Saturday, August 31, 2013

A review of Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup

Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup is written by Gabriela Hernandez, the founder of Bésame, a cosmetic company that specialize in makeup with a retro feel to it. They really have excellent makeup, if you haven’t tried their lipsticks, then I think you should. They are a bit pricey, but they are beautiful to look at, the colours lovely and the quality top notch. However, my feelings about this book are much more divided. I really like some parts, but some parts I don’t like at all. Let’s begin this review with what I do like and why I think this book is worth having.

Beginning in the 1910’s there is an overview over the next hundred years when it comes to eyes, lips and face makeup. Then, with the starts in 1920 there is a chapter for every decade up to 2000’s. They all begin with a colour sketch of a woman in makeup, then the decades beauty highlights. Then there is a pencil drawing of the colour sketch, with a colour palette over popular shades. The rest of the chapter cover the decade’s makeup fashion, very richly illustrated with contemporary ads and photographs as well as patent drawings over beauty innovations, like the mascara wand. Throughout the book there are also timelines over both makeup fashion and production developments.

I really like this part. You get a good feel of each decade's quirks and particular look and all the gorgeous pictures make it a fun and informative read. Indeed, it corresponds well with the publisher’s blurb.

“The definition of a beautiful face has never been constant. See how political and social climates have molded accepted beauty rituals and the evolution of cosmetics from ancient times through today. This colorful reference book chronicles historic trends for the eyes, lips, and face, and offers in-depth aesthetic reviews of each decade from the 1920s to today. Follow the rich history of facial trends through fascinating and bizarre vintage ads; detailed makeup application guides; and profiles of famous makeup innovators, connoisseurs, and iconic faces. Over 430 images, timelines, and detailed vintage color palettes show the changing definitions of beauty and document makeup innovations (the first mascara, lipstick, eye shadow, etc.) that have evolved throughout the history of cosmetics. This is an ideal reference for the professional makeup artist, cosmetologist, educator, student, and general makeup enthusiasts.”

Indeed, as an overview of the past hundred years of cosmetic history, this is an interesting and informative book.

However, there was this part that I didn’t like. The book’s title is Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup, not Classic Beauty: The Last 100 of the History of Makeup. Before we land in the 20th century there is a few thousands of previous year’s makeup history. That is covered on 37 of the books 200+ pages. Given the pleasing and informative layout of the 20th century makeup chapters, one would assume that the previous chapters have the same one, but that is not the case. There are no corresponding images of, for example, and Egyptian woman or an 18th century one in colour, there are no beauty highlights and no colour palettes. Of course, the makeup didn’t change from decade to decade then, but there could have been one for every chapter, even if that chapter covered a special époque or century. These chapters are still richly illustrated, but the pictures varies wildly from drawings by the author to contemporary art and, the odd one out, a modern model in 18th century makeup. The text lacks the feeling of genuine interest that marks the later chapters of the book, but is merely a recapitulation of the basics of makeup history. The general feeling is that this part of the book is quickly and rather sloppily written and executed and contrast quite dramatically with the rest of the it. For example, in the chapter covering the Middle Ages there is an illustration depicting a Viking. Which is fine, they were part of the time and there is documentation that they wore makeup. But the picture chosen is that of a modern Belgian sculpture that depict a man with a horned helmet. As a Scandinavian that irks me- Vikings didn’t wear that kind of helmets. And as there are a number of artifacts from the correct time period that portrays Viking women with there elaborate hairstyles that would be more suitable and correct.

Like this silver lady, found on the Danish island Fyn and dated to around 800 AD.
So, as you can tell, I don’t like the first part of the book. It feels like this book was originally written to cover just the last 100 years, but that for some reason and very late in the process, it was decided that it should cover the whole of cosmetics history. Perhaps there was perceived a need to differentiate this book from Lauren Rennell’s Retro Makeup: Techniques for Applying the Vintage Look. Unfortunately that drags the book down; in my opinion it would have been a much better book without it. Even if it covers the same period as Rennell, the approach is different and the two books complement each other well. If you are interested, you can read my review of Retro Makeup here. So, depending on what you want from this book, I can both recommend and not recommend it.

Do buy this book if you want a book on the past 100years of makeup history. It’s a lovey book and a joy to just flip through.

