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The Birkin of lipsticks: Rouge Hermès

Rouge Hermès lipsticks

Here's a bit of luxury to start off your week! (Yes, I backdated this post.) Hermès, historic French purveyor of fine leather goods and other accessories since 1837, debuted a lipstick line back in March.  Once I saw the modern color-blocked tubes I knew some of them had to make their way into the Museum's collection, so I picked up a few of the limited-edition ones and one from the permanent line.  I'm not going to spend any time discussing the merits of the Birkin bag vs. the Kelly or anything else related to Hermès fashion and history, as there are any number of resources out there. Instead, I'll talk about the house of Hermès in passing only as it relates to the lipstick.   

I love the canvas pouch and signature orange box each are housed in. The tubes were created by Pierre Hardy, creative director of Hermès jewelry and shoes.

Hermès lipstick

The caps are engraved with the ex-libris emblem chosen by Émile Maurice Hermès for his personal library in 1923. "The top curves inward a bit like a fingerprint, giving it a little softness...an anticipation of the gesture to come," Hardy explains to Wallpaper magazine.

Rouge Hermès lipstick in Rose Inoui

I adore the color combinations and the material is equally impressive.  Though the tubes may resemble some sort of plastic, they are entirely free of it and are also refillable.  The brushed metal on the tubes used for the permanent shades is a nod to Hermes's "perma-brass" fixtures on their bags.  I'll let Wallpaper expand on the design:  "Each lipstick tube is made of 15 different elements by partner workshops in France and Italy. Refillable, they are meant to be kept as precious objects, like jewels.  The modern graphic design of the tubes contrasts with the classic ex-libris on the cap. The top half of the tube is white, or what Hardy calls 'the image of purity and simplicity'. Hardy will play around more freely with the colour blocks of these tubes, finding ‘harmonies’ with each individual shade. For the first edition, an intense purple lipstick comes in a tube with bands of red and cornflower blue, while a coral shade is offset by emerald green. The overall effect is very Memphis Group...Prior to this, Hardy had no experience with beauty products, and neither, really, did Hermès. He says there were advantages in approaching the design with a blank slate. ‘I thought, let’s act as though nothing else existed. I will try to create the quintessence of an object that is feminine, pure, simple. One that is immediately desirable but will stand the test of time, and that can convey the Hermès style: luxury and sobriety.'" 

Rouge Hermès lipsticks

A couple of points here:  first, the very old idea of makeup containers as jewelry or art objects is obviously still going strong in 21st century.  Second, I had to google the Memphis Group (they're a design collective from the '80s, FYI) but the resemblance in terms of color-blocking is striking. 

Memphis Group sofa
(image from designmuseum.org)

Third, the article says that Hardy had not designed makeup before.  This is not exactly true, as he collaborated with NARS on a collection back in 2013.  Do you remember the adorable little shoe duster bags for the nail polish duos?  I'm almost positive this charming design touch was Hardy's idea.

Pierre Hardy x NARS nail polish duo

In addition to makeup as jewelry, Hardy brings up another age-old idea: makeup as art, specifically painting. Regarding the lip pencil and brush he designed for Hermès in addition to the tubes, he remarks, "I studied visual arts, and these materials – brushes, pencils – resemble what we used back then. It is interesting to approach the question of femininity like a painter: what can we offer a woman so she can be an artist of her own beauty?"

Hermès lip pencil and brush
(image from lifestyleasia.com)

Now let's talk about the lipsticks themselves. Jérôme Touron, formerly of Dior and Chanel, was hired as the creative director of Rouge Hermès specifically to oversee the shade selection and textures.  Each of the 24 colors (the number based on the house's address at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré) is inspired by the roughly 900 leather colors and over 75,000 silk swatches from the company's archives.  While it was difficult to narrow down the initial lineup, Touron enjoyed the "pure freedom" of digging through the archives. "It’s like a carré [square]; there is a profusion, an infinity of possibilities, and at the same time, a frame, that is clear and precise. Make-up works exactly the same way; there is an infinity of options in terms of colours, textures and types of application and at the same time it has to meet a certain function." The matte Orange Boîte, shown below, is a direct reference to Hermès's orange boxes, while Rouge H is from a color released in 1925 that I may have to buy.  As Touron explains, "[Emile] introduced at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, with a truly pioneering spirit: he was the first to ask his tanners to create an exclusive 'signature' shade for leather. This colour immediately became a signature colour for Hermès because of its unique and singular hue: different (darker) from the Art Deco bright red of the time."

Rouge H. lipstick and bag(images from hermes and therealreal.com)

The lipsticks are allegedly scented with a custom fragrance concocted by the brand's perfumer Christine Nagel with notes of sandalwood, arnica and angelica, but I couldn't detect any scent. (Hopefully I'm not developing COVID.) There are 10 with matte finishes and 14 with satin, representing the various finishes of leathers, Doblis suede for the mattes and calfskin for the satins.  However, Elle magazine reports that the satin texture is inspired by the company's silk scarves, so who knows.

Hermès lipsticks in Orange Boite, Rose Inoui, Violet Insensé, and Corail Fou
Hermès lipsticks in Orange Boite, Rose Inoui, Violet Insensé and Corail Fou

Hermès plans on releasing limited edition shades every 6 months, so I purchased the three fall 2020 colors. I really will try not to buy all three each and every season because it might not be the best use of the Museum's budget, but the color-blocking is just so irresistible (even if we have seen it on lipstick before).  And as a collector there's a compulsion to have them all. 

Hermès limited edition lipsticks, fall 2020

Also, all of the shades of the limited-edition lipsticks are inspired by an 1855 book Touron refers to when creating colors: The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours and Their Applications to the Arts by Michel-Eugène Chevreul (that's a mouthful!)

Hermès limited edition lipsticks, fall 2020
Hermès fall 2020 lipsticks in Rose Ombré, Rose Nuit and Rose Pommette

I'm still scratching my head over what exactly Touron does. I thought for sure he was a makeup artist since most lines have a makeup artist involved, but apparently he is a "product developer" according to the Wall Street Journal.  The article reports that the decision not to hire a makeup artist or celebrity face was intentional. "'The idea of one makeup artist giving all the rules was not ours,' says [President and CEO of Hermès Parfums] Agnes de Villers. Touron is a product developer. He used makeup artists to help him test and develop products, but no one is signing a product group or telling anyone how to wear anything. For [artistic director Pierre Alexis] Dumas, that approach infantilizes customers. 'We've always relied on the good sense and intelligence of our clients,' he says. There will be no Hermès 'face of the season' or step-by-step inserts with line drawings. As Dumas puts it: 'Lipstick is not a status symbol, nor a sign of submission to an order, but an affirmation of the self.'"  It's certainly a unique approach and only time will tell whether it pays off.

Jerome Touron(image from buro247.me)

I have to say I wasn't impressed with Touron's reasoning for starting with a lipstick or its meaning. "I think the lipstick is special because it has the ability to reveal personality in a few seconds, in a single gesture, in just one application. Instantly, it reveals the colour of the personality. In a way, it exemplifies our conception of beauty: to reveal, not to transform. Hence the desire to start the Hermès Beauty with a lipstick collection. Also, perhaps because a lipstick concentrates in a very small size, our whole approach to the object, the colour, the material and the gesture in other words, some of the great fundamentals of Hermès."  Eh. I wish he had been honest rather than trying to spin it into something more profound than what it is: good business sense. Nearly all major cosmetic lines start with one product and it's usually lipstick because it's the most profitable makeup item and a good way to test the waters. Lipstick is really a barometer to see how the line is received and whether there's interest in a full collection. As for the "gesture" nonsense it's really just the brand's tagline of "beauty is a gesture", and I also think makeup can absolutely be transformative, even as it's "revealing" one's true colors.  I did, however, enjoy the beautiful boxed set he came up with for the holiday season and his description of the relationship between color and music.  The Piano Box set contains all 24 permanent shades.  "Laid out in a line with their black and white lacquering, the lipsticks looked just like piano keys...for me, colors are like musical notes; they can be combined to create harmonies and resonance. More fundamentally, color, like music, is at the same time a precise system—like a frame, and something free, artistic, and deeply emotional."  That could explain why there are so many music-themed makeup objects!

Rouge Hermes Piano Box for holiday 2020
(image from elle.com)

Anyway, what's especially interesting is that nearly every article claims this is the first time Hermès released lipstick.  That is not true and I have the photos to prove it. A very kind Museum supporter on Instagram sent me images of a previous lipstick by Hermès.  She's not sure exactly when they came out, but according to newspaper articles it debuted in early 2001 in the U.S., selling for $25.  The Wall Street Journal cited earlier reports that artistic director Pierre Alexis Dumas had suggested lipstick back in 2000 but that the company turned out not to be ready for a full line. "'I think I was the one who suggested to my father [Jean-Louis Dumas, the late chairman and creative director of the house] that we should register the name for lipstick.' They didn't do it then—instead just once making a single shade of red lipstick in limited edition. They needed to think it through some more." However, this photo shows a number on the lipstick which implies there were more shades.  Perhaps in Europe, where this online friend of mine is based, offered more colors and in the U.S. we only got one.

Hermès lipstick, ca. 2001

Hermès lipstick, ca. 2001
(images from @amalia.vet)

Hermès lipstick newspaper ad, January 2001

Article by Lisa Anderson, April 2001

In looking at the older lipstick and comparing it to the 2020 version, I must say the new line is far superior design-wise than Hermès's previous attempt at makeup. It makes sense, since Touron, Hardy, Nagel, Dumas, along with Bali Barret, director of Hermès Women, spent 3 years bringing the cosmetics line to fruition. There wasn't nearly as much fanfare or press for the earlier release, which leads me to believe it was more of a quick money grab led primarily by their marketing department without any real thought put into it - one can tell top executives and designers were not too hands-on.  I'm all for minimal style, but the slim, plain packaging reads as very uninspired and not at all distinct from other brands, nor does it really capture Hermès's vision.  This could also be the reason why the line failed within a year - I saw no mention of it after March 2002 - and why nearly all the coverage for the new line omits any reference to their earlier foray into cosmetics. In hindsight, the company may see it as a mistake and prefer that it stays buried in newspaper archives...unfortunately for them, beauty aficionados don't forget!

