consensus among most museum professionals and the average museum visitor alike is that the new profit-driven organizations are not museums even though they have "museum" in their name.  I've written before about the "Instagram museum" and why these places aren't really museums, and as this article suggests I acknowledged what little worth they have and considered incorporating more shallow yet fun concepts into a blueprint for a physical makeup museum - I KNOW my idea for a makeup sponge pit sponsored by Beauty Blender would go viral - but at the end of the day, the online space I've set up is more of a museum than not, and it's certainly more of a museum than these entities that are really just businesses in disguise.

So if the Makeup Museum is real, does that make me a real curator?  Eh, honestly, I'd have to say the jury is still out.  As I surmised in 2014, most people see me nothing more than a collector and blogger.  Without a Ph.D. in art/related field or a degree in museum or curatorial studies, I'm not sure I could call myself a curator.  Still, if the Makeup Museum is a real museum and museums should have a curator in place to, at the very least, oversee the collection, what does that make me?  All I know is that in the 6 years since I discussed being a curator, I'm still considering the local curatorial practice MFA program that I mentioned in that post.  Perhaps if I took the plunge and actually got accepted into the program, I might be taken more seriously.  But that's a topic for another time.

In conclusion, after looking at various definitions and what a museum is not, I am now proclaiming the Makeup Museum in its current form is an actual museum.  With that, here is the new intro for MM Musings:

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the preservation, research and exhibition of cosmetics, along with my vision for a physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum occupied a physical public space, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that just because the Makeup Museum does not have a physical space or official nonprofit designation, it is as valid as other museums, and more legitimate than many other profit-driven entities calling themselves "museums". 

So what do you think about all this?  Is the Makeup Museum a true organization or is it as real as Santa Claus?


1 AAM's most recent issue of Museum magazine had a great article on how curators are trying to engage more actively with their local communities and ask people directly what they'd like to see for wall labels, exhibition topics and the objects included.

2It was Michelle Hartney's amazing "Correct Art History" piece that got me thinking about including some uncomfortable truths in exhibition labels. Indeed, the impact of her groundbreaking work spurred a worldwide conversation about museum wall labels.

MM Musings, vol. 27: waste not, want not

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done! 

image from

You might remember my post on MAC's Jeremy Scott collection, in which I responded to the criticism it had received for the packaging being too large and impractical.  This in turn led to a rude comment on the blog (which I didn't publish since I refuse to entertain that sort of negativity at the Museum) about how "wasteful" the MAC packaging was, as well as the insinuation that I'm a terrible person for having a makeup collection at all.  *eyeroll* While it was a rather nasty attack, I will say it had some value: it got me thinking about packaging waste within the beauty industry and how a makeup museum/collector could cut down on it as much as possible.  So as to keep my ramblings to a minimum I'm examining only packaging and not product ingredients and other forms of beauty-related waste.

Let's look at the current problems.  Outer packaging for beauty products, due to their fragility and contents, gets to be rather excessive.  And consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of beauty packaging waste.  One of the biggest packaging hurdles for companies is plastic.  According to this article, "most beauty products are swathed in plastic, but only 12 percent of plastic is recycled, which means that eight million tons end up in our oceans every year. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and, already, nearly 80 million tons of plastic comprise the Great Pacific Garbage Patch."  Also, plastic takes up to 1,000 years (!) to fully decompose.  Cardboard is another culprit:  "Zero Waste Week, an annual awareness campaign in September for reducing landfill, reports that more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year."  This is, of course, to say nothing of the cardboard boxes and packaging used to ship products.  I myself shake my head at not only the use of non-recyclable plastic, but the issue of having items from several orders ship separately and in boxes that are much larger than needed.  Neiman Marcus is easily the worst offender - recently they sent me boxes this size for one order containing a small item...

MM musings 27

MM musings 27-chantecaille

...the other huge box was for these tiny samples.  

MM musings 27-samples

Now I recycle the boxes and paper packaging, but it's pretty ridiculous.  I understand no one wants the item to break during transit but there are much more environmentally friendly ways to securely ship items.  

Another issue, which I think was mostly what that mean commenter was alluding to, is that the packaging for makeup itself is getting larger and bulkier.  As the holiday season rolls in with all its shiny gift sets and palettes, I'm seeing bigger makeup.  The size difference isn't noticeably larger when compared only to vintage items - there was a more gradual size increase for every makeup item over the last half of the 20th century - but even in the past 5 years I believe packaging has become larger not necessarily to accommodate more product but to catch the eyes of consumers.  Think about it:  Not only makeup is physically small, the market is so incredibly saturated companies have to continually up the packaging ante to get people's attention.  Some evidence of this super-sizing as an attention-grabber is outlined in quite an eye-opening study published by Fashionista.  While it only polled beauty PR reps and recipients (i.e., beauty bloggers and editors) and not plain old consumers like me, the same principles apply to your average beauty customer.  One of the most salient excerpts: "While waste abounds in all corners of the industry, responses resoundingly pointed to beauty and skincare brands as the worst perpetrators when it comes to superfluous stuff in mailings. One theory is that there's more pressure to make a big splash with packaging when you're dealing with products that are physically small — a fancy new serum may be just as pricey (and exciting to its new owner) as a pair of shoes, but it doesn't inherently require big, memorable packaging."  Not only that, brands are constantly trying to impress bloggers and "influencers" so that they'll be more inclined share their latest collections and products on their social media platforms, so over-the-t0p packaging is slowly becoming the norm.  "It's not just an excess of 'normal' packaging items that fashion and beauty people deal with — it's also all the wacky things that may accompany product. Numerous people mentioned single-use video screens that automatically play an ad once the product box is opened as a wasteful novelty that they could do without. 'There is absolutely nothing I hate more than the auto-playing video screens that come in boxes and play obnoxious sounds or video at you without your consent,' wrote one survey-taker. 'It is such a colossal waste of money... and makes me feel annoyed and guilty every time I receive.' Others called out superhero figurines designed to look like them ('what am I supposed to do with that!?'), faux space helmets, neon light-up signs, giant balloon arrangements, a life-size Jenga game and a 'beauty compact' the size of a desktop computer." One recent example from a beauty blogger on Instagram is this gigantic cherry-shaped container for Urban Decay's Naked Cherry collection. 

