Beauty profile: Carmen Murphy and Carmen Cosmetics

Carmen Murphy in 1969"To borrow Dr. King's phrase all I had, too, was a dream.  I got into the business mainly because Black women, myself included, had been searching for cosmetics that would look good on them for years.  There just weren't any."
- Carmen Murphy

In an effort to dig into Black makeup history, I came across many pioneering entrepreneurs who filled the much-needed gap for Black cosmetics and hair care that haven't really gotten their due historically.  I'm not sure whether this is appropriate for a white person to do - I still feel as though it's not my story to tell - but as with my article on Tommy Lewis I figured bringing awareness to bits of forgotten history even through a white lens was better than not doing it at all.  If anyone would like to weigh in on how I can do a better job and not whitesplain/whitewash, I am all ears.

So with that caveat in place, let's take a look at Carmen Cosmetics and the savvy businesswoman behind it, Carmen C. Murphy.  Carmen Murphy (née Caver) was born on October 20, 1915 in a small town just outside of Little Rock, AR.  The second oldest of nine children in an impoverished family, she began modeling to support herself.  At the age of 19 she married a pediatrician, Scipio Murphy, and they moved to Detroit.  She studied Home Economics and Business Administration at Wayne University. While much larger than the small Southern town Murphy grew up in, Detroit still lacked high-end beauty services for Black women.  They were excluded from white salons and the few Black salons didn't have the expertise.  "No one knew high fashion.  The beauticians used far too much oil and it took two weeks before [the hair] became nice and soft again," Murphy noted.  In 1946 she purchased a dilapidated three-story Victorian mansion located at 111 Mack Avenue (or 188 Mack Avenue) and spent $50,000 of her own money turning it into a 24-room salon. In November of 1947,  Olivia Clarke, president of the Rose Meta Beauty Products Company and the successful Rose Meta House of Beauty in Harlem, along with Rose Meta founder Rose Morgan and business manager Odessa Trotter, visited Detroit to finalize plans for opening a salon "fashioned" after the original House of Beauty in New York.  On May 30, 1948, the space officially opened as House of Beauty, with Trotter serving as beauty consultant.  However, I'm still confused as to the relationship between Morgan and Murphy and the latter's role in conceiving the House of Beauty.  According to one article, "The business project is the brain-child of Mrs. Murphy, who has had the cooperation of Rose Morgan of the New York House of Beauty...". Could it be that Murphy had the idea of a full-service salon around the same time as Morgan,  discovered the Rose Meta salon and then worked with her to develop a salon in Detroit with the same name, yet the two would be totally independent of each other?  Or did Murphy purchase her building in 1946 with the intent of opening a Rose Meta-style salon from the start? In of the articles regarding the grand opening, it's referred to as the Rose Meta House of Beauty, as if Murphy's enterprise was just another location of the original salon in New York, but Murphy was actually the owner.

In any case, the House of Beauty was intended to provide "tip to toe" beauty services for Black women.  The salon did $76,000 worth of business in its first year, with a staff of 35 serving an average of 200 clients per day, roughly a quarter of whom were white.  House of Beauty's operation was particularly innovative for its use of an "assembly line" service where customers received everything from massages to makeup consultations in a streamlined, orderly yet relaxing fashion.  Quipped Murphy's husband, "Leave my wife alone, and the House of Beauty would be as large as the Ford plant at River Rouge."

House of Beauty feature article, Ebony, 1951

While the salon did well, Murphy was still frustrated by the continuing lack of cosmetics available for deeper skin tones. "Most of us simply would not use any makeup," she said.  Murphy approached every major beauty company, including Avon, Helena Rubinstein and Revlon, only to be rejected.  "They would tell you firmly that they weren't interested, and that if they sold products for N*groes, it might spoil their image in the white community."  But in 1950 the owner of eponymous line Rose Laird offered to help Murphy develop and launch her own line.  "She simply said, "I'll help you'", Murphy recalled.  Laird assigned her chief chemist, Irving Wexler, to create formulas that wouldn't turn ashy or red on Black skin tones and that would actually match the diversity of Black skin.  In 1951 Carmen Cosmetics was officially launched.  Around this time the "Rose Meta" portion of the Detroit House of Beauty name was removed, perhaps due to the new makeup line.  Rose Meta also sold their own line of makeup for Black women in their New York salons and it's uncertain whether they were sold in the Detroit House of Beauty, but it seems that Carmen Cosmetics would be the in-house makeup brand for the salon starting in 1951. Given the partnership with Rose Laird and the new formulas concocted by Wexler, we can assume they were products that were entirely distinct from the Rose Meta line. 

House of Beauty feature article, Ebony, 1951

Murphy began promoting her line outside of Detroit shortly after its launch.  By 1953 Carmen Cosmetics had a foothold in a handful of other states. Again, notice that by 1953 the salon is referred to as Carmen Murphy's House of Beauty rather than Rose Meta.  I'd really love to unravel the mystery of the relationship between the two!

Carmen Murphy - House of Beauty Cosmetics, 1953
House of Beauty Cosmetics booth in Ammon Center for the Pittsburgh Courier Home Service Fair, June 9-11, 1953.
Carmen Murphy - House of Beauty Cosmetics
House of Beauty Cosmetics booth in Ammon Center for the Pittsburgh Courier Home Service Fair, June 9-11, 1953.

(images from

In early 1957 a more extensive sales campaign for the line was launched through the Student Marketing Institute based in New York.  Roughly 250 salespeople were deployed in 40 major urban markets across 17 states, targeting department and drug stores, Black salons and individual customers.  The theme was "everyday beauty for every smart woman", with window displays depicting "the varied roles played by every busy woman daily."  The items' retail price began at $1.25, competitive for other major cosmetics brands at the time.  Six shades of face makeup were offered along with face powder, mascara, brow pencil, blush and 6 lipstick colors. 

House of Beauty ad, 1957(image from

In 1963 the salon had outgrown its original space and was moved to the Great Lakes Insurance Building at 8401 Woodard Avenue.  The Small Business Administration denied Murphy a loan despite the success of the original salon, so she and her husband had to use their own savings and borrow on their insurance to open at the new location.  Nevertheless, in April of that year Carmen Cosmetics made its world debut.   This article is useful but cringe-worthy for the use of "oriental" to describe an Asian skin tone; however, at least it doesn't refer to Murphy as the "N*gro Helena Rubinstein", which is how she was referred to in several major articles.  Ugh.  What was part of the success of the Carmen Cosmetics line was that it may have been the first Black-owned line to cater to every skin tone.  The formulas for other Black-owned lines were primarily intended for for Black clientele (and justifiably so), but Murphy wanted to accommodate "every female on the face of the earth."  Sort of a precursor to the "multicultural" beauty campaigns and products of the '90s, yes?

Detroit Free Press, April 6, 1963

Carmen Cosmetics continued using this as a marketing strategy throughout the '60s, at least when dealing with potential sales outlets.

Carmen Cosmetics sales letter, 1967

Carmen Cosmetics sales letter, 1967(image from Wayne University library archives)

In 1966 Rose Laird passed away, and in 1968 Murphy purchased the company for about $175,000 and named Wexler president. Early in the year the salon moved again, this time to 6080 Woodward Avenue to accommodate even more services.  This brief profile from the February 1, 1969 issue from Vogue discusses the salon and highlights Murphy's role as the first Black woman to head a major cosmetics firm.  While other Black beauty pioneers such as Madame C.J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone were well-known for their hair care products and services, and there were some Black-founded lines that offered  products for deeper skintones (Rose Morgan's Rose Meta, La Jac, Valmor, and Overton's High Brown powder come to mind) Carmen Murphy was among the first to focus on providing a comprehensive range of cosmetics for Black women, and the first to land significant business partnerships to distribute it.  What's also remarkable is that Murphy's business did not rely as much on direct sales as other companies that courted Black customers did at the time (Fuller, J. R. Watkins, etc.)  The salespeople for Carmen Cosmetics were responsible for getting the line into stores or doing in-store demonstrations, with less emphasis on going door-t0-door to individual clients.  From my understanding, there were no Carmen Cosmetics "dealers" as with Avon and the like.

