I remember thinking how cute and novel these wine bottle-shaped lipsticks were when they were making a sensation back in the fall. (I do have one on the way but the package somehow keeps getting delayed so here's a stock photo for now.) I'm not a wine person - gives me a horrible headache - but I do appreciate adorable makeup packaging so this gets a thumbs-up from me. I mean on the one hand I'm not fond of wine once again being associated with a clichéd feminine stereotype (all ladies love wine, shopping, chocolate and shoes, amirite?), but on the other hand, this lipstick is just too cute.
Turns out, this isn't the first time lipstick has been designed to resemble booze. I was positively tickled when, during one of my customary Friday night vintage makeup searches on Etsy (I lead a very exciting life, I know), I came across this miniature lipstick cleverly packaged as a whiskey bottle.
It really is mini!
I'd never heard of Carstairs before, but apparently from roughly the '40s through the '60s they did a good amount of advertising for their White Seal whiskey, which is still sold today. In addition to the lipsticks, they offered mini screwdrivers and toothpicks, along with seal clock figurines and the usual print advertising. According to one (no longer active) ebay listing, the lipstick bottles started being produced around 1944 and other listings say they're from the '50s, so I guess they were used as promotional items for a few decades. Here's a photo of one in Madeleine Marsh's excellent book, which also dates it to the '50s.
I'm guessing that for the most part, the lipsticks were provided to bars and liquor stores and given away as a small gift-with-purchase, as there are quite a few full boxes of them floating around. I would have bought this one in a heartbeat because how cute would it have been to display it alongside a whole Chateau Labiotte set?
But the individual lipsticks are obviously a lot cheaper and I have many things I want to purchase for the summer exhibition, so I had to pass for now. ;) As for the lipstick itself, a company called Christy Cosmetics, Inc. was responsible for producing it. I couldn't find much information about it online, other than it was a New York-based company and was also the manufacturer of a line called Diana Deering (who was an entirely fictional character, or, as the patent puts it, "fanciful".)
I'm sure there's information about Christy out there somewhere, but as usual I lack the time and other resources to do proper research, i.e., looking beyond Google. If anyone knows anything about their relationship with Carstairs and how they were chosen to produce their promo items I'd love to hear it.
Uh-oh, we have a situation here. Once again a certain little Sailor is up to no good. "It's just my size!"
I better go get this wrapped up and into storage before he smears it all over his face in attempt to "drink" the non-existent whiskey. In any case, Happy St. Patrick's Day and I hope these lipsticks have inspired you to let your hair down and enjoy some adult beverages tonight!
I had actually been working on a particular artist for the next Makeup as Muse for months - her work is pretty involved - but when the maker of this robot tweeted at me a few weeks ago I decided to hold off a little longer on my original installment and feature his creation instead. Meet Yslabelle (pronounced ees-la-bell), a functioning robot made entirely of repurposed YSL makeup packaging!
Standing roughly 6'6" tall (2 meters), Yslabelle was made from hundreds of boxes and her sword from the Shock mascara and Touche Eclat tubes. Gathering the materials took 14 months. I was in awe when I thought Yslabelle was simply a stationary robot statue, but as it turns out, her head is motorized so there's also some movement there. This is particularly mind-blowing to me given that I can't figure out how to hook up the attachments to our vacuum cleaner. Seriously though, I was never gifted at science/math/generally understanding how things work so I've never been all that interested in robots; however, my brother-in-law is a roboticist for Boston Dynamics, so that, combined with my own inability to comprehend anything mechanical, has made me appreciate the art of crafting robots a little more.
Yslabelle was made by Cyberigs Robots, a collective founded in 2015 by Mark Swannell to develop a collection for Robotazia. From what I can tell, Robotazia is a permanent exhibition of sci-fi themed robots somewhere in the U.K. that will be open to visitors sometime this year. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I love the idea of all these different roboticists coming together to build cool new robots and repair old ones for the exhibition. Apparently you'll even be able to grab a snack at the "robo-bistro."