Anyway, as with other luxury makeup, many people will want to know whether Hermès lipstick is worth shelling out a significant amount of money for. On the surface, $67-$72 is an absurd price for a single lipstick.  But as I noted with Louboutin nail polish, you're not just paying for the product; you're paying for the Hermès name along with all of the thoughtful details outlined above, not to mention that they are more affordable than nearly any other Hermès item (the leather cases for the lipsticks start at $340).  Having said that, there are plenty of other quality lipsticks to choose from if you're not into forking over some 70 bucks for the name or packaging.  Most reviews have indicated that Hermès performs well although not necessarily better than other high-end brands, so splurging on one (or several) because of the luxurious feel makes sense. But I don't believe any of the ingredients or technology in the product by itself warrant the price tag - beeswax, shea butter and mulberry extract are not that special, after all.  Bottom line: if you're wondering whether it's worth it to buy these, yes, but only if you're really into all the luxurious bells and whistles, a collector or if you love the brand. Again, if you just want a lipstick that performs well and don't care about the label, pretty orange boxes and colorful tubes, there are many comparable lipsticks out there.

Rouge Hermes lipsticks

To conclude, I'm really enjoying Rouge Hermès despite the fact that I haven't swatched any of the lipsticks I purchased (although it is very tempting!) You know I admire attention to detail when it comes to makeup packaging and design, and these tick every box.  I also think these tie into the company's aristocratic history but look much more approachable than I was expecting.  I always perceived Hermès as a sort of blue-blood, old-money type brand - I mean, they started as a company that made fancy leather horse saddles and harnesses for people wealthy enough to consider equestrianism a hobby - but the modern and colorful design of the lipsticks proves they may not be as stuffy as I thought.  Still, I'd like to see more adventurous shades and textures, i.e. their Malachite green or a glitter finish. And obviously they need more diversity in their advertising.  I can't say I've seen any, ahem, mature-looking models or anyone resembling a gender besides cis women, so hopefully they'll branch out a bit while still keeping true to the brand's heritage.  A full makeup line is planned to be in place by 2023, so fingers crossed we'll see some other interesting limited edition items...maybe a Birkin-embossed highlighter or one of their scarf patterns printed on the outer cases. ;) 

What do you think of Rouge Hermès?  Would you or have you tried them?

When pigs fly: Chikuhodo x Mochichito

MochichitoApologies for the back to back artist collaboration posts. I was hoping to have a February recap in between but work has been sapping my spirit even more so than usual, so I ended up abandoning Curator's Corner last month.  I don't think you'll mind too much though, once you see the positively amazing porcine-themed brush from Chikuhodo, who teamed up with illustrator/graphic designer Mochichito (a.k.a. Steph Fung) to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  You might remember how smitten I was with Chikuhodo's Moon Rabbit brush, so as soon as I saw this one I knew I had to add it to the menagerie.  If I remember I'll try to update this post with comparison shots to that brush so that those of you who actually intend on using it can see how the size and shape compare.  I will say that as with the Moon Rabbit brush, the quality of the bristles of the Mochichito one appears impeccable - super soft and fluffy.

Chikuhodo x Mochichito brush

The detailing and craftsmanship are simply stunning.  The handle has a scene depicting two piglets resting on fluffy silver clouds and a gold crescent moon, while silver and pink cherry blossoms bloom behind them.

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Naturally I had to take tons of close-up shots so you can appreciate the beauty, but I'm not sure if they do it justice...it's much more charming than my pictures were able to capture. 

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

As with the Moon Rabbit brush, there's a touch of iridescence on the silver portion.

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Just when you think they couldn't possibly get any cuter, Mochichito ratchets up the adorable factor by giving the piggies tiny silver dimples.

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

So who is the woman behind all this preciousness?  Fortunately I didn't have to do much digging, as Beautylish has a brief but informative interview with the artist posted online.  Mochichito is the brainchild of Steph Fung, a graphic designer who began focusing more on her illustrative pursuits several years ago.  Fung earned her BFA in Digital Media from Otis College of Art and Design in 2011. While she is an accomplished designer, the Mochichito project allows her to indulge her love of anything kawaii and handmade crafts. A lifetime doodler - "I loved drawing in notebooks when I should have been taking notes," she says - the Mochichito brand is a natural progression of Fung's passion for illustration.  Interestingly, Fung is primarily a digital artist, i.e. what you see is not made by hand on paper and then translated into a digital format - her illustrations are originally drawn on a screen.  Adobe Illustrator is her favorite tool, as she claims she's "never been very good at traditional mediums."  I find this fascinating since I believed it would actually be much more difficult to be creative with digital illustration techniques given their limitations, but the ingenuity displayed in Mochichito shows that if you're a true artist, the medium doesn't matter - you'll find a way to uniquely express your vision.

Fung's subject matter consists largely of animals and flowers, with some playful critters that don't actually exist in nature.  Yes, there are mermaids!  She explains: "I would probably describe my style as kawaii cute! I always try to have fun with word play or convey a fun idea or concept in my art. I love bright colors (but also pastel), animals, and cute faces (is that weird?)".  Nope, not at all!

Mochichito - Bunilla

Mochichito - flower kids

Mochichito - Mother's Day mermaid

Mochichito - frog mermaid

Mochichito - Mushrumbrella

Fung finds inspiration in a variety of places.  "I’m very much influenced by anime, stationery and lovely packaging, fashion, music, and other people’s art—there is so much to see at your fingertips these days."  Indeed, Fung is mindful of what her fellow artists are up to, and seems to enjoy participating in 100 day Instagram challenges with them.  My favorite are these cheeky illustrations she completed for #100daysoflittledudes, which also show her aforementioned love of word play. 



The Mochichito store offers an array of stickers, pins, and more recently, acrylic toys based on the illustrations Fung created for the "100 days of tiny terrariums" Instagram challenge.  I hope to see stationery or even stuffed animals some day!

Mochichito stickers

Mochichito pins

Mochichito - terrarium toy

Mochichito - terrarium toy

Speaking of which, I think another reason Mochichito's work resonates with me so much is the fact that she has a stuffed teddy named Little Bear that accompanies her on her travels.

Mochichito - Little Bear

As for the Beautylish collab, previously Mochichito was responsible for designing the store's Lucky Bags, which are essentially Japanese fukubukuro - a custom for the new year where bags are filled with mystery contents offered at a much lower price than if you purchased them individually.  For example, a $75 Beautylish Lucky Bag typically has full size items worth $150 or or more.  In 2018 Fung took inspiration from the Japanese legend of the Seven Lucky Gods who are said to grant good luck (shown top to bottom, left to right in the illustration below):  Bishamonten, Daikokoten, Hotei, Benzaiten, Ebisu, Jurojin, and Fukurokuju.

Mochichito - seven lucky gods

Mochichito - seven lucky gods

Mochichito - seven lucky gods for Beautylish 2018 lucky bag

This year, Beautylish tapped Fung again to come up with an illustration for a Chikuhodo brush to celebrate the lunar new year.  Fung shares the creative process behind the adorable end result:  "Since the design was for the Lunar New Year, I knew I wanted to include a moon. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, so I thought making a large, gleaming moon as the pigs' playground would be so cute. Incorporating some floral elements into the design would add some soft, delicate touches to frame the scene.  The story behind the design is really up to the viewer! I wanted to keep it kind of open-ended. You could think of the pigs as two lovers, a mama or papa pig and their piglet, or just two frolicking friends." 

Chikuhodo x Mochichito - original brush illustration

It was Fung's first time designing a brush handle, and I think she translated the design to suit the handle beautifully. "It was definitely different from anything I’ve worked on in the past. I had to keep in mind the shape and curvature of the brush and make sure all of the important parts of the artwork would be seen from the front of the brush, but also how I might continue the artwork around the sides and back of the brush, while also keeping in mind how it would photograph."  I agree that you have to think differently about how an illustration would work in 3D versus on a flat surface, and Fung executed it perfectly.

Chikuhodo x Mochichito

Overall, obviously I'm in love with this brush and all of Mochichito's work.  Art with a more serious style or message is great, but sometimes your eyes and brain just need cute things.  And it could be because I've just discovered it and have been watching it nonstop, but Mochichito's characters remind me so much of those from Adventure Time, a truly whimsical kids' cartoon that I can't seem to get enough of lately. There's just something so comforting about cuteness!  As for Chikuhodo, the designs on their brush handles tend to be more elegant and sophisticated, so going the kawaii route was a refreshing change of pace.

What do you think of this brush and Mochichito? 

Avon's calling for a vintage Christmas

This was such a nice surprise from Avon.  I tend not to pay any attention to this brand as I'm more interested in their vintage products and ads, so imagine how delighted I was to see the company had reached into their archives and used some of the old ads I love so much for part of their extensive holiday collection.  Called "Once Upon a Holiday," the only information from their end that I could find was from the description of this brief video.  "Avon has always known the importance of holiday traditions. That's why we've created a limited-edition iconic collection, inspired by our rich heritage."  I would have liked to know more about why Avon decided to use their vintage ads and why they chose the ones they did, but I will say I think they selected some of the better ones.  

We'll start with my favorite, the 1945 angel ad illustrated by the Ukrainian-born Vladimir Bobri (1898-1986).  You might remember this one from the celestial-themed holiday 2014/winter 2015 exhibition.  I really hope to get around to writing a full post on Bobri and diving into all the ads he did for Avon, but briefly, he was sort of a jack of all trades - illustrator, author, costume designer, composer and classical guitar historian.  In addition to Avon, he did illustrations for The New Yorker, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.  This ad is seriously one of my all-time favorites, holiday or otherwise.  I always interpreted the beautiful angel as a harbinger of peace, keeping watch over a quaint small town on a snowy Christmas night (and making sure the townsfolk get their gifts!) As you can see, this illustration was used on one of the five lipsticks included in Avon's holiday 2018 lineup.

Avon Christmas ad, 1945

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

The lipstick itself is a festive red shade, reminiscent of the one the angel is delivering.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

I couldn't resist picking up the ornament with this illustration! 

