Friday fun (or flop?) with Felicia

As soon as I saw this adorable lip balm at various blogs I ordered it immediately from Sephora.  It doesn't really get any cuter than this - a sparkly pink strawberry-scented lip balm in the shape of a flamingo pool float, plus a reference to one of the greatest films of the '90s?!  Yes please. 

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Another precious detail is the flamingo-shaped "F" in Felicia. 

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Our mini Babo loved it and asked if I could fill the bathtub so he could take it for a proper spin.

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Taste Beauty Felicia the Flamingo lip balm

Totally harmless, right?  Alas, this seemingly innocuous lip balm has stirred up controversy: looks like it's another case of cultural appropriation.  If you've spent any time online over the past few years you know that "Bye Felicia" has become a popular meme used to dismiss other interwebz users.  And you may remember how pleased I was to see this phrase take off in numerous other ways, given my love of '90s pop culture and the 1995 film Friday that gave us these two simple words.  The meme was the inspiration for the lip balm, according to Taste Beauty's managing partner Alex Fogelson, who told Women's Wear Daily that Sephora approached them to "collaborate in a really fun, pop-culture-inspired fun and young item."  (Taste Beauty is a relatively new company, having been founded in 2016 by three executives who used to work at Lotta Luv, the brand behind some bizarrely flavored lip balms.)

That seems okay, until you realize that the "Bye Felicia" meme Taste Beauty is referencing with their lip balm may actually be a form of cultural appropriation in and of itself. Let's take a look at the original clip, which, if I'm being honest, still makes me laugh.  (I also love Smokey's "remember it, write it down, take a picture, I don't give a fuck!"  Classic.)

Impeccably delivered, it's a funny line that wasn't even in the script (apparently Ice Cube's son came up with it)...but as it turns out, Felisha is a crackhead.  To a clueless white person such as myself, I thought she was simply an annoying, mooching neighbor.  For "bye Felisha" to take off as a meme, I guess there were other people who accidentally (or perhaps intentionally) overlooked that aspect of Felisha's character.  Or worse, many people using the meme were totally oblivious to the original source.  As this article on white people's inappropriate use of black slang notes, "What’s amazing though is that over the last year [2015] or so, so many white people and non-black people have used [Bye Felicia] (as a sassy dismissal) without actually knowing where it’s from."  Also, the spelling of Felisha's name morphed into "Felicia", I'm assuming to make it more palatable to white people.  As Fayola Perry writes in XPress Magazine, "Cultural appropriation sanitizes and spreads lies about people's culture. It takes away the story of Felisha, the addict who represents and symbolizes so many black and brown women's struggle with drug addiction in that era and makes her a passing internet trend.  This lack of attention to detail can perpetuate racist stereotypes. Someone may think they are paying homage to someone's culture and the person whose culture they're paying homage to is completely offended at the misrepresentation.  Fear not, you can enjoy a great burrito if you are not Latino and do yoga if you're not Indian, but be thoughtful, check your privilege and be considerate of context and history. Everyone has some type of privilege, people of colour appropriate each other's cultures as well. We must all be mindful of our lens, other people's perspectives, the legacy of oppression and try our best to make sure that we are not continuing it. At the very least, know where the appropriated element came from and at the very, very least, spell her name right. It's Felisha, not Felicia."

So while I was overjoyed to see the phrase take off as a meme given how much I love Friday, turns out I should have been aware that it was a form of whitewashing, since it seems that the vast majority of people using it don't know where it originated.  Or in my case, had no clue about the more serious implications of Felisha's character and her dismissal.  In reading more about the history of the film and that scene in particular, I don't think anyone involved with Friday intended the phrase to be perceived as anything other than comic relief, but now I can see how it can be viewed as a microcosm of the bigger issue of black women's needs continually being ignored. 

In turn, if we're arguing that the meme itself is a form of cultural appropriation, then the lip balm is as well, since it's directly referencing the meme and obviously not the original source.  I mean, Felisha didn't wear makeup1, and flamingo-shaped pool floats didn't make an appearance in the film as far as I know - this lip balm really has nothing to do with FridayA succinct reaction comes from this Twitter user:  "It's time for black brands to start monetizing our shit. But we're not corny enough to slap bye Felicia on some lip balm all outta context."  Blogger Aprill Coleman explains further: "Felisha was an accurate representation of black culture in the early 90s on the heels of the crack epidemic. Taste Beauty’s use is completely out of context. Felisha is an African American, crack-addicted character that did not wear makeup, whereas Felicia is a brightly colored flamingo shaped like a pool float. A tiny part of my black American culture was appropriated, reinvented, and packaged into a strawberry scented balm for profit."  Coleman also astutely points out that two of the three Taste Beauty founders are white men, so it's possible that the company, like so many others, wasn't fully aware of the phrase's origins; they just saw the meme and thought an alliterative novelty lip balm with the same name would be marketable.   And if Taste Beauty did know where it came from and still wanted to go ahead with the product despite the potential for offensiveness, perhaps they could have donated a portion of the sales to Angie's Kids. This is a nonprofit founded by Angela Means, the actress who played Felisha, that focuses on health and early childhood development. (Side note:  I would seriously love to get her thoughts on this.  She seems okay with the phrase's popularity but I'm not sure about the lip balm.)

So where does that leave us?  Well, on a personal level I feel like a jerk for buying it and also for not understanding, quite literally for the past 3 years, that the "Bye Felicia" meme was actually white people appropriating yet another piece of black culture - I honestly thought it was a widespread, '90s-nostalgia-fueled, long-overdue tribute to Ice Cube's legendary diss.  As someone who sees herself as a feminist, which means being aware of the struggles of WOC, my ignorance is rather troubling.2  As for the item's inclusion in the Museum's collection, I will likely not display it unless I'm doing a more educational exhibition on cultural appropriation in cosmetics.  In addition to the ads explored in my 2013 post on the topic, sadly there are tons more examples since then that could be provided.

What do you think about all this?  Have you seen Friday and if so, do you find the "bye Felisha" scene funny?

1 Interestingly, the actress who played Felisha cites the makeup artist on set as the one responsible for helping her fully inhabit Felisha's character.  The somewhat haggard look was entirely intentional.  She notes in an interview:  "What was funny was when I got on set the makeup artist looked at me and she was like, ‘O.K.,’ and she kind of went with my look and when we got to the set (“Friday” director) F. Gary Gray looked at me and was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait, wait. She’s not a beauty queen.’ I give the makeup artist so much credit for helping me create Felisha...So when I got in the makeup artist’s chair, once Gary said, 'No, she’s a hoodrat,' we went back to the drawing board and I fell asleep. But when I woke up and saw myself, it clicked. It helped me go there."