Carmen Murphy profile in Vogue, Feb 1., 1969(image from

From late 1968 it's unclear what happened next to the business.  By then Murphy had landed a deal with Universal to supply her line to their film studios and was in negotiations with Bristol Myer (producer of Clairol) for international distribution, but it's not specified whether that arrangement went through, since according to an article from January of 1969 she was still considering it along with 2 others from major corporations. By 1971 Carmen Cosmetics was sold in Woolworth's, Kresge and Lamston stores, but an article in October of that year refers to a "big" deal that did not take place because she needed a loan to seal the final agreement, and the SBA again refused a loan.  Murphy laid out how systemic racism prevented Carmen Cosmetics from expanding further.  "Basically, the financial institutions do not want to see us succeed in big business.  They will loan you enough to get you started, usually just enough to get you in trouble.  Being refused by banks has been a blow to me.  I feel that, if you become large, and if you become a real threat on the market, they decide to box you in...white people are trying to prove that we do not have the ability.  Given the opportunity, we will fail.  This is a planned, white, negative approach to help.  We will fail, and this will come back at us for years to come...a white business woman definitely would not encounter this problem.  She would have a line of credit, something we never had."  Referring to the House of Beauty, she concluded:  "My dream has not been fulfilled here." Although this occurred nearly 50 years ago, it demonstrates exactly why we need programs like Juvia's Place and Glossier's grant programs today. The system is still incredibly unjust, bigoted and actively preventing Black entrepreneurs from fulfilling their vision.

In 1974 Murphy retired as the House of Beauty's owner, and there's basically no readily available information regarding what happened to the Carmen Cosmetics line or the salon after that. There was a brief mention in a November 1975 issue of Black Enterprise so we know it was still being sold then, but that was about it.  I contacted 4 organizations in Detroit and no one was able to locate business records for House of Beauty or correspondence for Carmen Murphy.  Nor could anyone find her obituary.  She was still alive in 1995, when she received an award for her founding of H.O.B. Records (House of Beauty Records), but had passed by 2010 which is when a video of her receiving the award was uploaded.  She had two sons, Scipio Jr. who tragically died quite young from polio in 1950, and Robert, an accomplished pianist and music teacher who is also deceased.  Her nephew (her sister's son), Van Cephus, was a jazz musician who sadly died by suicide in 2014.  From the comments on the aforementioned video it looks like there are a couple of surviving relatives, but obviously I don't feel comfortable reaching out to them for any information they might have. 

So as not to end on a complete down note, I want to highlight Murphy's other achievements.  Throughout her career she continued to give back to the Black community.  In 1958 she started H.O.B. Records initially to fund gospel recordings. She then set up a practice room in the salon's basement for up and coming musicians to use. H.O.B. Records quickly became the launchpad for dozens of talented musical groups.

HOB records
(image from

With the cooperation of the Detroit Board of Education, Murphy also spoke at local schools about proper grooming.  "All the poverty programs usually come to us for beauty and good grooming touches before they finish.  I want young people to take pride in their appearance.  Many haven't had the opportunity to dress properly, to act properly or to wear the right things. I want to teach them to take an interest in themselves and the world around them," she said.  On the one hand, I suspect, sadly, that "properly" and "the right things" are code for white standards of beauty and decorum. On the other, it's wonderful that Murphy was providing underprivileged Black youth with some of the tools that would aid them in advancing their social and economic status.  Along those lines, in late 1969 she began supplying Carmen Cosmetics to American Airlines for use in their Grace and Glamour program, which helped "young girls build confidence through good grooming habits and proper makeup techniques."  The program provided mini flight kits containing Carmen Cosmetics to be used by the girls, which they were permitted to keep.  The Grace and Glamour program doesn't exactly sound like a bastion of feminism, but it's important to keep in mind that there were very few opportunities available for disadvantaged Black girls at the time.  And it seems that at least some of the girls enjoyed the products and the makeup process. 

Jet Magazine, January 8, 1970(image from Jet Magazine)

By 1971, Murphy had served as a volunteer driver for the Red Cross, was a lifetime member of the National Association for N*gro Women and NAACP, a member of the African Art Committee at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the women's auxiliary of the Detroit Symphony, the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the YWCA and the Detroit Roundtable of Catholics, Jews and Protestants, Inc. 

As there are still many loose ends to tie up regarding Ms. Murphy - namely, any sort of correspondence, business records, or obituary - I'm contemplating the idea of hiring a private researcher to see if they can find any official business records and additional photos, but it's going to depend on their fees.  I saw tons of article "snippets" on Google books and a New York Times article that I was unable to access as well, so there's more information out there.  Also, there are plenty of online articles about Rose Morgan but obviously I'd like to do a really in-depth profile of her and also see if I can find anything about her business relationship with Carmen Murphy. 

Huge thanks to James from Cosmetics and Skin for his assistance with this article! He supplied the 1951 Ebony article and wrote an excellent profile of Rose Laird if you're interested in additional background to the Carmen Cosmetics line...just go through his whole site, it's chock full of thorough and well-researched information.  I also must thank the archivists at the Detroit Historical Society, the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Thoughts?  Feedback?  I'd really like to do more profiles of early Black beauty lines and makeup artists...let me know who you think needs more attention or if I should keep my white mouth shut.


Sources:  As with my previous post, I linked throughout to relevant sources and pulled the rest of the story together from various newspaper and magazine articles, so those additional sources are listed below.

Gale Research International, "Who's Who Among Black Americans," 2002, p. 222.

"Cosmetics Firm Uses New, Unique Sales Approach," the New York Age, January 12, 1957.

Valerie Jo Bradley, "Grace and Glamour comes to Langston University Co-Eds," Jet, January 8, 1970, p. 28-31.

"Why Herb Martin Keeps Chugging Along, Just Allen," Detroit Free Press, October 24, 1971.

Mary Ellen Kirby, "Beauty: Skin deep, then some to Carmen Murphy," Detroit News, October 21, 1968.  Article provided by the Charles H. Wright Museum archives.

John L. Dotson, Jr., "Black is beautiful: Carmen Murphy's beauty salons bring cosmetics to N*gro women," Newsweek article featured in the Kenosha News, January 8, 1969.

An exhibition of royal makeup (that you might be able to buy): Princess Hwahyeop

Here's more makeup awesomeness from Korea.  As usual I completely forget what I was looking for when I stumbled across a couple of articles describing the discovery of cosmetic containers in the tomb of an 18th-century princess, but it was so interesting I had to share right away.  Princess Hwahyeop (1733-1752) was the seventh daughter of King Yeongjo, 21st ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).  Her burial site was discovered 5 years ago and included a variety of cosmetics containers. The containers were already incredibly culturally and historically significant, but researchers noticed there was still some residue in the jars, a very rare find.  This provided clues about the type of makeup and skincare they contained, thereby shedding more light on 18th-century beauty culture.  How exciting!

We'll start at the beginning.*  In August 2015 a farmer living in Namyangju City, about 14 miles north of Seoul, came across a stone box buried in a onion field on her property. The farmer, Kim Jeong-hee, called the Korea Institute of Heritage, which unearthed the box in November that year but was unable to complete the excavation due to a lack of funding. Finally the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) provided support to finish the excavation in December 2016.  The box turned out to contain burial objects for the princess's husband, Shin Gwang-su. From there other items were discovered, including stone tablets identifying the tomb as that of Princess Hwahyeop and, of the course, the jackpot:  a box made of lime cement containing a bronze mirror still in its embroidered pouch, brow ink (!), combs and 12 small porcelain and wooden cosmetic containers. There was also a small black stick that may have been used to apply blush. I wish there was a photo because I can't see applying blush of any kind with a stick, so I'm wondering if it was actually for the brow ink.  The objects were stored in the National Palace Museum of Korea until they could be tested.

Princess Hwahyeop makeup containers

In 2017 the substances found inside the containers were finally went to the lab. The results aligned with our knowledge of women's beauty regimens during the Joseon era. Confucianism was the primary philosophy and promoted natural beauty as ideal beauty, so most women generally adhered to a minimal look with an emphasis on fair, light skin. This meant more effort was put into skincare and less on makeup.  While it wasn't found in the containers, women typically applied miansu, a facial water or essence in today's terminology.  This was followed by myeonyak, a sort of moisturizer/skin protector/primer hybrid made from beeswax and other ingredients such as camellia oil and kelp. After that, face powder and blush would be applied. Traces of beeswax and red pigment made from safflower and cinnabar were found in the containers, so it appears that the princess used moisturizer and blush.  She also used white face powder, as evidenced by lead and talc residue. Lead-based face paint and powder were traditionally used by aristocratic women, while those in lower social strata used a rice-based powder called baekbun.  So it seems that royalty tended to mix non-harmful ingredients with poisonous ones to make for a more effective and long-lasting product, but perhaps they were also trying to find a way to offset the negative effects. One container was found to have crushed ants suspended in acetate.  Kim Hyo-yun, researcher at the National Palace Museum, speculates that “because of their formic acid, ants might have been put in acetate to be used as a skin treatment to treat skin troubles caused by those toxic cosmetics."