Avon ornament

Next up is another by Bobri, this one from 1946.  The scene depicts a Victorian-era couple, with a dapper gentleman on ice skates giving a sleigh ride to his equally well-dressed female partner.   Above them a pine tree garland filled with ornaments and Avon gifts festoons a starry night sky.  You simply don't find this kind of charm in today's advertising.

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

Avon Christmas ad, 1946

The ad was used for the packaging of Avon's eyeshadow palette.

Avon holiday 2018 palette

Avon holiday 2018 palette

Here are 3 of the other lipsticks.  (In my excitement to order I neglected to add all 5 to my cart. #curatingfail)  I didn't see the original ads for sale anywhere so I will keep hunting, but I was able to find images of them.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

The packaging of the lipstick on the left features an ad from 1942, which ran in Vogue. A woman in a red cloak with a sprig of holly in her well-coiffed hair dashes around New York City to get her Christmas shopping done.  I can't make out the signature - it looks something like Stahlut or Stahlest - but I know it's definitely not another illustration by Bobri.

Avon Christmas ad, 1942

The woman in the green dress on the lipstick in the middle is from a rather patriotic 1943 ad, which makes sense as the U.S. was fully entrenched in the second World War by then.  As the Avon blog notes, this ad was actually part of a series intended to lift women's spirits during wartime.  "Amid the trials of the World War II era, Avon’s 'To the Heroines of America' campaign debuted as a morale-booster depicting present-day women reflecting on brave female icons of the past. Noting 'the brave color of her lips and cheeks,' the series encouraged women to stand strong like their predecessors."  This one is unsigned as far as I can tell, and although he did illustrate several other ads in this series, this doesn't really look like Bobri's work.  A mystery for the ages! 

Avon Christmas ad, 1943

The lipstick on the right is from a 1947 ad for Avon's Wishing fragrance, which depicts a woman wistfully gazing (and presumably wishing) upon a bright star.  A source for this image indicates it's from the June 1947 issue of Good Housekeeping so technically it's not a holiday ad, but it works pretty well in my opinion.  Once again I'm not sure who the illustrator is.

Avon Wishing ad, 1947
(images from the Hagley Digital Archives)

My only gripe with the Avon collection is that the images weren't printed on the palette or lipstick caps themselves, only on the outer packaging.  Still, the inner packaging was adorned with stylish prints:  tortoiseshell for the palette and leopard, houndstooth, chevron and plaid for the lipsticks.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick

I wasn't able to track down the ad used in the packaging for the final lipstick, which I accidentally left out of my order and didn't realize until I went to take pictures for this post.  Whoops. However, the font is identical to one used in other Avon ads from the early '40s so my best guess is that it's from 1940-1942.

Avon holiday 2018 lipstick
(image from avon.com)

Avon ad, 1940

Avon ads, 1941 and 1942
(images from the Hagley Digital Archives)

There were a few other items in the "Once Upon A Holiday" collection; however, since they did not feature any additional vintage ads I skipped them. Overall I'm really pleased that Avon came up with a nostalgic, vintage-themed collection using their old ads and I hope they do this again next year with different ones, as there's no shortage of adorable Christmas ads in their archives.  It's a great way to highlight the company's history while delivering fully modern products that meet the needs of today's makeup wearers.  I wish more companies would do this!  Lancôme, Shiseido and Bourjois have been known to occasionally celebrate their heritage by modernizing some of their iconic packaging or incorporating significant design elements from their vintage products into new ones, and obviously fashion houses (Chanel, Dior, Armani, YSL, etc.) look to their fashion archives for inspiration, but I'd love to see more brands take a look back and pick out some vintage ads or other items to feature.  Estée Lauder, I'm looking at you.

What do you think?  Which vintage ad is your favorite?

Peace and longevity from Sulwhasoo

My heart skipped a beat when I spotted what Sulwhasoo had up their sleeve for this year's ShineClassic compacts. Every year the company collaborates with an artist who represents an aspect of Korean artisan culture to create a design for two compacts, a tradition Sulwhasoo began in 2003.  Master craftswoman Hong Jeong Sil was selected to produce the ShineClassic compacts for the 2018 holiday season.  We'll delve more into the traditional metal inlay technique known as ipsa that Hong used to create these stunning pieces, but first, let's take a look at them in all their glory.  Unlike last year's release (another that I never got around to writing about, sigh), this year I was so smitten with the design I got both compacts, steep price tag be damned.  I really try to only buy one since the designs are the same, just with different color schemes, but I simply couldn't resist these!

Even the boxes are works of art inside and out. 

Sulwhasoo 2018 ShineClassic compact



So luxurious!


The inside of the lids are etched in a metallic finish depicting a charming nature scene with trees, waterfalls, birds, deer and even a turtle.  According to the Sulwhasoo website, these "symbolize longevity and great fortune, carry the message 'One can achieve his or her purposes and lead a healthy, peaceful life.'"  As it turns out, the inclusion of these motifs is not accidental.  Like many Korean artists, Hong is inspired by a traditional group of ten symbols of longevity collectively known as Ship-jangsaeng:  Sun, mountains, water, cranes, turtles, pine trees, bamboo, mushrooms, deer and clouds. I thought the whole scene was merely cute and whimsical and that Hong just personally found these images enjoyable - I had no idea how culturally significant these motifs are.



The intricacy of the compacts themselves is exquisite.



Of course, I managed to nick the powder on this one...I must learn to control my excitement when handling Museum objects.




Here's some of the pamphlet that tells a little bit about the ipsa tradition.





So what exactly is ipsa?  I'm afraid I can't go into too much detail since I completely didn't see this entire book on it until it was too late, but hopefully what I was able to gather online will suffice for now.  (I plan on ordering the book and updating this post accordingly, if I remember.)  Basically ipsa is the art of inlaying thin, delicate strands of silver, copper or gold onto a metal surface.  It's similar to damascene and other metal inlay techniques found around the globe, but two elements make ipsa uniquely Korean:  the focus on graceful lines and the preference for silver over other metals.  This very helpful article from Koreana magazine explains the history and general style of ipsa.  "During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), it was developed into a brilliant art form, representing the epitome of metal craft.  Still, Korean metal inlay is unique for its emphasis on the 'art of lines.' The designs made with lines of a consistent width are simple yet artistic, basic yet whimsical. Designs expressing wishes for good fortune and prosperity, health and longevity, abundance and fertility, or images of the ten symbols of longevity (including birds and flowers, grass and insects, and landscape scenes with ducks in a stream under weeping willows), were crafted onto incense burners, braziers, tobacco cases, clasps, and stationery items, which were always kept close at hand and appreciated for their refined appearance...Though gold was rarer, silver was the preferred choice...Silver is rather plain by itself but radiates brilliance when combined with other materials. It has a subtle elegance that endures over time, rather than something fancy that can quickly fade. These qualities of silver appeal to the inherent nature of the Korean people, which is why silver was most commonly used for metal inlay work."  Hong's work for the Sulwhasoo compacts definitely represents the traditional ipsa style through the "basic yet whimsical" lines and symbols of longevity. 


Like the other holiday collabs we've seen so far, ipsa requires precision and painstaking labor.  The patterns must be carefully drawn out on the surface before the inlay is applied.  Each strand of metal, some as thin as .25 millimeters, must be formed by hand and then attached to the surface individually. This means even a very simple line takes hours.  Over 30 types of tools are used - everything from pliers and hammers to tweezers and chisels.  As Hong says, it's essentially "embroidery with metal."  Sulwhasoo provided a few snapshots of the process, but I would have loved to see a video showing Hong creating the original design.


Additionally, there are two main types of ipsa.  I'll let Koreana take over again:  "The first, called kkium-ipsa, involves incising a decorative design onto the surface of a metal object using a burin, and inlaying the threads of silver into the incisions. This technique was widely used during the Goryeo Dynasty. Because Goryeo had adopted Buddhism as its official religion and ideology, the metalworks that were produced primarily included bronze Buddhist implements, such as incense burners, incense cases, and kundikas. During the subsequent Joseon Dynasty, Buddhism was suppressed and supplanted by Confucianism. The production of bronze Buddhist implements thus diminished, while large quantities of ironware items were supplied to the royal palace and the homes of the elite class. Since the major material for metalworks was now iron instead of bronze, it was necessary for the metal inlay techniques to be adjusted accordingly.  This led to a second technique, jjoum-ipsa, in which the entire surface of a metal item is uniformly incised and then silver thread hammered into the incisions. This is the technique that Hong learned and applies in her works today. The surface has to be engraved four times, each time in a different direction, which calls for painstaking patience and perseverance."  There was only one design for Sulwhasoo intended for a small surface so it may not have taken that long, but the shapes clearly require a lifetime of skill.  I might be able to inlay a single pre-made strand of silver onto a surface in a straight line, but could I form many strands into deer and trees?  No way!

Production_process(images from sulwhasoo.com)

In addition to the Sulwhasoo compacts, another impressive example of the labor involved to produce an ipsa piece is this vase by Hong.  I can't even imagine how long it took, since it appears to use three different kinds of metal of varying lengths to form a pattern.  There must be hundreds of individual strands.


I also wanted to share this image from Hong's protege, who is taking ipsa in a very futuristic direction by creating a QR code that can be scanned and connected online.  The code is made with very thin strands of silver inlaid on an iron plate.  Again, each strand is handmade and applied individually.  It must take hours to get them to perfectly line up; otherwise, I suspect the code might not work.

(image from ipsajangproject.tumblr.com)

The final element of the ipsa technique is making a black background (historically from burnt pine soot) or leaving it unfinished.  "Those parts of the surface not inlaid with silver thread are colored black, using traditional techniques, or left unfinished to emphasize the natural color and texture of the metal. The black background surface contrasts with the sheen of the silver thread and highlights its brilliance. In the past, the soot of burnt pine was mixed with vegetable oil to make the black coloring, but these days powdered graphite is used. After applying the black coloring, the surface is rubbed with vegetable oil and then polished to a lustrous finish."  I'm not sure how the background for the original design of the gold ShineClassic compact was created, but it's truly striking.  I am a bit puzzled as to why the silver toned compact is on a white background, however.

