Curator's corner, January 2021

Curator's cornerLinks for one of the most miserable months of the year. Good riddance, January!

- Sephora unveiled an action plan to eliminate racial bias in their stores.  Let's hope they keep the public informed on their progress.  Ditto for L'oreal's new partnership with the NAACP and a ban on animal testing in the EU.  

- In accessibility news, here are some new makeup brushes designed for people with vision and motor impairments.

- You know I'm obsessed with vintage makeup ads and can spend hours dissecting the harmful messages they embodied, so I'm loving these reimagined ones featuring diverse models.

- Refinery29 had an interesting piece on the meaning of tacky makeup for fat women.

- The future is here: more developments are on the horizon for AI and AR in beauty.

- Not sure how I feel about my favorite magazine opening a store in NY.  Guess I'll have to check it out and see if/when the pandemic ever ends.

- Undereye circles, both exaggerated versions of natural circles and wildly colorful ones, are making the rounds on TikTok.   (BTW, the Museum has a Tiktok account but no clue what to post...I'm open to suggestions.) Not all are enthusiastic about the trend, however.

- You knew "regencycore" makeup only a matter of time thanks to Bridgerton

- Vogue has an ode to a '90s cosmetics staple. Can you believe I didn't own a Caboodles?  If I recall correctly it's because even when I was a teenager I hoarded collected makeup and I knew it wouldn't all fit.

- Inaugural beauty: the always fashionable former First Lady Michelle Obama wore Fenty and Pat McGrath makeup to President Biden's inauguration, and a makeup artist turned the Bernie meme into lip art.

- It was Christian Dior's birthday on January 21, so to celebrate I took a picture of nearly all the Museum's 5-Couleurs eyeshadow palettes.  Of course I managed to forget one.  Oh well. They still look pretty. :)

Dior 5-Couleurs collection, Makeup Museum

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, Silence of the Lambs turned 30, and for some reason one hit wonders New Radicals performed, well, their one hit at the inauguration.

- Museums' new purposes apparently include serving as vaccination centers and sites for Bernie memes (yes, I had to mention the memes a second time.)  Still, I'd take those over "for-profit experiential art centers", which in my opinion are not actually museums.

- Who came up with this monstrosity?  I love candy and I love Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese, but the two together sound positively putrid

- At least this made me laugh. The resemblance is uncanny!

How was the first month of 2021 for you?

MM Musings, vol. 29 : Diversity and inclusion

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

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

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

Diversity in museums books


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

Diversify the collection.

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

Diversify blog, IG and exhibition content. 

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

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

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

Further develop a community-focused, collaborative mindset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makeup Museum ideas for now and the future, 2021 update

It's the time of year where I babble on about things I want to tackle but most likely won't be able to.  I reviewed last year's blog post ideas and out of the 30 topics I only managed to accomplish, let's see, 10.  One-third of what I was aiming for.  Sigh.  As for exhibitions, I only did one and it wasn't all that cerebral. Anyway, no point in ruminating over what I should have done so here's a bit of an update. 

In an effort to sort of narrow down the massive amount of exhibition ideas I have, I came up with a priority list of topics that might be doable in the 1-5 years (if the Museum is still in existence) and a secondary list for, well, I have no idea - eventually. I tweaked some of the descriptions as needed.  Also, please keep in mind these are working titles.  Hopefully I can think of better ones!  Once again the husband came up with handy graphics.


    1. "Black and Blue:  A History of Punk Makeup"
    2. "Catch the Light:  Glitter in Cosmetics from Ancient Times Through Today" - Aiming to have this up for holiday 2021, but it's a big one and I will need lots of help that I'm not sure I can get.
    3. "The Life Aquatic:  Mermaid Makeup" - I need to think of a better title soon because I want this to go up in June this year.
    4. "Color History Through Cosmetics: Blue" - I decided to scrap the gold-themed exhibition in exchange for blue. I discovered so many fascinating things about blue makeup while pulling together some trivia on Instagram, there's definitely enough there for an exhibition.
    5. "Ancient Allure: Egypt-Inspired Makeup and Beauty" -  I did some polling on Twitter and Instagram and this one won as the next exhibition, so the tentative date is March 2021.
    6. "Just Desserts:  Sweet Tooth Revisited" - It might be good to revisit this on its 10-year anniversary in 2023.
    7. "Aliengelic:  Pat McGrath Retrospective" - Still a priority, but again, I will need lots of assistance and would strongly prefer having a makeup artist co-curate with me. Alternate title instead of Aliengelic:  "The Mother of Modern Makeup".
    8. "From Male Polish to Guyliner:  A History of Men's Makeup" - I know that a new book on men's makeup will be released in June this year and it would be great to have the author as a co-curator.
    9. "She's All That:  Beauty in the '90s" - Oh, poor little neglected '90s makeup book and exhibition. You know I've been wanting to do a comprehensive exhibition and book since at least 2014, but just never seem to have the time.  I do have the chapter outline but I think I need to make deadlines for each chapter and publish the drafts as blog posts, otherwise it's not getting done.
    10. "Pandemic:  Makeup in the Age of COVID-19" - Depressing but historically significant. I'll need to wait until the pandemic is safely behind us, but I am gathering bits of what will surely become history now.
    11. "Ugly Makeup: A Revolution in Aesthetics" - I am so incredibly inspired by Makeup Brutalism and her other effort Ugly Makeup Revolution, I absolutely need to explore looks that completely shatter our notions of makeup's purpose.  The exhibition would be a deep dive into how makeup is going beyond basic artistry and self-expression.
    12.  "Nothing to Hide:  Makeup as Mask" - This was the other choice I included in the Twitter and Instagram polls. While respondents chose Egyptian-themed makeup over this one, the mask theme in makeup goes back centuries and would certainly make a rich topic, plus I could do a subsection on mask-wearing's effects on makeup in the pandemic.