2 Equally problematic is that I've been rewatching the clip and still think it's hilarious - proof that white privilege is real. I'm able to ignore the broader issue of dismissing black women and perceive "bye Felisha" as comedy.
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A baby's breath bouquet from Givenchy

I can't believe I'm just now getting around to writing about this lovely little piece from Givenchy, as I've had it in my possession since, maybe, March?  But I figured it's better late than never when discussing pretty makeup items.  Alas, this will be another quick post since I couldn't find much information about the inspiration behind this bronzer.

The outer case, while furnished in Givenchy's signature sleek shiny black with gold lettering, doesn't really compare to what's inside.

Givenchy summer 2017 bronzer

Behold!  An explosion of beautifully embossed blooms spreads over the entire surface of the bronzer.

Givenchy summer 2017 Gypsophila bronzer

Givenchy summer 2017 Gypsophila bronzer

I also picked up the lipstick - minty green becomes quite sophisticated when rendered in leather.  I don't have anything else to say except that mint green is one of my favorite colors so naturally I had to buy it.

Givenchy summer 2017 Gypsophila lipstick

Givenchy summer 2017 Gypsophila lipstick

Givenchy summer 2017 Gypsophila lipstick

Back to the star item:  the Gypsophila bronzer borrows its pattern from ones that went down the spring/summer 2015 runway.  Gypsophila, I discovered, is just a fancy name for baby's breath.

Givenchy spring/summer 2015

Givenchy spring/summer 2015

While the print is pleasing on its own, the addition of pearls sewn onto the flowers really takes it up a notch.  The pattern stands out more given the raised, smooth texture of the pearls and their subtle sheen.  It's these pieces that most closely resemble the pattern on the bronzer - the single pearls on some of the leaves as well as the curved rows are nearly identical to the bronzer's flowers.

Givenchy spring/summer 2015

Givenchy spring/summer 2015(images from vogue.com)

I'm not sure what meaning baby's breath has for Riccardo Tisci, formerly chief designer for Givenchy, other than that it's allegedly his favorite flower.  The blooms were described in the show's press release as "poisonous romantic flowers", whatever that means - are they intended to be dangerous or sweet?  I guess both?  Who knows...especially since baby's breath, to my knowledge, isn't poisonous at all.  I also can't figure out why a print from 2 years ago by a designer that's no longer with the company is showing up now.  It just shows there's really no alignment between the fashion and cosmetics sides within Givenchy. 

Having said all that, this bronzer is a showstopper for sure.  While I'm not including it this summer's exhibition as it didn't fit the theme so well, I will hopefully remember to add it to the checklist for next spring. 

Thoughts?


Curator's Corner, 6/25/2017: hit reset

CC logoWhew.  As you can imagine it's been pretty busy offline, so I'm hoping to hit the proverbial reset button on this little blog and get back to posting more regularly.  In the meantime, here are some links from oh, the past month - I got so far behind, but I think they're still relevant.  :) 

- I lamented on Twitter about the fact that holographic mascara doesn't exist, but I guess these LED eye lashes are the next best thing. 

- A fashion curator explains why some pieces belong in a museum.  I think her arguments apply to a cosmetics museum as well, yes?

- As much as the industry tries to be more culturally/socially aware and inclusive, things like this and this still happen.  Boggles my mind.  Also bummed that two of my favorite blogs have folded.

- When I was in school I worked my ass off to get the highest grades possible so the idea of cheating doesn't sit well with me, but I gotta hand it to this kid for his creativity.

- Fashionista and Racked have some interesting reads on the beauty box subscription trend and the wastefulness of cosmetics packaging, respectively.

- Contrary to popular belief and much to the delight of people like me who love slathering on the makeup, heavy application actually has some skincare benefits.

- The latest wacky beauty products to hit the market include rosé scented deodorant, pizza bath bombs, and perfume that smells like a cat's belly (I guess it's similar to Demeter's Kitten Fur but more specific?)  More questionable and possibly harmful are these "treatments" for your nether regions. #newlow

- More beauty craziness: Instagram fads include lip art using toilet paper or bugs, watermelon makeup, and tons of new hair trends from "Starburst" coloring and confetti hair to marbling.  Finally, using soft drinks for various beauty purposes seems to be the next big thing.

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, Alanis Morrisette's hit album Jagged Little Pill is being turned into a musical, Clearly Canadian is back on supermarket shelves, and three hit songs celebrated their 20th birthdays.

- Happy 30th to the gif!  The interwebz wouldn't be the same without them.

- Desperately want to check out this museum in Berlin.  This one, not so much.

- Anyone else watching the new Twin Peaks?  I don't have Showtime but my parents do, so I managed to see the first 3 episodes when I visited them a few weeks ago...but now I'm seriously considering getting a Showtime subscription to continue watching - I'm hooked!

How have you been?


Quick post: Are you ready for this jelly?

Hello!  It's been a while since I last posted as work nearly killed me recently, but I wanted to get something up today to 1. show that I haven't died from stress, even though I  thought I might; and 2. put up some summer fun in honor of what is easily one of the Curator's favorite days of the year, the solstice.  With that in mind, I present Anna Sui's summer makeup collection.  It's been a long time since I purchased anything from this line, but as soon as I saw this collection I knew I had to have nearly all of it.

The two nail polishes will not belong to the Museum's collection - I will be using them. As a matter of fact, this week I'm wearing S 105 (the lighter aqua blue) and it's beautiful.  It's almost as legendary as the ultimate mermaid nail polish.

Anna Sui summer 2017 makeup

I adore all the sea critters since they are friends of mermaids.  Side note:  when I was little I was infinitely fascinated with jellyfish in addition to mermaids.  There's just something about their movement, shape and their very biology that I find incredibly interesting.  They're such simple creatures on the surface - they don't have eyes, noses, or even a central nervous system - yet some of them actually glow in the dark, while the sting of others can be deadly.  I find the way they move to be strangely beautiful, and I hope to make a trip to the National Aquarium soon so that I can be totally mesmerized. (I really have no excuse for not getting there - it's literally less than a 20-minute walk from my home).