As did Yang Huazhen and Zhang Xiaodong, a Qiang embroiderer and kite maker, respectively, who collaborated with Shu Uemura, Hong answered the call of reviving a dying cultural tradition and more or less single-handedly brought it back from the verge of extinction. Born in 1947, she graduated in 1969 from Seoul Women's University with a degree in crafts, followed by a graduate degree at Seoul National University in 1971.  While studying there, she came across an old ipsa piece in an antiques district and it was "love at first sight":  "'The silver thread embroidery of the old metal artifact seemed to reveal the purity of the artist's heart and spirit. I was spellbound by the beauty and started to ask around about learning metal inlay. But I was surprised to find that it was a disappearing art. In a book, Human Cultural Treasures, that I had come across by chance, it said that 'traditional metal inlay is no longer practiced,' which bothered me so much I couldn't sleep that night.'"  Hong was struck by the fact that there were so few artisans left, and took it upon herself to learn ipsa in order to preserve Korea's cultural history. "It was almost like the book was assigning me a mission," she says.  After five years of searching, she found one of the few remaining ipsa artists, Lee Hak-eung, who took her on as an apprentice.  Even though Lee was nearing 80 years old and hadn't actively practiced ipsa in over 10 years, he agreed to be Hong's instructor.  At first he was reluctant to teach her ("Why do you want to learn this? It is a difficult road paved with poverty," he told her) but knowing that ipsa was nearly wiped out, coupled with Hong's dedication and talent, eventually he relented.  There was a steep learning curve, as Hong soon found out.  "The hardest part about learning everything was the lack of ‘curriculum,’ so to speak, because there was so little information available about ipsa at the time. Nobody had really researched it because hardly anyone even knew about it.  It had basically been abandoned," she says.

(image from magazine.seoulselection.com)

Under Lee's tutelage, Hong quickly realized that ipsa needed to be officially recognized by the Korean government in order to not disappear completely.  For her, getting ipsa on the government's radar, along with educating a new generation about it, were just as important as learning its technique in terms of preservation.  “If people don’t know about it, then it won’t stay alive.  You can’t keep something alive simply by being very good at it, because then it ends with you. You have to let people know; you have to show them."  Hong submitted a comprehensive report documenting every ipsa piece she could find, and because of this effort, the craft was registered as an "important intangible cultural property" in 1983.  Hong went on to establish her own school, the Gilgeum Handicraft Research Institute, and in 1996 she was awarded the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea No. 78, making her the official holder of ipsa (Lee was the previous holder and had passed away in 1988).  Making ipsa modern was also an important lesson.  "I learned that metal inlay could not be done if the hands did not follow the heart. I also realized that although I was learning a traditional art I would have to develop it to fit modern times," Hong says.  While the Sulwhasoo compacts depict fairly traditional Korea motifs, Hong's other work expresses a more modern sensibility.  Take, for example, this sculptural paperweight/brush rest from 1980 that resembles a post-modern mountain range.

Hong Jeong Sil, paperweight, 1980
(image from ganoskin.com)

And the painterly flourishes on this vase from 2013 merge a classic silhouette with 21st century abstraction.  As Hong notes, "Tradition and modernity, past and present, aren’t separated by some boundary like some people think. They are inevitably linked.  The past isn’t over; it illuminates the present and helps reveal the future."

Hong Jeong Sil - Afterglow  2013
(image from constancychange.kr)

While Hong has made a career out of rescuing ipsa, she doesn't think Korea's modernization necessarily caused it to be almost completely erased from history.  In fact, she believes the modern era helped Korea reflect on its cultural heritage. Explains Hong, “Some people despair at the disposal of traditional culture that occurred throughout Korea’s often rushed modernization, but I think it couldn’t have been any other way. Only now can we afford to look back and reflect on what can be learned from our past, on what can be salvaged. Only now do we have the economic status that affords us the ability to value our traditional culture...Korea’s culture and traditional arts are getting more attention these days, not because they’ve gotten better or more beautiful – they’ve always been beautiful – but because people’s perceptions have changed.  Korea’s original sense of beauty, something only we can intuitively know, is finally getting some attention."  I'd add that it's far easier to connect with aspiring artisans and reach the public at large nowadays. While educating new generations via the usual methods (schools, museums, etc.) is critical, a beauty collaboration is a wonderful way of bringing people's attention to an otherwise little-known art form and in this way, helps preserve it. 

In conclusion, I thought Hong's work translated beautifully to the compacts.  While perhaps not as intricate as the original ipsa design they're based on, the engraving captures the essence of the technique and ipsa's overall style.  Ipsa is heavily focused on lines, and the beauty and grace of Hong's shapes remained intact on the compacts (i.e. they didn't get out of proportion or distorted).  Elaborate metal compacts such as Sulwshasoo's ShineClassics are obviously the perfect vehicle to showcase a historical metal inlay technique.  And as with all artist collabs, I'm happy to have learned about such a historic part of Korea's culture, and I appreciate people like Hong keeping it alive.  Hong is equally pleased to share her work: "I want to make Korean-style beauty known to the world. I want people to exclaim: 'So this is what Korea is about. This is the beauty of Korean silver inlay.'"  Mission accomplished!

What do you think of these?  Have you ever heard of ipsa? 

Lunar luxury: Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

This was one of the few acquisitions I actually researched before buying.  Not because I didn't love it at first sight but because I wasn't spending $134 on a single item unless I could get a blog post out of it.  Fortunately Chikuhodo's Moon Rabbit (Tsuki No Usagi) brush gave me something awesome to write about.  The notion of a rabbit on the moon sounds pretty crazy, but as I discovered, the moon rabbit is a fairly big part of culture and history throughout East Asia.  I will be focusing on the Japanese version of the story since Chikuhodo is a Japanese brand. 

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

Let's admire the stunning gold and silver design on the handle.

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

I absolutely adore the iridescence of the moon!

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush detail

Here's the brush head.  If you plan on buying it I can assure you it's just as soft as a bunny itself (although it's actually made from squirrel and goat hair.)

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush

The concept of the moon rabbit has its roots in variety of cultures, most notably Chinese, Aztec and other indigenous American ones.  The folklore comes from particular markings that can be seen when the moon is full, which resemble a rabbit using a pestle.  More specifically, "The rabbit's head is formed by the Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity); its ears by the Mare Tranquillitatis, the Mare Fecunditatis and the Mare Nectaris (the seas of Tranquility, Fecundity and Nectar); and the body and legs by the Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Showers) and the Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms). A small, puffy bunny tail is formed by the Mare Nubium (the Sea of Clouds)."

Moon rabbit
(image from tvtropes.org)

In East Asia, the tale originated in China and spread to other Asian cultures.  While in China the rabbit represents a moon goddess pounding the "elixir of life", in Japan the rabbit is making mochi (sweet rice cakes).  Here's the Japanese version of the story.  "Many years ago, the Old Man of the Moon decided to visit the Earth. He disguised himself as a beggar and asked Fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru), and Rabbit (Usagi) for some food. Monkey climbed a tree and brought him some fruit. Fox went to a stream, caught a fish, and brought it back to him. But Rabbit had nothing to offer him but some grass. So he asked the beggar to build a fire. After the beggar started the fire, Rabbit jumped into it and offered himself as a meal for the beggar to eat.  Quickly the beggar changed back into the Old Man of the Moon and pulled Rabbit from the fire. He said 'You are most kind, Rabbit, but don't do anything to harm yourself. Since you were the kindest of all to me, I'll take you back to the moon to live with me.' The Old Man carried Rabbit in his arms back to the moon and he is still there to this very day exactly where the Old Man left him. Just look at the moon in the night sky and the rabbit is there!"  While no one knows the exact origins of the story, it may be based on a Buddhist fable, or could be a bit of wordplay:  "The rabbit pounding mochi is also a play on words…the word mochitsuki describes the act of pounding mochi, while the word mochizuki refers to the full moon."

In any case, it's a charming tale, and one that's heavily ingrained in Japanese culture.  Images of rabbits frolicking in the light of the full moon are quite common in Japanese art.

Rabbits by Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716)
(image from metmuseum.org)

Hares and Autumn Full Moon, attributed to Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770(image from mfa.org)

Moon; White Hare in Snow by Taisosai Hokushu, 1819
(image from metmuseum.org)

Rabbits in Moonlight by Utagawa Hiroshige, ca. 1847-1852(image from mfa.org)

Rabbit in the Moon, unknown artist, 1915
(image from mfa.org)

Rabbits and the Moon by Ohara Koson (Shōson), 1931
(image from ukiyo-e.org)

Rabbits and the moon are also a common scene for home goods - it seems to be particularly popular for noren (Japanese doorway curtains.)

Moon rabbit noren
(image from global.rakuten.com)

Moon rabbit noren
(image from nipponcraft.com)

Moon rabbit noren
(image from 1stdibs.com)

You can find nearly any household product depicting the moon rabbit, from washi tape and towels to kitchen items.

Moon rabbit washi tape and towel
(images from yozocraft and amazon)

Moon rabbit chopsticks and dipping dish
(images from global.rakuten.com and amazon)

Additionally, each fall there are entire festivals throughout Japan to view and celebrate the harvest moon. The moon-viewing, or tsukimi ("tsuki" means moon and "mi" is watch) is held on the 15th day in the evening of the eighth lunar month.  These gatherings date all the way to the 9th century and, like the moon rabbit story itself, were introduced by the Chinese. "The O-tsukimi festival began in the Heian era (794 to 1185). During this period, Japanese aristocrats gather themselves and recite poetry under the light of the full moon. In the Japanese lunisolar calendar, this gathering usually falls on the 8th month. They believed that the 8th month is the best month to look at the moon because the positions of the Earth, sun, and moon further illuminate the night sky. Later on, the event is not only centered on poetry reading. Decorations were made. Japanese pampas grass (susuki) was put into place. Tsukimi ryore, sake, and other food were shared by everyone viewing the moon. People who attend the gathering also begin to thank their moon god and pray for another bountiful harvest. Hence, the O-tsukimi festival tradition as we know it today. Even when the moon is not visible or there is rain, O-tsukimi festival is still being held. The Japanese call it Mugetsu (no moon), or Ugetsu (rain moon)." 