Makeup Museum exhibition list

Secondary list/things I'm not sure about:

    1. "Queens:  A History of Drag Makeup" - Amazing topic but overwhelming. Need much help!
    2. "From Mods and Hippies to Supervixens and Grrrls:  '60s and '90s Makeup in Dialogue" - In my opinion, cultural developments in both the late '60s and mid-1990s radically changed the beauty industry and gave birth to new ideas about how people view and wear makeup; there are many parallels between the two eras. I feel, however, that I'd need to do the '90s exhibition and book first so this would have to wait.
    3. "Gilded Splendor:  A History of Gold Makeup" - This is nice but the more I thought about it the more I didn't think it would be a priority.
    4. "Design is a Good Idea:  Innovations in Cosmetics Design and Packaging" -  Another that I still like but not so much as to make it immediate.
    5. "The Medium is the Message:  Makeup as Art" - This will trace how makeup is marketed and conceived of as traditional art mediums, i.e painting and sculpture, and also how art history is incorporated into makeup advertising and collections.  Consider it a comprehensive discussion of this post while working in canonical artists whose work has appeared on makeup packaging.  My issue with it is that it's overwhelmingly white.  The artists used in vintage ads such Lancome's are white and even collections today don't collaborate with many BIPOC artists, especially Black ones.
    6. "Wanderlust:  Travel-Inspired Beauty" -  A rich topic and would be timely in light of the pandemic limiting travel for most, but honestly, I'm not that excited about it.
    7. "By Any Other Name:  The Rose in Makeup and Beauty" - I pitched this idea to the FIT Museum as a small add-on to their "Ravishing" exhibition.  They weren't interested and now that the exhibition has passed I'm tabling it for now.

Makeup Museum secondary exhibition list

And now for blog posts!

MM Musings (2):  FINALLY getting up the diversity and inclusion in museums post up this month after a year of working on it, and the other topic to tackle this year will be becoming a nonprofit organization.

Makeup as Muse (3):  I managed to get around to covering Gina Beavers last year, but that was it.  The artists on my list are Sylvie Fleury, Rachel Lachowitz, Asa Jungnelius and Tomomi Nishizawa.

MM Mailbag (2-3):  Once again the MM mailbag overflowed in 2020 and most of the inquiries took a significant amount of time to research and answer.  I'll see what might be feasible. 

Brief histories (4-5): I still want to go ahead with histories of powder applicators, setting sprays and maybe colored mascara, color-changing cosmetics and how makeup language has evolved (for example, why we typically say "blush" now instead of "rouge" for cheek color.) The author of Cosmetics and Skin kindly suggested an article on copycats, i.e. how companies clearly ripped each other off and continue to do so today in terms of packaging, ad campaigns, etc. which is a great topic.  I'm also interested in a history of Day of the Dead makeup.

Trends (1):  Makeup brand merchandise and swag - another I didn't cover in 2020 as planned. I'm also very interested in the video game trend in makeup, but I'm hoping this amazing person writes about it instead!

Topics to revisit (1-2):  faux freckles, non-traditional lipstick shades, and cultural appropriation in cosmetics advertising. I did not update any of these in 2020 so I hope to do at least one of the three this year.  Also, perhaps a deeper dive into surrealism and makeup.

Vintage (6): series of Dorothy Gray ads featuring portraits of well-to-do "society" ladies, '90s prom makeup, and wear-to-work makeup from the 1970s-90s, defunct '90s and early aughts brands (Benetton, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Nina Ricci and Inoui ID to start with), and a slew of other brand histories, especially Black-owned brands like La Jac and Rose Morgan. I'm also itching to write something about Black salespeople and customers in direct sales companies, i.e. Avon, Mary King by Watkins, Fuller, Artistry by Amway, etc. The company I hope to tackle this month if the objects I purchased on Ebay ever arrive will be Holiday Magic...the story is absolutely bonkers. 

Artist collabs (5):  As in 2020 I'm still trying to catch up on some of last year's holiday releases, including Fee Greening for Mikimoto and Cecilia Carlstedt and Morag Myerscough for Bobbi Brown.  There are tons of others from previous years that I'm still thinking about, such as El Seed for MAC, Connor Tingley for NARS, the Shiseido Gallery compacts and lip balms, and a series on the artists whose work appears on Pat McGrath's packaging.

Book reviews (2):  In the interest of saving time and also because my reviews tend to be badly written (even for me), I decided to do regular reviews only for some books and speed reviews of others, combining several books in a single post.  Most of the ones I'm planning on are in the Beauty Library section of the website.