(image from @rubiredlipstick)

And I'm wondering if the "compact the size of a desktop computer" the article refers to is Chanel's enormous PR kit, which contained their new line of glosses.  It could be yours for a mere $520

(image from @robinsiegel)

The vast majority of bloggers aren't fellow collectors so I'm assuming they throw out this novelty packaging, which obviously kills me since I'd be ecstatic to keep it for the Museum.  Anyway, unfortunately this tactic seems to work, and I have a hunch it's starting to bleed over into the packaging made for regular, non-blogger/editor folks.  "'It's become an instance that everyone is looking to stand out, and in order to, we're seeing bigger, more elaborate mailings that grab editors' attention. When our clients see this, they want to do the same or bigger/better to make sure they are seen,' one PR professional wrote. Another editor reluctantly admitted that super-cool packaging did in fact make them more likely to post about the brand, even if they aren't proud of the fact."  If this sort of packaging is getting the attention of editors, surely regular consumers would be intrigued too.  The other reason for such over-the-top packaging is online shopping, especially in the case of indie brands who don't have a presence in brick-and-mortar stores.  "Another responder, who runs a direct-to-consumer brand, mentioned that packaging feels like one of the most significant touchpoints they have with their consumer, since there are no physical stores in which to create a customer 'experience.' In that case, the goal of packaging is to create a moment with the consumer, one which can be prolonged by adding more layers to unwrap or sequins to scoop out of the way."

Now that we have an understanding as to why companies go all out with packaging, the solution seems pretty obvious:  switch to sustainable materials.  You would think beauty companies could modify their packaging pretty easily, right?  Not exactly.  Retail space, product preservation and cost are the three main factors that prevent companies from adopting green packaging.  Allure magazine explains:  "Retailers often put restrictions on package sizing to help maximize shelf space in a store (which makes sense: if they can fit more products on the shelves, they can easily sell more). If a brand wants to sell their product at one of these locations, they have to follow the store’s guidelines when designing their products are a bit like food. That is, they can go bad (yes, you need to throw away that year-old mascara). That deterioration process goes much faster if a product is not stored correctly. The color, odor, and shelf life of a product are all affected by packaging, and many products need air-tight packaging to stay intact. Many skincare ingredients are finicky (a notorious example is vitamin C). When not properly packaged, the nutritive ingredients that promise to keep you ageless can be destabilized and rendered useless.  Of course, as with any business consideration, cost plays a huge factor as well. 'Cheap plastics are exactly that: inexpensive, mass produced and wasteful,' says Lori Leib, the creative director at Bodyography Professional Cosmetics, a company that recently overhauled its products to use half as much plastic and incorporate more recyclable cardboard. 'They do not use good quality materials therefore they are able to make the cost of goods next to nothing,' she says."  Alternative green packaging is quite pricey due to the processes involved in making it green, not to mention that some materials (like glass, which is heavier than plastic) would be more expensive to transport.  In sum, there are significant obstacles to companies making the switch to eco-friendly packaging.

Fortunately, my complaints and those of other beauty consumers aren't falling on entirely deaf ears.  A recent study showed that more consumers are checking products for eco-friendly packaging before making a purchase, and the industry is taking miniscule steps to cut down on excessive, non-sustainable packaging.  These solutions include: refillable packaging (see and  Kjaer Weis - even their refill packaging itself is recyclable), recycled glass packaging, biodegradable/compostable packaging, with vegetable or soy-based inks used for printing directly onto the package instead of adhesive labels.  Another article at Fashionista highlights brands like Alima Pure, which uses food-grade plastic for its jars and recyclable paper to securely pack items instead of bubble wrap, and Ethique, which packages its shower products in compressed bamboo and compostable boxes. Some companies, like LUSH, are forgoing traditional packaging altogether.  Their "Naked" line of shower gels and lotions completely do away with bottle packaging. (Personally I find the Naked shower gels to be glorified soap, but at least they're trying.)  While there is an increased cost associated with these solutions, many companies are now working it into their regular budgets.

Lush Naked shower gel
(image from

So where does all this fit within the context of the Makeup Museum? I think it would be very difficult to have a zero-packaging-waste makeup museum right now.  From a consumer standpoint, it's fairly simple to recycle outer boxes and bottles.  But if you're trying to preserve makeup items and keep track of them, it's basically impossible to get rid of any extra packaging.  The outer boxes are required to offer some measure of protection from fingerprints and minor scratches while the items are in storage, not to mention how they're relied upon for organization purposes - given how vast the collection is now I'd never find anything I was looking for without its clearly marked box.  The only thing that would allow a makeup museum be remotely close to zero waste would be if all companies used only biodegradable packaging (or, you know, not having a museum at all, which obviously is out of the question).  Efforts are being made to achieve this goal, but we're nowhere near 100% implementation.  However, I do think there are small steps I could take to allow for a more environmentally-friendly museum.  I've already mentioned the recycling of cardboard boxes and paper packaging for new items so there's that.  But if I had a physical space I could probably use the excess packaging, as well as any trash the Museum produced, for visitor-created artwork. Take, for example, the Rubbish Exhibition at London's Science Museum.  Artists and staff members collected a month's work of the museum's trash - everything from discarded cutlery and food scraps to old metal signage and brochures - and turned it into an exhibition.  After it closed everything got recycled/composted/disposed of through environmentally-conscious means.

Rubbish Exhibition, Science Museum
(image from

Seems pretty genius!  In the case of the Makeup Museum, I'd probably have a "waste installation" where people could make their own artwork out of empty makeup containers, or perhaps scribble/paint using expired makeup on a wall of cardboard made from the boxes used to ship the Museum's items.  Another idea is to have special exhibitions devoted to eco-friendly beauty lines, or artists who repurpose cosmetics for their work - could you imagine a whole exhibition full Makeup as Muse artists?

Secondly, for vintage items I reuse whatever packaging I have and label it with a post-it note (reusing ones from my office that we no longer can use because the organization's logo is way out of date), or if it the item arrives from the seller in a gift box, I'll write on the box directly to label it.  Also, isn't preserving vintage items sort of recycling, in a way?  I like to think of it as rescuing items that would otherwise be destined for a landfill. 