Princess Hwahyeop makeup container with ants

Last October the National Palace Museum held a special exhibition displaying the princess's cosmetics, along with a seminar that brought together cosmetic ingredient experts from China, Japan and France.

Princess Hwahyeop and Her Makeup exhibition poster, National Palace Museum, 2019

How beautiful are the containers?  The blue pigment was made with cobalt, which was imported to China from Persia during the Joseon dynasty's rule.  Due to its high cost - it was even more expensive than gold - it was reserved exclusively for use by the royal court.  The motifs included pine trees, dragons, and a variety of flowers such as chrysanthemums, lotuses, azaleas, plum blossoms and peonies.  Also, only one of the jars were made by Bunwon, the official kiln of the Joseon rulers. The others were Jingdezhen ware from China and Arita ware, a type of porcelain from Japan.

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

Princess Hwahyeop cosmetic container, ca. 1750

I would have given my eye teeth to attend. You can see the conference program here, and there's also this documentary/reenactment that shows researchers discussing their findings when recreating the formulas as well as actors imagining the beauty routines of the royal family and how they contrasted with those in China and Japan. (I think...the description is in English but the video itself is in Korean so I'm not 100% sure.)

But the story doesn't end there.  Last week the National Palace Museum announced that they would be collaborating with Korea National University of Cultural Heritage and local cosmetics manufacturer Cosmax to launch a hand cream, foundation and lip color based on the artifacts found in Princess Hwahyeop's tomb.  The products will be formulated with modern ingredients but will also contain some of the ones found in the containers (safflower, beeswax). And obviously they will omit the poisonous materials, along with the crushed ants. 

Princess Hwahyeop makeup line prototype

The packaging appears to be gorgeous reinterpretations of the original containers.  The prototypes shown here are ceramic, but as porcelain doesn't preserve makeup very well the final packaging will be plastic.  The collection will initially be sold online at the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation website, so presumably the proceeds will support the organization.  Once the COVID situation improves the collection will be sold at duty-free stores and museum gift shops. The line will also be affordable (think drugstore pricing vs. department store) but there are plans to expand into higher end products as well.

Princess Hwahyeop makeup line prototype

Princess Hwayeop "character goods", i.e. dolls, are also in development.

Princess Hwahyeop beauty line dolls

For the most part, I think this is a great idea.  It brings about fresh awareness of makeup history and helps preserve cultural heritage, and the objects themselves are beautiful.  I do think it's a little weird to market a makeup line based on such a tragic figure.  Princess Hwahyeop may have been royalty, but her life didn't sound fun despite her luxurious beauty products.  She was married at the age of 11 and died at 19 from measles. I mean, I know things were different back then but being a child bride and then dying when not even out of one's teens seems quite sad.  I also think it's a little tacky that they trademarked the Princess's full name - the brand is literally called Princess Hwahyeop - but then again, I'm not sure what else you'd call a line whose entire basis is a particular princess. In any case, her burial site was an amazing find for cosmetics history.

What do you think?  Would you buy the Princess Hwahyeop collection if it was readily available?  The line will be released in November and I'm trying to figure out a way to get my hands on it. I have personal shoppers and online buddies who can get me things in 5 countries but not Korea!


*In addition to the links provided throughout this post, I cobbled it together from a bunch of different articles online.  Additional sources for info and images:

Curator's Corner, September 2020

Curator's corner logoLinks for September. 

- Any makeup history fan must check out Lisa Eldridge's video showcasing highlights from her amazing collection.

- Estée Lauder will be the first company to send beauty products into space, to the tune of $128,000.  To what end I'm not sure.

- Byrdie had a good summary and history of Black-owned beauty brands, while Allure discusses the deathknell for skin whitening products and why getting rid of them is only the start of the conversation surrounding colorism.  Elle also featured several Black influencers who sounded off on the areas the industry still needs to improve in terms of inclusion and diversity.

- Like these makeup artists, I predict lipstick will make a huge comeback once masks are no longer part of our daily lives.

- I don't know what's more ridiculous - press-on nails to match your phone's pop socket or the fact that someone started a beauty line in Joe Biden's honor. I guess if the latter helps get people to the polls, who am I to complain?

- September 29 was National Coffee Day! Here's most of the Museum's coffee-themed collection. (I couldn't find my Hard Candy caffeine lipstick.) I'm really enjoying Beauty Bakerie, it would be perfect for a revisited Sweet Tooth exhibition.

Makeup Museum coffee collection

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air will have a 30-year reunion on HBO, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar turned 25. You can also enjoy this new column on PJ Harvey.

- This new museum in Amsterdam looks pretty interesting.

- It might be impossible to keep your cute aggression in check upon seeing these Japanese dwarf flying squirrels. Unbelievably adorable.

How did you fare in September? 

No cities to love: Yoon Hyup for Bobbi Brown

I was hoping to post about Bobbi Brown's collaboration from this past spring, a partnership with British artist Morag Myerscough, but I realized I never got around to writing about an Asia-exclusive collab from last year so I'm covering that first.  In the spring of 2019 the brand teamed up with Korean-born, New York-based artist Yoon Hyup, whose abstract urban landscapes, appropriately enough, have been created and displayed in cities across the globe.  For Bobbi Brown's cushion compacts the artist made three designs:  New York Skyline (Manhattan), Spread Love (depicting the Brooklyn Bridge) and Band of Light (representing Times Square). 

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Bobbi Brown x Yoon Hyup

Hyup (b. 1982) was born and raised in Seoul. He began what would become a lifelong love affair with skateboarding and skate culture at the age of 9. 

Childhood photo of artist Yoon Hyup
(image from

While skateboarding is a key inspiration for his work - his lines and dots represent how he feels when skateboarding (like "flowing water", he says), music remains his primary influence.  He studied violin for most of his childhood, getting scolded for improvising during lessons.  As a teenager Hyup discovered hip-hop and graffiti magazines at a nearby U.S. naval base, further feeding his appetite for skate culture, music and art.  In college he started out studying graphic design as he wanted to design skateboards, but quickly realized he enjoyed painting more.  One night at a party a DJ asked him to paint while he spun, and for Hyup, there was no turning back. He has painted to music ever since. "From the early 2000’s, a hip hop party called “Afroking Party” was getting popular in Seoul. I would hang with DJs, MCs, B-Boys, skaters, writers and photographers there. It was the first place where I exhibited my artworks and perform live painting. A DJ crew wanted me to paint live while he performed his set, a mix hip hop, funk, disco, we’d perform all night. That was when I was 23 or 24 years old, and then I met more and more people, they would learn about me and ask me to do more paintings.  I started to use lines and dots when I performed live painting, because I wanted to express something quick while DJ Soulscape and DJ Plastic Kid were spinning."  Hyup listens to a variety of jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul and disco. To get an idea of what such a mix sounds like, you check out one of his playlists here.

Yoon Hyup, Rhythm, 2019

Hyup likens his improvisational process to jazz or rap.  For larger projects he sketches the overall structure, but generally does not draw beforehand.  "I don’t sketch when I paint. If I need to sketch, I would only put the big structure. Other than this, I only do with free-hands on canvas or wall paintings without sketches. It may be similar to a jazz performance which only has a plan but plays impromptu. It’s similar feeling from listening improvisational music, funk or freestyle rap. When I skate, I feel rhythm and flow...I like to express these feelings with lines and dots." 

Yoon Hyup, Night in Paris, 2020

Hyup's forté is vibrant city life, but he is equally adept at representing more calming scenes, such as tropical vistas and clouds.  And while he cites American graffiti artists such as Futura, Lee Quinones and Mark Gonzales, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and designer Don Pendleton as influences (I'd add Mondrian to the list), Hyup also reinterprets elements of traditional Korean art.  Paintings of clouds, along with the use of obangsaek - five colors associated with the cardinal directions - are the artist's way of paying homage to his cultural heritage. "Many traditional Korean forms, such as vine clouds and wind clouds, surface in my paintings. I often paint with the five colors associated with my native country – red, blue, yellow, black and white.  This color palette can be found in many things that relate to Korean culture, such as art, dress, and the painting for architecture. I use those colors to pay honor to my roots. I also find other colorways from nature and things around me."