Dream Teams series (1-2):  I did actually start this series last year, albeit without the mockups I had wanted to do.  Stay tuned for more fantasy artist/makeup collabs. I especially want to focus on BIPOC artists and flesh out the idea I had back in 2016 for a Rrose Sélavy-themed collection. 

Color Connections (5+): I returned to Color Connections last year but only once.  They just take so much time. However, I've been toying with the idea of putting them as a dedicated series on Instagram separate from the Museum's regular account.  That way it might make me accountable in terms of working on them more regularly.

Finally, there will be lots of other random things popping up, and I have so many people I want to talk to so I hope to nab some interviews and guest posts. :)

And here we have my book ideas.  They're the same as last year.  The first one is an alternate title for the '90s exhibition.  The second one would basically be the accompanying catalogue for the Makeup as Art exhibition.  I still want to do a coffee table book of pretty makeup, but my concern is that it won't be diverse.

Makeup Museum book ideas

Any of these topics interest you?  Which ones would you like to read about/see first? 

Curator's corner, December 2020

CC logoI was too tired and sad to do a 2020 version of Curator's Picks and Pans, so I'm skipping straight to Curator's Corner for December.

- Mother has become a Dame!  Huge congratulations are in order for Pat McGrath, who became the first makeup artist to receive damehood from the queen. I remember when she got the MBE in late 2013, so I was thrilled to see this. 

- I was also really pleased to see Allure's digital feature on accessible beauty.  Just wish it was in their print version.

- I was not, however, happy to see that the president of Japanese brand DHC is under fire for some racist remarks. The really sad part is that instead of making an attempt at any sort of apology he just shrugged it off, but I guess that's to be expected as he has a history of doing this.

- Interesting piece on beauty and makeup as instruments of political power over at Teen Vogue, the author of which will be releasing a whole book on the subject.  I only hope the fable about Elizabeth Arden handing out lipsticks to suffragettes doesn't make it in there, as no one has been able to produce solid proof.

- Wallpaper had an article about the new marketing and branding for Shiseido.  How nice that the company they hired gets access to their archives for "guidance" and "inspiration" but researchers like me are repeatedly shut out.

- While I'm being a cranky old lady, I must confess that new tech advances like digital makeup printing and Google's virtual makeup try-on service seem rather stupid.  There's also Moi lipstick, which I grudgingly admit sounds somewhat interesting in terms of being able to match basically any color in the world, and I understand the need for reducing makeup packaging waste...but it also reeks of a futuristic dystopia.  

- Sad news from (the irony): Benefit co-founder Jane Ford passed away. I imagine it was tough to go on without her co-founder and twin sister Jean, who died in January 2019.  Flori Roberts, founder of her eponymous line that catered to Black women as well as Dermablend, also passed away.  More to come on Roberts as I have mixed feelings about her.

- And because I'm lazy and various news outlets have covered them already, I'm linking to some articles on beauty in 2020 and what's in store for 2021. In 2020, the biggest trends I saw were the rise of TikTok, a slew of celebrity lines, an emphasis on skincare, experimental and "ugly" makeup, and video game/makeup and beauty crossovers, whether that meant a collaboration with a video game or beauty brands making an appearance in Animal Crossing and the like. Of course, the impact of Black Lives Matter and other calls for diversity and inclusion in the industry cannot be ignored; however, I refuse to see it as a passing trend that was unique to 2020.  Both companies and consumers need to keep up the momentum.

The random:

- I love grey and yellow together, as evidenced by my wedding colors and some beloved Museum staff members, so I'm very in favor of Pantone's picks for 2021.

- "A virtual experience of high quality is not just second prize to being there in person, it may offer fresh revelations." Great piece on why digital museum exhibitions should become standard accompaniments to real-life ones.

- If Reservation Dogs is half as funny as What We Do in the Shadows, it will be hilarious. 

- Memes were one of the few things that helped keep me somewhat sane in 2020.

Are you looking forward to the new year?  I have to admit I'm not feeling optimistic, not just about the pandemic nightmare but the Museum and my family.  It was more of a slow burn of trauma and grief in 2020 rather than the sudden, unexpected events that took place in 2019...and I'm not sure which was worse. I hope 2021 will be better but based on these past two years the outlook is bleak.  :( 

Fox weddings, weaving cranes and moon princesses: Kate holiday 2020

As usual, there was no shortage of artist collabs of the holiday season. Kate is an affordably-priced Japanese brand owned by Kanebo, maker of the beautiful Milano compacts.  I was immediately intrigued by the packaging for their holiday collection, and when I saw it was the result of a partnership with illustrator Kotaro Chiba, I knew I had to get my hands on it for the Museum.  Entitled "Neo-Folklore: Reinterpretation of Japanese Folklore Heroines," Kate's holiday collection features modern reimaginings of the women in three Japanese folk tales who "face and shape their own destinies".  There were lip gloss duos, eyeliners and eyeshadow palettes for each story. I just picked up the palettes since the designs were the same for all of the products.

Kate Neo Folklore holiday 2020 - Kotaro Chiba

The first story in the collection centers on Japan's vast array of fox-based fairy tales.  Foxes, or kitsune, have a long-standing place in Japanese culture - there are entire books written on fox folklore - but the story Kate selected involves one version of the fox wedding, Kitsune no Yomeiri.  As the traditional lore goes, foxes would create rain to keep humans away from the forest where they held wedding processions.  But as foxes were also known to be shape-shifters, some lady foxes would change into human form and marry an unsuspecting man.  Sometimes she'd be able to keep her true form a secret forever, but sometimes she would accidentally let her tail slip out.  Once a family member sees that she's actually a fox she can no longer remain with them and must return to the forest (not sure why.)