Third, I think we all need to demand a radical change from beauty companies regarding their current approach to packaging.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  consumers have to do their part by being thoughtful about what they purchase and recycle as much as possible, but most of the responsibility for being environmentally conscious lies with cosmetics manufacturers.  Consumers can only do so much; I could recycle cardboard boxes till the cows come home and buy less overall, but wouldn't it be so much more helpful for the environment if companies didn't produce excessive, plastic-filled packaging in the first place?  As someone who lacks the clout of major beauty bloggers and editors, I doubt my individual voice will be heard, but hopefully the collective masses will start being more vocal about their expectations for companies to use sustainable materials as well as the implementation of recycling programs until they become the norm rather than the exception.  As we saw earlier, there are major challenges in switching to green packaging, most notably cost, but I bet consumers would be willing to pay a tiny bit more for product packaging that won't harm the planet.  Plus if small indie brands are adopting zero-waste practices, surely the big manufacturers can do it too.  I also don't believe that using biodegradable, recyclable materials would drastically limit the type of designs that appear on packaging or their overall style.  While I genuinely care about the sad state of our planet (especially the oceans - all that plastic is killing mermaids and their sea creature friends!), I do shudder at the thought of having boring packaging that all looks the same.  And I don't like the idea of never having oversize, incredibly fun items like the MAC Jeremy Scott collection.  But I really think you can have beautiful packaging (complete with my beloved artist collaborations) using alternative materials.  This way I can have my cake and eat it too - even if the packaging is big and splashy, it shouldn't do any long-term damage if it's made out of earth-friendly materials.

What do you think about the current state of beauty packaging?  Do you try to reduce the amount of wasteful/environmentally harmful packaging you buy?

MM Musings, vol. 26: the rise of the "Instagrammable" museum

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Instagram-food-pictures-meals-funny-ecardThe recent notion of a "made for Instagram" museum experience is a topic that is near and dear to my IG-loving heart. I've been on Instagram for about a year and half, and it's easily become my favorite social media platform.  The idea of designing restaurants, hotels, and food with Instagram in mind has officially spilled over into the museum world, so today I want to explore not how museums are using this immensely popular app (800 million users and counting), but the pros and cons of offering museum spaces and exhibitions partially based on how photogenic they are.  I also want to talk about how "Instagrammable" the Makeup Museum would be if it occupied a physical space.

There were a few articles I consulted for background information, most of which mentioned the same few museums and exhibitions that seem to be made for Instagram:  most notably, the Museum of Ice Cream, Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Rooms, The Color Factory, the Rain Room, Refinery29's 29 Rooms, and the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery's 2015 "Wonder" exhibition. While the directors and curators behind these insist that they did not design them solely for photo-opp purposes, for many visitors it's the main takeaway.  And some museum professionals and art critics have questioned whether that's a good thing. 

First, let's look at the pros of having Instagram-friendly spaces and exhibitions.  Many agree that highly photogenic, immersive, colorful exhibitions are an excellent way to boost attendance and name recognition.  Not only do these exhibitions get more people in the door, once visitors are there they tend to wander to other parts of the museum. In an insightful article for the Washington City Paper, Kriston Capps argues that the made-for-Instagram museum has been a boon to DC's art scene:  "Locally, if there’s a concern about museums serving too many sweets and not enough vegetables, it’s that exhibits that are low on nutrition—meaning shows that lack scholarship, quietude, or the possibility of an anti-social experience—will crowd out shows of substance...quieter shows aren’t going anywhere; in fact, museum directors say that more people are seeing them than ever before, thanks to the louder stuff.  'There are incalculable benefits when a place that has long been almost invisible in Washington’s crowded museum scene suddenly is one of the hottest destinations in town,' says Elizabeth “Betsy” Broun, the longtime director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. 'Yes, it helps with funding appeals when potential supporters say ‘Wow, the Renwick!’ instead of ‘Where’s the Renwick?'  Surely those museums saw upticks in attendance from Rain Roomers who wandered into other art exhibitions. People queued up outside the building means more foot traffic through the doors—always a plus. And museum boards, donors, and members are no doubt pleased to see high-water marks for attendance...D.C. museums are betting that spectacles are a way to convert crowds into viewers." 

Secondly, even if critics don't think a particular exhibition is actually art and more of a spectacle made for photo opps, does it really matter?  People are having fun in a museum setting, which ostensibly is a good thing.  And this might lead them to think about art and museums on a more meaningful level than the pool of ice cream sprinkles they just swam in.  As former editorial fellow for the Atlantic Katherine Schwab notes, "Engaging people with art in any way possible is, for many museums, the first step in persuading them of its deeper value. And taking photos of works, however performative it may be, is a way for people to show off what’s important to them."  Adds Russell Dornan for Museum ID, "By photographing their way around a museum, visitors may engage in a deeper way than they otherwise would. Crucially, they also spread the word."

But there are detractors who believe museums shouldn't fully embrace the Instagrammable hype.  For one thing, it might have the opposite effect on art's worth, reducing it to a prop rather than enhancing its cultural and historical merit. "Nowadays, art for the sake of art is much less desirable if you can’t document it with an aesthetically pleasing photo to showoff your followers. Art is becoming more of a supporting background in our self-portraits than something of stand-alone value," warns Annie Francl in Shapeshift Magazine

Secondly, people may not even be enjoying the experience after all; instead, they're only there to one-up their Instagram buddies and keep up with the Joneses.  The Cut asked several people waiting in line for Kusama's Infinity Mirrors about why they were there.  The responses? "All my friends on Instagram have gone. It looks cool" and "I saw them all over the place on Instagram. A lot of friends have come here."  Indeed, the "worthless without pics" mantra is alive and well.  Says Shelby Lerman for Thrive Global, "[The] bigger issue here is not that these spaces are made for Instagram, as seemingly everything today is made with Instagram in mind. It’s that these spaces are created to be adult playgrounds and a huge part of that play depends on being able to prove that you’ve played. (As the saying goes, Instagram or it didn’t happen.) It is not experiencing for the sake of experience: it’s doing something specifically so you can record it and post it to your followers...Plus, these whimsical wonderlands encourage you to shake loose from your daily routine, but also rest on the idea that you’ll be grabbing your smartphone to do it. And to think that spaces are made less habitable in real life so that they work better on social media is a strange thought indeed."  If people aren't fully immersed in the exhibition experience because they feel an urgent need to document it, museum-going may seem more of a chore than anything else.  This PBS article highlights a quote from the premier membership manager at the Seattle Art Museum, who, while heartened at seeing the lines stretching around the block for Kusama's Infinity Mirrors exhibition, also "felt social media usage hindered the experience, for some users, of an exhibit designed for quiet reflection on the idea of infinity. 'Instead, people went in there and were like, ‘I only have 30 seconds to take the best picture, the coolest picture,' he said.'" The article also mentions a study at Fairfield University in Connecticut which found that museum-goers didn't remember the art when they took photos of it as well as when they were simply observing the art.  Along those lines, in the frenzy to get the perfect photo, art can even be damaged - one of Kusama's sculptures was shattered due to an overzealous selfie-taker in the Infinity Mirrors exhibition.  