I have to say that this is a marvelous use of old makeup packaging, and it got me thinking about why more companies still don't offer recycling. LUSH, Zoya and MAC are the only companies I can think of off the top of my head that have official recycling programs. Yslabelle also makes me wonder what, if anything, we consumers can do about it besides writing letters and signing petitions encouraging companies to recycle (and as I've said previously, I don't think the entire burden should be on consumers). As we've seen with other Makeup as Muse posts, beauty packaging can be quite wasteful and it's not always easy to properly dispose of or repurpose it. I always put the outer paper boxes into our recycling bin, but this still doesn't help the bigger issue of the inner packaging like plastic/metal containers and tubes. Then of course, there's some completely superfluous packaging like Pat McGrath's sequin-filled bags. Now, I am a huge Pat McGrath fan and she can do no wrong in my eyes. I'd be so sad buying a product from her without those lovely shiny sequins - it just wouldn't be the same! I, along with lots of other beauty bloggers, reuse the sequins for photo props. However, if her company won't have some way for customers who don't want the sequins to send them back to be reused, we have to get creative. Enter Parisian fashion student Ana Ouri, who has been sewing the sequins onto her pieces. Genius!
I am nowhere near as imaginative as Cyberigs or this fashion student, but both projects inspire me to think of cool ways to recycle makeup packaging. Of course, since I'm a collector I don't even want to think about disposing of my beloved collectibles, and my huge stash (i.e., the makeup I actually use) is so massive I can't imagine actually finishing a product except for samples, so it's mostly a moot point for me.
Have you ever tried to repurpose cosmetics packaging in a more artistic way?
If the psychedelic, whimsical illustrations created by British artist Julie Verhoeven for Marc Jacobs Beauty don't seem familiar to you, it's because they are quite a departure from the relatively restrained style she went with for MAC's Illustrated collection in 2012. Five years after the MAC collaboration, Verhoeven has again made her mark on the makeup world by working with Marc Jacobs on his spring 2017 collection, lending her talents to create 2 makeup sets, both of which I purchased.
The Enamored with a Twist set features a mishmash of motifs, including a clothespin, a disembodied mouth with a row of rainbow colored teeth and couple of goofily grinning faces. According to the product description, Verhoeven was aiming to create "modern cartoon imagery". Cartoony it is, but to my eye it has more of a '70s feel.
Three glosses in lovely spring shades are included in the makeup bag.
Velvet Reality is the name of the other set. This one is my favorite of the two, as I love that frog's face!
The set contains mascara, a cream eyeshadow stick and eyeliner.
The illustrations are crazy and eye-catching enough as it is, but what I appreciated is that they were different from those from the Marc Jacobs fashion collection. Although, I wouldn't have minded if they had simply chosen a couple and slapped them on the sets - I still would have bought them hook line and sinker. They're just so fun!
It was quite an extensive lineup so I'm sharing only a few pieces.
"With Marc Jacobs I tried not to be too polite with the graphics, sneaking in some phalluses and domestic appliances that sort of have no reason to be there," she says in an interview. Indeed, with her Instagram hashtags for these pieces like "#phallicmushroom" and the bizarre inclusion of toasters and vacuum cleaners, her description is on the nose. Of course, as with the makeup bags, the "Pill Popping Amphibian" is my favorite motif - he has the silliest expression.
I love spike details so these shoes were right up my alley.
Verhoeven is truly multi-talented. In the time since I last explored her work, she continues her illustration and fashion endeavors, but has also been dabbling in performance art with some pretty captivating shows in 2014 and 2016. Still, I felt like these trippy, out-there illustrations were quite different from the rest of her work...until I realized she had collaborated before with Marc Jacobs all the way back in 2002 for a line of Louis Vuitton bags. As it turns out, this groovy style isn't new territory at all for Verhoeven - right down to the frog motif, the designs for Jacobs this time around are very similar to the ones produced during their previous collaboration.
Getting back to makeup, I love the soft pastel shades included in the sets, but I'm more enamored of Verhoeven's own style. An article in the Guardian describes her bold cosmetic choices: "Verhoeven herself is a jumble of different shades: at 9.30am she is sporting cobalt blue eyeliner, hot pink lips and cheeks and a whitened face, alongside blue tights, coral nail polish and a multicoloured dress. And somehow it all fits together. 'I can’t leave the house without the face on, I’ve got that down to under five minutes,' she says. 'It’s also a layer and a disguise, in a way – I’m aware I’ve got a masculine face, so the makeup is supposed to make me disappear. But really it’s absurd because it does the opposite.'" She definitely gives me confidence to continue wearing crazy makeup colors as I approach middle age...although I'm not a cool artist so I don't know if I could pull it off.