The palette artwork depicts a woman clad in a black dress with swirls of voluminous fabric in the back (perhaps mimicking a tail?) and a fox curving around the edges. The golden white spheres on the right are most likely hoshi no tama, or star balls. These magical orbs are said to hold the fox's life force.  If a human manages to get a hold of one they can control the fox.

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 101 palette

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 101 palette

The company created a makeup look and brief video to accompany each story.  This one is called "Hint of a Wispy Flame," referencing the warm tones of a red fox and Inari shrines.

Kate "Hint of Wispy Flame" look

The video depicts a fox wedding which the bride apparently abandons.  The "ghostly forest light" mentioned is known as kitsune-bi, magical fire produced by the foxes during wedding ceremonies and other processions.  I'm still scratching my head over the she doesn't get married to a human but doesn't stay with her fellow foxes either? Where does she run off to? 

The second story, known as Tsuru no Ongaeshi (Crane's Return of a Favor), or more specifically, Tsuru Nyobo (The Crane Wife) involves a man who helps an injured crane.  I'll let Japan Folklore tell the tale, as it was the most straightforward version I found.  "Long, long ago in a far off land there lived a young man. One day, while working on his farm, a brilliant white crane came swooping down and crashed to the ground at his feet. The man noticed an arrow pierced through one of its wings. Taking pity on the crane, he pulled out the arrow and cleaned the wound. Thanks to his care the bird was soon able to fly again. The young man sent the crane back to the sky, saying, 'Be careful to avoid hunters.' The crane circled three times over his head, let out a cry as if in thanks, and then flew away.  As the day grew dark the young man made his way home. When he arrived, he was surprised by the sight of a beautiful woman whom he had never seen before standing at the doorway. 'Welcome home. I am your wife,' said the woman. The young man was surprised and said, 'I am very poor, and cannot support you.' The woman answered, pointing to a small sack, 'Don't worry, I have plenty of rice,' and began preparing dinner. The young man was puzzled, but the two began a happy life together. And the rice sack, mysteriously, remained full always.  One day the wife asked the young man to build her a weaving room. When it was completed, she said, 'You must promise never to peek inside.' With that, she shut herself up in the room. The young man waited patiently for her to come out. Finally, after seven days, the sound of the loom stopped and his wife, who had become very thin, stepped out of the room holding the most beautiful cloth he had ever seen. 'Take this cloth to the marketplace and it will sell for a high price,' said the wife. The next day the young man brought it to town and, just as she said, it sold for many coins. Happy, he returned home. The wife then returned to the room and resumed weaving. Curiosity began to overtake the man, who wondered, 'How can she weave such beautiful cloth with no thread?' Soon he could stand it no longer and, desperate to know his wife's secret, peeked into the room. To his great shock, his wife was gone. Instead, a crane sat intently at the loom weaving a cloth, plucking out its own feathers for thread.  The bird then noticed the young man peeking in and said, 'I am the crane that you saved. I wanted to repay you so I became your wife, but now that you have seen my true form I can stay here no longer.' Then, handing the man the finished cloth, it said, 'I leave you this to remember me by.' The crane then abruptly flew off into the sky and disappeared forever."   There are some variations to the tale, such as the replacement of the man for an old couple who essentially adopt the young woman as their daughter, but the overall message remains the same: respect people's privacy.

The palette shows another woman in black holding a cat's cradle of yarn between her outstretched fingers.  She appears to be watching the sliding door in the background. The head and neck of a red-crowned crane form a graceful arc over the scene.

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 102 palette

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 102 palette

The color story for this palette is also a nod to the red-crowned crane, according to the description at the Kate website. 

Kate "Secret Sounds of Wings" Neofolklore makeup look

As with the fox wedding story, I'm not really sure what the video is trying to say.  At first the crane/woman is upset her trust was broken, but then seems okay with it? 

The third story is the tale of Princess Kaguya, which dates all the way back to the 10th century.  Move over Sailor Moon, there's another princess from our big round friend! Here's an abbreviated version from this website.  "A long time ago, an old and humble man who was cutting bamboo saw that one of the logs he’d gathered was glittering in a strange way as if it was illuminated by the moon. Taking the log in his hands, he realized that inside was a beautiful and tiny little girl, about 7 centimeters tall. The man took her home because he’d never had children, and between him and his wife, they took care of her as if she were their own daughter...The strange girl grew into a beautiful woman of normal size, and over the years, people began to learn of the existence and beauty of this lady. Suitors traveled from all over to request her hand. On one occasion, five honorable gentlemen approached the house of the bamboo cutter trying to persuade him to allow his adopted daughter to marry. He was old and didn’t want to leave her alone upon dying, they argued. But she refused to take any husband, making impossible requests of her suitors in to avoid marrying them.  The existence of the beautiful young woman came to the attention of the emperor, who requested that she appear in his court. When she refused, he visited her and, upon seeing her, he too fell madly in love with her. The emperor tried to take the girl to his palace to marry her, but the young woman assured him that if she were taken by force, she would become a shadow and then disappear forever.  Each night, she watched the sky with melancholy. It was time to return to her place of origin, and it was then that she confessed to her adoptive father, in tears, that she had come from the moon and that her time on Earth was to end. Upon learning of this, the emperor sent guards to the house of the bamboo cutter, to try to prevent the princess from returning to her place of origin. One night, the moon was covered by a cloud. This quickly began to descend towards the Earth, while the sky grew ever darker. A carriage manned by luminous beings arrived for the princess. She left a letter and a small bottle with the Elixir of Life for the emperor before leaving. Frightened, he ordered that both be taken to the top of the most sacred mountain of that land and there, burned.  To this day, it’s remembered that when there is smoke upon Mount Fuji, this is the letter and elixir that the Princess of the Moon left for the emperor, and these will continue to burn at the mountain’s peak."