Perhaps the best expression of my main concern with highly Instagrammable museums comes from Wired Magazine, which produced a short video and more in-depth article on the subject.  What benefit do people really get out of the made-for-Instagram museum?  "Maybe the question is not whether or not these spaces contain art, or even what their relationship to social media says at all, but instead: What do we get out of these spaces? Do they make us think and reflect and see the world differently? Or does the experience inside amount to the little square photo you post online?"  I know that if the Museum occupied a physical space, I certainly wouldn't want it to be just about photo opps with oversized lipsticks, fun though they are.  I want people to actually learn something about makeup and art.  And I know when I visit museums I take a few photos here and there, but not for Instagram purposes.  I take them to help me remember how special it was to experience the art first-hand - I'm far more invested in learning something and simply observing the art rather than documenting everything I saw or trying to get a selfie.  I'd probably be somewhat disappointed if I visited the Museum of Ice Cream since, to my knowledge, there's no actual attempt to provide people with the history of ice cream, facts about its consumption across the world, etc. But it seems people want to be entertained more than they want to be educated (according to the findings of this study), and no museum director wants to alienate the whopping 81% of people who expect some sort of social media tie-in to their visitor experience, so how would a physical Makeup Museum strike the perfect balance between fun and education? 

Obviously the answer lies in striving for compromise.  The Makeup Museum would definitely have its fair share of highly Instagrammable spaces.  For me, makeup is mostly about having fun and playing with color, so it would almost feel like a crime not to have some kind of crazy colorful installation, if not several, that serves as the perfect selfie backdrop.  Who wouldn't want to take a dive into a pool full of soft, spongey, brightly hued Beauty Blenders?  Or capture the perfect picturesque view atop a gigantic lipstick tower?  As the study pointed out, the vast majority of museum-goers are expecting an opportunity to show off their snaps.  The Cut article highlights several exhibition goers who had actually strategized how they were going to take photos:  "Why else would you come [if not to take photos]? We’re going to have to go through it first and then go again, so I know what I need to take pictures of."  Another remarks, "I kind of did some research of what pieces will be shown at the gallery. I brought my Insta360 camera and two iPhones to shoot as much as I can, since I heard there was a time limit for each piece. Specially the Infinity mirror room and polka-dotted environment were the perfect two pieces to do a 360."  At this level of photography planning on the part of visitors, it's important not to disappoint them. 

At the same time, however, it's equally important to make sure people who want to be educated and who maybe just want to take everything in don't get overwhelmed with crazy, over-the-top, made for Instagram exhibitions and spaces. There would be a few spaces and installations available for those who want the full Instagram documentation, or if the space the Museum occupied really didn't allow for that, I could at least offer a guide to the most Instagrammable spots in the Museum.  Smithsonian Magazine highlights how some museums have been rearranging a few of their galleries to make them more selfie-friendly.  "The Getty Museum in Los Angeles rearranged mirrors in its decorative arts gallery to make mirror selfies easier, while San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art added terraces designed as selfie spots. On its website, the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama describes its summer art series as 'Instagram gold' and offers an online slideshow of the top places in the museum to take a selfie."  But this would definitely not be the focus of the Museum, as my primary aim in founding it was for people to learn something about the history of makeup and appreciate the artistry that goes into the packaging.  Especially since, despite the hordes of visitors who are chasing the perfect shot, there are still those who want to simply experience the art and not worry about documenting it.  About her plans for visiting Infinity Mirrors, another museum-goer tells The Cut, "You’re going to miss the whole thing if you take a video! I’ll probably take one or two pics, but I’ll probably try to just take it all in, because we’re only in there for a limited amount of time. I don’t really want to take a photo, I kind of want to just chill."  This is largely my approach as a museum visitor and basically every other outing.  There's a reason you hardly ever see food photos on my IG, as I prefer to eat my food than take pictures of it.  Same with concerts and other shows - as much as I'd like to get the perfect photo, I feel as though the stress of it completely negates my enjoyment of the event.  My goal is to have the Makeup Museum be a place for both people like me as well as those who prefer spectacle over substance, a positive experience for everyone.  As professional Instagrammer (yes, it can be a job) Patrick Janelle concludes in the Smithsonian article, "Ultimately what we want are really wonderful experiences...and sure we want to be able to document them on social media, but we also crave things that are just really wonderful and special in real life.” 

What do you think?  And what would be the ultimate Instagram bait for a makeup museum?








MM Musings, vol 25: unsolicited donations

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done! came across this article detailing an example of an unsolicited museum donation, and it got me thinking about how this would apply to the Makeup Museum. Let's explore the pros and cons of such donations for a cosmetics museum, shall we? 

In the 9 years I've been running the Museum, it has received a handful of amazing, completely unsolicited donations, two of which I haven't even posted about because they were so huge and I'm still in the process of adding them to the inventory and photographing everything.  Some very kind people bestowed hard to find or vintage items in great condition simply because they were going to throw them out, but instead they took the time to do a little research and discovered the Museum might be a good place for these items instead of the trash.  I must say I've had good luck so far with unsolicited donations - no one has sent me beauty items that are in such poor condition that they really do belong in the garbage.  (No one has even requested that I reimburse them for postage, which blows my mind!  I've offered, but they all turned me down.)  Even though I usually have no idea what I'm getting when people offer to send me things - very few take photos and just offer a brief description - I have no problem digging through the items once they arrive and throwing them out if they really are trash.  And as I'm always trying to grow the Museum's collection, right now I have a favorable opinion of such donations.  It's not often you can get quality items for free, so these unsolicited donations essentially mean collection growth without spending a dime of my own money.  Indeed, several prominent museums have had help in growing their collections via unsolicited donations as well. As the director of the institutional history division at the Smithsonian remarked in this article, "We built our collection with amateur collectors." 

Another pro of an unsolicited donation is that even if I can't use it for the collection, it at least provides research and/or blog post fodder.  I like to think of donations as opportunities for other aspects of museum expansion, as sometimes these items can lead me to look into vintage brands or trends I hadn't explored before, or even exhibition concepts.  For example, the Stila memorabilia donations I received sparked the idea of doing a whole exhibition on Stila girl illustrations.  (Still working on it, obviously!)