- Started watching Desus and Mero about a month ago and I'm loving it. Actually, I'm loving pretty much all of Viceland's programming...although perhaps I should stop watching Needles and Pins, since it makes want to get some gigantic tattoo that I know I'll regret eventually.
- Another reminder to please, for the love of God, be alert when taking a museum selfie.
- Speaking of museums, I had a delightful time at the BMA yesterday seeing the Guerilla Girls exhibition. Sailor Babo wanted some cultural enrichment too so we took him along. You can see his adventures here. :)
Hello, March! As it is the first day of the month in which spring supposedly will arrive, I thought I'd share Paul & Joe's spring 2017 collection. Consider this part 1 of a 2-part celebration of the beauty brand's 15-year anniversary (not to be confused with the Paul & Joe fashion line's 20-year anniversary, which occurred last year). The summer collection will have yet more cat-shaped goodies so that will be part 2. ;) But first, the spring items.
These face color powders are too cute, as usual. I believe the cat print with the red background appeared previously on nail polish boxes from the spring 2012 collection. And do you not love the cat in glasses?!
The cat design on the powders is also borrowed from the spring 2012 collection, only this time there's the addition of hearts.
It's always in the details with Paul & Joe. All of their collections are pretty and/or adorable, but it's the little things like this puff that make them stand out. It's soft but I don't know how practical it would be to apply blush or highlighter. I do know that it's just precious.
I need more cat-shaped lipsticks like I need a hole in the head, but here we are.
The patterns on the lipstick cases are from the spring fashion collection. PJ at A Touch of Blusher has amazing descriptions of them so I'll just direct you to her site since I can't describe them nearly as well! I didn't purchase the accompanying square compact cases since they have the same prints, especially since I'm not actually using them anyway. I figured the lipstick cases were enough from a collectible standpoint. Eh, who knows, I'll probably cave and get them later. ;)
The bird print was from the Paul & Joe Sister line; the other 2 are from the regular Paul & Joe women's collection.
Overall I thought Paul & Joe did a great job. Not quite as outstanding as some previouscollections, mind you, but they provided the usual eye candy, and it was definitely Museum-worthy and appropriate for spring. What do you think?
Tiffany? Harry Winston? Fred Leighton? Forget about 'em. While they might be supplying the sparkling baubles for today's red carpet, back in the late '30s and '40s there was a jeweler bigger than those 3 put together: Paul Flato. I'll get to why I'm talking about a jeweler in a sec, but first a brief bio is in order. Paul Flato (1900-1999), moved from his home state of Texas to New York City at the age of 20. He opened his own jewelry store shortly afterwards and employed several designers. By 1937 he had another store on the West Coast to further solidify his status as the go-to jeweler for the biggest Hollywood stars (think Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn) as well as a jewelry designer for major films.
Now here's where his story goes off the rails. In 1943 he was arrested for pawning over $100,000 worth of jewels that clients and fellow jewelers had entrusted to him on consignment and served 16 months in Sing Sing. Upon his release from prison he started a lucrative business designing compacts, which was fortunate as his Hollywood career was basically over. After the compacts, Flato continued to design jewelry in the store he opened in Mexico City from 1970-1990, then returned to Texas for the last decade of his life. To my knowledge he never got back into Hollywood's good graces - I couldn't find anything about him supplying jewelry for movies/actresses after 1943 - but it didn't matter since he had already become a legend.
I had seen the Flato brand floating around previously during my various vintage compact hunts and figured one would be a good addition to the Museum's collection, but none of the designs really appealed to me. Since they can be on the pricey side I decided to hold off to see if any really caught my fancy. And as luck would have it this adorable compact and lipstick case, still in the original box, eventually surfaced. Against my better judgement I got involved in a nasty Ebay bidding war, but ultimately won (and probably overpaid a smidge).
Looking back it was totally worth it given how awesome the design is. You may or may not know I have a thing for mint green/jade/bakelite so when I gazed into this kitty's glowing mint green eyes I knew she had to be mine.
Love the matching design on the lipstick case!