Princess Kaguya is shown on the palette wearing a black kimono and standing in front of a stylized blue moon. Bamboo stalks in the background represent the princess's earthly beginnings, while the rabbit in the foreground is a reference to another lunar-themed tale, the moon rabbit (Tsuki no Usagi.)

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 103 palette

Kate Neo-folklore collection - EX 102 palette

I have to say none of the looks the company came up with seem particularly thoughtful or interesting. The collection allegedly centered on dismantling tradition and setting new narratives, yet the makeup seems rather safe and conventional.  I understand Kate is a mass market brand, but something more daring couldn't have hurt.

Kate "Moonlit Bamboo Grove" look

Anyway, the video changes the ending of the tale, revealing that Princess Kaguya chooses to stay on earth.

Perhaps if I had any sort of grasp on the original tales and understood the videos I might have better insight of how these heroines were reinterpreted.  At first I thought the Neo-Folklore collection was telling the same tales but emphasizing the independence of the women, portraying them as active agents of their own destinies rather than passive characters that things merely happen to.  In the usual narratives, the crane/woman leaves her husband and the kitsune leaves her family so that they can fully express their true selves. Princess Kaguya, although sad to leave her parents, refused to accept a traditional married life and returned to her celestial home. But the videos the company made complicate these interpretations; the intent was to change the women's actions entirely.  The kitsune abandons both her fox family and the prospect of marrying a human, the crane is proud to show her avian form when her secret is discovered, and Princess Kaguya chooses to stay on earth.  I'm not sure the revised stories present any sort of significantly more "empowered" outcomes, but they at least attempt to depict these women as setting a wholly new course for themselves rather than adhering to the original story.

In any case, the artist Kate selected to highlight the women in these tales is a perfect fit. Kotaro Chiba is a self-taught artist based in Niigata, a relatively quiet, snowy city in northwest Japan.  His father, a convenience store owner turned Buddhist monk, and mother, a piano teacher, were of modest means but instilled a love of art and culture in their son.  "My family was poor in money but rich in culture. The little house where we used to live was full of art, music and literature. I started to study seriously the art myself when I worked part-time after my graduation from high-school. Of course, I would have liked to attend an art school, but I wasn't able to make it for financial reasons," he says.  Chiba began his career around 2007 making t-shirt designs.  He found he wasn't inspired by one particular style or theme, but a combination of manga, modern Western fashion and traditional Japanese style.  While his work continues to evolve, the end result is surreal, fanciful and at times unsettling. 

Kotaro Chiba, Housenka, 2018

Chiba's experience illustrating a book of Japanese fairy tales in 2019 more than qualifies him to take on the Neo-Folklore collection.

Tales of Japan illustrated by Kotaro Chiba

Tales of Japan illustrated by Kotaro Chiba

His work sometimes takes on a more video-game, sci-fi fantasy vibe while still incorporating elements of traditional Japanese costume, such as this warrior character he created for an app.

Illustration by Kotaro Chiba, 2019

Chiba is also adept at modern fashion illustration, particularly for women's dress.  "I am not a fashion-addict or a fashionista and I don't have any good sense of trends, but I'm fascinated by fashion design. I just love it.  I like the fact that fashion is sexual but doesn't express sexuality directly. I want to mix pop culture and classical sense," he says.  Examples of this combination include his portraits of women consuming ramen, some with a decidedly modern appearance and one with a slightly more traditional Japanese style.  While you'd never mistake them for antique wood-block prints, their flatness and composition reference the centuries-old art.

Kotaro Chiba, Fernanda, 2017

Kotaro Chiba, Ramen Gacho, 2017

Kotaro Chiba, Ramen Gacho, 2017

Chiba notes that as a self-taught artist, he had no one to help guide his style, so it evolves organically with little input from other artists.  "I am self-educated, have no teacher or boss, so no one corrects what I do.  My style is not static," he says.  And he's right - in looking at his Instagram, it's hard to believe it's the same artist. But some of his pieces seem to be influenced by others.  The lines on the woman's hair and the fish's tail in Kuro (2019), for example, are particularly reminiscent of Hiroshi Tanabe's work.

Kotaro Chiba, Kuro, 2019

And I'm getting a Patrick Nagel feel from Ame (2020). You might recall Nagel was partially inspired by Japanese wood-block prints.