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

You would think the white plastic border and iridescent effect on in the middle of the case would look tacky and/or juvenile, but I honestly think it works here.  It reminds me of all the different tones you see in the ocean as the sun hits it.

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

Anna Sui summer 2017 palette

And I just remembered I didn't take a picture of the inside of the palette, which has the same motifs (coral, starfish, seahorse, jellyfish and bubbles) but rendered in a vintage illustration style.  To my eye it almost looks like wallpaper.  You'll see it in a couple days in the summer exhibition.  ;)

The gold powder case has blue-green jewels that belong in a mermaid princess's crown.  As fun and blingy as it is, I couldn't bear to put the powder inside because then you couldn't see the lovely seashells embossed on it so I'll be displaying these separately. 

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder case

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder case

Anna Sui summer 2017 powder

Even the eyeshadow has a jellyfish!

Anna Sui summer 2017 eyeshadow

Bet you thought this was the first time a jellyfish appeared on a makeup compact.  I did too, until I remembered the number one rule that beauty historians need to keep in mind:  no matter how new and exciting something in the makeup world seems, it's probably been done before.  And I was right!  Here are two vintage compacts that feature my favorite invertebrates. 

Unfortunately I don't know the brand or even the approximate date of this one, but I'm guessing it's from the '40s or '50s. 

vintage under the sea compact

This one is a Stratton, probably from around the '50s given the rectangular shape,  purse clasp and the horizontal lines on the unmarked back (you can see a similar compact around the 3 minute mark in this very helpful video on dating Strattons.)

Vintage Stratton under the sea compact
(images from pinterest and antiques.com)

Naturally I'd give my eye teeth for both, in addition to all the vintage mermaid compacts I'm hunting down.  As for the Anna Sui collection, I thought it completely nailed the "magical aquarium" theme described on the website.

So what do you think of Magical Aquarium and the vintage compacts?  Do you have a favorite? 

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Not more of the SAMO: Basquiat x Urban Decay

My thoughts on Urban Decay's collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988) were very tough to gather for many reasons, which is why I'm just getting a post up well over a month after the collection's original release.  It's always difficult to approach beauty collections featuring monumental artists such as Basquiat due to the enormous amount of resources, and while I feel the need to be thorough in exploring the artist's work, I don't wish to embarrass myself by pretending I'm an expert on their oeuvre (art history degree non-withstanding).  This post was made harder to write by the fact that I had already touched a bit on Basquiat's work for Addiction's 2013 collection, so I really didn't have any idea on how to properly approach Urban Decay's collection as I didn't want to repeat myself but still felt I needed to provide some information.  Finally, there was the issue of whether it was even appropriate to be using Basquiat's work for makeup packaging and to collaborate with the Urban Decay brand in particular.  In the end, after a few very frustrating weeks of searching for journal articles at the library and consulting no fewer than 6 books on the artist (3 of which I purchased), I threw up my hands and decided to simply identify which specific paintings appeared on the makeup, giving a little background on them where I could.  I'll go over the makeup first and briefly review the artworks that are on each item, then attempt to wrap my head around the mammoth controversy surrounding the collection.  Get ready for a lot of quotes - I think only around 100 of the nearly 4,000 words here are my own, since my writing and analysis just weren't up to par with those of real art historians and I figured it was best to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.

I was so glad to nab the highly coveted vault, which included the entire collection save for the makeup bags.  I really wanted this bag since it had another artwork that wasn't featured on any of the vault items, but it sold out within minutes and I'm sure not paying $99 for it on ebay.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

The outer packaging is adorned with the 1983 work Danny Rosen, while the inside features a reproduction of Untitled (The Return of the Central Figure) (1983).  These same two works also appear on the lipsticks. 

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

The inner lid of the vault box shows Gold Griot (1984), which is used for one of the eye shadow palettes.

Urban Decay x Basquiat vault

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

Interestingly, the painting on the interior of the Gold Griot palette is a completely different work.  Basquiat painted several pieces entitled Per Capita, and the one that appears on the inside of the palette is from 1982.  Unfortunately I was unable to find a decent photo of it online or in any books - only this tiny picture here.  Hmmph.

I love how the individual shade names refer to the titles of some of Basquiat's other pieces.

 Urban Decay x Basquiat Gold Griot palette

The blush palette depicts Untitled (Crown) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Gallery blush palette

The other eye shadow palette in the collection features Untitled (Tenant) from 1982.

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Urban Decay x Basquiat Tenant palette

Finally, we have the lipsticks.

Urban Decay x Basquiat lipsticks

Now here are the original artworks.  But first, in case you aren't familiar with Basquiat and don't feel like googling, I found this bio to be succinct yet accurate.  The immediacy and freshness of his style are still striking nearly 30 years after his untimely death, and I don't think the themes in his work - racism, capitalist greed, the hypocrisy of the art world, among others - will ever be irrelevant. Just a few weeks ago one of his pieces shattered auction records, selling for a cool $110.5 million - more than any American artist.

Let's start with Danny Rosen, titled after one of Basquiat's friends.  Here's an excerpt from an excellent essay on this piece, which I encourage you to read in full: "On a monumentally scaled vertical canvas, Basquiat plays out his own excited narrative using a visual language all his own. Colorful, mask-like faces, cryptic symbols, words and cyphers mix with various anatomical details, vegetation and ethnographical heads jostle with more cartoon-like renditions of the human face. Words appear--and are crossed out for extra emphasis--and then placed innocuously next to objects to which they bear no relation. Basquiat's outpouring of imagery is held together by an exploratory train of green vegetation that winds up through the arrangement, acting as a compositional device and pulling all the various elements together into one harmonious whole...Simultaneously both figurative and abstract, Basquiat's imagery and brushwork formulate a painting that interweaves the human form with a staccato rhythm of signs that convey a sense of the mental hurly-burly of modern urban living. The untamed energy of Danny Rosen provides a window onto the frenetic pulse of Basquiat's life and links his past as a graffitist with his new status as an established artist, presenting us with a raw and vivid impression of the urban world he inhabited."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danny Rosen, 1983
(image from christies.com) 

Moving on to 1983's Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), I learned that this piece is actually a silkscreen print, part of a series of 12.  The medium may have been Warhol's influence on Basquiat, who quickly saw the potential of silkscreen as it related to his depiction of various dichotomies.  As Fred Hoffman writes in his essay for Basquiat (p. 130):  "Having worked closely with the artist in the production of his editioned silkscreens as well as his first unique paintings utilizing silkscreen-generated imagery, I became acutely aware of the extent of Basquiat’s concern for incorporating the dichotomy between black and white into both the content and the strategies of his artistic production. A primary example is the artist’s fraught self-transformation from black to white in the untitled silkscreen on canvas of 1983: in the original artwork, the artist depicted a black head set on top of a ground of texts and images; but the silkscreen reverses the positive imagery and texts, turning everything originally depicted in black into white, and everything white into black. Basquiat throughout his career focused on other suggestive dichotomies, including wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience."