Yoon Hyup, High Up, 2019
(images from 

Hyup's work generally consists of cityscapes, but occasionally his playfulness shines through via characters from pop culture.  I'm delighted with these portraits of Cookie Monster and the Pillsbury Dough Boy!  Fun fact: I was obsessed with the Pillsbury Dough Boy when I was little and have a decent collection of memorabilia.  I'd love to see Pills on a shirt, similar to the Mickey Mouse ones Hyup made for Uniqlo.

Yoon Hyup, Cookie Monster

Yoon Hyup, Pillsbury Dough Boy

Also, how precious is this holiday wonderland he created in Shanghai last year?

Yoon Hyup, Shanghai Times Square, 2019
(images from @ynhp and

As for the collab with Bobbi, I'm not sure how it came about or why Hyup decided to partner with the company. (I emailed to request an interview but never heard back, sadly.)  "I collaborate when I already know the brand well enough or when it naturally happens. Honestly, I haven't had to think about a brand I want to collaborate with because luckily, clients have always come to me and proposed collaborations. Sometimes I don't do it when I don't understand the brand well enough or it doesn't fit well with my style," he says.  A cosmetics collaboration doesn't seem like it would align with the artist's interests, especially given his previous work for sportswear and apparel stores located in urban locations, like Nike's Gangnam headquarters and the Rag and Bone store in Soho.

Yoon Hyup mural for Nike headquarters in Gangnam

Yoon Hyup mural for Nike headquarters
This mural centers on the number 23, worn by basketball star Michael Jordan.

(image from

Yoon Hyup mural for Rag and Bone in Soho, 2014
This mural, entitled Wishing a Bright Sunny Day, has rightfully drawn comparisons to the work of Keith Haring.

(image from

Hyup also designed the cover art for a CD box set for Ella Fitzgerald in honor of the singer's 1ooth birthday in 2017, which was fitting given jazz's influence on his process. 

Yoon Hyup - Ella Fitzgerald 100th birthday box set

So makeup seems a little out of left field.  I also can't figure out why only the city of New York was featured on the compacts, as these were would have made a bit more sense to include Seoul as well.  Perhaps it's Hyup's love for NYC that propelled the focus on New York. In any case, I believe all three of the designs were new for Bobbi Brown, but there are similarities.  Here's Rooftop Jam (2019) and Spread Love (2014) - the latter has the same name as the cushion compact showing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Yoon Hyup, Rooftop Jam, 2019

Yoon Hyup, Spread Love, 2014
(images from

Yoon Hyup for Bobbi Brown

While I'd still like to unravel the mystery of the collaboration's origin, I enjoyed this collection nevertheless.  Hyup's improvisational method perfectly captures the frenetic pace of cities, and I don't think his work would have the same effect if he painted without music.  And New York is always magical so if they had to focus on any one city I'm glad it was the Big Apple.

What do you think?  Which case is your favorite?  Mine is Band of Light. I don't like to actually visit Times Square in person, but this image is so vibrant I can practically hear its pulse. 

Interview with a curator: Andra Behrendt of Perfume Passage

I had the great fortune of getting in touch with Andra Behrendt, curator of the Perfume Passage museum.  She's a member of the International Perfume Bottle Association and sends out a quarterly eNews for their Compacts & Vanity Items Specialty group. The eNews focuses on compacts and related vanity items that are a part of the IPBA. She also runs Lady A Antiques, a shop she established in 1993.  Andra kindly agreed to an interview, which I am extremely grateful for since not only has it been ages since I've interviewed anyone but more importantly, she has over 35 years worth of beauty history knowledge and experience to share. Enjoy!

Makeup Museum: How long have you been in the antique business?

Andra: I have been an antique dealer since 1993 as Lady A Antiques. As a dealer I specialize in celluloid covered boxes and albums from the 1900s, jewelry from Victorian through Deco, German bathing beauties from the 1920s and ladies accessory items such as compacts, purses, perfumes, hatpins, powders and puffs. I've had a website since 1997 and display at antique shows throughout the Midwest. I admit I don't update the website as often as I used to as I try to save the more unusual items for the shows. I have been a collector since I was a teenager, my aunt collected jewelry and she introduced me to antiques and collecting.

MM: How and why did you end up focusing on perfume and vanity items?

A: I gravitated toward enamel items and starting finding compacts and purses for my inventory. Then as my inventory of these items grew, I started meeting more collectors of these items at the antique shows. Now I specialize in the ladies vanity items!

MM: How did you get involved with the IPBA?

A: In the mid 1990s, before the internet, if you were interested in a special category of collecting, you joined a collectors club! I think at one time I belonged to a collector club for hatpins, combs, jewelry, purses, plastics, compacts and of course perfumes. That's how people met other collectors and shared their knowledge. I love to learn about the items that interest me and collectors are very generous in sharing their knowledge. The International Perfume Bottle Association has always been one of the more professional collectors club with a board of directors, annual convention, newsletters, etc. They believe in educating collectors about the history of the items we love so much. And many perfume collectors also collect related vintage vanity items such as compacts, purses, powders and lipsticks. The IPBA has always included compacts and related vanity items in addition to perfumes.

MM: Tell me about your experience as curator at Perfume Passage. What exactly do you do in your curatorial role?

A: I met the founders of Perfume Passage at one of the IPBA conventions about 10 years ago. When the museum started gathering information about compacts and vanity items to eventually display at the museum, I began evaluating the items they accumulated, providing information on their history, etc. When the museum was ready to begin installing displays, I started assisting with the showcases in the galleries and drugstore displays, focusing on the compacts, vintage makeup items and vanity items. I've been documenting the museum's collections as we are developing an online database for public use. I also assist with writing articles for the museum's website and eNews. As we just opened in May 2019, there are a lot of projects in the works!

MM: What are some of your favorite compacts/lipsticks/other makeup items and why?

A: I've always loved enameled items and the Art Deco time period. So my favorite compacts are the detailed enameled compacts from the 1920s and 1930s. I also like the whimsical figural compacts as they tell such an interesting story.

MM: What is your favorite era for makeup and why?

A: I'm drawn to the 1920s as it was an era of growth and change for women. There was a reason for compacts and makeup for women during this time and it was evident in the products that were produced. Looking back at some of the makeup items, it's almost humorous to think that "ladies really used" some of these products!

MM: Why do you think makeup history is important and worthy of preservation and museum display?

A: Compacts, purses, perfumes, powders and all vanity items were significant of their time periods and their manufacture was influenced by cultural and social trends. Just like most items that we collect today, there was a reason for their use and need. And these initial reasons don't always exist today, but are part of our history. With makeup, compacts and perfumes, people still use them and the reasons for using these products are mostly the same, but the products are different. But it's those early products that evolved into what is being used today and I don't think that should be forgotten. And it's a fascinating history if people take the time to learn about it. Perfume Passage and other related museums, such as yours, provide people with the opportunity to learn about this history as well as view wonderful items that didn't start out as collectible, but certainly are now!

MM: Any thoughts on current makeup/beauty culture? The Makeup Museum focuses on contemporary cosmetics, artist collaborations, etc. in addition to vintage objects, so I'd love to have your insight on what makeup and trends are out there now!

A: That's a very interesting question. I admit that I've really never worn makeup, I use just a little blush as my skin is so pale! I don't wear perfumes either. So it is kind of funny that I'm so in love with the history and products that are vanity related. And I honestly don't follow the contemporary cosmetic industry at all, just what I see on TV or read in magazines.

MM: Do you have any tips for compact collectors?

A: As with any item that we collect, buy what interests you. And while condition is usually the top priority for me, I also like the unusual. And before the internet, when many collectibles could only be found at shops, shows or auctions, collectors seem to buy for quantity. The internet has opened a whole new world for collectors, allowing us to see and purchase items that we would often never have a chance to find. So items that were considered "rare" or "one of a kind" can be found online. So I think collectors have more choices on what to collect or perhaps what to focus their collections on. While many compact collectors have a little bit of everything in their collections, you'd be surprised how many collectors focus on just Deco, or enamels, or figurals.

MM: Can you share some of your favorite compacts?

A: Sure! Here's a 1920s F&B sterling floral/scenic enamel tango compact.