Kotaro Chiba, Ame, 2020

Despite being born and raised in Japan, Chiba says that manga and anime styles don't figure prominently in his oeuvre.  I'm inclined to agree.  As he states, the surrealist nature of some manga is present in his work, but not so much the aesthetic.  "Manga is certainly different from western culture, as it doesn't fit in a logical world. It may represent a kind of surrealism. I carefully watched Dragon Ball Z on TV when I was a child, but in reality, I don't know much about manga. My foreign friends know better than me. Nevertheless, I can't deny the influence of Manga-anime."

Kotaro Chiba, A Dead Secret, 2018

Chiba's preference for illustrating women is another reason Kate made the right choice for a makeup collaboration focused on reinventing women's roles within fairy tales.  The artist explains, "I prefer to draw female things. In fact, I'm more interested by gender than by womanhood and sexuality. I hate masculinity because it's too simple...My illustrations are often said to be 'too feminine', even when I draw male characters." For the most part, Chiba's female characters are depicted as independent, powerful and sometimes even fearsome.  A girl wearing an animal skeleton while nonchalantly observing a six-headed dog growing out of the ground, for example, is not someone to be trifled with.

Kotaro Chiba Atai Kuyoh

Nor is a strange bird-vampire levitating in a blood-spattered room above the carcass of the animal she has presumably exsanguinated.   

Kotaro Chiba, Winged Ghost, 2017

The illustration he created for a cover of a novel earlier this year is similar to those for the Kate collection, with the cat's form cradling the central character in the same way the fox, crane and rabbit - also rendered in white - curve around on the palettes. The skull held by the woman, the cat's skeletal tail, and the floating sperm-like shapes point to a story about life and death, perhaps? 

Kotaro Chiba, 2020
(images from, @kotaro_chiba, and; artist quotes from interviews at and

I wish I knew more about Chiba's inspiration for the Neo-Folklore collection and how the collab came about, but my request for an interview went unanswered.  Ah well, it's the holidays.  But he did shed light on his process during one interview, noting that he creates straight from memories or visions he has in his head, rather than directly referencing a photo.  "I like to design all objects in the picture by myself: outfit, furniture, landscape, etc...that is the feature of my works. I don't like to draw something from reference photos (though I'm sometimes obliged to because I'm running out of time). The idea of the design usually only exists in my brain."  In the case of the Neo-Folklore collection, it seems that he simply translated his familiarity with these fairy tales growing up and the particular characters and objects associated with them (animals, yarn, bamboo, etc.) to his own style. If it were me, of course, I'd read every version of the fairy tale and look at every illustration before trying to come up with something of my own, but that's why I'm not an artist. ;)  Nevertheless, I see some similarities between us. He likes living in a smaller city and set out to do something creative, even though he lacked formal training, just because he thought he would enjoy it.  And maybe it's because Chiba is self-taught, but he seems quite unpretentious and relaxed compared to some artists I've come across. "I didn't want to specifically to be an illustrator. I wanted to create something. I knew that this would make me happy...I love that quiet atmosphere [of Niigata].  My favorite place is the Starbucks in the neighborhood! If I had to move elsewhere, I'd chose the countryside. My daily routine is to buy a coffee at the convenience store nearby. I think a good sleep brings better productivity. I don't go to bed late because I want to reduce stress as much as possible. It took a long-time to have self-confidence. I still have just a little confidence, not enough to fight with the world." 

What do you think of Chiba's work?  And which story is your favorite?  They were all kind of sad to me, even the revamped versions, but I love the idea of foxy lady shapeshifters since they remind me of some mermaid stories where they can switch between mermaid and human form. 

A season for giving (and receiving): donations galore!

I am forever grateful for those who approach me with makeup they no longer want or that they feel belongs in the Museum.  While 2020 was another hellish year for me personally and the Museum, as well as basically the whole world, I believe a record number of donations were received.  Here's a brief overview of what was graciously bestowed upon the Museum this year. 

First up is a mint condition Max Factor gift set.  A very nice woman in Canada donated it, noting that it was a birthday present from her father to her mother one year.  According to newspaper ads it dates to about 1948. I love the suggested use for the box lids as "party trays"!

Vintage Max Factor gift set

December 1948 ad for Max Factor gift sets

December 1948 ad for Max Factor gift sets

Next up is a slew of awesome ads and postcards from the '80s and '90s, donated by an Instagram buddy from Argentina.  Such a sweet note too!

MM donation note

Revlon Rich and Famous and LA postcard, 1986-1987

Revlon Wall Street and Tea Silks postcards

Revlon Counterpoint postcard

Lancome postcards, 1986-1987

Lancome postcards, 1987-1988

Lancome L'Art Nature postcard, 1992

Helena Rubinstein postcards, 1988

This next one is super interesting.  Normally the Museum does not include hair products, but the donor is a fellow collector and very knowledgeable about Russian culture, having lived in Moscow for several years.  This vintage hair dye was made in East Germany and exported to the USSR.

Florena hair dye

Next up are some lovely Elizabeth Arden objects. These were donated by a woman in California whose mother worked at the Elizabeth Arden counter at a department store.  Here we have the Napoleonic compact which was introduced around 1953, Faint Blush, the famous Ardena patter, and some Color Veil (powder blush) refills.