Little moon-shaped dumplings called dango are made especially for the season.  And the pampas grass is so pretty...I'm wondering if the curved lines on the Chikuhodo brush are meant to represent it.  I think they could, given the prominence of stylized grass in the art I included above.  The grass also symbolizes a bountiful harvest and is believed to ward off evil.

Pampas grass (susuki) and dango
(image from facebook)

Chikuhodo Moon Rabbit brush detail

I couldn't resist sharing these fairly elaborate bunny-themed treats.  Needless to say, if I ever make it to Japan, I will have a tough choice whether to go during spring or fall - the former has fantastic cherry blossom festivals but, as I'm learning, the autumn moon-viewing festivals are amazing too!

Moon rabbit egg tart

Moon rabbit cake roll

Moon rabbit sweets

Moon rabbit dessert
(images from soranews24.com) 

In addition to festivals, the moon rabbit story figures prominently in Japanese culture in other ways, most notably in the popular anime Sailor Moon (whose human name is Usagi Tsukino - literally "rabbit of the moon" ) and a rover designed to explore the moon named Hakuto ("white rabbit").  Given all of this I feel fairly embarrassed that I was completely unfamiliar with the moon rabbit story and the festivals and other cultural touchstones associated with it.  But at least Chikuhodo provided a beautiful way for me to become aware. 

What do you think of this brush?  Had you heard of the moon rabbit story before?

Hello Dolly: Anna Sui fall 2018

Anna Sui fall 2018 makeup

In honor of the 20th anniversary of her cosmetics line, Anna Sui debuted a new collection featuring the iconic dolly heads that have become synonymous with both the fashion and beauty brands.  As soon as I saw these three little gals - Marion, Bea, and Sally - I knew they belonged in the Museum.  The cases can house either lipstick or eye shadow (they twist off at the bottom.)

Anna Sui Dolly Head cases

Anna Sui Dolly Head cases

There were also three corresponding coffrets sporting little vignettes of each lady's lair.   I limited myself to one since holiday collections are a comin', but obviously I'd love to have all three for the Museum.  I chose Bea since she seems to be the most badass.  The rock 'n roll details on this tin just spoke to me.

Anna Sui Dolly Head coffret - Bea

I also really liked the colors it came with.

Anna Sui - Bea coffret

Anna Sui - Bea coffret

Here are the other two coffrets.  How cute is the owl on Sally's tin?!

Anna Sui Dolly Head coffret - Sally

Anna Sui Dolly Head coffret - Marion

So who are these ladies and why are the dolly heads so prominent in Anna Sui's branding?  Let's start with the individual dolls in the collection, all of whom were inspired by real or fictional women

Marion was inspired by Marion Davies, a popular 1920s and '30s screen siren.

Marion Davies
(image from huffingtonpost.com)

Bea, as I suspected, is a rock star.  Her hair was inspired by another old-school actress, Louise Brooks, while the eye patch is a nod to the "space pirate" iteration of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona.  (A more modern interpretation might also be an homage to Elle Driver from Kill Bill...but probably not since Elle was not exactly any sort of role model.)

Louise Brooks
(image from independent.co.uk)

David Bowie
(image from morrisonhotelgallery.com)

Sally was named after Liza Minelli's character in the 1972 film Cabaret, Sally Bowles.

(image from lecinemadreams.blogspot.com)

Now let's explore the origins of these dolly heads.  Fortunately I didn't have to do a lot of digging to find out the full scoop.  In an interview with The Thick, Sui explains how the dolly heads came to be.  “I first noticed papier-mâché dolly heads like this while watching the ‘60s-era British TV series, The Avengers, as a kid.  I found this one years later at a New York City flea market, right before I opened my first store on Greene Street in 1992. The back of its head was cracked open, so I could see how it was constructed, and I thought, I could make this.’ So, I and friends of mine like [stylists] Paul Cavaco, Bill Mullen, and [illustrator] Tim Sheaffer started to make our own, which I used to decorate my store. And, over time, papier-mâché dolly heads kind of became symbolic of Anna Sui.”  Like Benefit and Stila, who in their early days used mannequin heads and illustrations, respectively, the dolly heads' initial creation was primarily a cost-saving measure.  "I found a space on 115 Greene Street, and while I was waiting to hear whether I'd gotten the lease, Bill, Paul, Tim Scheafer, and I would sit around making dolly heads out of styrofoam and papier-maché because I had absolutely no budget for decor.  We competed against one another to see who could give our heads the most character: big noses, high cheekbones, prominent chins," Sui notes in The World of Anna Sui (p. 14-15). 

Anna Sui dolly heads
(image from twitter)

Anna Sui papier-mache dolly heads
(image from thethick.com)

Original Anna Sui dolly heads
(image from The World of Anna Sui, p. 28)

Sui was also inspired by the work of papier-mache artist Gemma Taccogna.  It's quite the coincidence she mentioned this artist and the lipstick tubes she made since I've spotted a few during various vintage searches and have been meaning to write a post about them.  Sui reflects on the artist's influence:  "[Taccogna] made everything: dolly heads, jewelry, compacts, desk accessories, and more. I love how she drew; you can recognize a lot of her stuff by the eyes...at one point, I would go to the flea market on 6th Avenue in New York City every weekend to look for Taccogna pieces. I have so many now, I can’t even count them. Taccogna works weren’t expensive when I first started collecting them, but recently I’ve seen some for as much as $500 on eBay...Carolyn Murphy gave me my first lipstick tube. She saw it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me."  She's not kidding - even the knockoff imitation Taccogna lipstick tubes go for several hundred dollars.  I'd love to have some of Sui's collection for the Museum! 

Gemma Taccogna lipstick tubes
(image from thethick.com)

By 1994, a mere two years after the opening of the Sui's first store, the dolly heads - along with black lacquer, roses and butterflies, and extensive use of purple (her favorite color) - had become synonymous with the brand.  Together these design elements formed a cohesive aesthetic that represented Sui's whimsical vision.  Store spaces brought these motifs to life, allowing customers to be fully immersed in the designer's unique world:  "Externalizing my aesthetic clarified it.  Everything became more iconic.  Macy's and Galeries LaFayette opened a shop-in shop for me with all the decorative elements that defined 113 Greene: the dolly heads, the art nouveau butterflies and roses, the Tiffany glass.  It wasn't about authenticity - the Tiffany glass was plastic - it was about the Look, so recognizable that it made my brand successful." (The World of Anna Sui, p. 15)

The World of Anna Sui, p.22(image from The World of Anna Sui)

Artist Michael Economy created the first dolly head illustration, which appeared on the clothing in the 1994 fall collection.

Anna Sui dolly head t shirt
(image from annasui.com)

By the late '90s, so easily recognizable as a key aspect of the brand's identity were the dolly heads that they received their own full-body mannequins from renowned designer Ralph Pucci, as well as recreations of the original papier-maché heads.  Says Sui, "We did them in blue, yellow, lavender, and ivory ‘skin,’ and Michele Hicks, my favorite model for a long time, was the body model. I still use them in my stores."

Anna Sui dolly heads by Ralph Pucci(image from craftandtravel.wordpress.com) 

As a natural progression, the mannequins took on the personalities of the dolly heads.  An In Style article detailing the 2015 Ralph Pucci exhibition, a show in which Sui's mannequins were prominently featured, demonstrate the significance of the dolly heads and their full-sized counterparts for Sui's design and branding.  "'I’ve always been fascinated by mannequins,' Sui said. 'They give you a chance to create a character, or a symbolic person for your brand. It’s so important to show clothes with a head on top, so then you get a scale of the person. Even though the head is not you, you can picture it. And then, why not make it stylized? It’s your fantasy person...All of the idiosyncrasies of my dolly heads went into the mannequins,' Sui said. 'Through the years, the black lacquer furniture, and the purple walls and red floors of my stores, all became icons of the brand, but so did the dolly head – to the point we did a perfume bottle based on that.'"  Interestingly, Sui is so taken with mannequins and their power to convey various personalities that she has one in her home.  "[Sui] has a mannequin, a giant doll really, modeled after Diana Vreeland, given to her by the artist Greer Lankton. She dresses Diana up in vintage Courrèges, and poses her with guests who have passed by, from supermodels to Marc Jacobs to Liza Minnelli."

Anna Sui mannequins and dolly heads by Ralph Pucci(image from The World of Anna Sui)

Anna Sui dolly heads by Ralph Pucci

Anna Sui mannequins by Ralph Pucci
(images from ralphpucci.net)

Given their iconic status, it's not surprising that the dolly heads have appeared before on Anna Sui's cosmetics packaging.  Previously Russian doll-inspired versions of lipsticks and mascaras were released in the spring of 2011.  Sasha, Vlada and Natasha adorably complemented Sui's fall 2011 fashion collection.

Anna Sui Dolly Girl lipsticks, 2011

Anna Sui spring 2011 makeup
(images from atouchofblusher.com)

And of course, the motif was used for the famous Dolly Girl fragrance bottle, which debuted in 2003.

Anna Sui Dolly Girl

Anna Sui Dolly Girl (images from fragrantica.com)

You could even buy your own dolly head as decor thanks to Sui's 2017 collaboration with Pottery Barn Teen.  Personally I think they're kind of creepy - I much prefer them in cosmetic form.

Anna Sui dolly head - PB Teen
(image from pbteen.com)

Anyway, getting back to the fall collection, I'd say it was well done and quite appropriate to use such a meaningful design element for a 20-year anniversary.  These dolly heads represent a significant part of the brand's DNA; they were there from the very beginning and still help define the Anna Sui identity today.  I also liked that the dolly heads were recreated in miniature form and used to house lipstick and eye shadow rather than just appearing on the tins, as it's a way for Sui to put her own spin on the tradition of doll-shaped cases (in addition to Gemma Taccogna, there were also the lovely Revlon Couturine cases.)

What do you think?  Which of the three dollies is your favorite?

