Friday Musings: The New and The Old in the World of Beauty

MAX FACTOR Pan Stik featuring Rita Hayworth 1948

Vintage ad of Max Factor Pan Stik featuring Rita Hayworth, 1948. Image (click to go to source): 50sUnlimited via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.


Mine beauties: today I’m posting no reviews, but thoughts that have been buzzing round my head, regarding things new and old in the world of beauty, and somehow I just had write about it all… reviews to be resumed next week.

The hype of the week that set me thinking

Well, that was unexpected… at first, there was nothing that interested me about THE celebrity makeup launch of the week, and possibly of the summer/fall… all the bombast surrounding Fenty Beauty by Rihanna kinda made me want to avoid it, which is how I tend to feel about most things whose letter of presentation is over-the-top media attention; however, contrary creature that I am, some reactions I’ve come across in my SM wanderings are making me want to check this brand’s offerings more closely.

But first, some context: La Riri herself leaves me mostly cold, both as an artist and as a public personality. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the unsufferable annoyance that is that stupid “Umbrella” song… 😤😡💥 My loathing for that track is only barely surpassed by each and every reggaetón hit ever to make it to the airwaves.

Also, as a rule, celeb-fronted brands never really interest me much: all I ask from entertainers is to entertain me, not try to dress my face or “design” my garments, tell me how to wash my hair, serve me wine, scent me (in fact, my most hated perfumes ever to bother my nose are almost all celebrity ones… blergh), and above all, not try to give unsolicited health advice that has only the faintest, passing familiarity with actual medical training and peer-reviewed research (yes, Goop, I’m looking at your crunchy-culty pseudoscientific ass).

Still, I’ve been thinking lately that some (starting with myself) have been a bit hasty in writing this launch off as a bit of a “celeb goes into business” vanity stunt. I mean, besides the usual mindless fangirling that’s to be expected, and which I always find a bit puzzling, I’ve run into a number of equally puzzling comments along the lines of “is this all?”, “I don’t see what’s so special”, “other brands have done stuff like this” “looks kind of like the KKW packaging design”…

Okay, I can see the last part: IMO, the Fenty folk could have done it differently in this respect… but eh, what do I know, I avoid anything that has the faintest whiff of reality shows and its individuals (see also: things I hope to see get hit first in a nuclear holocaust, next to the section “reggaeton”). Therefore, I’m not part of the demographic that consumes that phenomenon, which is large and in many respects, a dream come true for any marketing team worth its salt. So on second thought, I can see why it would be a wise move to draw a page from that.

Anyway, what left me kind of perplexed is that anyone could possibly think that launching a range encompassing 40 skin tones is sort of a secondary consideration, something anyone can do, or that anyone does on a relatively regular basis, which is the impression I got from some of the commenters I ran into; especially given that it’s a new brand on the block, even if they’re under the umbrella of the LVMH behemoth (damn that earworm). Really, that’s all they could see? Because what Rihanna and her newborn brand have managed to get out of the door has made me take my hat off.

via GIPHY
Agreed, there aren’t a lot of different products (yet) in the lineup, nor is FB the first or the only higher-end makeup brand to offer something similar, or close to similar, at least in my recollection; having lived for a brief while in that shopaholics’ nirvana that is the States, and having walked miles of malls and big-box stores to the point of exhaustion (let’s not even get into the state of these things in Spain… ), from a marketing viewpoint (because when it comes to discussing the topics of inclusion and other sociological aspects I’m out of my depth), I do think this launch is rather different from the usual: from what I could see of the color choice in person in Sephora, I thought they’d come out with something rather remarkable: at first look they haven’t fallen short in any point of the spectrum of users.

By the way, this is the opinion of someone who doesn’t usually pay much attention to things I don’t need or use; I’m not a pro makeup artist, nor have a particularly hard to match complexion. In almost 2 decades of buying makeup, I can’t recall ever having trouble finding my skin tone in any point of sale.

Needless to say, if that wasn’t the case, I’d be pretty annoyed that many consumer brands acted as though I don’t exist; ditto if some people I know to be intelligent, perceptive and knowledgeable about the world of cosmetics, acted as if this is something with little relative significance beyond its novelty, which is mostly what got me to write this spiel.

In conclusion, chapeau à Riri and her business vision. Also, if you’ve road-tested the brand already, stop by and drop me a comment! Inquiring mind wants to know… from what little I’ve seen and tried in a hurry, I’d say I’d go for the stick makeup, another thing I never thought I’d say…

Cosmetic WTFery: the beauty micrometer

This thing like an iron maiden for the head, worn by the strangely smiley lady in the image (why on earth is she smiling?!), is no Frankesteinian experiment but a “beauty calibrator”, the brainchild of the gentleman in the image, Mr Maksymilian Faktorowicz, a Polish immigrant established in California who would become known as Max Factor Sr.: wigmaker, beautician to the Hollywood stars, and founder of the world-famous brand, born on September 15, 1872.

Max Factor beauty micrometer

Source: Modern Mechanix blog – January 1935 issue.

Mr Factor devised this cage-like contraption as a tool for his work, and that of the nascent cosmetic industry that he played a large role in creating (along with his cinema work, it was he who popularized the concept of “social makeup” beyond movie-star circles, under the brand slogan “Makeup for the Stars – and You”, at a time when many would squawk, cluck and clutch their pearls at the idea of ladies of good repute painting their faces, “just like those theater women!”).

Anyway, the thing gauged facial features with millimetric precision, detecting imperfections that might not be visible to the naked eye, but which would be mercilessly picked up and magnified by cameras and projectors; armed with this data, a beautician might design the most suitable makeup for filming sessions, concealing and minimizing any defects, and playing up the actresses’ beauty.

Max Factor beauty micrometer

Image by Jllm06, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

However, unlike with the cosmetics also devised by the inventor, which were like nothing commercially available at the time and were coveted by all, from the most glamourous A-listers to the girls who dreamed of being like them, this beauty-measuring device didn’t have the expected success*. In fact, only one beauty micrometer is known to have survived to this day, currently in the collection of the Hollywood Museum in LA.

*(Wow, I wonder why… but really, can you imagine Hollywood heavyweights like Joan Crawford or Mary Pickford, to name a few, allowing anyone to place that horror on their heads?)

Clara Bow

Clara Bow’s famously exaggerated “cupid’s bow”, the lip look created for the first It Girl of movie-dom by Max Factor, Sr. (Source: Wikimedia Commons). So you see, children, there is nothing new under the sun: squiggly lip outlines and wavy brows of Instagram 2017 are but a horrid, bastard echo of this 1924 classic. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out whatever happened to the “Kissing Machine”, another of Mr Factor’s inventions, that he came up with specifically for the romantic smoochy-smoochy stories of film, to test the duration of his lip color products. Cringey facial iron maiden notwithstanding, I think I’d have liked to meet and chat with this gentleman…

The Kissing Machine

Mr Factor’s Kissing Machine, next to the Chili Peppers Greatest Hits album that introduced it to many in my age bracket. The sign says: “To aid in research for Tru-Color Lipstick, the first indelible long-lasting lip color, Max Factor built a Mechanical Lip Oscilator to test how well his lipstick would wear. A kiss with ten pounds of pressure was considered the “perfect kiss”. All I can say is, ten pounds of pressure sounds like an impressive figure… Source: Elizabeth via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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