Makeup Museum donation - Elizabeth Arden

Near as I can figure, the Faint Blush was a sort of foundation primer, but it seems like it could also be worn alone.  I love the plastic pink rose packaging, as it's very much of its era (ca. 1963-1973).

Newspaper ad for Elizabeth Arden Faint Pink, February 1964

I think the patter and the Faint Blush are my favorites from this bunch.

Makeup Museum - Elizabeth Arden donation

Then, another very kind Instagram friend and fellow collector sent a huge lot of vintage powder boxes and compacts.  The Museum did not have any of these...some I hadn't even heard of and some I had only admired them from afar.  I just about died when I opened the package!  Clockwise from top left: a 1930s eyeshadow by a company called Quinlan, a 1920s Harriet Hubbard Ayer Luxuria face powder, a powder dispenser by Cameo (probably from around the '30s), a '20s Marcelle compact tin, an extremely rare Red Feather Rouge tin (ca. 1919), an unmarked lipstick and floral powder tin, a Princess Pat compact from about 1925, a Yardley English Lavender tin (ca. 1930s) and a Fleur de Glorie face powder compact (ca. 1923-1926).  In the middle is an amazing pink plastic 1940s Mountain Heather face powder case, a line manufactured by Daggett and Ramsdell.

Makeup Museum donation

I love each and every piece, but my favorites are the eyeshadow compact, and an adorable Mondaine book compact (with the original box!) that was also included. Bookworm that I am, I want a whole "library" of these designs.

Vintage Mondaine book compact

Not all of the donations were vintage.  I was so happy to have received these two nail polishes from another IG friend. They were the result of a 2016 collaboration between Cirque Colors and the Met in honor of the latter's Manus x Machina exhibition.

Cirque Colors Raven and Moon Dust

I'm sure you remember the kindness of makeup artist Amelia Durazzo-Cintron, who shared her memories of working for Kevyn Aucoin back in July.  For some reason she felt the need to thank ME instead, and did so by donating a really cool Black Swan makeup kit.  How nice is her note?!

Black Swan makeup kit

Black Swan makeup kit

Another Instagram friend and lipstick fanatic has been making lipstick swatch books.  These are kind of a new trend and in my opinion, far easier than taking photos of your lipsticks.  Once again a sweet note was enclosed.

Lipstick swatch book by Satin Matte Sheer

This lipstick swatch book is particularly lovely for its sprinkling of cosmetics trivia and important dates.  (It also reminds me that I never started working on my daily makeup history calendar, sigh.) If you want one of your own you can purchase it here.

Lipstick swatch book by Satin Matte Sheer

And that wraps up MM donations in 2020! I'm so incredibly grateful for these kind souls generously helping to build the collection.  And while physical objects are amazing, it's the notes and messages that come with them that mean the most.  :)  Also, if you have a makeup object you think is historically significant, an object from the Curator's wishlist, or anything else you'd like to give, please check out the Museum's support page.  I'm always looking for old fashion/women's magazines too, along with ads and brochures and such...I can never have too much paper memorabilia!

Which one of these is your favorite?  What's the best gift you've ever received?

Wishing you peace and joy from Bob Jordan and MAC

MAC's Frosted Fireworks was already a fun collection, but they managed to sneak in an artist collab in their holiday lineup too.  And amazingly, the artist actually responded to my interview request and kindly answered my questions! We'll get to that in a minute, but to see how Bob Jordan's beautiful designs fit in to MAC's holiday collection, we'll take a quick peek at those objects first. 
I picked up the eyeshadow in Silver Bells, highlighter in Let It Glow, highlighting palette, lipstick in Once Bitten, Ice Shy, lip gloss in Set Me Off and the Firelit Kit. Maybe it's because I always have the '90s on the brain, but Frosted Fireworks seemed straight out of 1996 or thereabouts to my eye - both the finishes and retro star patterns are reminiscent of the second half of the decade's obsession with frost and penchant for kitschy takes on MCM designs.
MAC Frosted Fireworks collection, holiday 2020
MAC Frosted Fireworks, holiday 2020
MAC Frosted Fireworks highlighting palette
And now for something very special!  Here's my interview with Brooklyn-based graphic designer and artist Bob Jordan, who created the bright and exuberant designs for MAC.  Bob has a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Maine College of Art. He founded his design firm, Factory 808 Designs, in 2014.  While he had never made cosmetics packaging before, I think he absolutely nailed the MAC collection. I'm so pleased to have some of his work in the Museum and hope to see more makeup creations from him.
MM: Tell me a little bit about your background.  Were you always interested in art?  How did you end up in graphic design?  
Bob: I grew up in my grandfather’s woodshop helping him out.  He taught me how to solve problems and think creatively.  When I was a teenager, I realized I could draw.  Those two things became the foundation for everything I do now.  I got into design because it allowed me to be multi-disciplinary in my creative approach.  There are a lot of mediums I like to work with and I use them all in my projects.  Most importantly, I get to draw. It doesn’t matter what I’m working, everything starts with a pencil and paper. 
Brand identity for Zach Fields Drums and Music, Bob Jordan, 2020
(image from @factory808)