I thought it would be good to discuss Flato's style a little so we can see how it translated to the compacts. I find his pieces to be whimsical and tongue-in-cheek, while still piling on the sparkle. Some examples, according to his obit in the New York Times: "Among them were a diamond 'corset' bracelet, with garters in rubies and diamonds, based on Mae West's undergarment...a compact for Gloria Vanderbilt was studded with gold and enamel angels, including an angel on a chamber pot. A pair of little brooches of gold feet with ruby toenails was originally made for Irene Castle, a play both on her maiden name, Foote, and her dancing career." Flato also drew on everyday experiences and items - his observation of fallen leaves one crisp autumn day turned into this brooch, while a basic belt buckle became a dazzling aquamarine necklace.
Another prominent motif in Flato's work was hands, according to this site: "Hand imagery had always been of interest to Flato, who notably used antique hand sculptures to display jewelry in ads that appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during the 1930s." Here are some quite literal examples.
Not only that, but Flato's own battle with hearing loss at a young age inspired a series of sign language pins.
This same playfulness mixed with a healthy dose of sparkle carried over to Flato's compacts. I liked that he created designs that were different from his jewelry line but still maintained his signature style. It looks like Flato filed the patent for the compacts in February 1948 and they were available for sale later that year. Interestingly, this wasn't the first time Flato had the idea to design compacts, as evidenced by this 1940 patent for a compact, cigarette case and lipstick combo.
It's not just a key design; it's a key holder! Yes, you could have the key on this compact custom filed to fit your door. Personally I'd be petrified of losing it - my keys need to stay on a ring - but you have to admit there's some innovation there.
The kitty one I have seems to be relatively rare. In my searches I did see one other in a beautiful tiger-eye colorway instead of the green, but I can't seem to find the photo of it now. In any case, I'm pretty pleased with this acquisition as I do think it's one of Flato's better compact designs.
What do you think, both of Flato's jewelry and compacts? Most of them aren't my style but I appreciate them nonetheless. If his jewelry is really striking your fancy you can always buy this lovely catalog of his work.
Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!
I forget how I came across this Observer article, but it was a rather eye-opening piece on how museums are upping their game in terms of what they offer besides art. And it got me thinking about what, if any, over-the-top amenities and programs the Makeup Museum would offer if it occupied a physical space. Let's explore that, shall we?
The article discusses the rise of extra offerings for visitors that goes well beyond the scope of the museum's mission, including fitness and yoga classes (the latter is a hugetrend, apparently), world-class restaurants and programs for specific populations. The goal of all these amenities, obviously, is to attract more visitors overall and turn regular visitors into donors. "All over the country, museums have been looking to change their image from boxy buildings that just store and exhibit cultural objects to community gathering spaces with activities for preschoolers, teens, single adults, families, the elderly and probably some other demographics...It is the hope on the part of museums that this effort to make their institutions gathering spots for their communities and to view the population as customers whose needs are to be met will turn casual visitors into members, some of whom may become donors and board members." While I haven't found any official studies on whether these sorts of things actually increase the number of visitors and donations, they comprise an interesting marketing tactic worth looking into. However, I must point out that some of the "extras" the article highlights, such as community outreach programs, shouldn't be viewed as additional amenities, they should just be part of regular programming and services. I don't think electric carts for elderly visitors should be lumped in with, say, having a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Anyway, I can envision the Makeup Museum adopting similar programs to the ones mentioned. I had always planned on an excellent gift shop and cafe, not to mention that the museum building would be beautifully designed and have amazing signage/collateral (e.g. museum maps, exhibition labels, etc.). But reading the Observer piece makes me think that perhaps the Museum could offer a fitness or yoga class - maybe have one of those so-called "athleisure" makeup brands sponsor it and offer free product samples to people taking the class. Other programs might be a decorate your own compact night or an "apothecary" workshop on how to make natural pigments and serums (similar to this setup). For kids, we could have finger painting classes using old makeup - lord knows I have a ton of stuff I don't use anymore but would still be safe to use for artistic purposes. I think any cosmetics museum-goers might want to have these sorts of things available to them in addition to the standard tours and exhibitions. As the article notes, “Our expectations of going to museums increasingly are like our expectations when going into a Starbucks: We want things to be tailored to our individual likes and interests."