Mermaid magnificence with Rodin and Robertson

Apologies for the back-to-back artist collaboration posts, but I'm just too excited to wait any longer to share this beautiful mermaid collection from Rodin Olio Lusso (plus it's a nice way to celebrate the arrival of Mer-Babo!)  I have to admit I never paid Rodin much attention, since I rarely see it reviewed on beauty blogs and there are no counters near me to check out the line in person, but the amazing (mer-mazing?) packaging for their latest collection, created by artist/illustrator Donald Robertson, definitely got my mermaid tail wagging.  You might remember Robertson, a.k.a. the "Warhol of Instagram", from his collaboration with Smashbox in 2015.  If not, head on over to this post to check out a brief bio of Robertson and a summary of his style and process, which I don't want to re-hash here.  Instead, I'll discuss the inspiration for the Rodin collection and provide a short update of his work since 2015.

You know that I rarely buy entire limited-edition collections, especially ones with as steep a price point as these beauties, but they were far too special for me not to purchase.  Mermaids AND an artist collab?!  It was a no-brainer for me.

Rodin mermaid collection

First up is the lip oil.

Rodin mermaid lip oil

I can't resist showing the sides of the boxes, as the details go all the way around. 

Rodin mermaid lip oil

Next we have the body oil.  It looks so luxurious, I'm tempted to slather myself in it.

Rodin mermaid body oil

Rodin mermaid body oil

The liquid illuminator is another one I want to actually use instead of admire.

Rodin mermaid liquid highlighter

Rodin mermaid liquid highlighter

The powder brush feels nice and fluffy, but it's the box that won my heart.  Look at the jellyfish!

Rodin mermaid brush

Rodin mermaid brush

Finally, we have a simply stunning highlighting powder.  I don't think I've ever seen a powder with a mermaid embossed design; to my knowledge they've only appeared on the outer cases. 

Rodin mermaid highlighter

Rodin mermaid highlighter

I love all the details, especially her little belly button!  The way her head and tail are tilted and long pretty locks remind me a bit of the ethereal nymph designed by Marcel Wanders for the Cosme Decorte holiday 2015 compact.

Rodin mermaid highlighter

Rodin mermaid highlighter

I appreciate that Robertson explained a little bit about the process for manufacturing the powder:  "It starts with a gaffer tape circle outline in sharpie ... the powder people needed layers for sculpting so I used acetate and played in marker and cut tape overlays. I wanted it to match my mermaid box paintings."  Eun Sun Lee, President/Creative Director of design firm CMYK+WHITE, Inc., oversaw the final product packaging.


So how did the collection come about?  Here's a succinct background from the Rodin website: "[Rodin founder] Linda, a Pisces with an affinity for the sea, believed she’d been a mermaid in a previous life. Her fantasy sparked artist-friend Donald Robertson’s interest so much that he put his paintbrushes to work and brought the RODIN Mermaid Collection to life."   From what I was able to find online, Robertson and Rodin have been friends since at least 2015, when they attended the Fragrance Foundation awards.

Linda Rodin and Donald Robertson, 2015
(image from zimbio)

Working with Rodin appears to be a joy for him, as she's one of his muses in addition to a friend.  Robertson was immediately struck by the former model and Harpers Bazaar stylist:  “The first time I saw a picture of Linda, I became obsessed...She’s so visual. When I see somebody I like, I steal their image and put them on paper.” 

Donald Robertson - Linda Rodin(image from 1530main)

Donald Robertson - Linda Rodin(image from pinterest)

He was there for Rodin's debut at L.A. based beauty store Violet Grey in 2016, so his familiarity with the brand as well as Rodin's own style makes Robertson the best candidate to create limited-edition packaging.

Linda Rodin and Donald Robertson(image from hao-creative.com)

I scrolled through Robertson's Instagram to try to get a better sense of the timeline for the mermaid collection.  While he officially announced he was working on a new mermaid-themed project in late 2017, as early as January 2017 it appears he already had mermaids on the brain.  Check out this custom caviar packaging.  The mermaid looks quite a bit like the one on the Rodin highlighting powder, yes?

Donald Robertson

In June 2017 Robertson created a mermaid pool float collection for FUNBOY, proprietors of "the world's finest luxury pool floats".  I didn't know "luxury" pool floats existed, but I guess it's not surprising.

Funboy x Donald Robertson mermaid pool float
(image from funboy.com)

Funboy x Donald Robertson mermaid pool float

Fast-forward to October 2017, when Robertson first shared he was working on a mermaid-themed project.  This image ended up being used for the body oil.

Donald Robertson - mermaid

By February 2018, nearly all of the designs had been finalized.  Here are a few that didn't make it onto the Rodin packaging but are gorgeous nevertheless.

Donald Robertson - mermaid

Donald Robertson - mermaid

Donald Robertson - mermaid

Donald Robertson - mermaid

In the months leading up to the collection's release, it seems Robertson was inspired by Rodin's assertion that she's really a mermaid.  Using the playful hashtag #peopleisuspectaremermaids, he painted a series of fashion figures as mer-people. 

Donald Robertson - Cynthia Frank

Donald Robertson - Carlos Souza

Donald Robertson - Naomi Campbell

Donald Robertson - Streicher Sisters

Donald Robertson - Ryan Morgan

Donald Robertson - Jeremy Scott

After the collection debuted, Robertson kept the mermaid magic going with some bonus illustrations and animations on Instagram.

Donald Robertson - Rodin mermaid collection

Donald Robertson - Rodin mermaid collection

Donald Robertson - Rodin mermaid collection

Donald Robertson - Rodin mermaid collection

Donald Robertson - Rodin mermaid collection

He even did specially painted bags for the collection's launch in the UK, along with a rendering of the queen as a mermaid.  So. Cute.

Donald Robertson - Liberty of London mermaid bags

Donald Robertson - queen mermaid

As for his other projects, Robertson's been keeping rather busy since we first looked at his work in 2015.  In addition to the Rodin collab, he's done collections for Alice & Olivia, Canada Goose, S'well water bottles and Flirt Cosmetics.  He also released a book of his work, which has now made its way onto my Amazon wishlist.

Donald Robertson - Alice & Olivia

Donald Robertson - Alice & Olivia
(images from aliceandolivia and tradesy)

Donald Robertson - Canada Goose(images from canadagoose)

Donald Robertson - S'Well

Donald Robertson - Flirt Cosmetics

Donald Robertson - Flirt Cosmetics(images from stylecaster)

Donald Robertson book

This is in between doing all the timely Instagram drawings he's known for, such as the recent royal wedding and Met Gala.

Donald Robertson - royal wedding

Donald Robertson - Met Gala

I admire the more political angle in this "Team Immigrant" print.

Donald Robertson - Team Immigrant
(images from instagram unless otherwise noted)

Plus, Robertson manages to make time for a number of in-store illustrations.  This brings me to a fabulous bit of news to share with you all: I was lucky enough to get my hands on a custom-painted bag by Robertson himself!  My heart dropped when I saw that Robertson would be painting tote bags at Bergdorf Goodman and that they were available in-store only...or so I thought.  A fellow makeup collector and long-time Museum supporter (who was even more determined than I was to get the custom bag!) called the store and somehow found a very nice salesperson who agreed to send her one.  This incredibly sweet collector kindly thought of me and gave me the salesperson's info so that I could get a bag too!  Not only that, the salesperson even asked me if I had any requests to give to the artist, and I asked for a mermaid and/or jellyfish.  Both she and Robertson delivered by giving me a beautiful red-headed mermaid swimming alongside two pink jellyfish.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened the package.  I know I gave a sneak peek in the Mer-Babo post since the little guy declared it to be his, but here's the bag in all its glory.

Donald Robertson mermaid tote bag

It's one of those super special items that if, in a fire, I only had time to save only a couple Museum pieces, this would be one of them.  While I wish I could have made it up to NYC in person so I could meet Robertson and the lovely Bergdorf sales associate, I'm deliriously happy to get my hands on a bag he actually painted and so grateful that another collector was looking out for me.

Overall, obviously I'm in love with this collection.  Robertson did an excellent job coming up with mermaid designs that are both elegant and whimsical, as well as being perfectly suited to the Rodin line.  From their beautiful flowing tresses to their tails that show just a hint of colorful scales, these stylish mer-ladies coquettishly frolicking with their underwater friends whisk us away to a summery ocean fantasy.  Robertson also completely nailed the color scheme - I love the soft greens and blues with pops of pink, orange and purple contrasted with the black outlines of the shells and sea kelp.

What do you think about this collection?  Are you as smitten as I am?





Magical mermaid makeup brushes!

I've been waiting for literally over a year to blog about these amazing mermaid brushes by, funnily enough, a UK-based brand named Unicorn Cosmetics.  I finally got them in hand back in December, but wanted to wait until the warm weather was imminent to blog about them.  The brushes themselves are incredible, but the packaging was also breathtaking. 

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

Each brush came individually wrapped with a little charm in the shape of that particular mermaid tail.  What a great little detail!

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush

All of artwork was done by American artist Kurtis Rykovich, who created four mermaids to correspond to the brushes.  Save for this interview, information about the inspiration behind his work and his partnership with Unicorn Cosmetics was non-existent, so I gathered all my courage and reached out to this artist for an exclusive Makeup Museum interview.  Initially he seemed very enthusiastic and agreed to provide answers within a week, but after not hearing anything, followed by several gentle reminders via both email and IG over the course of a month, I gave up.  This is why my blogging schedule got completely off track recently, as I was patiently trying to give plenty of time to accommodate him.  In the end I just couldn't wait any longer.  I'm incredibly disappointed, to say the least, because I'm so interested in hearing his perspective and there wasn't any other in-depth info about this collection.  Guess it's just another item to add to the long list of Museum failures. And it will most likely be the last time I contact an artist.  :(

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set postcard - artwork by Kurtis Rykovich

In an effort to not be too salty about the lack of communication on his part - us Scorpios are known to hold a grudge - I'm sharing some of Rykovich's other work, which consists of (mostly female) otherworldly beings.  Everything from Disney princesses and fairy tale heroines to creatures of ancient myths are represented.  I also find it interesting that they all have such long lashes - you might be aware that Unicorn Cosmetics was formerly known as Unicorn Lashes and specialized in uniquely shaped, fairly elaborate false eyelash sets that resemble the ones in Rykovich's paintings.  I can only wonder if the company saw Rykovich's long-lashed beauties and reached out to him.