MM:  Who or what influences your work?  What other artists and designers do you admire?  
Bob:  My first influence -and still favorite- is Chuck Close.  I’ve always loved his use of color and shape in his compositions.  I admire his resilience and his determination to continue to create his art even as a quadriplegic.  I have a lot of respect for his process.  I also love Sister Corita Kent.  She was a pop art nun who fought for social justice causes and was also a teacher at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.  Most people would know her as the LOVE stamp designer from the 1980’s.  Her 10 rules for Students and Teachers is timeless. 
Love stamp by Corita Kent, 1985
(image from
My other major influence is my home and community in Brooklyn.  I am inspired daily just by simply walking outside. You get to see both known and unknown artists' work here.  There’s a particular energy that resonates with me.  Obviously it's tough to look into the future, but I know that it will always be a huge influence on my work.  
MM: How did the collaboration with MAC happen?  Did you approach them or vice versa?  
Bob:  The collaboration with MAC was very organic in its development. The head of digital at MAC as she is constantly on the hunt for collaborating with local NY designers on product and packaging design.  Discussions began before COVID and went in the summer.  It was some thing that we waited for the right time to do. 
MAC x Bob Jordan eyeshadow palette
MM: What was the process like?  Did they give you free reign or any sort of direction?  
Bob:  This process was a pretty open.  There was a some seasonal themes and color ways that it needed to adhere to but there was a considerable amount of freedom.  I’ve always found these types projects to be very difficult but the most rewarding.  
MAC x Bob Jordan eyeshadow palette

MM:  What inspired you to create the designs you did?  What was your vision for the collection?  
I was someone would had left the city during COVID and spent 9 months in the woods.  It was a humbling experience and it allowed me to focus on some other projects but I was also missing the vibrance of the city.  I had to come back and just walk around and soak up all the colors and energy.  I would walk around during the day and then draw at night.  I did that over and over til I found where I needed to be. 
MAC x Bob Jordan
MM: How was the experience designing makeup packaging different than other projects you've worked on?  
Bob: Designing for makeup packaging is not that different from some of my other work.  I design a lot of packaging for cannabis products and there are many similarities.  A lot of it is actually makeup packaging that is used so I’m used to working on small products. This was actually a lot easier because I just had to focus on the art and didn’t have to worry about any state regulations.  
MM: Would you work with a cosmetics company again?  
Bob:  This was actually my first experience working with one, the opportunity to work with one just hadn’t come up in the past.  I would definitely consider working with a cosmetics company again, but as with any project, I would need to make sure it's the right fit.  
MAC x Bob Jordan lipstick
MM:  Please share any thoughts you might have on makeup packaging or cosmetics in general.  
Bob:  I really hope that makeup packaging becomes more sustainable and minimalistic.  I feel that way about all packaging.  Working on cannabis packaging has really opened my eyes about how much packaging waste there is.  I love designing packaging and I want to make sure that I’m doing my part.  I would love to connect with cosmetics and any other companies whose mission it is to create sustainable products.  That's the future. It has to be.  
High Peak Cannabis Co gummy packaging by Bob Jordan
(image from
Bob, thank you so much for talking with the Makeup Museum!  This was certainly enlightening and so interesting to hear the details behind this collection. And for Museum visitors, which piece is your favorite?  I love both but I think the Peace design is my preference.

Curator's corner, November 2020

Curator's cornerThe November rewind. 

- Tooting my own horn, again...this time I was interviewed for a short video segment on makeup during the pandemic.  If you want to see what I sort of look like - I swear I'm not quite as hideous in real life - keep your eyes peeled around the 1:20 mark.  Alas, they only included a tiny snippet of what I was saying so it doesn't make much sense, but my answers were better in the full context.

- In makeup history, be sure to check out this lovely post (complete with sources!) on '50s beauty tips from Hollywood stars over at Mermaidens blog.  I also enjoyed this interview with Beauty Blender founder Rea Ann Silva.  (BTW, they have the cutest zodiac-themed sponges available now so clearly I need to add them to the Museum's zodiac collection.)

- Move over '90s, y2k has taken over as beauty nostalgia's new muse.  I plan on having a little bit of this era in the epilogue of my 90s book. ;)  

- Makeup sales are falling, yet beauty overall is still set to reach nearly $130 billion by 2030. I'm guessing the rising demand for "personal care" items is making up for the losses in color cosmetic sales.

- Target is one of those stores that I could spend all day in. If I ever feel safe enough to go into a store that's not a necessity (i.e. a supermarket) I suspect my Target runs will be even longer due to Ulta setting up shop.

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, Toy Story turns 25 (a film I still haven't seen because I think it'll make me cry) and one author tries to explain the appeal of the "butt cut" for guys.

- On the art front, I've got two words for you: underwater Impressionism.  I'm also really enjoying this blog by a museum professional - she's given me so many things to think about!

- Finally, Thanksgiving was sad again this year, but at least the plushies kept us company.  They were very eager for the desserts I was making (candy cane brownies, pumpkin cupcakes with caramel filling and frosting, and coffee heath bar ice cream) so to get them out of my hair for a bit I allowed them to play with some of the Museum's objects.  Colourpop released the cutest Candy Land collection complete with a board game, and I finally got around to snagging Revlon's $64,000 Question game from the '50s.  So they had a nice little game night.

MM staff

No pics of the desserts I made because we ate them all too fast, but they were pretty good!

If you celebrated, how was your Thanksgiving?  Are you ready for the holidays?

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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?