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Posts Tagged ‘makeup’

Ovid’s Ancient Beauty Elixirs

March 20, 2014 | by

The man knew his makeup. Ovid, in a woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

The rumors are true: it’s Publius Ovidius Naso’s 2,057th birthday. You can score some points with the classicists in your life by mentioning this in casual conversation, especially if you toss in a reference to the Metamorphoses. (“I was just thinking of Pyramus and Thisbe,” you might say, wiping a tear from your cheek as you gaze wanly upon a crack in the wall.) And if you’re wooing a classicist, or wooing anyone, really, be sure to heed the advice in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, his instructional elegy on romance—its efficacy has not been diminished by the passage of millennia. Mental Floss even has eleven dating tips from the poet himself. They include “the theatre is a great place to pick up girls,” “do not make a parade of your nocturnal exploits,” and “pay your lovers in poetry.”

But I write today with a more urgent, and more profitable, message. Even if readers still (occasionally) reach for the Metamorphoses or Ars Amatoria, there’s a massive blind spot in our modern view of Ovid. We’ve all but forgotten the man’s gifts as a beautician. Read More »

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Makeup Forever

February 24, 2014 | by

max-factor-renee-adoree-001

Max Factor with Renée Adorée

As John Updike wrote in a 2008 New Yorker piece, Max Factor was “the inventor of modern makeup.” Not only did this former beautician to the czars concoct the first movie makeup (it held up under hot lights) and bring commercial cosmetics to the average American drugstore, he also invented lipstick, mascara, lip gloss, false eyelashes, and foundation. Most original of all, in its way, was his invention of “Color Harmony”—i.e., the concept that your makeup should match your hair and complexion. In the early days of one-size-fits-all beauty, this was a paradigm shift, and it is memorialized in his office building at 1660 North Highland, now the Hollywood Museum, where you can still visit his original four rooms: for blondes (blue-hued; the ribbon was cut by Jean Harlow), redheads (green, Ginger Rogers), brunettes (pink, Claudette Colbert), and brownettes (peach, Rochelle Hudson).

For this was the idea: when a starlet walked into one of these rooms, she could look in the mirror and tell immediately whether she was meant to go blonde (as both Harlow and Marilyn did, in the blue room), or perhaps red, like Lucy. “For Redheads Only,” reads the sign on the door of the room off the museum lobby, and while I had always privately fancied that I might look ravishing with russet locks, it cannot be denied that the green-hued walls gave me a distinctly bilious cast. Color Harmony confirmed that, as nature intended, I was an unglamorous brownette. Read More »

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On the Scent

February 20, 2012 | by

In 2008 Luca Turin, a European biochemist who’d done groundbreaking research on how olfaction works, joined forces with Tania Sanchez, a thirtyish American, to produce an English edition of his cult hit French perfume guide. The result, their Perfumes: The Guide, has a wide readership among people who admire good perfume, but it deserves a wider one among people who admire good criticism of any kind. I found it in the “fashion” section of a classy bookstore, and in retrospect this seems like finding Madame Bovary shelved with the historical romances.

Unfortunately, though, Perfumes has the side effect of making the reader—well, this reader—embark immediately on the kind of quest that leads her to a lot of esoteric corners of the internet and shoddy midtown shops. But more on that later.

I picked up Perfumes on a whim, expecting standard women’s magazine perfume writing: imaginary fruits and lavish adjectives, nonsense marketing descriptions bracketed with pseudoscientific junk about how smells awaken our reptilian base nature. Sanchez seems to have anticipated this concern. “Smell psychologists and the uncritical journalists who love them get a lot of mileage out of calling smell the most primitive sense. But as with all of the work of evolutionary psychologists, the conclusions that support our desires and reinforce our prejudices are those of which we should be most wary,” she writes.

I read the rest of that page standing up in the store and finished the introduction on line at the cash register.

Sanchez goes on to debunk any and all fixed ideas anyone might have had about perfume in an economical four pages. She describes the ways the industry has discouraged serious perfume criticism, from concealing the identities of fragrances’ authors to lying about formulas and content. She explains why this is a golden age of perfume criticism (the Internet). She dismisses the notion that talking about our pleasures ruins them. “The fact is,” she announces in closing, “this stuff is worth loving. As with the tawdriest pop melody, there is a base pleasure in perfume, in just about any perfume, even the cheapest and most starved of ideas, that is better than no perfume at all.”

And then the real fun begins: the reviews. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Hilton Als, Writer

August 11, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

There is not enough time for anything, ever. The point was to start this journal yesterday, a Monday, since everyone's “official,” week begins then—back from the weekend, off to MOMA, what's at the Frick, that kind of thing—but I didn't. And this has nothing to do with my general tardiness as much as it does my ambivalence about keeping a record of anything that can't be contained in a photograph; sometimes I sit in my underwear in my house in despair over how paltry a thing words can seem, particularly when I've written them. But challenge is my middle name, and this journal, this record of my life in culture that I meant to begin at the start of the week but didn't, is my attempt to meld experience and memory with words and see what we come up with.

As it happens, my week in culture began not today or Monday, but Saturday, when I was standing on a train platform in Jamaica, Queens, and I saw a beautiful older man in a sky-blue Mao jacket; he was fine-boned, as though drawn out of thin air by Ingres, or David Hockney. Bill Cunningham, of course, the great documentary photographer who, for over fifty years, has been chronicling the hem-lines and moral fashions of any number of New York-based women. Bill was on his way to Bridgehampton to cover an event for The New York Times, but he wasn't staying overnight. “I never do,” he said, silently wondering. He's an incorrigible romantic, in love with Manhattan, a city the poet Marianne Moore described as being home to “the savage's romance.” Bill is a former hat maker from Boston, and his pictures finds a forum where female beauty plays itself out, gladiator fashion: who will win in the world of trend? Ever trendy, I was off to Sag Harbor to visit some fashionable friends.

As a matter of fact, my week with culture didn't begin until several days before that, when I went to visit beauty editor Jean Godfrey June at Lucky Magazine. Jean is the best writer in the fashion business, but I don't consider beauty fashion since beauty has less to do with the fluctuations—and insecurities—of fashion as it does with wanting to put a nice face on most things, not to mention people. In any case, Jean was very excited by Rodarte's latest foray into trying to make fashion and beauty fit their world view: cosmetics they'd designed for MAC. Eyeshadow that looked like shimmering, electrified goldfish circling in black vials; “gothic” colors that felt like the best color field painting I'd seen in a while. Read More »

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