1920s F&B enamel tango

A 1930s Evans mesh purse with an ornate beaded/pearl/enamel compact lid:

1930s Evans mesh purse w ornate compact top

A 1930s green floral enamel double compact with tango lipstick:

1930s double enamel tango compact

A 1958 Chicago White Sox compact. Back then, Tuesday's was ladies day at the ballpark and the owner of the team had a give-a-way of this compact! The other teams that I know of that had a similar promotion with compacts were the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and New York Giants.

1958 White Sox compact

Finally, a 1920s celluloid lady compact, the top "dress" slides and there's a mirror and powder puff inside.

1920s celluloid lady compact
(all images provided by Andra Behrendt)

Andra, thank you so much for taking the time to answer the Makeup Museum's questions and for your incredibly valuable insight!  I encourage everyone to check out the Perfume Passage website and sign up for their newsletter. If you're in the Chicago area and can visit in person, so much the better.  And if you're a collector, be sure to add Lady A Antiques to your shopping list!

A visit from the future and past: Paul & Joe x Doraemon

I distinctly remember ordering this Paul & Joe collection in April of 2019, as my dad was still in the ICU and I felt guilty for taking a few minutes to place an order before visiting him.  But I knew the collection would sell out immediately so I had to go for it.  Adorable though it is, I kept putting writing about it until this year, and then when I finally got around to doing some research I discovered this little guy's birthday is September 3, 2112 so I waited a bit more (although obviously I couldn't hold off for another 92 years unless cryogenics actually worked.)  Please give a warm welcome to Doraemon, a robotic cat from the future!

Paul & Joe Doraemon

Doraemon is a manga series created by a duo of Japanese writers Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko, better known by their pen name, Fujiko Fujio, in 1969.   Fujimoto was inspired by three specific events:  his wish for a machine that would come up with ideas for his writing, his daughter's toy that caused him to trip, and the sound of some neighborhood cats fighting.  The story chronicles the misadventures of Nobita Nobi, a preteen boy who is described as goodhearted and kind yet lazy.  He gets bad grades due to his laziness and is frequently bullied. 

(image from

Doraemon is sent back from the future by Nobita's great great grandson, Sewashi Nobi, to help Nobita grow up to be successful and alter history so that his descendants will be more prosperous.  However, since Nobita's misfortunes continue as an adult which affects his future offspring, Sewashi is poor, so he can only afford a mediocre and not particularly helpful robot. 

(image from

That premise sounds interesting in and of itself, but there's more. Doraemon has a special four-dimensional pouch on his tummy where he stores various futuristic gadgets intended to help Nobita.  Some examples, according to the Doraemon Wiki page: "Bamboo-Copter, a small piece of headgear that can allow its users to fly; the Anywhere Door, a pink-colored door that allows people to travel according to the thoughts of the person who turns the knob; Time Kerchief, a handkerchief that can turn an object new or old or a person young or old; Translator Tool, a cuboid jelly that can allow people to converse in any language across the universe; Designer Camera, a camera that produces dresses."  These sound like fantastic ideas, but you can see where they're heading. While the devices were supposed to make Nobita more successful, the series focuses on the hijinks that ensue as he uses them incorrectly or for the wrong purposes. 

Doraemon gadgets(image from

As with nearly all the protagonists in Japanese series, Doraemon's character is carefully conceived with a complete backstory.  The "Dora" part of his name derives from "dora neko" (stray cat), while "-emon" is an archaic suffix for male names - just Fujimoto having a bit of fun by giving a character from the future an obsolete moniker.  The reason for Doraemon's blue color and rounded head is that shortly after his creation in the robot factory, a mouse nibbled his ears off and frightened Doraemon so badly he turned blue - he was originally yellow in color. Poor thing!

Doraemon - original yellow
(image from

As for Paul & Joe, they spared no details.  All of the products are covered in a delightful floral print featuring Doraemon in a variety of poses.

Paul & Joe Doraemon lipsticks

Paul & Joe Doraemon lipsticks

The lipstick caps as well as the lipsticks themselves are engraved with Doraemon's face.  These lipsticks, you might recall, use a technique known as kintaro-ame.

Paul & Joe Doraemon lipstick

Paul & Joe Doraemon lipsticks

Paul & Joe Doraemon face powder

How cute is the embossing?!  And the bell on the pouch recalls the one Doraemon wears around his neck.

Paul & Joe Doraemon face powder

This is perhaps my favorite piece of the whole collection.  Not only is the outline precious, the balm is scented like dorayaki, pancakes filled with a sweet red bean paste that are Doraemon's favorite snack.

Paul & Joe Doraemon lip balm

Doraemon's cultural impact cannot be overstated. After 1,465 stories in the original manga and 2,372 episodes between two TV series to date, in his native country the character became as iconic as Mickey Mouse is in the U.S.  The popularity of the Doraemon series in Japan can be attributed to several factors, such as the dawn of a new technological age in the late 1960s and economic prosperity starting in the late '70s (the first animated Doraemon show premiered in 1979).  And while it was intended for children, it's also relatable for Japanese adults, whose workaholic culture perhaps makes them envious of Nobita's lackadaisical style. However, Doraemon's appeal is universal. Despite varied receptions in different countries, people from all over the globe generally identify with Nobita's struggles and Doraemon's attempts to help.  As Caitlin Casiello, a Yale Ph.D. candidate in Japanese and film and media studies, explains to the Japan Times, "A lot of the appeal of 'Doraemon' is actually that Nobita is so familiar and relatable — he’s average, goofy, lazy, a bit uncool, but still a good kid — so we recognize him. Therefore, Doraemon would be our friend, too. This contrast between a normal boy and time-traveling robot cat makes us feel connected to Doraemon, like participants in their adventures." 

Doraemon and Nobita

As with Sanrio characters, there are literally thousands of Doraemon-branded products and collaborations, which raked in $5.6 billion in sales as of 2016. Even Takashi Murakami got in on the Doraemon action. 

Murakami Doraemon
(image from

Murakami Doraemon plate
(image from

Naturally I checked to see if there was a Doraemon museum since Japan seems to have one for everything, and lo! There is a Doraemon museum a mere 30 minutes outside Tokyo. The museum is technically named the Fujiko Fujio Museum after Doraemon's creators. The displays run the gamut of original sketches and a recreation of Hiroshi Fujimoto's study to a life-size Anywhere Door.  

Fujiko Fujio museum

Fujiko Fujio museum
(images from

Speaking of collabs, if you think Paul & Joe's collection is the first makeup brand to feature Doraemon, you would be mistaken.  In the fall of 2015 Korean brand A'Pieu unveiled a Doraemon collection.  The Paul & Joe one is different not just in terms of packaging but in the product lineup.  A'Pieu offered eyeshadow palettes, cushion compacts and lip gloss and also incorporated Doraemon's younger sister Dorami in the packaging.

A'pieu x Doraemon, 2015
(image from

To sum up, the Doraemon collection is absolutely on brand for Paul & Joe, given their previous dalliances in cartoon collaborations, the founder's love of cats, and the fact that Paul & Joe makeup is produced by Japanese company Albion.  Still, I'd love to know more about how the partnership came about and why in 2019, as Doraemon's other "birthday" is 1970 when the manga made its official debut.  In any case, it's adorable and I'm glad I was able to learn about an important Japanese cultural icon from this collection.  And if you missed it, don't despair - word on the street is that a second Paul & Joe Doraemon collection is coming for the holidays. So maybe that will be more appropriate for the series' 50th birthday.

What do you think of this collection?  Had you heard of Doraemon previously?  I obviously had not!  I watched a few clips from the TV series and while he's cute, he did not capture my heart the way another Japanese character did.

Curator's Corner, August 2020

CC logoLinks for August, plus another special milestone.

- I'm just gonna go ahead and toot my own horn - I was honored to be interviewed for an article on gender-inclusive beauty over at Mission Magazine. Not the most insightful quote but at least I got a mention!

- You could say I'm supremely excited for this new Pat McGrath lipstick, along with Byredo's new makeup line.

- Let's hear it for Juvia's Place, who is providing $300,000 worth of grants for black-owned businesses.

- Some new beauty shows to binge: Jackie Aina's Social Beauty, a documentary featuring Black women fostering social change through beauty and Rosie Huntington Whiteley's About Face, which will explore the stories behind major brands.

- AOC shares all the details of her beauty routine, including her favorite red lipstick.

- Allure consults its crystal ball for their latest issue, predicting the future of beauty products and evolving beauty standards.