On the other hand, though, I do see these sorts of extra programs and services being problematic, particularly for a cosmetics museum. As the article points out, one issue is the possibility of objects getting damaged or destroyed. This little nugget was truly horrifying: "Marcy Goodman, a museum-planning consultant in La Crescenta, Calif., who developed the plans for the Bruce Museum’s expansion, said parties should not take place in the actual galleries. 'Some years back, an art museum in Oregon hosted an all-you-can-drink event in a gallery where, among other things, some people ended up having sex on a Henry Moore sculpture,' she told the Observer." Meanwhile, New York Magazine asks, "How long until someone breaks a priceless piece of art during the Met Museum workout?" Museums already have to deal with careless people breaking things, why invite even more of it if it's not crucial to the mission?
Secondly, these sorts of programs might distract from a museum's true purpose. Do you want visitors to actually, you know, pay attention to the displays or visit simply for the frills? It's a really tough call since museums are dependent on visitors - this is a key benchmark for receiving funding and sponsorships - but you don't want to turn a museum into something it's not. Plus, as we learned with exhibition display, one has to be very careful in making sure a museum devoted to cosmetics doesn't morph into a store. I don't think I'd sell makeup in any capacity at the Museum, not even in the gift shop. It's a museum, not Sephora! (One caveat: I think the recently discussed Museum of Beni and its accompanying store is an exception to selling makeup in a museum setting.) And sponsorship by makeup companies for special workshops and classes is problematic, since you want people to have learned something about makeup history, not be exposed to what amounts to glorified advertising. Yes, people's expectations of museums are more on par with those they have for businesses like Starbucks, but frankly, museums aren't businesses. Even if they partner with and receive funding from businesses, museums need to stay firmly on the nonprofit side. That would be particularly difficult to do with a cosmetics museum - the kind of showiness and gimmicks you'd see in retail needs to be kept at bay lest you "sell out" and lose sight of the museum's true mission.
Finally, and I think this is the core issue for me, is that I would probably not engage in all the extras and simply put all funding into making the Makeup Museum as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. While the some of the amenities mentioned in the article are nice, they're not necessarily critical to people's understanding of the art. And let's face it, funding for museums is so scarce, there's no way I'd be able to afford most of the things I'd love to have, like fancy architecture and an internationally-renowned cafe. Even if I did have this sort of money, I think I'd spend it on, say, making the museum's resources - everything from pamphlets to audio guides - available in just about every language. Instead of yoga classes, the Museum would offer state-of-the-art touch-tour and 3D printing technology so that blind visitors can have a richer experience. Funding that would pay the salary of a world-class chef for the cafe would instead go to ensuring the Museum remains free. And I maintain that kids' programming is a necessity, but the Museum could go a little further and have programs just for special-needs kids (like this.) This ties back into what I noted earlier: some of the programs the article talks about should not be perceived as extra. In addition to my other ideas, I'd be all over those community outreach programs! The bottom line is that I'd definitely focus less on the frills and more on accessibility, inclusiveness and civic engagement. Specifically what that would consist of will be explored in later installments of MM Musings. ;)
Thoughts? Would you like to see crazy, over-the-top amenities at a makeup museum?
I hope Burberry doesn't stop releasing their runway-inspired palettes, as I've become quite fond of them. While their most recent offering isn't my favorite, I will certainly take it over nothing. For their spring 2017 blush palette, Burberry chose a hexagonal floral pattern that appeared on several items in the fashion collection (and, interestingly, on the runway floor).
One significant item of note that I somehow missed when discussing the fall palette was that the wallpapers Burberry borrowed for patterns to use in their spring 2017 collections are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, so off I went to see if I could find the originals. To my astonishment and great delight they were available to view online! Here's the one that inspired the spring 2017 pattern.
According to the V & A, this was made around 1830: "This wallpaper was designed to imitate moulded plasterwork. Moulded plaster was a fashionable method of wall and ceiling decoration in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was expensive. Wallpaper printed in shades of grey and buff was a cheaper way of achieving a similar decorative effect."
Just for my own gratification here are some of the other items that I mentioned in my previous post and the nail polish set, along with the original wallpaper. These were available for purchase back in the fall, but considered part of spring 2017...sort of. It's all very confusing to me, but Burberry was testing out the see-now, buy-now approach back in September 2016, hence why I thought the wallpaper-based items at the website were part of the fall 2016 collection. Apparently Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey is doing away with formal spring/fall collections (in name, anyway) and showing one collection in September and February, with styles that are meant to be "seasonless". I don't know about that so I'm continuing to refer to the Silk and Bloom palette, as well as the other wallpaper pieces, as part of spring 2017.