This work, I think, also is an excellent representation of how Basquiat essentially painted hip-hop.  One of the best discussions I found on this was Franklin Sirmans' essay "In the Cypher:  Basquiat and Hip-Hop Culture".  "Basquiat's art - like the best hip-hop - takes apart and reassembles the work that came before it.  That is to say, it dismantles its historical precedents by showing mastery over their techniques and styles, and put them to new uses, in which the new becomes the final product layered over the past...Basquiat's trademark lists of words spat in paint, visually stuttered, repeated and often crossed out, to be read as incantations with a pause for thought and breath:  in other words, beats that control the flow of the composition." (p. 92-93)  I'm normally drawn to more colorful art, but after reading that analysis I have to say my mind is blown looking at this.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Return of the Central Figure), 1983

The original was a collage of 28 drawings mounted on canvas.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982-83(images from theartstack.com and the Brooklyn Museum)

Gold Griot is also notable for its medium (wooden planks instead of canvas) as well as the subject matter.  Eric Fretz explains in Jean-Michel Basquiat:  A Biography (p.118-119):  "The 'griot' is a West African storyteller:  not just an entertainer but an important and respected figure who keeps a family's history and a community's traditions alive through storytelling...sports figures and jazz musicians had served as metaphors for the position of a black artist in Basquiat's earlier work.  He was now extending his references back to Africa and comparing his work to the griot tradition."  However, I'm more inclined to agree with Marc Mayer's deeper analysis of the griot in Basquiat's work, which proposes that the artist was poking fun at the "primitive" tradition within Western art as well as the American perception of Africa.  "But then there are his emaciated, scarified, and almost extraterrestrial griots - a term for West African bards.  Chilling fetishes, they exploit an American fantasy of an unrecorded ur-Africa of fear and sorcery.  Flexible (page 140), for example, which belongs to a series of similar pictures is a frightening scarecrow of a painting that, judging from the number of its variations, probably amused the artist to no end." (Basquiat, p. 45).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gold Griot, 1984(image from wikiart.org)

Possibly the most recognized Basquiat motif is the crown. I discussed the meaning behind this in my previous post on the Addiction collection, but here's a succinct explanation, courtesy of Robert Farris Thompson in Jean-Michel Basquiat (p. 20):  "This symbol comes straight out of the world of the graffiteros.  When Mailer published 'The Faith of Graffiti' in 1974, the two most frequent names on the walls of New York City were 'King' and 'Cool.'  Basquiat never lost that preoccupation with nobility.  He wanted his stature properly appreciated as a kind of creative royalty.  All of which runs parallel with other black Americans who in effect said, 'If you can't see the inherent nobility of our culture then, raising our assertion to a pitch, we will crown ourselves with an alternative hierarchy': thus Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lady Day, and Nat King Cole."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Crown), 1982(image from the Brooklyn Museum)

Untitled (Tenant) was a tricky one to find.  I didn't come across any decent photos of it online or in the books I looked through, so the best I could do was a screen shot taken from this 2011 documentary.  Subject matter wise, I'm not exactly sure what it means, but my hunch is that it's one of the many figural "heroes"  Basquiat was painting at the time.  Dieter Buchhart explains in Basquiat:  Now's the Time (p. 14-15):  "Around [1981], Basquiat began to differentiate his depictions, turning towards full-body portraits, primarily of African-American men.  He represents these men as boxers, sufferers, saints, angels and fighters.  Their halos seem to oscillate between glorioles, laurel wreaths and crowns of thorns, and their weapons stretch from fists, teeth, baseball bats, spears, arrows and swords to brooms, buckets of water and angels' wings...Basquiat's African American men are usually not only read to struggle but also intent on resistance."  The raised hands appear frequently in Basquiat's work, simultaneously representing the more general struggle for equality and resistance to white dominance - his pictures of boxers for example, portray figures with conflicted, and as noted earlier, often dichotomous, meanings.  Coupled with the title of this piece, I think it may show a black squatter in a vacant home caught off guard by  (presumably) white police, especially after reading this analysis by scholar Nathan Brown in his spot-on essay "The Irony of Anatomy: Basquiat's Poetics of Black Positionality":  "And indeed the figure is also powerfully consonant with contemporary struggles against anti-black racism, in which the gesture of raised hands, ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’, expresses a conversion of black positionality – the position of the putative criminal confronted by the cops – into black power: the assertive action of resistance against the persistence of white supremacy in civil society. This conversion of position into power expresses a scathing political irony directed against the physical imperatives of oppression, the bodily postures and submissive attitudes it demands thrown back with avenging anger."  And while Untitled (Tenant) was painted a full year before graffiti artist Michael Stewart was beaten to death by NYC police, an event that shook Basquiat to his core, the figure's pose seems to suggest impending police brutality.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Tenant), 1982

This last one, which appears on one of the lipsticks, was even harder to find.  I didn't see any pictures of it online; fortunately one of the books I bought had it. Untitled (1982) consists of a disembodied head - another often-used motif for the artist - surrounded by various scribbles and shapes including the famous crown.  Interestingly this one does not have any discernible text.  Much has been written about Basquiat's heads, which in some cases like the one below, are partial skulls.  This one particular though got my attention - why is this one wearing a bowtie?  The row of buttons beneath perhaps suggest that he's wearing a tuxedo, which is also the title of a well-known work.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982