- Move over, Cheeto nail polish. Everything Bagel is where it's at. (I will most likely end up buying this.)

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, Animaniacs is being re-booted and some enterprising person is marketing a Friends-themed advent calendar.  Also, in reunions no one asked for, Smash Mouth returned to further the spread of COVID with a concert in South Dakota.

- Loving this new museum of BLM protest art, plus it's proof that a museum does not need a physical space to be meaningful and educational.  Meanwhile, the International Mermaid Museum just opened.

Finally, in addition to the Museum's anniversary, August is the month for me and the husband's anniversary. Since we got hitched on our exact 10-year dating anniversary, we're celebrating a total of 20 years together this year. Woot! If you've been following the Museum since 2010 you know we had a lovely wedding day and a wonderful honeymoon. Here's some wedding miscellany to celebrate, including our stationery that the husband designed, my shoes, jewelry, and of course makeup. I know I need to get rid of the Estée Lauder Double Wear foundation and probably the Bobbi Brown lipstick I wore, but I can't part with them. (Hey, at least I got rid of the mascara and the Stila Kitten eyeshadow pan is a replacement).  I also included a couple of Museum wedding-related pieces, like Stila's June Bride palettes and a cute little Elgin compact from the '40s, which unfortunately suffered some chipping.

Wedding anniversary makeup

How are you?  Are you looking forward to fall?

Party patellas: the knee makeup fad of the '20s and '60s

Not sure how I missed Mimi Choi's fantastic makeup optical illusions on Instagram, but I'm grateful to Jen of Coffee Sundays for introducing me a few months ago. One look in particular caught my eye:  Choi's hilarious "twin", Knee-Knee. 

Mimi Choi - Knee-Knee
(image from @mimles)

And with that, I decided I had to find out the history of knee makeup in modern times.1 As usual this post will be heavily reliant on newspaper archives, sigh...I wish I could find more sources, especially since, as we'll see, newspapers are not always truthful.  Anyway, knee makeup been around much longer than you would think.  Flappers used rouge (blush) to decorate their knees, an are that was more exposed than ever despite the fact that hemlines were just below the knee (the '20s version of a miniskirt).  They'd either roll their stockings down or (gasp!) forgo stockings altogether - made it much easier to do the Charleston.  Adding some blush further drew attention to the knees, emphasizing the rebellious nature of the new fashion.  Side note:  I'm dying to figure out the shift from the word "rouge" to "blush".  I'm old and even when I was a kid I remember cheek color always being referred to as blush.  I wonder how and why mainstream makeup vocabulary changed.  But that's a project for another day.

Flapper applying knee rouge, 1921

Knee rouging became full-on knee painting by the mid-1920s, although it had been reported in Paris in 1920. Unlike knee rouge, it doesn't seem as though makeup was actually used - at least one article discusses regular oil paints and another mentions watercolor - but the average woman as well as traditional artists engaged in the practice.  The designs ranged from incredibly detailed portraits and landscapes to simple flowers and butterflies. 

Knee painting in the 1920s
(image from

One could argue that knee painting was a good way to pique the interest of boys.  Teenage girls would paint the initials of their boyfriends or desired boyfriends, while one woman, who wasn't keen on the idea of carrying a portrait of her fiance in a locket, had his likeness painted on her knee instead. 

Knee painting, 1921

But like regular knee rouging, it was also a demonstration of creativity, provocation and rebellion, which led to either encouraging men to further sexualize women's bodies or a total backlash against the practice.  "And, my, here comes a beauty; I watch as it walks by - a painting like that always seems to catch my eye.  As one sees a comely miss with both knee-caps ablaze, studying art becomes a treat to all of us these days," a 1925 poem reads.  One housewife by the name of Clarice Wilson, well aware of her husband's hatred for the new dogs she recently acquired, painted them on her knees for a passive-aggressive dig.  Her husband, Arthur X. Wilson, retaliated by painting the likenesses of two of the most attractive women in town on his own knees. While adult women may have been mildly shamed for knee art, teenagers were soundly punished. Seventeen-year-old Mary Bell was spanked by both of her parents for painting Clarence Darrow and a portrait of a monkey on her kneecaps and a high school basketball team (from Baltimore!) was nearly expelled for showing school spirit via knee painting.  (Click to enlarge.)

Knee painting feature, August 1925

Between the 1920s and 1960s there was scant mention of knee makeup.  Besides a couple of 1939 articles and a nostalgic look back in 1957, knee makeup simply wasn't on the radar.

Painted knees, July 1939

Yes, I shamelessly stole the title of my post from this article.

Painted knees - Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Nov. 6, 1957

But the craze for knee painting returned with a vengeance in the '60s, albeit with a slightly different flavor.  Makeup artists were now finally starting to be considered "real" artists on par with traditional painters, which is reflected in their leading the way for knee makeup and the use of cosmetics rather than oil paint or watercolor applied by a regular artist. Possibly the first documented instance of knee makeup from an actual makeup artist came from William Loew, makeup director for Charles of the Ritz.  In late February 1965 he painted a pair of eyes on a model's knees for a party. Touted as the "latest in pop-op beauty" and inspired by the emerging pop and optical illusion art of the time, Loew declared the pop-op movement in fashion and beauty as a step forward for women's freedom from relying solely on her looks for success. I can't help but wonder if Loew had somehow stumbled across the knee art displayed during the 1920s.  In any case, I'd kill to see his work in color!

William Loew knee painting, March 1965

By the summer of 1965 the fad had trickled down to the masses.  A suburban Pittsburgh housewife and representative for Vivianne Woodard cosmetics, Mary Metzler, took responsibility for creating the look in May 1965, admitting that she devised the idea mostly to sell more cosmetics.  Over the next year the trend grew, despite Loew himself claiming it was over by late 1966.  Prior to his statement, by the summer of 1966 the big makeup brands were releasing leg and knee makeup kits, with the notable exception of Elizabeth Arden, whose "face designer" Pablo "refused to have anything to do with [knee makeup]".3 Estée Lauder introduced a fairly regular line with makeup, contouring powder and highlighter, but also offered an art kit complete with stick-on jeweled beauty spots (mouches). 

Bam! Gams, Mademoiselle magazine, July 1966

Estée Lauder leg and knee makeup, Mademoiselle, July 1966(images from

Fabergé had their makeup director, Evan Richardson, create their "Kneesies" kit, which contained red, blue and yellow paints.

Faberge Kneesies, July 1966_

Revlon Ultima II's cleverly named Stemwear collection included both a "leg complexion" kit for those who desired basic coverage (hiding bruises and other imperfections) as well as a Leg Art kit with four colors that could be mixed: Chalk White, Chrome Yellow, Chinese Red, and Marine Blue, that came packaged in an artist's palette. 

Ad for Revlon Ultima II Stemwear, Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1966

The company also enlisted fashion illustrator Joe Eula to create custom designs, which were featured in the May 20, 1966 issue of Life magazine along with the July 1966 issue of Harper's Bazaar.

Life magazine, May 1966

Life magazine, May 1966

Life magazine, May 1966(image from

Revlon Stemwear, Harper's Bazaar, July 1966

Revlon Stemwear and knee makeup, Harper's Bazaar, July 1966

While Revlon's kit was reported to be the first leg makeup kit on the market, in July 1967 one reader of the Mercury newspaper remarked that Mary Quant, widely considered the inventor of the miniskirt, had come up with the concept of body paint first, and an indelible one at that (along with "freckle paint," which reminds me that my article on faux freckles is in dire need of updating).  While I couldn't find any proof whatsoever, I have a very strong feeling that Mary Quant probably offered a fun leg makeup kit.

Anyway, as it had the previous year, knee makeup soon made its way from fashion magazines to your garden-variety middle-class teens. 

Knee painting, Fort Worth Star Telegram, August 19, 1966

Glad to see these girls were not thrown out of school or spanked by their parents.


Knee makeup art morphed into painting the entire leg by the summer of 1967, with Coty and Givenchy both releasing leg paint kits in shades meant to mimic colorful stockings. 