This paper is from the mid-18th century and used to imitate "print rooms". "This was a room decorated with prints that had been pasted on to the walls, with the addition of printed paper frames and borders. It was intended to give the impression of a room hung with framed pictures. Designing and installing a print room was a fashionable hobby for the wealthy in the 1760s and 1770s. Using a wallpaper with a 'print room' design was a cheaper way of achieving the same effect. This is one of several print room papers from Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire; it was hung as part of the major redecoration of the house undertaken by Sir John Hussey Delaval around 1760."
Anyway, back to the Silk and Bloom palette. Overall it's pretty and the vibrant rose color is to die for, but there are a couple details I'm not loving. First, there's this odd rough texture surrounding the flowers. I'm guessing it was a deliberate attempt to replicate the textural variations of silk fabric, which would make sense given that the pattern comes from silk garments, but I feel like it should be smooth - it almost looks like the palette is defective. On silk clothing obviously this texture is to be expected, but I don't think it works on a powder surface.
The second detail I'm not crazy about is the closeup view of the pattern. While in other palettes I adore the zoomed-in effect - it allows you to see more detail - in this case the closeup of the flower cluster sort of reminds me of cells under a microscope (in this case, algae cells).
I think the pattern works well on the clothing (and on wallpaper, for that matter), but this is one of the few that, in my humble opinion, did not translate well to makeup form. (Or maybe I'm still cranky over not being able to snag the adorable heart-adorned First Love palette, grrr.) Whatever it is, I vastly prefer the spring and fall 2016 palette designs over this one. It's especially disappointing given that they could have modified the pattern to make it work for makeup - I would have gladly sacrificed a closeup view to have more of the whole pattern, since maybe then it wouldn't remind me of a biology class. :P Or Burberry could have chosen a different pattern entirely, like this one.
Once again I'm in over my head on a vast topic, but I wanted to share another cosmetics museum that is on my must-see list when I go to Japan. The Museum of Beni in Tokyo was founded in 2006 to celebrate and share the history of the hallowed Japanese red lip color known as beni. The Museum was established by Isehan Honten, a company that has been manufacturing beni since 1825 (!) and is the only surviving beni company from the Edo period (the use of beni actually dates back several centuries prior to the Edo period). The Museum contains precious artifacts related to beni, such as the lacquered bowls that are layered with the pigment (known as "ochoko"), brushes, and equipment used to make beni, not to mention a significant amount of memorabilia (books, prints, etc).
Beni was also portable, stored in carrying cases called itabeni starting around the middle of the Edo period (ca. 1700s). They were made from a variety of materials, including tortoiseshell, antlers, ivory, metal, wood and even paper. The really cool thing about them was when you finished up the beni in the case, you could go and have it re-brushed with fresh pigment. Perhaps this is where the notion of refillable powder compacts and lipstick tubes came from.
This page from a book published in 1813 called Makeup in the Culture of Kyoto shows how to apply beni.
This sign was displayed on the storefront and indicates that it's an official supplier of beni to the Imperial Household Department...
...and this was a license granted only to merchants who supplied products to the Imperial Household Department to gain entry into the Imperial Household.
This drawing from 1885 shows one of Isehan's original storefronts and the beni-ba (the space where the beni is made).
Not only does the Museum of Beni display all these great pieces, it also has a salon where you can try out and purchase beni.
Beni gets its name from the pigment of the benibana (safflower). While the petals of this bloom are 99% yellow/orange, the other 1% are red and are harvested to make this traditional lip color. One Komachi beni (Komachi refers to the traditional beni that comes layered in a bowl) requires roughly 2,000 flowers and yields about 50 uses.
Isehan has some amazing pictures of the beni-making process, along with a video. I'll try my best to summarize it here. The flowers are hand-picked (usually in early-mid July), fermented, dried into cakes and then soaked overnight in water.
An alkaline solution is added and the mixture is pressed to extract the liquid.
Then, an acid solution is very carefully added to separate and crystallize the red pigment. If the acid solution is just a little off, the red will become blue or green, which is unusable. The pigment is then strained through a finely woven cloth. The end result is a mud-like consistency.
The bowls are painted and set to dry. You'll notice it turns a beautiful iridescent green when fully dry.