Hoffman's interpretation of 1982's Untitled (Head) can be applied to this work as well. "Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull, is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such, it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate its psycho-spiritual recesses...Untitled (Head) depicts the left upper and lower teeth, possibly accounting for the work’s misinterpretation as a skull by some. But Untitled (Head) clearly also depicts functioning facial features as well: the left ear, both eyes, and the nose...the artist also reveals less tangible aspects of the head, such as the subtle neural pathways connecting the sense organs to their internal processor. This concern for sensory and cognitive activity negates the interpretation of the head as an inanimate skull. What this work ultimately captures is the fluidity between external and internal—the complex, living processes connecting seeing, hearing, smelling, and knowing...Untitled (Head) indicates that, from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work introduces the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects. His work appears to break down the dichotomy between the external and the internal, intuiting and revealing the innermost aspects of psychic life. In so doing, the artist extends the concern for spiritual truths advanced most notably by the Abstract Expressionists four decades earlier."  However, I also think given how crazily wide the eyes are and the bared, partially red (bloody?) teeth, there's a sense of madness and/or monstrosity here too.  The description in an essay for yet a different head-themed work, Head of Madman, is relevant for this piece.  "Joining the pantheon of mad, deranged and overtly expressive figures engraved throughout the pages of art history, and their commanding visual references within popular culture, Head of Madman maintains a fine balance between control, spontaneity, menace and wit...Embarking on the grand tradition of illustrating extreme states of consciousness through artistic expression, Head of Madman captures the same emotional tension articulated in the Grotesque Heads of Leonardo da Vinci, the Black Paintings of Goya, Otto Dix's war-torn realism, Egon Schiele's erotically charged portraiture, and Francis Bacon's screaming Popes. And yet here, the artist seems to take his figure one step further. Slowly peeling away the skin of his forebears, Basquiat reveals a certain skeletal rawness, derived from the barrage of inner demons and personal struggles the artist was forced to cope with during his relatively short life...Head of Madman at once evokes Frankenstein's monster, coupled with an amalgamation of super villain traits, and combined with a certain mishmash of boldly heroic comic colors...Not irreducible to a single source of inspiration, Head of Madman is a unique infusion of history, biography and mass media imagery."  

Now that I've briefly looked at the artworks, let's explore the controversies surrounding this collection.  First up, was a collaboration with a brand like Urban Decay appropriate?  On the surface, it would seem like a perfect fit given the grittiness of some of Basquiat's work and Urban Decay's mantra of "beauty with an edge".  Basquiat sought to change the art world and rebelled against the way it functioned, and one could argue that Urban Decay set out to shake up the beauty industry by trying to normalize non-traditional colors (remember the original "Does pink make you puke?" campaign from the '90s?)  So it would seem that Basquiat and Urban Decay would be aligned in spirit.  Says David Stark, president of the firm managing the licensing of Basquiat's work:  "When we think about a program we try and figure out who the right fit would be and vehicles that would be a good platform for us to get our message out. Urban Decay is a company we’ve known for several years. It took us a little bit of time to craft the program we eventually developed with them, but we did feel that as a brand Urban Decay is edgy and had an element of artistry and felt like a good fit." But as ArtNet points out, "One of Urban Decay’s marketing taglines reads 'UD beauty junkies…Addiction has its perks,' a less than ideal message to set against the artist’s life and legacy considering that he died at age 27 from a heroin overdose."  This is quite true, especially when looking at some of their product names like Freebase and Junkie (I admit I own the latter).  Still, if Basquiat's work was going to appear on any makeup brand, Urban Decay is the natural choice by a mile.  And perhaps the collab could even encourage Urban Decay to change some of their product names to non-offensive ones eventually.

The second questionable decision was the selection of model Ruby Rose to front the Urban Decay campaign.  Some were dismayed that a white woman was being used to promote the collection, and I'm inclined to agree.  Stark addressed the issue:  "I’ve seen some of that criticism. It wasn’t that we chose her because she was white or black, she was already selected by Urban Decay to be the spokesperson for their brand. As far as looking at Jean-Michel as an individual, people would very often try to pigeonhole him and call him a black artist and Jean-Michel would say: 'I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist.' He would say a lot of the protagonists in his work are black figures, and he would say, 'I didn’t see a lot of black figures in paintings,' so he would have his own subversive angle towards these things. In terms of an agenda as a black person or a black artist, it’s hard to attribute that to him. Even though he grew up in a middle-class black family, his family was Caribbean. They didn’t have the African-American experience. His heritage was Haitian and Puerto Rican. He had a very multicultural background."  Uhhhh...I'd argue Basquiat DID have the "African-American experience" - it's not like strangers looking at him could know where his family was from; all they saw was a black man.  This is to say nothing of the incredibly prominent African-American cultural references and figures that comprise so much of Basquiat's work.  Stark's comment makes me wonder if he ever actually looked at Basquiat's paintings.  Also, I understand his point about Rose already being the brand's model, but in this day and age, where non-white models are still so underrepresented, it just makes more sense to have a woman of color for this collection.  Writing for BET, Lainey Sidell says, "We get that Urban Decay didn't do anything outright 'wrong' with using its normal spokesmodel in this campaign, but it begs a wider, more comprehensive discussion. Are creatives really doing all they can to level the playing field for POC models? With this Basquiat campaign, the answer is looking like no. Our hope is, by continually bringing attention to such decisions, change will come."  I understand using a model who was already under contract, but I think Urban Decay could have made an exception for the Basquiat collection - using a model of color wouldn't have hurt.

Finally, there's the continually difficult question that can never really have an answer:  would Basquiat have approved of his work being used on makeup?  Of course we'll never know, but I always like to explore the different sides.  The artist's estate approached Urban Decay, not the other way around, so it's not like Urban Decay was chasing after them to make a buck. (I'm not sure how much that means, though, given what we've seen of Kahlo's estate, where it seems her niece is in fact after the sweet dinero.)  Some say that Basquiat would be aghast at seeing his art slapped on makeup (or skateboards or dishes or watches) to make money, especially given the anti-consumerism, anti-commodification stance in his work and his own refusal to "sell out" as an artist.  As writer Glenn O'Brien, who cast Basquiat in his 1981 film Downtown 81 remembers in Jean-Michel Basquiat:  Now's The Time (p.178): "He wanted the big money, but that's because the big money was about respect.  He wasn't in it for the money.  He was in it for the audience."  But O'Brien also points out that Basquiat was committed to making art accessible.  "He didn't make work for collectors, dealers, curators or critics. He painted for the public.  He didn't paint for those who would hold title to his pieces, but for all those who would see them." (p. 180, emphasis mine). What's better than the average person being able to hang a Basquiat on their wall at a price that's even lower than a print?  Urban Decay made sure people could enjoy simply looking at the art in addition to the makeup by including cut-outs on the back of the palettes.