Finally, for established organizations unsolicited donations can also lead to good press and increased visitor engagement.  This article in Nonprofit Quarterly discusses an unsolicited donation that a museum could have used as PR opportunity and a way to interact with more visitors (although I do understand why the museum didn't follow through with it).  While right now the Makeup Museum doesn't have any real PR to speak of,  if it was an actual museum I'd absolutely pass along unsolicited donations to my PR team and education/engagement staff and see if they could do anything with them.

Now for the not-so-good aspects of unsolicited donations.  Most museums have policies in place clearly stating that they cannot accept unsolicited donations that are left at the doorstep or sent through the mail, and for several good reasons.  First, and probably most important, unsolicited donations can present a host of legal problems.  State laws regarding abandoned property vary, so museums have to determine whether they can legally own donations that were left or sent anonymously. Not only that, while the donation is monetarily free, the donor may put burdensome conditions in place, such as having the item on display at all times.  This makes the legal aspects of the deed of gift more complicated, and the conditions themselves may be more trouble than the donation is worth.  Plus, some pieces have questionable provenance, especially those where the donor refuses to say how they acquired the item or even give their name - no museum wants stolen or fake works in their collections because, again, this could lead to an epic litigation nightmare.

Second, unsolicited donations require an incredible amount of experience in handling extremely delicate situations.  If a donor is turned down, the result may be a permanently damaged relationship that could affect other donations.  Not only does museum staff want to avoid hurt feelings, as donors can be very attached to an object and may take the rejection personally, but the donor may have something else of value that they are now not willing to part with.  As this Wall Street Journal article explains, "Responding to inquiries for donations requires considerable tact, if for no other reason than a collector offering one unwanted object may have one or more others in which the museum would be far more officials attempt to learn something about the person making the offer, because they don't want to close the door on a relationship that might yield other benefits."    

Third, unsolicited donations can be logistically difficult for a small museum that doesn't necessarily have the resources to sift through everything that gets left outside their door or in their mail.  Even if the item proves worthy of the museum's collection, the accessioning process takes a considerable amount of time.  Additionally, the museum may not have the storage space or ability to conserve the items. While mostly applauding the unsolicited donation of goldfish to a museum's pond (literally someone just smuggled a bunch of fish onto museum property and dumped them into the pond without consulting any staff), the Nonprofit Quarterly article notes that the fish ended up dead since the pond wasn't the right environment for them.  If a museum can't properly care for a donation for whatever reason, it actually does more harm than good.

Finally, the museum's focus is also a reason that unsolicited donations are tricky to handle.  In the case of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, donated animal carcasses to be taxidermied or otherwise preserved by the museum present a safety hazard if the critters succumbed to rabies or carried dangerous parasites.  On a less deadly side, I'd imagine a fashion museum would have to take special care in ensuring the donated garments are free of moths and other insects, lest they spread to the rest of the museum's collection and destroy it. 

In light of all these challenges, many museums have very clear policies in place that help protect them against the potential pitfalls that unsolicited donations present.  As for the Makeup Museum, right now I don't think I really need an official policy, since 1. it's not like I'm getting bombarded with donations so I can handle the amount; 2.  legally I can't get into trouble for accepting items or throwing them out since the Museum isn't an actual institution - it's really a situation of one person gifting items to another.  (At least, I don't think I can be sued or anything like that...any lawyers want to weigh in?)

However, should the Makeup Museum ever become a real organization, it would investigate unsolicited donations on a case-by-case basis and maintain a public policy that all staff is well-versed in.  I'd definitely require a form of some kind to be filled out online and have hard copies available in the case of in-person drop-offs.  I'd also follow the standard guideline that most museums have posted - I might even use this exact language from the Chicago History Museum and the International Spy Museum cobbled together, since it's perfect (why reinvent the wheel?):  "The Museum does not accept donations through the mail or in person unless prior arrangements have been made with the appropriate curatorial or collection staff member. All unsolicited donations sent via the mail will be returned to sender.  The Museum reserves the right to dispose of unsolicited items."  Storage space shouldn't be that much of an issue since makeup items are generally small.  Currently I'm running out of room, but that's only because I'm trying to keep the collection in my home - if I had a large dedicated space, it wouldn't pose too much of a problem (unless the donation was something like salon furniture or oversize props...still, if Paul & Joe wanted to donate those giant cat lipsticks they used for their events, I'd take them in a heartbeat, lack of space be damned).  As for health hazards, I can see that used makeup is kind of gross, but most likely it doesn't pose a threat as the items can be somewhat sanitized and no one would actually be using them - they're just being displayed.  The only things you'd have to be really careful with are hair-related items, i.e., I'd think twice about accepting a used vintage hairbrush or other accessories, as an outbreak of lice is not desirable.

There are many potential issues with unsolicited donations, but I believe that if a museum sticks to their policy and ensures their staff understands it, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.  As Jody Ochoa, Director of the Idaho State Historical Museum emphasizes, "If we don't know anything about an item, how can we take it? Having a good solid policy is really key, and it protects everyone, including the volunteers."  My current job also forces me to handle sensitive situations on occasion, so I think I'd be equipped to gently and tactfully negotiate or turn down a donation - hopefully there wouldn't be any burning of bridges with donors for me.

What do you think?

MM Musings, vol. 24: all the bells and whistles

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Yoga at the Brooklyn MuseumI forget how I came across this Observer article, but it was a rather eye-opening piece on how museums are upping their game in terms of what they offer besides art.  And it got me thinking about what, if any, over-the-top amenities and programs the Makeup Museum would offer if it occupied a physical space.  Let's explore that, shall we?

The article discusses the rise of extra offerings for visitors that goes well beyond the scope of the museum's mission, including fitness and yoga classes (the latter is a huge trend, apparently), world-class restaurants and programs for specific populations.  The goal of all these amenities, obviously, is to attract more visitors overall and turn regular visitors into donors.  "All over the country, museums have been looking to change their image from boxy buildings that just store and exhibit cultural objects to community gathering spaces with activities for preschoolers, teens, single adults, families, the elderly and probably some other demographics...It is the hope on the part of museums that this effort to make their institutions gathering spots for their communities and to view the population as customers whose needs are to be met will turn casual visitors into members, some of whom may become donors and board members."  While I haven't found any official studies on whether these sorts of things actually increase the number of visitors and donations, they comprise an interesting marketing tactic worth looking into.  However, I must point out that some of the "extras" the article highlights, such as community outreach programs, shouldn't be viewed as additional amenities, they should just be part of regular programming and services.  I don't think electric carts for elderly visitors should be lumped in with, say, having a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

Anyway, I can envision the Makeup Museum adopting similar programs to the ones mentioned.  I had always planned on an excellent gift shop and cafe, not to mention that the museum building would be beautifully designed and have amazing signage/collateral (e.g. museum maps, exhibition labels, etc.).  But reading the Observer piece makes me think that perhaps the Museum could offer a fitness or yoga class - maybe have one of those so-called "athleisure" makeup brands sponsor it and offer free product samples to people taking the class.  Other programs might be a decorate your own compact night or an "apothecary" workshop on how to make natural pigments and serums (similar to this setup). For kids, we could have finger painting classes using old makeup - lord knows I have a ton of stuff I don't use anymore but would still be safe to use for artistic purposes.  I think any cosmetics museum-goers might want to have these sorts of things available to them in addition to the standard tours and exhibitions.  As the article notes, “Our expectations of going to museums increasingly are like our expectations when going into a Starbucks: We want things to be tailored to our individual likes and interests."