Kurtis Rykovich, Sleeping Beauty

Kurtis Rykovich, Medusa

Kurtis Rykovich, Goldilocks

Kurtis Rykovich, Mushroom Fae

Kurtis Rykovich, Our Madness

Kurtis Rykovich, Hammerhead Abyss

Kurtis Rykovich, Moondust

Kurtis Rykovich, Flurry

This magical unicorn princess was used for another Unicorn Cosmetics brush set.

Unicorn brushes box

This one was especially created for a new Unicorn Cosmetics palette.

Kurtis Rykovich, Glimmer

Unicorn Brushes palette
(images from rykovich.com and instagram)

As for the mermaid brushes, the purpose of each one is described on the back of the postcard with Rykovich's image. 

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

We'll start with the highlighting brush that corresponds to Bubbles.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Bubbles

Next up is Korali (all-over powder brush).

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Korali

Delphie is for blush.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Delphie

Finally, there's LiLu, used for foundation and contouring.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush - Lilu

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

The brush set also came with a clamshell stand for display - how cool is that?!

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set

I also really loved seeing the evolution of the design.  These images are from January 2017 through their release at the end of the year.

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brush set prototype

Unicorn Cosmetics mermaid brushes

Overall, I'm positively in love with these brushes.  We've seen mermaid tail brushes before and they're very cute, but they lack the level of detail of the Unicorn Cosmetics set.  I also think Rykovich is a perfect match for Unicorn Cosmetics, given the mutual love of magical, feminine creatures that only exist in our imagination. 

What do you think?  Do you have a favorite?


This kitten's got claws: Brandi Milne for Sugarpill

I blinked a few times when I first laid eyes on this set by indie brand Sugarpill, thinking it was odd that Mark Ryden had collaborated with them.  But then I saw that the company had teamed up with Brandi Milne, another Pop Surrealist whose work, upon closer inspection, is markedly different than Ryden's. 

I won't make any excuses as to why I didn't get to posting about this before now even though it was originally released for Valentine's Day; the reason is that I'm simply disorganized.  The set got buried under a bunch of other makeup items in the office, and it wasn't until I recently started seeing mentions on various art blogs of Milne's new solo exhibition, which opened last week, that I remembered I had it. 

Sugarpill Feline Fancy set

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy palette

Sugarpill Feline Fancy liquid lipstick

I love that one of the little teeth from the outside of the palette made its way to the interior of the box.

Sugarpill Feline Fancy box interior

There was a truly overwhelming amount of information and interviews with Milne, so I hope by whittling it down somewhat I can still do her art justice.  Get ready for a lot of quotes since I believe the artist's own words are the most useful in understanding their work.

Milne, a self-taught artist, drew and colored throughout her childhood in Anaheim, California (and in a strict Christian household) and began showing her work in various galleries in the early aughts.  By January 2008 she was able to make painting her full-time career.  Let's explore the various themes in her work and how her style has evolved over the years, shall we?

Early on, Milne's style was more illustrative, most likely due to the fact that she hadn't been exposed to much contemporary art.  She explains, "I grew up completely unaware of contemporary artists. In the 90s when I was drawing in my room ('developing my style' at that time), I didn’t know of Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia, or anyone painting wild things the way they were. So I had only my own world of things that influenced me – the children’s books I had as a kid, Bugs Bunny cartoons, coloring books, Woody Woodpecker and Heckle and Jeckle, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio, vintage Halloween and Christmas decorations, music that had inspired me – and the way my imagination interpreted all of it." 

Brandi Milne, Lucky You, 2009
(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

Her passion for art grew, and now Milne cites Mucha, Erte, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, along with the aforementioned Garcia, as her chief influences.  She gradually switched to painting, which allowed her to be a little less precise than drawing neat, contained lines.  "I used to work on paper/illustration board with watercolors, pencil and ink in order to keep things REAL tight and clean. I used to hold my breath whenever I worked, and my poor hand would cramp up because I was so pressed for perfection. Over time, I couldn’t stand feeling like a mistake would set me back the entire piece – I wanted to be free. Painting on wood was my ticket out of that stress filled bind I was putting myself in, and I took the leap a few years back, scared as hell! But since then, that freedom is the rabbit I’ve been chasing!"  Interestingly, Milne's husband custom makes all of the wood panels she uses as her canvas.  I always love a supportive spouse. :) 

Other stylistic shifts include Milne's choice of colors.  Earlier work presents a fairly neutral palette, but more recently Milne has favored a brighter, arguably more feminine palette that's heavy on red, pink and white.  In reference to her latest exhibition, she says, "In this new body of work, my palette went from really bright brights—fluorescents paired with really dark contrasts. I wanted to illustrate life blossoming from darkness. That so much beauty and life can spark from or grow from a place that seems frightening or lifeless...I love red and hyper pinks and whites. There was a year within the process of making this body of work where all I wanted to paint was reds and pinks and whites."  This is most likely the influence of a new florescent shade of red she stumbled across at an art supplies store a few years ago.  In any case, red, pink and white is the dominant color scheme for Milne these days, and this is reflected in the Sugarpill palette as well.

Brandi Milne, Little One, 2017(image from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

One aspect of Milne's style that's more or less remained consistent is the oddly extended limbs of the girls in her paintings.

Brandi Milne, And the Choir Sings Quiet, 2008(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

She notes that this feature came naturally: "I enjoy bending scale in my work...it wasn’t as important to bend the scale as it was to make the characters feel as if they were at home in their environment. These things are not intentional – they come [instinctively]...Maybe the exaggerated limbs represent a feeling of being larger than life. A feeling of being able to reach and grow beyond what one might feel their capabilities limit. "  So not only do these long arms and legs make for a more cohesive composition, they also represent the emotional "stretching" required to handle life's challenges.

Brandi Milne, Before I Hide Away, 2012

Brandi Milne, Here Inside My Broken Heart, 2014

Brandi Milne, Weep Now or Nevermore, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Thematically speaking, Milne's portrayals of female characters are highly autobiographical.  The title work from her 2009 show "Run Rabbit, Run", for example, represents the emotional strife faced by Milne after the passing of her mother.  "The idea and feeling behind this body of work is strongly related to my mother’s passing in March ’08. My work is emotionally narrative (not by choice), and because I’m struggling through this huge loss, it’s reflected in my new works. I’ve tied in the show’s theme ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ – a lyric from Pink Floyd that hit hard for me one day while I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon, and really feeling my mom’s absence. It struck a note with me, and opened up this idea in my mind. This was the inspiration for my new show, and in turn, extremely helpful in my heart...My girls are an endless narrative for me. She’s my way of voicing an emotion in a piece, sad, innocent, scared."

Brandi Milne, Run Rabbit, Run, 2009(image from thinkspacegallery.com)

This painting depicts Milne trying to stay close to a dear friend who moved away

Brandi Milne, She Wears the Trees In Her Hair, and the Clouds In Her Eyes, 2012

And for I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, she explains, "She's kind of broken. Her body is broken, she’s giving up and hitting bottom. And then myself – I feel like the way that I grew up was in kind of a religious bubble. So in that aspect, I feel like I’m really innocent, you know? As a lamb, being slaughtered. That’s me...It looks cheery, but it’s bloody. She’s broken and I’ve been going through a lot – trying to help myself. So it’s all coming out in the work.”  

Brandi Milne, I Never Dreamed of Such a Place, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

These works show Milne's vulnerability but also her resilience.  Take, for example, Hold Fast, in which a girl receives stitches administered by a fairy godmother-like being, who's an embodiment of the artist herself "mending" her own psychological wounds.  It may seem a tad gruesome at first, but it's actually a message of healing and renewal.

Brandi Milne, Hold Fast, 2014

As for other themes, Milne's work weaves together the many influences from her childhood mentioned previously:  Fisher Price toys, holiday decorations, and, of course, proximity to Disneyland.  "Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Dumbo, etc. Having loved all those cartoons, going to Disneyland was surreal. The Tea Cup ride with all the lanterns in the shady trees and twinkly lights above. Flying over that lit-up city in the Peter Pan ride, Frog and Toad, the Matterhorn? Being at Disneyland as a kid, is really unparalleled to anything else. It was hugely influential," she says.   Additionally, her mother's religious outlook, coupled with the darker side of fairy tales and Disney movies, inspired the concept of duality that permeates so many of her paintings.  While they seem to be cheerful and innocent upon first glance, something sinister lurks beneath the candy-coated surface.  One example is Be Good for Goodness Sake, in which two happy snowmen naively enjoy some frosty cold milk...that's actually laced with opium, given the labels on the bottle.  (Yes, "milk of the poppy" is indeed a Game of Thrones reference.)

Brandi Milne, Be Good for Goodness Sake, 2015

Or Soothe Yourself, which shows an innocent little bunny surrounded by brightly colored sweets munching on a gingerbread man.  It's an adorable scene until you notice the gingerbread man is (understandably) frowning, while equally sad-looking teeth look on.  A piece of taffy (?) on the left cradles what appears to be a dead tooth, and the cherry cordial on the lower right has broken and spilled onto the snow.

Brandi Milne, Soothe Yourself, 2014(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Milne says, "I love duality. It was so confusing to me growing up, I really couldn’t wrap my head around it and I fought it for so long. I believed that things should be black or white; that you were either a good person or a bad person. You were either happy or you were sad. In Disney movies, particularly, I was absolutely astonished to see that Disney chose to include such horrifically sad moments in his storytelling. We were watching a CARTOON and suddenly there was death and heartbreak and I was FEELING it!! I wanted to reject it, fast forward to the fun cute happy parts. I was disturbed by it. But as I was exploring my own work as an adult, I realized that it was that duality I was feeling and that I wanted to talk about. I love beauty and I love happiness, but I wouldn’t have either if I didn’t have the opposites and everything in between...This new body of work was inspired by the notion of good vs. evil, and the fairytale-like memories of being a kid.  I painted what it felt like to be happy and innocent and naive and then to discover certain truths about the world and reality."  This idea of yin/yang forces is expressed in several paintings from her latest exhibition.  Lynrose depicts a bright pink gingerbread house set among a forest filled with candy canes and ice cream.  While it looks positively charming at first, several ominous-looking skeletons are creeping up onto the house, and a closer look reveals that even the tree and shrub next to it have skull-like faces.