Urban Decay x Basquiat detail

I'd also argue that Basquiat would be tickled at the wide appeal of his art and that it actually appeared on a makeup line that proved to be a quite lucrative deal.  O'Brien once again:  "I wish he could see his shows now - how they draw the crowds - and I know he'd like his prices.  I remember him laughing at a painting he sold at the Fun Gallery show that he'd made in ten minutes.  He had figured out his hourly rate was something like $15,000." To see millions of dollars being made off of his work appearing on makeup, I think, would have been greatly amusing to the artist.

At the end of the day, and this is probably my own bias since, you know, I've been running an online makeup museum featuring artist collabs for nearly 9 years, I'm all for makeup featuring artists because it helps spread their work to a wider audience.  Even though I questioned Stark's other comments, I fully agree with his perspective on sharing art via makeup packaging:  "We like the idea of introducing Basquiat to a new audience and a new generation. This is a way for us to get out in a very public way and engage people with his art and hopefully get them to do a little research and learn something about Basquiat. The other thing is, there are plenty of people, when it comes to beauty, who are not necessarily the museum-going audience. There may be a consumer from Urban Decay who never steps foot in a museum and this is a subversive way of getting Basquiat into different people’s eyeballs that they wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise. Basquiat was a great communicator and this is a way for that art to get out and communicate on a different plane."  Again, I'm biased and obviously Stark is too, as the president of a company that makes money off of these types of collaborations, but I'm absolutely on board with this sentiment. 

Okay, that was long!  If you read my shallow ramblings this far, what are your thoughts?  I don't think I did Basquiat justice, but I'm pleased I could at least identify all the works in the collection and aggregate some good analyses from people more adept than I am at writing about art.


You're invited to Gucci's ladybug picnic

This song from my childhood immediately popped into my head when I spotted Gucci's new palette.

I was pleased to see Gucci doing something a little different packaging wise.  It's a relatively new line, launched in fall 2014, and I honestly haven't been interested in it either for collectible purposes or actual use.  But this new blush got me hoping this is the start of many more limited-edition items with fresh designs.  And I usually hate bugs with a passion, but ladybugs (along with fireflies) are acceptable to me.  :)

I didn't take a picture of the front of the case, as it was simply Gucci's usual interlocking gold G's.  They could have put a ladybug print on the outer case, but as this is their first try at a limited-edition item I shouldn't be too critical.  Inside, the powder is embossed with a single ladybug sporting 6 spots. 

Gucci ladybug blush

Gucci ladybug blush

Before I purchased the blush I did a quick search to see whether it had anything to do with Gucci's clothing - ladybugs seemed so random.  However, Gucci offers a healthy selection of items sporting the little critter.

I think the print on these tote bags would have been perfect for the outer case of the blush, no?

Gucci ladybug bags

Gucci ladybug leather coin purse

Gucci ladybug shoes

Gucci ladybug brooch and keychain

Especially adorable is their children's line.  I have no interest in having kids and would most likely never drop serious cash on their clothing (I mean, they grow out of it so quickly!), but damn, children's clothing is just precious to look at.

Gucci kids clothing

Gucci kids shoes
(images from gucci, saks, bloomingdales and net-a-porter)

Still, I was puzzled about the ladybug motif.  I did find them lurking in the spring and pre-fall 2016 collections, among many other creatures and insects. 

Gucci spring 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016

Gucci pre fall 2016(images from vogue.com)

These collections gave me a bit more context for the ladybug design.  Upon seeing them mixed in floral and animal prints, a blush palette with a ladybug didn't seem too far out of left field.  The Garden collection, an online-exclusive capsule collection released in the summer of 2016, was another addition to the flora and fauna frenzy that the brand seemed to be partaking in that year.

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection

Gucci Garden collection(images from gucci.com)

Yet I just couldn't figure out why there was so much emphasis on, well, nature at Gucci.  It wasn't until I read a brief description of Gucci's history and how its relatively new Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, has been modernizing the house's traditions. "Reflecting its clientele’s dynamic, well-traveled and sportif lifestyles, the brand very early on began incorporating animal motifs into its designs. Gucci’s famous horse-bit icon drew from the passion for horseback riding among its Italian aristocrat customers...since taking over as Creative Director in January 2015, Alessandro Michele has been drawing upon Gucci’s archives and this history of fauna fervor by incorporating a large variety of animals into his designs. With each collection the designer adds several more creatures to his Gucci stable, drawing on their cultural symbolism to provide layers of meaning to his heavily referential and often occult-tinged themes.  Michele’s ever-increasing insectarium collects together dragonflies, beetles, ants, bees, ladybugs, moths, and butterflies. A lepidopterist and entomologist's dream, Alessandro Michele's collections for Gucci are a fantasia of insect life. Bugs are joined by a parade of mammals on clothing and jewels: tigers, rabbits, lions, horses, cats, foxes, and many more. Gucci’s sparkling, brash menagerie is woven into velvet; formed into metal studs, large sculptural rings, and cascading earrings; beaded and sequined; patchworked out of fur; and even needlepointed. Each creature has its own symbolic meaning."  Finally, we have an answer!  I guess because I didn't investigate their makeup earlier and also because Gucci just isn't on my fashion radar, I had no idea they had a history of using animal and flower motifs.  Now that I know, I admire Michele's examination of Gucci's archives and his take on motifs that he presumably selected from them, along with his own new additions.  The flora and fauna read modern and sophisticated rather than stale and stuffy, or worse, cutesy.  And as the article points out, high-end materials also help elevate ladybugs and their pals.  It's whimsical luxury (or luxurious whimsy) that still is in keeping with Gucci's history and aesthetic.

As for the significance of the ladybugs themselves, Farfetch says they're a "symbol of luck and protection that has come to be a signature from Alessandro Michele."  I don't know about that, but when considering his designs from the past few seasons and knowing that he's updating Gucci's traditions, a ladybug on the blush palette seems to fit.  Despite the lackluster outer case and the fact that I would have liked to see a more intricate and colorful design, it was still Museum-worthy.  Instead of a single ladybug, the part of the Garden collection print with it would have been awesome, rotated like this (yes I know it's small but you get the idea.)

Gucci-Garden- snippet

But overall it was a good first effort from Gucci and I hope they do more in this vein.  I also hope I can remember to work it into next spring's exhibition.  It would look particularly nice next to Dior's Flower Blossom palette, which is the only other palette I can think of that has a ladybug.

Thoughts?