On the other hand, though, I do see these sorts of extra programs and services being problematic, particularly for a cosmetics museum.  As the article points out, one issue is the possibility of objects getting damaged or destroyed.  This little nugget was truly horrifying:  "Marcy Goodman, a museum-planning consultant in La Crescenta, Calif., who developed the plans for the Bruce Museum’s expansion, said parties should not take place in the actual galleries. 'Some years back, an art museum in Oregon hosted an all-you-can-drink event in a gallery where, among other things, some people ended up having sex on a Henry Moore sculpture,' she told the Observer."  Meanwhile, New York Magazine asks, "How long until someone breaks a priceless piece of art during the Met Museum workout?"  Museums already have to deal with careless people breaking things, why invite even more of it if it's not crucial to the mission? 

Secondly, these sorts of programs might distract from a museum's true purpose.   Do you want visitors to actually, you know, pay attention to the displays or visit simply for the frills?  It's a really tough call since museums are dependent on visitors - this is a key benchmark for receiving funding and sponsorships - but you don't want to turn a museum into something it's not.  Plus, as we learned with exhibition display, one has to be very careful in making sure a museum devoted to cosmetics doesn't morph into a store.  I don't think I'd sell makeup in any capacity at the Museum, not even in the gift shop.  It's a museum, not Sephora!  (One caveat:  I think the recently discussed Museum of Beni and its accompanying store is an exception to selling makeup in a museum setting.)  And sponsorship by makeup companies for special workshops and classes is problematic, since you want people to have learned something about makeup history, not be exposed to what amounts to glorified advertising.  Yes, people's expectations of museums are more on par with those they have for businesses like Starbucks, but frankly, museums aren't businesses.  Even if they partner with and receive funding from businesses, museums need to stay firmly on the nonprofit side.  That would be particularly difficult to do with a cosmetics museum - the kind of showiness and gimmicks you'd see in retail needs to be kept at bay lest you "sell out" and lose sight of the museum's true mission.

Finally, and I think this is the core issue for me, is that I would probably not engage in all the extras and simply put all funding into making the Makeup Museum as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.  While the some of the amenities mentioned in the article are nice, they're not necessarily critical to people's understanding of the art.  And let's face it, funding for museums is so scarce, there's no way I'd be able to afford most of the things I'd love to have, like fancy architecture and an internationally-renowned cafe.  Even if I did have this sort of money, I think I'd spend it on, say, making the museum's resources - everything from pamphlets to audio guides - available in just about every language.  Instead of yoga classes, the Museum would offer state-of-the-art touch-tour and 3D printing technology so that blind visitors can have a richer experience.  Funding that would pay the salary of a world-class chef for the cafe would instead go to ensuring the Museum remains free.  And I maintain that kids' programming is a necessity, but the Museum could go a little further and have programs just for special-needs kids (like this.)  This ties back into what I noted earlier:  some of the programs the article talks about should not be perceived as extra.  In addition to my other ideas, I'd be all over those community outreach programs!  The bottom line is that I'd definitely focus less on the frills and more on accessibility, inclusiveness and civic engagement.  Specifically what that would consist of will be explored in later installments of MM Musings. ;)

Thoughts?  Would you like to see crazy, over-the-top amenities at a makeup museum? 


MM Musings, vol. 23 : building a permanent collection

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

No planIt occurred to me that I spend so much time fantasizing about a Makeup Museum that I never really thought about what would actually go in it if it occupied a real space.  I mean, I have a vague idea, but no formal plan.  Truthfully, up to this point I had envisioned having endless funds to buy thousands of lovely objects and I'd just stick 'em in the display cases as I pleased.  However, it was brought to my attention that museums have something known as a collections plan, which outlines priorities for the current collection as well as planning for future collection growth.  Apparently you can't just set up a physical space and go plopping random objects down willy-nilly, you need to pin down what the most important things are for the collection for now and in the future.  This is especially important when, like nearly all museums, you're dealing with very limited resources, both financial and space-wise.  So with that in mind, I thought I'd put my totally unrealistic daydreams aside for a minute and try to narrow down what would be the most important things to have in the Makeup Museum if it occupied a real space.

Before I can do that though, what exactly is a collections plan?  I looked for examples and immediately got overwhelmed - many museums' collections plans are quite in-depth and are for museums that already exist.  But then I found this slideshow from the Peabody Museum at Harvard that provides a brief, point-by-point summary of a collections plan, so I will be using it as my guide in this post.  The most basic topics to address in a collections plan are as follows:

  • Defines what the museum should and should not collect
  • Set priorities for use of limited resources
  • Historic and contemporary collections composition
  • Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals
  • Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

With that, coming up with a minimal collections plan seemed a bit more manageable.  Hopefully I won't bore you, dear readers (all 2 of you), by doing it this way, but I'm going to go through one at a time.

1.  Define what the museum should and shouldn't collect. 

Well, this shouldn't be too hard.  Basically the Makeup Museum would be open to any cosmetic-related objects, including but not limited to color cosmetics, nail products, skincare, and related advertising and devices (love to get my hands on one of these Max Factor "beauty calibrators"!)  The only things I can't imagine it collecting would be perfumes and items that lean more towards health (i.e. toothbrushes, deodorants, etc.), as I see these as separate areas from color cosmetics and skincare.