Brandi Milne, Lynrose, 2017

The title piece also seems utterly harmless initially:  it shows a group of jolly, red-cheeked snowmen enjoying some frozen treats.  But then you notice the trees in the background are dead, and the ice cream container has a faded skull and crossbones.

Brandi Milne, Once Upon A Quiet Kingdom, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Despite the darker imagery in these paintings and others, by and large snowmen represent feelings of happy nostalgia for Milne.  She explains, "The snowman is the jolliest fellow! My mom LOVED Christmas –  she would transform the house with tinsel and knick knacks and vintage decor, Christmas music would be playing on the big family stereo and it was such happiness for me as a kid.  It was a wonderland!!  All these years later, I find myself trying to illustrate that feeling – trying to recreate it in my work.  The snowman tchotchke was a rare find in the house (there were plenty or reindeer and angels and Santa’s to be found), but I remember specifically adoring what snowmen figures we had, and probably hoarding them from my siblings.  The snowman best represents that spirit for me...I wanted that Christmas wonderland to last all year round!"  (Interesting side note:  Milne also enjoys drawing snowmen since she her favorite shape is a circle - "it has no harsh corners".  I suspect this is also the reason for so many paintings featuring Humpty Dumpty, her love/hate relationship with his character notwithstanding.)

Brandi Milne, No Reason to Stay, 2017

Brandi Milne, Candy, 2017(images from coreyhelfordgallery.com)

Brandi Milne, Holiday Takes A Holiday, 2014

While many of Milne's paintings represent the concept of duality, sometimes they're simply whimsical and joyful, with nary a menacing skeleton or dead tree to be found - just unbridled sweetness.  "Wide-eyed and maniacal, I try to capture the feeling of pure happiness and bliss as a kid."   I couldn't find anything dark or upsetting in the Sugarpill palette or in these paintings. 

Brandi Milne, Eat Cakes, You Kitty, 2014

Brandi Milne, Sweet Thing, 2014

I'm particularly struck by the maraschino cherries scattered about in this one.  They just look so succulent and juicy.  Milne greatly enjoys painting these too:  "I can't stop painting cherries and all I want is for everything to be translucent!"

Brandi Milne, The Last of the Snowmen(images from brandimilne.blogspot.com)

I love these since they remind me of characters from children's books, which makes sense given that Milne has illustrated one, not to mention all the delicious treats.  You know I'm all about sweets as well as childhood nostalgia since my own was so happy.  Milne's reminiscing about her mother's holiday decorations, coupled with the imagery in the paintings, instantly transport me back to celebrating various holidays with my family.  (In particular I'm remembering this adorable ceramic ghost with a red face my mom put out for Halloween, and a beautiful ceramic Christmas tree with multi-colored lights...if it wasn't out of my price range I'd commission Milne to paint a couple pieces featuring these items).

Anyway, while there was an enormous amount of information online, I still have a couple unsolved mysteries surrounding Milne's work.  First, I'm curious to know about the German references.

This little lamb seems to be wearing a traditional Alpine hat. 

Brandi Milne, Once Upon a Time, Life was Sweeter than We Knew, 2015

There are German words on the script in Strutter.

Brandi Milne, Strutter, 2012

And this poor little snowman is saying "ouch" in German, while in Long After This a sad pumpkin begs "love me".

Brandi Milne, Autsch, 2014

Brandi Milne, Long After This, 2014

Milne herself was also recently photographed wearing what appears to be a dirndl.

Brandi+Milne+by+Jessica+Louise(images from brandimilne.com)

I suppose it could be related to fairy tales, since the most famous ones in the Western world come from the Brothers Grimm.  Or perhaps Milne has a German background or just appreciates German culture.  Whatever it is, I'm surprised I didn't come across any explanations for it. 

The second item that left me scratching my head was how the collaboration with Sugarpill came about.  I'm assuming Sugarpill reached out to Milne first and they went from there, but it would have been nice to hear more about the process, the inspiration for the palette (who thought of a cat theme?) and how the artwork was created to reflect it.  I watched this video of a studio visit and read about Milne's artistic process, so I know a bit about how she operates, but I imagine things might be a little different when a commission for a makeup company is involved.  At least we know the artwork was an original piece made just for Sugarpill.

That was pretty long despite my best effort to condense everything I found while also trying not to leave out any major points regarding Milne's work.  So if you're still reading, thank you!  Overall, the Sugarpill palette is a wonderful addition to the Museum's artist collaboration collection and also helps make up for the fact that I failed to nab the Trinket lip gloss from 2016. I enjoy Milne's work so much I may have to ask Santa for a book of her work.  ;)  I feel as though I gravitate towards it since we're about the same age - we grew up with the same toys, Disney movies, cartoons (and even had similar holiday decorations!) and also because we had happy childhoods.  And obviously I love any artwork featuring delectable-looking sweets

What do you think? 

Unicorns vs. Mermaids

Sigh.  After nearly 9 years of blogging I don't know why I still haven't learned to look before I leap when purchasing items for the Museum's collection.  After seeing the write-up at Allure of indie brand Tooth and Nail's Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette and previous mentions of this company in other reputable publications like Nylon, I nevertheless pondered whether I really needed yet another mermaid-themed palette to add to the Museum.  Initially I wasn't going to go for it, but I figured Allure would never steer me wrong, plus Tooth and Nail mentioned the name of the palette's illustrator/designer, Australia-based artist Megan Allison.  Once I read an independent artist was behind the design I had to buy it.

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

I actually got up the courage to email Megan with a request for an interview about her art and her work for Tooth and Nail.  She kindly obliged so here's some more in-depth information.  Megan has been drawing since high school and studied Visual Communication (graphic design) at the University of Technology Sydney.  When not working at her day job at an Australian packaging company, Megan creates stickers and enamel pins featuring a variety of whimsical (and sometimes creepy!) characters. 

Megan Allison - Blue Moon Dragon

Megan Allison - Kirby sticker

Megan Allison - Xenomorph pin

And since I had to know, she's Team Unicorn.  For shame!  Just kidding, of course.  ;) 

Megan Allison - Sweet Unicorn Carousel
(images from meganallisondesign.com)

Tooth and Nail found Megan via Instagram and contacted her to create some of the labels for their Sailor Moon-themed highlighters.  After the success of that collection, the company contacted her again for the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette.  Hannah Foote, owner of Tooth and Nail, sent Megan a preliminary sketch of the general concept.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

From there Megan did her own sketch.

Tooth and Nail Unicorn vs. Mermaids sketch

Once approved, she did the full rendering, with the colors taking an entire day to get just right.  While Megan isn't loyal to one distinct style - she frequently goes back and forth between more traditional colored pencils to digital illustration and dark vs. cute themes - she enjoys tattoo design, an interest she shares with her sister (they have matching forearm tattoos, awww!)  I feel as though the mermaid looks a bit old school tattoo-inspired. 

  Tooth & Nail Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette

Seems all well and good, right?  Alas, a very sweet Instagram buddy of mine alerted me to the fact that Tooth and Nail has had a lot of customer complaints.  And it's true:  when I googled the company the fourth result that appeared was a complaint on Reddit.  Apparently not only was the customer service poor, the quality of the products themselves was shoddy.  While this one appeared nearly a year ago, other customers have shared their own tales of never receiving the products they ordered with a lengthy wait for a refund or zero resolution, some as recently as late May.  Sadly, the lack of service isn't limited to customers.  Via our email interview a few weeks ago, Megan stated that she never received the final versions of the products she designed (neither the Sailor Moon items nor the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette), which was the agreed-upon payment for her services.  So not only have customers been ripped off, Tooth and Nail has allegedly also not paid their own designer.  I haven't been in touch with Megan since then so I'm hoping she has received her items in the past 2 weeks, but given everything I've seen it's doubtful.  It's especially disheartening since Megan agreed to accept products instead of money - it shouldn't be difficult for a company, even a small indie one, to fulfill their end of this simple barter. (Plus, as the wife of an extremely hard-working freelance designer who has had his share of clients screwing him over, I personally HATE people who don't think independent designers/artists deserve payment...which is more common than you'd think.  Freelance ain't free!)  

I certainly don't wish to vilify Tooth and Nail, but I felt the need to mention these incidents.  I'm also inclined to believe they're true - why would so many people complain without cause, and why is there no response from Tooth and Nail to any of them or going so far as to report/remove customers' comments on Instagram?  I understand that things happen beyond our control and that Tooth and Nail is a fairly new company with literally just two people rather than a huge, established business with lots of experienced staff to handle customer issues, but it seems other tiny indie companies are able to better handle any problems that come up.  With such a small company it's easy to get overwhelmed with orders, but whatever customer service system Tooth and Nails has in place clearly hasn't been working and needs to be addressed.  Maybe it has been, as I haven't witnessed any other complaints regarding the Unicorns vs. Mermaids palette...then again, perhaps any negative feedback has been wiped clean from social media.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I was conflicted for weeks about what to write or even to write anything at all, plus I was annoyed with myself for not doing proper background research on an unknown-to-me brand before purchasing the palette. Ultimately I decided to post because while Tooth and Nail may not be reliable or, at least, wasn't reliable in the past, I felt it was important to highlight Megan's work.  After all, focusing on the makeup design rather than the makeup itself is kind of what I do, right?  Oh, and in the snowball's chance in hell that any makeup companies are reading this post, I'd like to let you know that Megan is available for design/illustrative services, but you must pay her up front!


UPDATE, 8/2:  Megan emailed me to let me know she followed up with Hannah a few more times and eventually received the agreed-upon items!  So hopefully this begins a new, more responsible phase for Tooth and Nail.