Do not buy this book if you want a book about makeup history before the 20th century.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A young lady holding a pug dog

I find this portrait by François Boucher, dated to the mid-1740s, interesting because she is so very clearly made up. Rouge is usually quite easy to see on paintings, but white makeup can be harder to spot. This young lady is having it a, though.

She is wearing white makeup, probably lead white as it seems rather opaque, but she also seems a bit shiny. That could be because the white pigment is mixed with pomade, but it could be that the white pigment is Bismuth, which has a shine to it. Regardless of pigment, her face and neck are liberally painted, but her ears looks quite rosy. Her bosom isn’t painted either, though pale it isn’t as white as the face.

Source; Wikimedia. Follow the link back for a high-res version.

Her cheeks are heavily rouged covering just about the whole of the middle of the face, if one disregards the nose. The tone is quite warm, so the pigment may very well be the mercury-based Vermillion. However, rouge made of Red Sanders or Brazil wood also gives a warm red shade, so let’s hope she has left off the mercury. She is also a little red around the eyes. There are indications that rouge could be applied around the eyes too, so perhaps that is what she has done. But it can also mean that she hasn’t used white makeup around her eyes and it is the natural skin tone we see. Her lips are also painted, probably with the same red makeup as the rouge. Her mouth is quite small, but the lip colour is painted on the whole of the lips. The contour is also quite soft; there were no lip liners around to give a sharp and defined shape to the lips.

The eyebrows are quite dark and may be painted, but as her hair is fashionably powdered we don’t really know what her natural hair colour is. She might be dark haired and the eyebrows left au naturel. That the hair looks more grey than white may support that, dark hair powdered white turns grey, but as grey hair powder was used as well, it is next to impossible to tell. Worth noting is that her eyebrows looks quite natural and are not overly groomed. To finish off her makeup she is wearing a rather small patch at the corner of her eyes. She is dressed, but is still wearing the loose garment that provided protection of the clothes at the toilette.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Make your own 18th century style perfume

18th century perfume box
This is a recipe for perfume oil and though the recipe in itself is not an authentic 18th century perfume recipe, the scent blend, however, is. When I made up the mystery recipe, Queen’s Royal, I noticed that it smelled really nice and that I wouldn’t mind wearing it as a perfume. And though it isn’t completely period correct, it would make for a good scent to wear for an 18th century even nevertheless. Making your own perfume oil isn’t difficult; the hardest part is to collect the various oils needed.
I was really pleased with the result of this perfume. It starts out with a bergamot blast, which quite quickly settles down to something spicy and warm. Very pleasant to wear, in my opinion, but then I am very drawn to spicy perfumes in general. The recipe below makes for a perfume oil that isn’t overly strong and keeps close to the skin.

Queen’s Royal perfume oil
The scent oils used are all essential oils. I have made one deviation and that is substituting Ambergris oil with Labdanum. Real ambergris oil is hideously expensive and though there are faux ambergris oils around, they are usually based on Labdanum. It is a scent you can find in 18th century recipe as well, so I felt that it would be an acceptable substitute.

First step

Use a small glass bottle as vessel and add:

Bergamot 30 drops

Lemon 15 drops

Lavender 5 drops

Caraway 5 drops

Clove 5 drops

Cinnamon 5 drops

Labdanum 3 drops

Rosemary 3 drops

Close the bottle and shake it gently to blend the oils and then let it rest for a week in a dark, cool place.

Second step

Now you have to dilute your blend with carrier oil. It will make the scent more rounded, not so penetrating and it will last longer. I used Jujuba oil as it doesn’t smell anything and feels pleasant on the skin. The ratio between essential oil and carrier oil is really up to personal taste. I did this recipe with a ratio of  20:80,  20 drops of essential oil are generally considered to be 1 ml, so if I’m not completely miscounting. When you have added the carrier oil you will end up with just about 18 ml of perfume. So add
Jujuba oil 284 drops

Shake the bottle again to blend and then let the oil stand for another week, or so to mature, after that it is fit to use. It will continue to mature so the scent is likely to change a little over time. My experience is that perfume oils usually improve with age, the scent get deeper and more complex. This perfume got rather lightweight and personally I will use more perfume oils and less Jujuba oil the next time, but I think that this may be a good place to start if you feel unsure.

I used this excellent article from Sweet Tea Apothecary on blending perfume oils for helpful pointers. As I had a recipe I didn’t have to think about base, heart and top notes and how to blend them right, but Bergamot and Lemon are definitely top notes and Labdanum and Cinnamon base notes.