MM Mailbag: fab four

For the majority of inquiries I receive -  say, around 75% - I'm ashamed to admit that I can't provide any information.  I do enjoy researching them but I loathe not being able to give a definitive answer on the item or brand people are asking about.  Recently I receive an inquiry from a woman who was, sadly, going through her deceased mother's belongings and came across 4 gorgeous compacts that she wanted to know a little more about.  While I was still not able to provide solid information for a couple of them, I was able to delve a bit more deeply into 2 of them.  I guess 50% is better than my usual rate for inquiries!

First up is this lovely gold-tone number with a sunburst pattern on the front and a basket weave pattern on the back. 

Vintage Melissa compact

Fortunately the puff was still in there so I could see the brand.  The Melissa company, according to the British Compact Collectors' Society, dates from around the 1950s-70s.  Says one researcher: "Melissa is thought to have been based in Acton, London W3 from the early 1950s, but I found that by 1962 the company had premises in Arundel Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex.  In 1970, the company was still listed at this address in a telephone directory, but by 1972 another company occupied the site.  A local trade directory of 1976 listed Searchlight Products, so possibly the firm was still trading at this later date, but I have been unable to find out at what date it ceased manufacturing compacts." 

Vintage Melissa compact

Next up is a "sweetheart" black enamel compact, so named for their popularity among WWII soldiers who gave them as gifts to their loved ones during wartime.  Without a maker's mark I couldn't identify the brand, but from what I could make out the insignia in the heart looks a bit like the "prop and wings" motif from the U.S. Air Corps.  I asked the submitter if anyone in her family was in the military and she confirmed that her father was in the Army Air Force during WWII.  What a sweet gift for her mom. 

I'd love to write a comprehensive history of sweetheart compacts, but it's such a huge project that it will have to wait for when I have time...like, maybe when I'm retired.  :(

Vintage sweetheart compact

Vintage sweetheart compact

For these last two a little more information was available.  Zell was a leading compact company from the '30s-'60s and was  one of the "5th Avenue" lines, along with Rex, Dorset, Columbia and Dale.  Zell had some quite novel compact designs early on, including the "First Nighter" - a compact with a flashlight that was released in the '30s (can you believe that?!)  But Zell was primarily known as a solid brand that offered understated, stylish designs as well.  The compact in question is an elegantly striped square piece with rounded edges.

Vintage Zell compact

Vintage Zell compact

I tried to find a little more information from my local library about the company, but came up mostly empty-handed.  I learned through a few meager news clippings that the company was founded by David H. Zell, who passed away in 1944.  While his widow Sophie was technically President, it was the Vice President, one of their sons Daniel D. Zell, who was really running the show, given this clipping (not to mention numerous patents in his name.)

1951 clip

After I scoured the historical newspapers, I decided to try old-fashioned googling to at least try to find when the Zell company was founded and when it went out of business.  I didn't find those dates, but I did unearth something quite interesting and bought it immediately.

Zell compact ad 1946

Well, look what I spy!  It's the very same compact!  The ad indicates that this particular style actually had a name:  it was called the "Countess".  Here it is up close in case you couldn't make it out.  (The one above is the "Aristocrat" and the one below is the "Princess".  Ooh la la.)

Zell ad close up

When I originally researched this inquiry I guessed that the compact in question was from the '50s, as that was the height of Zell's popularity and, in my opinion, gold-tone compacts.  But I was wrong.  The promotional ad is from 1946, so it must have been released if not that year then around then. While I'm still a little miffed at not being able to put together a full history of Zell, I'm glad I could at least identify this particular compact.  It was complete luck but I'll take it.  :)

I saved the most interesting one for last.  I couldn't for the life of me recognize the brand, as the photo of the mark on the back was too dark and small.

Lucien Lelong tambourine compact

Thankfully the submitter included a picture of the puff.  I recognized the concentric L-shapes as the logo belonging to Lucien Lelong, a famed French couturier turned perfumer and cosmetics manufacturer.

Lucien Lelong tambourine compact

The design of the compact is truly fascinating.  The intricate, regal birds are reminiscent of motifs found on royal crests, and I can't say I've ever seen a compact with little rings attached to it.  Off I went to find more information and found a few ads so I could give a date of when this compact was released.  Known as the "tambourine" compact, it looks like it first appeared in September 1948. The rings could be simply decorative and just there to be "pleasant sounding", or perhaps Mom could attach some charms to them - seems they were really pushing this as either a Valentine's Day or Mother's Day gift.  It may also have waned in popularity by 1950, given the price drop from the original $5 to $0.99.  As a side note, my mind is always blown by the retail prices of vintage pieces!  They seem so inexpensive, but according to this online calculator a $5 compact would cost approximately $52 nowadays.  Still, that's a reasonable price for a nice compact...and it would be only $10.13 on sale.  :)

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, September 1948

LOL at "gifty!"  These old ads crack me up sometimes.

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, February 1949

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, May 1950

I was really curious to know why Lelong decided to introduce this compact, as it didn't seem to have a connection to any of the company's fragrances or couture.  I did come across this "Ting a Ling" perfume bottle which also had rings attached and was released around the same time as the compact. 

Lucien Lelong Ting a Ling perfume
(image from collection.cooperhewitt.org)

But as you can see, it has bells, whereas I didn't see any Tambourine compacts with bells.  According to the New York Times ad above, the compact was a replica of a vintage French tambourine, which, when I first laid eyes on that description, sounded like utter marketing garbage.  However, thanks to extensive information provided on Lelong by the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, it's entirely possible that the design was indeed inspired by a vintage tambourine.  Lelong employed the services of noted artist Peter Fink to create novel, unique packaging for his perfumes and lipsticks, such as the Ting a Ling bottle and Full Dress lipstick mentioned in the ad above, so it's probable that Fink came up with the tambourine compact design as well.  As for the notion that the compact was specifically a French tambourine replica, that's also credible given Lelong's love for his home country.  So maybe the advertising isn't a complete pile of crap spun by unscrupulous marketing directors.*  ;)  Anyway, I was happy that I could find a name and date for this compact.  This is definitely one I'd love to add to my collection, but they are rare (read: expensive, especially when in good condition) and tend to get snatched up immediately.

In closing, I'd like to thank the person who took the time to share these items with me.  Since I was able to provide a couple tidbits, this was one of the few inquiries that didn't end with me getting very upset at finding zero information.  Plus, all of the compacts are great from a design standpoint.  Even if I didn't find a single thing about them, I would have just enjoyed looking at them.