As you can see, making traditional beni is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process - although some beni is manufactured by modern machinery - but the old-fashioned methods of producing it are only way to obtain that remarkable iridescence, and only highly skilled craftsmen can coax it out of the petals. The iridescent quality, along with the fact that the opacity can be built up by layering, or conversely, toned down by adding more water, sets traditional beni apart from other cosmetic pigments. The video below shows how to apply it. Texture-wise you can see it's incredibly different from Western lipsticks, which use a lot of waxes and oils to make them emollient. Beni appears to have a thinner, non-greasy consistency like watercolor. And the iridescence is truly stunning - it reminds me of a beetle's wing.
As Glamourdaze notes in a post on beni, an interesting piece of history regarding the iridescence was that Japanese women in the 18th and 19th centuries were fond of pairing the very subtle iridescence of the red beni on the top lip with a bold green iridescent pigment from the stem of a bamboo plant called sasa on the bottom lip. Hence the "sasabeni" trend was born.
The Museum of Beni, however, claims the green came from applying a ton of layers of beni so that the green iridescence overpowered the red, and the sasa name simply refers to the green color, i.e., it wasn't actually made from bamboo. They also assert that the look was in style only for a short period of time, between 1804 and 1829 (oddly specific dates, no? I wonder what their source is.)
Anyway, as for the Museum of Beni, some may say that it's a weak cover for a source of additional revenue for the company, but I disagree. While beni was still being used in the early 20th century, the traditional Komachi beni was largely dying out. Bo-beni (crayons) and compacts became much more popular than Komachi, and by World War II Komachi was almost completely gone as Western style lipsticks became the norm.
Isehan Honten wants to profit, as any business does, but I do believe their museum comes from a genuine desire to preserve the heritage of beni and introduce this historic cosmetic item to people the world over. If I hadn't been searching for cosmetic museums I might not never have heard of beni otherwise, and I research makeup as a hobby! Beni is still so unknown in the West that many people, myself included, were confused by NARS's attempt to bring the concept to us in 2010. While this set is inspired by traditional Komachi beni application (i.e. using a brush to apply pigment layered in a bowl), obviously the ingredients and effect are totally different.
Another point to consider: authentic, high-quality beni is expensive. In 2008 the UK's Telegraphreported that Isehan's product cost "70,000 to 300,000 yen (£335 - £1,440) for a pot holding less than a third of an ounce, or 30 to 50 applications, so an evening's use can cost up to £50." In U.S. dollars that would come to $618 to $2,650, and I'm using the 2008 figures - it must be even more by now. Historic French beauty company Buly 1803 also sells beni for a mere 420 euros ($446). That's a bargain compared to Isehan. ;) Seriously though, I can't imagine a museum that showcases a product with such a hefty price tag would be much of a money-maker. It might get people in the door and tempt them to buy it, but I highly doubt many visitors are actually going to drop nearly $700 on a lip product, especially when they can get a cheap knockoff intended for tourists (they're usually made mostly with food coloring and contain only a tiny bit of actual safflower).
So I really don't think the Museum of Beni is a money grab. As a matter of fact, I think Isehan Honten's museum is among the very few concerted efforts in the entire world to protect beni's heritage. I don't think even the Pola Museum is doing as much to prevent beni from going extinct, and while some museums certainly own beni-related artifacts, no collections that I know of are as extensive as Isehan's. It's not in their best interest from a profit standpoint to store and display all these items (why not just have a shop?) so I think they're truly dedicated to keeping the history alive. A spokesperson for the company explains, “When we say protecting the traditional culture, it does not really mean we create a museum and just show off our products there...to help this kind of culture grow roots and stay alive, we think it’s important that it be accepted by the customers and actually gets used.” So the salon is a way to enhance the history of beni - I see it as a tool used by the museum rather than the other way around, i.e. museum as mere retail accessory. Sure, seeing historic cosmetic objects in cases is great, but actually being able to touch them and apply the product definitely hammers home the cultural importance of these items for the average visitor.
I hope you enjoyed this little overview of both the Museum of Beni and the product itself. I am by no means an expert but I think what I have here is somewhat accurate. Anyone want to weigh in? Would you want to visit this museum? You can see real-life pics here, if you're so inclined. I know I must definitely make a trip! And yes, I'd blow some of my savings to acquire beni of my very own...it's a totally unique product you can't get anywhere else, and incredibly full of culture and history to boot.