2.  Set priorities for use of limited resources. 

Now here comes the hard part.  Obviously I had always thought the Makeup Museum would be comprehensive, and when I say "comprehensive" what I actually mean is having damn near every cosmetic object from the beginning of time housed under one roof over thousands of square feet - the museum would practically be its own city.  There would be entire wings devoted to just, say, artist collaborations or men's grooming.  *record scratch*  Back to reality, which demands that I trim down these rather grandiose plans.  After looking at the Museum's current mission statement, I think my priorities for a permanent collection would be:

- Forming a timeline of the history of cosmetics via collecting objects from different eras - everything from ancient to contemporary times would be represented, with an emphasis on the 20th century.  Ideally I'd like to have displays by decade starting with the late 1800s through today.  Priority would be given to those objects that show innovation in technology and design (e.g., the first mascara sold in a tube rather than cake form).  Priority would also be given to more recognizable brands as well as items that are the most representative of the particular time.  For example, since face powder was the most commonly worn beauty item in the early 1900s, I want to have a nice selection of those for the 1900-1920 decades.  And if there's an eye shadow from a little-known brand from the '60s that's available for sale versus, say, a Mary Quant eye shadow crayon set, obviously I'm going to pounce on the Mary Quant because it's a better-known name that will resonate with more people.

- Obtain objects that speak to traditionally underrepresented demographics in the cosmetics industry:  people of color, non-cis-women genders, people over the age of 40.  For this last group let's try to concentrate on things besides anti-aging treatments!

- Focus on contemporary makeup with artist and fashion collaborations.  I'd also like to address the latest trends and cutting-edge technology to show where the cosmetics industry is headed in the future.

3.  Historic and contemporary collections comparison

According to the current inventory (which badly needs to be updated again, sigh), I have much work to do in historic collections.  If I'm ever going to provide even a brief snapshot of makeup throughout the ages, I better have more than only 6% (!!!) of the collection that's from the 20th century.  By my count, out of 780 objects, I have only 32 that represent anything earlier than 1990, and only a smattering of things from the '90s and early '00s.  Oof.

4.  Strengths, weaknesses, gaps & goals

Obviously the strengths of the current collection would be contemporary makeup, especially artist and fashion collaborations, while the weaknesses/gaps would be the overall lack of objects from before the 21st century as well as a focus on American brands.  I do always intend on expanding to include non-U.S. based brands but they can be rather tricky to get a hold of.  The goal would ostensibly be to collect more items from the 20th century and prior.

5.  Short term (current) needs and long term (future) needs

The Makeup Museum's short-term needs are pretty basic - obtain items that would provide a broad history of makeup.  Specifically, it would be ideal to get at least 3 objects and two ads from each decade from the 1890s to now.  Future needs are more complicated, as the industry moves so quickly it's difficult to assess what the Museum would require down the line.  I'm assuming I'd need to plan for any sort of anniversaries (brands, a particular product, etc.) as well as special exhibitions on certain topics.  I think I'd also have my sights set on really big ticket, rare objects - besides very pricey ancient artifacts and items from the Renaissance through the 18th century, I think some luxury items, like the sort we saw in the Ultra Vanities exhibition, would greatly enhance the collection and make for a world-class museum.

So, does this sound like a good plan to start with?  If you were a visitor, what would you want to see in a makeup museum's permanent collection?


MM Musings, vol. 22: a different kind of beauty school

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Some ecardToday's installment of MM Musings is not actually about museums. (I know, I know - I should stick to the general purpose of this series.  But this is a cool topic, I promise.)  Instead, I want to talk about where beauty history and culture belongs in academia. I came across this post at one of my favorite fashion blogs, Worn Through, and it got my brain percolating on a beauty-focused academic curriculum.  Obviously this is a challenge that fashion historians are still grappling with, so it will be equally tricky determining where beauty culture should go if courses in this area were offered.  And I really hope they are some day, with me as the fearless founder and pioneer in the field. 

First we need to accept the premise that beauty culture and history are valid areas of study.  Why?  Any form of self-adornment, from tribal body piercings to lip gloss, speaks volumes about a particular culture - it's a unique window into the artistic, commercial, and social values of any group of people. Furthermore, I've already argued that some cosmetic items and beauty practices are a form of art and therefore belong in a museum, so it follows that they should be accepted as legitimate fields of study. I realize that's a rather simplistic way of saying beauty culture is important enough to warrant serious academic attention, but that's not what I wanted to tackle today.  I want to focus on the admittedly more fun notion of actually being able to study and research all topics pertaining to beauty in a formal program.  Many individuals have done scholarly work on beauty topics, but there is no one dedicated academic curriculum for them.

So if we accept the argument that beauty culture and history should be taught, that brings us to the main question:  where does it belong?  There are several possibilities.  My first inclination is to assign topics pertaining to beauty and cosmetics to fashion history curricula.  This would be a natural fit given the close relationship between beauty and fashion.  However, since fashion studies itself is still struggling to figure out its proper place within academia, this may be problematic.  The short (or long) answer is that like fashion studies, beauty culture and history encompass many disciplines.  Therefore, just like fashion studies, they can find a home in a variety of fields.  

Case in point: think of all the people who write about beauty and organize beauty-related exhibitions.  They run the gamut from fashion curators and historians to feminist authors, from economists and business scholars to art historians and makeup artists.  There are also collectors and other folks with a general interest in cosmetics.  Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the study of beauty culture and history, it would fit in a variety of academic areas.  The most obvious ones in my eyes are art history, general history, gender and women's studies, cultural studies, material culture, and anthropology.  These would be ideal areas to host an individual program or track focused solely on beauty culture and history - sort of the way the Courtauld Institute in London has art history undergraduate and MA degrees with a specific "history of dress" track.  Additionally, students in other fields could take individual courses in beauty culture to help round out their studies.  For example, an art history major who wasn't signed up for the entire beauty culture track could take just one course in how ideal beauty is portrayed in art, from ancient Egyptian portraits of Nefertiti to Renaissance paintings to contemporary works. Design students could take a course in the history of cosmetics packaging design, and marketing majors could take a course examining the history of beauty advertising and where it's headed in the future.  All of these classes would fall under the general umbrella of the beauty culture and history program, so students could be enrolled for that or take selected courses pertinent to their major.

What do you think?  Would you attend a class or a whole program in beauty culture and history?  I would, but I'm more interested in teaching...I have so many ideas for courses and could easily develop a whole curriculum. ;)

(image from


MM Musings, vol. 21: Quantity vs. Quality

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Someecard-quantityI was reading this post over at the Center for the Future of Museums, which discusses how museums, history ones in particular, are prone to perceiving the quantity of items in their collections as more important than the quality or significance of those items. "Museums too often equate size with quality...we need to stop treating artifacts the same – too many museums pretend that all their collections are equally valuable and they budget the same amount for care across the board instead of focusing their resources on the pieces that best support their mission."  The post also describes what's known as "lazy artifacts", i.e. objects that have been accumulated but are never used in research, exhibitions or other programming - they just sit in storage.