What do you think?  Which of these is your favorite?

 

*Eh, it probably is. Another newspaper ad from December 1948, which I didn't clip since I refuse to upgrade to the "premium" subscription of newspapers.com (they're such jerks - this stuff should be free!), and my local library didn't carry the particular newspaper, notes that the tambourine is an "exact replica of a g---y's tambourine".  Oof.  That would be pretty unacceptable language now, not to mention that it makes me doubt how inspired the design was.  Or it could also be a matter of marketing to different geographic areas - perhaps the advertising people thought that "French" would be more appealing to what they perceived to be a high-fashion East Coast crowd so they used it in the ad that ran in the New York Times, and changed the description to the g-word for simple Midwestern folks, whom they assumed had less stylish taste than New Yorkers and may have been put off by anything described as French (the g-word ad was found in the Indianapolis Star.)

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Curator's Corner, 5/14/2017

CC logoHello and Happy Mother's Day to all the moms!  If you're not a mom I hope you're having a lovely Sunday.  Unfortunately I am not...our living situation has not improved so we continue to actively look for new Museum headquarters, my 3rd chemical peel went badly (resulted in scabby, oozing wounds, which didn't occur with the first 2 peels - no idea what happened this time), and work has really picked up and will be busy till the end of June.  So things might get a little quiet around here since work stress and house hunting = me having no energy/time left to blog.  Anyway, I'll do my best to keep posting.  And to stop complaining.  ;)

- Here's a nice little read on cosmetics and personal hygiene products in ancient Egypt

- It's always surprising to me how little the cosmetics industry is regulated, which is why I was intrigued by this new bill

- And now for the crazy fads from the past 2 weeks:  pizza slice, "shine line" and mother-of-pearl hair are having a moment, brow art continues full speed ahead, and I have to say I'm digging this new eye makeup trend, remarkably impractical though it is.

- Racked highlights the growing population of recovering makeup addicts.  I can't say I'll ever be a part of their group, but it's good to know they're there.  (I was actually aware of the Makeup Rehab reddit previously since the Museum's very first in-person visitor is a member and told me all about it.)

- I've had my issues with Dove's campaigns before, but this is a new level of dumb.  Equally stupid is this new lipstick "hack" - an easier, more accurate way to determine what a lipstick will actually look like on your lips (and for you to see whether it's flattering) is swatching it on your fingertips.  Finally, when will it end??

The random:

- In '90s nostalgia, the frontman of one of the decade's most prominent bands finished his Ph.D.  I was also super excited about the new season of Twin Peaks...until I read this article indicating that at least 3 characters aren't coming back.  (Two of these absences are due to the fact that the actors who played them have passed away since the show's original run - so sad!)

- A little art history fun.  Also, if this can get funding, surely my museum can.

- Makeup Museum staff's worst nightmare.

- LOL.

What's new with you?

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Ms. Min for MAC

Before I delve into the summer collections, I thought I'd look at one last release from the spring.  MAC teamed up with Chinese fashion designer Min Liu (a.k.a. Ms. Min) for a small collection featuring Min's signature modern twist on traditional Chinese style.  I picked up the standout from the collection, a blush/highlighter palette embossed with a truly gorgeous wave pattern.

Min Liu for MAC palette

Min Liu for MAC palette

I didn't have to search very hard to find the inspiration behind the colors Min chose, along with the wave design.  In an interview with online magazine Buro 24/7, she explains, "There are actually four main colors in this collection which are China red, lush peony pink, shimmering platinum, and bold ink black. Each colour is rich in meaning and contains a distinct energy in traditional colour theory. Red promises loyalty and bravery. Pink is a metaphor of beauty. Silver introduces the gods and spirits. Black brings honesty and integrity...The philosophy behind my collaboration with MAC is that everything is about how energy flows, casting a distinct aura, vitalising all forms of life — humans, water, mountains, earth, oceans, clouds. That no matter how it shifts and changes over time, the world maintains an eternal rhythm. It's also inspired by the ancient masterpiece Shang Hai Jing (The Guideways through Mountains and Seas), which is about Chinese mythology culture, spirituality, and folklore...[It's] an allegory for the energy that flows between mountains and oceans and across vast landscapes, spanning time and space. To open this compact is like feeling the universe in your hand. Somehow it reminds me that there is a universe out there." 

Min Liu for MAC palette

Min Liu for MAC palette

I personally think the design resembles the waves from this 1597 illustration of the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas.  (It also reminds me of Hokusai's The Great Wave, but that's a completely different cultural reference.)

Classic of Mountains and Seas illustration, 1597(image from commons.wikimedia.org)

So it's pretty, but what does the makeup have to do with Min's fashion?  Well, the designer created a beautiful capsule collection to coordinate with the makeup, which was unveiled at Shanghai's fashion week in a rather dramatic runway show.  (There's probably a lot more information in this WWD article, but of course it's behind a paywall and my library doesn't have the April issue available yet.  Sigh.) 

MAC Min Liu display

Mac-min-liu-show-dance

The clothing was simply stunning and the makeup was spot-on.  I can't imagine a more harmonious collection.  I can also definitely see the traditional-meets-contemporary vibe of the clothing, which is better described by Min:  "The style of Ms MIN has always been inspired a lot by tradition, culture and spirituality. There's been this conversation between modernity and tradition, Yin and Yang, contrary and balance and ultimately, discovering the harmony of all elements together. Anything relative to beauty reminds us and inspires us: beauty of life, beauty of energy, beauty of this world, and beauty inside of ourselves."  And as for her general perspective on makeup, Min emphasizes owning your look. "I'm wearing the makeup, the makeup is not wearing me," she says.  It's a good reminder not to wear anything that makes you uncomfortable; otherwise it will indeed look like the makeup is wearing you and not the other way around.

MAC Min Liu show

MAC Min Liu fashion collection
(images from mt.sohu.com)

Obviously the clothing was also used in the MAC campaign ads - here's a slightly better glimpse of it. 

MAC Min Liu ad

Overall, I can't say I'd wear any of Min's clothing, but I appreciate her aesthetic.  And I think the MAC palette totally captures it by updating a motif inspired by an ancient Chinese text, along with the color scheme - the shades chosen have certain traditional meanings in Chinese culture, but combining them into one palette, along with how they were used on the runway and campaign, gives them a modern feel. 

What do you think?