When you look back through the literature, it’s hardly surprising that the majority of writings about makeup, and those that wear it, are penned by men. Often, again not a shocker, said discourse is critical, satirical and didactic, paralleling makeup with morals and offering up a hefty dose of judgement. Suitable then, that a future classic has a woman as its author, and not just any woman, but the legendary makeup artist and online phenomenon that is Lisa Eldridge . If you’re a fan of her eloquent videos, she’ll have you at ‘hello’ (or at least the bold cover image), and if you’re yet to discover her genius, you’re in for a treat. Here’s the Maniac manifesto as to why Facepaint: The Story of Makeup is more than deserving of a space on your coffee table. If you don’t own a coffee table, it’s worth buying one simply to house Facepaint. Or you could just use Facepaint as a coffee table. Either way, get your hands on it…
It’s history, but not as you know it…
Facepaint does explore the history of makeup, but not in a chronological fashion. Think themes, not timelines, which works beautifully seeing as themes and ideals recur throughout history. What was prolific in ancient Egypt pops up again in the 20s, and ‘no makeup makeup’ was a thing in the Victorian times too. In this way history isn’t linear, so you can dip in and out of Facepaint as you please, without risk of spoilers, tedium or losing your place. Much like modern day makeup, you can pick and choose according to your whims and the time available.
It sheds a lot of light on women’s rights
Lisa identifies, as above, that very little is written about cosmetics by the women who actually wore them (or didn’t as the case may be). In ancient Egypt, women and men wore makeup freely, and women enjoyed relative parity in terms of legal and economic rights. They were great chemists, and kohl was the height of cool. Cut to ancient Greece, however, and women were excluded from political life and under the ownership of men, who deemed the wearing of rouge ‘deceiving’. Lisa notes, however, that there were exceptions to the rules”
“Interestingly, courtesans, professional mistresses, and prostitutes being afforded more freedom and power than other women (in addition to wearing more makeup) is a pattern that has repeated throughout history.”
From makeup as patriotism during WW1 to the condescending tone of the very first beauty adverts, Facepaint delves into the many paradoxes in every woman’s makeup bag, and whether our choices even now are feminist statements or conforming to a standard.
Its pictures are worth a thousand words
Or at least, the struggle to get the rights to them as reported by Lisa certainly was. When you leaf through Facepaint though, the imagery is a rich feast; from seminal photography by Avedon and Irving Penn to royal portraits, famous illustrations and sculptures from almost every era. All reflect the trends and transitions of beauty throughout the ages, and the front cover itself as executed by Lisa fuses influences from bygone eras and modern innovations. As befitting to a fast paced beauty industry, the cover image was shot quickly and somewhat at the last minute, with Lisa creating a ‘modern and striking’ aesthetic while also representing ‘thousands of years of painterly history, capturing the textures, the powders, the paints.’ As she explains on her website:
“For the makeup I mixed up something similar to the makeup base worn by the women of ancient Greece and China (without the poisonous element of course!) and then layered a mixture of ancient (natural) and modern (synthetic), brightly coloured pigments on top.”
Basically, it’s quite literally face paint depicting the story of makeup on one face. Bravo. The fact that she selected flowers and furniture to reflect the colourways at the book launch was quintessential Eldridge attention to detail.