Coty body paint ad, 1967
(image from amazon)

Givenchy leg paint, Harpers Bazaar January 1967

Givenchy leg paint, Harpers Bazaar January 1967

And everyone remembers the body painting popularized by hippies and mainstream shows like Laugh-In.  In 1968 Tussy released a Hieroglyphics paint kit meant to be used all over the body. However, this is getting a bit off track and an entire book could be written about body paint, so I'm not going to go further with the concept now.  Suffice it to say that knee makeup hit its peak in 1966 and had mostly fallen out of favor in the '70s through, well, now, partially due to the fact that pants were becoming more acceptable for women's wear.  Maxi skirts and bell-bottoms took over around 1970 and lasted through the decade, while trousers became equally popular to skirts and dresses in the '80s and '90s.  If body makeup were to be used artistically, all-over body paint took the place of knee makeup over time.  And that's the reason Mimi Choi's art got my attention - it's rare nowadays to see only one specific part of the body adorned with makeup.

While most of the knee makeup was predicated on the ideas of creativity and self-expression, the notion of attracting boys or painting a boyfriend's name or initials was frequently noted.  Girls painted "available" and "need a date?" onto their kneecaps, while Metzler, self-proclaimed inventor of the trend, "It gives [girls] something to do at the beach, but most important it's the kind of gimmick that helps them attract boys.  That, after all, is the primary purpose of most cosmetics."  Yikes.

Knee painting, Orlando Sentinel, July 17, 1966

Then as in the 1920s, one of the reasons for knee makeup was presumably to attract guys or express one's affection for their beau, although I don't believe it was the main reason. I tend to think it was more about having fun and allow oneself to be a bit more daring than with face makeup, since the knees, despite being on display, are not as immediately noticeable as the face.  As Harper's Bazaar noted, "Never before in the history of makeup has the personal creative impulse been given such wild, free and wonderful reign."

So why did knee makeup trend in the 1920s and 1960s?  Some factors for these two very different decades overlap.  First, knee makeup in both eras was primarily fashion-driven.2  Leg makeup were ostensibly the result of new, seemingly shocking clothing styles for women, an example of the direct influence of fashion on makeup.  Freed from the burden of stockings, either by rolling them down or skipping them entirely, 1920s women realized there was room to decorate this newly acquired space.  And the latest miniskirt styles in the mid-1960s placed a bigger spotlight than ever on legs, with Harper's Bazaar declaring 1966 to be "the year of the leg".  

Knee makeup ad, LA Times, July 6, 1966

I acknowledge makeup doesn't exist in a vacuum and that there is a definitive link between cosmetics and clothing, but generally I don't think fashion affects makeup trends as much as we think. Having said that, knee makeup seems to be a clear case of fashion dictating makeup. 

The other factor at play for the knee makeup fad peaking in the 1920s and 1960s besides leg exposure in and of itself was a celebration of freedom from both an expectation of modesty and clothing that restricted movement.  Not coincidentally, (White) women's rights gained significant ground in both eras, and perhaps knee painting was a byproduct of women's social advancement.  As fashion historian and writer Marlen Komar points out, "Whether it was the '20s or '60s, women turned to knee painting to not only flex their creativity and have a bit of fun, but also to assert their autonomy, own their sexuality, and label themselves as a new generation of modern women. Makeup bags are often more political than we give them credit for."  I'm inclined to agree for the most part.  Miniskirts may not have been as liberating as history makes them out to be as they were originally intended only for the younger crowd and women today continue to get blamed for sexual assault for wearing too short a skirt, but by and large shorter silhouettes were revolutionary.  Knee makeup, along with shorter hems, could be viewed as another way women were enjoying their newfound freedom.

Of course, precisely because of the rebellious and assertive nature of knee art, there were detractors in both decades as well.  The loudest were those who harped on the ugliness of the knee.  While fashion designers hiked up hems in the name of emancipation during the '60s, others simultaneously (and hypocritically) discussed the need to make knees less offensive via makeup rather than demanding skirts and dresses get back to a lower length.  Or, you know, making pants acceptable or just letting women show their legs without feeling pressured to prettify them with makeup.  Knees were apparently hideous, which is exactly why any woman donning a miniskirt was automatically declared brave.  (Sort of like how we talk about celebrities going bare-faced in public now.)  As Gil, makeup director for Max Factor noted in 1966, "Exposing the knee is the most daring thing a woman can do.  After all, let's be clear about it.  The knob is terribly ugly."  Says one columnist:  "One cannot help wondering why this usually rather ugly thing must at all costs be displayed.  But it is never worthwhile to try to figure out fashion."  Another article's headline sums it up thusly:  "Glorifying the Ugly: Knees Take on Decorative Look".   And going back to 1925, critics claimed that not even painting could help offset the visual offensiveness of the knee.  In their view, knee art was a dubious endeavor or an entirely lost cause.  "Must be quite a task to make the old joints look attractive...I don't believe that painting the knees will help them any.  It would take more than paint to make the average knee worth looking at." 

Knee paint, 1925(image from

Naturally, random men had to make their opposition heard too.  One Charles Denton wrote in a 1966 opinion column for the San Francisco Examiner, "Having discerned that the knee has all the esthetic charm of a pickled pig's foot, did the style setters lower the skirt back over it? (With a thigh?) They did not!  Instead they started concocting cosmetics to glamorize it.  Which is about as logical as shaving your beard and then putting on a phony beard...I hardly need to tell you guys where this trend is leading.  Because aside from adding to the upkeep on your favorite dame, not to mention your wife,  this places yet another strain on the male psyche...the next time you're pacing the floor waiting for her to get ready to go out and you holler, 'What's taking you so long?' she'll chirp back, 'Just a few more minutes, I'm doing my knees.'"  Oh, poor delicate Charles with your already fragile "male psyche"!  He was not concerned about the expectation that women must attempt to make their legs look more attractive given the new short styles in addition to their normal beauty regimen, but that the extra time required for them to complete their makeup routine may inconvenience him. STFU, Charles. No one asked you.

The other thing the trend had in common in 1920s and 1960s was that it's unclear how many women actually adopted it.  As the very wise author of Cosmetics and Skin told me, "One swallow does not make a spring."  Despite the wealth of magazine articles in the '60s and the newspaper articles in both decades, I have a feeling it was akin to Instagram (or Tiktok, shudder) "trends" where one makeup artist or influencer does something crazy and it goes viral.  All the news outlets latch onto it and declare it a trend, when it fact only a handful of people tried it or even just the one person who started it.  I suspect the same thing happened with knee makeup.  It may have been fun at the occasional teenage party, but by and large I doubt many women were actually wearing it, at least not regularly.  "This so-called painted knee fad seems to be one of those things everybody knows all about but nobody's ever seen," was a common quip in 1925.  Dovetailing on the idea of backlash, one columnist by the name of Cynthia Grey stated that it was actually men who were trying to popularize knee makeup by putting it on every front page in order to make women look stupid. "It's funny how seriously men take freak styles and how ready they are to believe that women are morons...apparently for women to paint their knee is as important as a revolution in China or a monkey trial.  The implication is, of course, what fools we women are!"  Additionally, the spat between the Wilsons in the article shown earlier apparently never happened, because no one by the name of Arthur X. Wilson near Carlisle, PA existed. 


It was a work of total fiction that also demonstrates the hostility towards the trend and men's need to keep women in their place.  The feature included two somewhat true accounts4 of girls being punished for knee makeup (although now I have my doubts about the basketball team from Baltimore) but also felt it necessary to come up with a third example that was a complete fantasy, just to "prove" how idiotic women were for adopting the trend.  As for the how widespread it was in the '60s, I asked my mom, who was 21 at the peak of knee makeup in 1966 and she had absolutely no recollection of seeing it in the news, let alone in real life.  I understand that's purely anecdotal, but it goes to show that even young, stylish and progressive women - the key demographic - weren't necessarily adopting knee makeup.  I'm also thinking some of the newspaper coverage of the trend in the '60s may have been the suggestion of editors who needed a fun story for a slow summer news day rather than teens picking it up of their own accord. (Click to enlarge.)

Miami News, July 10, 1966

Finally, the fact that I've never seen any of these kits for sale or even an actual photo, only illustrations, suggests that knee makeup was not widely used.

Anyway, while knee makeup may have had a moment in the '20s and '60s, there were differences between two decades.  In the 1920s, knee rouge and painting was associated primarily with flappers and other rebellious young women. In the 1960s, knee makeup did express freedom and was intended for youngsters, but it was less about mimicking or assimilating a particular group. While some fashion observers claimed that knee makeup was mostly the domain of mods, its appeal seemed to be more widespread, reaching those who simply saw it as a fun activity rather than allegiance to a certain style or outlook.  Swim parties, summer camps, 4th of July were all occasions where friends could paint each other's knees - again, at least according to the local newspapers.