Obviously this got me thinking about the current Makeup Museum collection.  More specifically, I wondered whether the collection suffers from the same affliction as most history museums: having too many objects that serve no discernible purpose.  To put it another way, am I curating wrong??  I touched on this previously in my 2012 MM Musings post on acquisitions, in which I described how I decide what to purchase for the Museum.  I think that criteria still stands for the most part.  The only thing I'm uncertain about is the "filler" items I discussed.  Sometimes an object isn't so great on its own, but would prove to be useful in an exhibition on a particular theme.  But I still strongly feel as though not every item has to be a showstopper. 

So let's investigate why that is.  Does sheer quantity outweigh content?  Do I really need all or most of the items in a particular makeup collection or an object from every single artist collaboration or should I be paring down, spending the same amount I would for several easily available objects on a single rare object?  I feel as though I'm actually siding with history museums, misguided though that may be.  Right now, quality is important to me but not as much as quantity for several reasons.  First, makeup items are small.  If you display just a handful of makeup objects all grouped around the same theme, it's not going to look very impressive.  I know when putting my exhibitions together I always like to have two items per shelf or an item and an ad or some other visual to go with the object.  A compact, detailed though it may be, lacks the impact of a big item like a large painting, sculpture, piece of furniture, clothing, etc.  Thus, more is better from a visual standpoint.  Along those lines, if the Museum does eventually get a physical space, I'd want to have tons of objects on permanent display divided into different categories - lots of things released by couture houses, artist collaborations, etc. will be needed to adequately fill said space.  I can completely understand why history museums feel the urge to accumulate more objects, as seeing a big number is really gratifying to both collectors and visitors alike.  The Museum currently has over 700 objects and I can't wait to hit the 1,000 mark, which sounds insane as I'm typing it, but I think people would want to see thousands of objects.  Just imagine being in a space that boasts over 1,000 beauty items.

Second, the Makeup Museum seeks to cover a broad area.  I want the museum to encompass just about anything related to makeup and beauty (save for perfume) and from all time periods.  When I began this little adventure most of the focus was on contemporary objects that are deemed "too pretty to use" and artist collaborations, but over the years my goals have shifted slightly in that my ideal makeup museum now would also have a healthy vintage collection and nearly anything else makeup-themed, so acquiring more objects to ensure all areas are represented is definitely in keeping with the current mission.  Finally, while I only have a few truly rare and valuable pieces, I don't think less expensive objects are necessarily of less quality or interest.  I can justify everything on the Museum's inventory (which badly needs to be updated, I know).  I have to consider getting a good bang for my buck, as it were. Right now I can't justify spending $500 on a single item when I could buy many more collectibles that are of the same quality (or at least near it) with the same amount of money.

After this brief exploration of the Makeup Museum's current collection practices, I think I'm just going to stay the course.  Eventually I think I will reduce what I buy and hone in on more rare, expensive pieces, but for right now I'm still in the collection-building phase, especially for vintage items, so quantity is a priority. 

TL;DR: Size matters. 

What do you think?  


MM Musings, vol. 20: Makeup skills

Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum.  These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning.  I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!

Some e-cardA while back the excellent fashion blog Worn Through had a post questioning whether fashion curators needed to also be designers, or at the very least, know how to sew.  It got me thinking whether the same conundrum would face a beauty curator, i.e., does one need to be a professional makeup artist to oversee a beauty museum? 

My gut reaction, naturally, is no. The curators at most art museums are not artists themselves.  And as Jill points out in her Worn Through post, a background in art history and museum studies and/or cultural studies is more crucial for fashion historians and curators than being able to construct a garment.  Seeing as how I have degrees in art history and cultural studies, plus work experience at several museums, I think I'm very qualified to be a beauty curator.  Moreover, I'd argue that just because one is a professional makeup artist doesn't necessarily mean they're any more knowledgeable than I am about beauty history.

However, besides the fact that in recent years there's been a growing interest in the idea of the artist as curator, it is undeniable that a professional makeup artist would possess an abundance of knowledge that would prove useful in a museum or academic environment.  An artist working at a department store counter, for example, understands the cosmetic needs of the average woman, which would be a valuable topic to contribute towards a book or exhibition on contemporary culture.  Meanwhile, celebrity makeup artists and beauty directors for fashion houses offer a unique perspective on the relationship between fashion and makeup.  They themselves are setting the trends - in effect, helping to create beauty history.  Then there are the artists who do it all, from showing non-makeup pros how to easily achieve a certain look to providing their services for magazine photo shoots and runway shows.  Case in point:  Lisa Eldridge, a makeup artist whose enormously popular YouTube videos shot her to fame, is releasing a beauty history book this fall entitled Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup.  As Alex at I Heart Beauty says, "if anyone's qualified to tell the story of makeup it's Lisa Eldridge."

So where does that leave us?  While I believe professional makeup artists could also make good beauty historians or curators, I still don't think being a pro is an absolute necessity.  If you look the beauty history books that I've reviewed or recommended, many of them are not authored by pro makeup artists.  It's a mixed bunch of historians, independent authors and collectors.  I was also thinking of other fashion curatorial and history luminaries - do you think Valerie Steele or Tim Gunn could make a garment?  Highly doubtful.  While my application skills are nowhere near the level of a professional's (I still can't do winged eyeliner to save my life), I at least know which colors and looks are flattering on me, and I continue to experiment with the latest products and techniques.  And given my art history background, I can also both appreciate and analyze the work of pros that I see in magazines and runway shows and on blogs.  Combined with my passion for art, design, history and fashion in general, I think this is more than enough to run a beauty museum.

Having said all that, I do think it's necessary to have some knowledge of basic application and an interest in fashion.  Makeup doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I think it may be difficult to curate a beauty museum without having at least some sense of which product goes where on one's face, how makeup artists use these products to create various looks, and a cursory knowledge of high-end fashion brands.  How else would you come up with exhibition themes or know what's worth purchasing for the museum's collection?  Additionally, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with vintage cosmetics objects in order to gain a better understanding of product design and how it's evolved over the years, not to mention the cultural history these objects reflect.

What do you think?  Do you think would-be makeup museum curators need to go to beauty school or are the other skills and knowledge I've mentioned sufficient?