Summer camp in Ithaca, New York, 1966

Plus, while most are accustomed to applying makeup on their face, painting one's knees is trickier as you have to paint upside down.  Many articles noted that it was best to use the buddy system to ensure the design came out right. In this way knee makeup helped build camaraderie in a slightly different way than regular makeup play dates.  In the 1920s it seemed that a lot of knee painting was done by traditional artists. Some salons were flooded for knee painting requests and felt as though the only option was to hire an outside artist on to meet the demand, so girls like Mary Bell and salon employee Mrs. Richards may have been exceptions.  The shift during the '60s from hiring a painter to either a makeup artist, DIY or having a friend do the painting switched up the dynamic, as evidenced in these photos.

Knee painting, 1926
(image from

Knee painting party, July 11, 1966

Another difference was that there more emphasis on fashion in addition to art.  Besides Revlon's use of a fashion illustrator to sell their kit and the trend being spotted primarily on local fashion runways and department stores, some proponents recommending matching or coordinating one's knee makeup with clothing.  Helena Rubinstein recommended making your own stencils to coordinate with any outfit. (Click to enlarge.)

Knee makeup, Tampa Times, June 13, 1966

A third difference is that there was more acceptance for the fad in the 1960s.  The average person in the 1920s generally disapproved of knee rouge or paint; not even fashion editors and other trend-setters could sway the public's opinion. But 40 years later, as long as you were young, you could get away with miniskirts and knee makeup. I guess one could argue that's progress as compared to the 1920s stance that no woman no matter her age should have painted knees, but is it really? 

Leg Paint, Vogue, July 1966

Leg Paint, Vogue, July 1966

As the Vogue article above notes, "[Women] need [leg makeup] to make their legs look as smooth as a pair of flying silk ribbons; as unmarred by time as those of a 10-year old girl."  Another fashion editor writing for the Salt Lake Tribune in May of 1966 states that knee makeup is "FUN - if one happens to be a teen or sub-teen. BAD - if one is a minute past teen. So knack your knees only according to how many years old they are. Age is one secret they can't keep."  The obsession with youth might also be a function of pandering to young people in general as the baby boomer generation became front and center. 

Finally, while I have my doubts that many women actually wore knee makeup art in the 1960s, the trend - or at least the idea of it - seemed slightly more widespread than in the '20s thanks to the marketing efforts of cosmetic companies and the makeup professionals employed by them, along with distribution of these ideas to a bigger audience via the ubiquity of fashion magazines.  In the 1920s there was no such thing as an artistic director for a makeup brand, and companies hadn't yet grown into multi-million dollar businesses pumping out hundreds of products.  Roughly forty years had passed since makeup became regularly worn; by that point there were many more products on the market than in the '20s, so companies had to go beyond the face and invent new types of makeup.  It was only a matter of time before they shifted attention away from the face to the body in the hopes of generating more revenue, and short skirts gave them the perfect opportunity.  Revlon, Fabergé, et al were not going to miss their chance to capitalize on and create a false need for leg makeup kits (see also: earlobe makeup).  As one journalist noted in May 1966, "Cosmetics firms are about to spring a whole raft of brand new knee makeup products and ideas.  The paints and brushes, powders and creams are ready and fetchingly packaged.  The ad men are set to spread the word." As for the media, yes, Harper's and Vogue existed in the 1920s, but I'm guessing their circulation was much smaller than in the '60s, not to mention the slightly newer publications that been established by that point (Mademoiselle, Glamour, Seventeen, Co-Ed, etc.)  People are more susceptible to buy certain products or try new trends the more coverage they receive, especially with a makeup artist leading the way and the availability of pre-made kits.  Lastly, makeup technology was allegedly improved in terms of longevity.  Nearly all of the advertising for leg makeup emphasizes its long-wearing nature, a sharp contrast to the messiness of the 1940s5 and prior years.

My thoughts:  this was a pretty wild trend that I would love to see again.  Given the sad state of my own baggy, misshapen knees I go back and forth as to whether I'd emphasize them with makeup designs, but it would be great to see on other people. It's also one of the few trends that could work on every skin tone.  Of course, so-called "flesh tone" makeup for covering varicose veins or bruises probably was not available for Black or brown skin in the '60s and certainly not prior, but the bright primary colors contained in some of the kits would suit everyone.  And while short skirts on women may not be as scandalous as they were decades ago, knee makeup remains an unexpected mode of cosmetic styling and body art.

What do you think?  Would you ever wear knee makeup and if so, what design would you choose?  You know I'd paint portraits of Museum staff members!  Or maybe a mermaid on one and a shell on the other.


1Obviously there are entire books that could be written about body paint in various cultures throughout history, so I'm focusing specifically on knee painting during the 20th century in the U.S.

2While knee painting was mostly an offshoot of fashion, there was some influence from art movements in both eras.  One 1925 article notes that knee painting was taking on "Cubist lines", and another in 1966 describes one young lady who painted on a Mondrian-inspired design.  Knee makeup and body painting in the '60s more generally may have also been influenced by Yves Klein's Anthropométries of 1961.

3Richard Corson, Fashions in Makeup from Ancient to Modern Times, p. 569.

4Some articles indicated that Mary Bell painted Clarence Darrow on one knee and William Jennings Bryan on the other, but the article with an actual picture shows Clarence Darrow and a who knows what's really going on there?  The photo might not have been Ms. Bell at all. In any case, multiple accounts reveal that she did paint her knees and was spanked, so at least that those parts of the story seem to be true.

5The '40s saw a spike in leg makeup due to the war.  Shortages in materials meant nylon stockings weren't readily available so women painted them on, seams and all.  There were entire leg makeup kits and salons had the service readily available.  And while the focus wasn't the knees but the entire leg, tips for contouring those pesky knee bulges still made it into various beauty advice columns. However, there was really no fun or creativity with the leg makeup of the '40s. By most accounts it was purely to mimic the average nylon stocking - no crazy colors or designs.

Giveaway winner announced!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered the Makeup Museum's 12-year anniversary giveaway!  Now it's time for MM staff to announce the lucky winner.  This time Visitor Services Associate Space Babo will do the honors. 



Yay!!  Laura, please send me your address and I'll get this boxed up and ready to go.  Hopefully USPS won't lose it, they're a mess lately. 

"Oh, this martini shaker is just my size!  Think I'll make myself a drink!"  Space Babo, NOOOOOOO!!


Okay...I managed to save it.  Whew.  Well, at least he didn't try to outright eat it. 

Thanks so much again everyone!

Giveaway in honor of the Museum's 12th anniversary!

Once again I nearly forgot about the Museum's anniversary!  While my idea for a makeup museum was generated prior to its online presence, I mark the anniversary as the day I wrote the very first blog post.  Over 1,300 posts and 12 years later, on the one hand I'm surprised I've been doing this as long as I have; on the other, I'm a creature of habit and I don't know where I'd be without this space I created.  As you know I've been feeling less than positive about the Museum lately. The events that have taken place since late 2019 have made it incredibly painful for me to continue.  For a while I've been feeling as though I'm waiting for the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, in whatever shape it might take and whenever it might be - could be next week, next year, a decade from now, who knows?  But in the meantime I do have some extra things that need a good home, so I figured I might as well do a giveaway since it might be the Museum's last anniversary. 

Makeup Museum 12-year anniversary giveaway

To thank those who have faithfully stuck by the original Makeup Museum, I'm offering a chance for one lucky person to win Urban Decay's very first Naked palette, a vintage Park and Tilford "Party Time" martini shaker shaped lipstick (so much fun, but it's for collectible purposes only!), and Essie's beautiful Say It Ain't Soho nail polish from last fall. 

Makeup Museum 12-year anniversary giveaway

The winner will also receive an incredibly interesting and valuable biography of Sara Spencer Washington. You may have heard of Black beauty pioneers Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone, but less well-known is Washington, who began the Apex Beauty empire in 1919.  Thanks to historian and author Cheryl Woodruff-Brooks, Washington's story and that of Apex Beauty will not be forgotten.  (You should also check out the documentary made by Washington's grandson - alas, that format does not lend itself as easily to giveaways.)  I'm working on a history of Baltimore's beauty salons, and wouldn't you know there was an Apex salon in town?  Stay tuned for more, hopefully, as I continue researching.

Golden Beauty Boss book

There are lots of ways to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note that for all of the Instagram entry options, you must be following me there for them to count.  As always, it's open internationally. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be announced here on Saturday, August 15. Good luck and thank you for entering!