Key Words: history of, makeup, cosmetics, beauty, brands
Best read: anytime, although it is more of a studious type of reading, with research and facts
Top Tip: Allocate enough time to fully appreciate the images
As a former English student, it is not very often that I feel affectionate towards a book. Countless novels, poetry volumes, they all become dissected by a trained critical eye, and it seems that the more you read, the more difficult it becomes to be impressed. Lisa Eldridge’s Face Paint was one of the books that once I completed my reading, and absorbed the last page in, got a hug. I stood there, on the same sofa chair I sat in for every reading session, and hugged the book for a while.
What a wonderful look into the world of cosmetics and colour…
Face Paint is a book for the makeup lover, for people that are thirsty for colour, texture and longevity. A proof for that is the way the book is structured, which rather than being written in a conventional chronological order of the events, is divided on colours, textures and stories.
Section One of the book is The Ancient Palette, which is divided according to colours: red, white and black. The symbolism of all is explained, their use and restrictions throughout time, with historical figures as examples. The use of these colours is not the only thing Eldridge touches – she goes deeper than that, discussing the ancient ingredients used to achieve them, and the social norms that would influence their usage.
Lisa’s passion for cosmetics shines through every word
The second section of the book, The Business of Beauty, explains the beauty world closer to the one we know today – a mechanism fuelled by consumerism and influencing one’s beliefs that a certain look is desirable. Ultimately, it is not the lives of the beauty pioneers that intrigued me the most (although they are fascinating), but rather the exquisite images that were attached to these stories: examples of negative advertising, examples of some of the earliest modern makeup items, or examples of the most iconic ones.
The exquisite imagery of vintage makeup and old advertisements opens up a fascination with the history of makeup
Each chapter is finalised by life stories of makeup muses, such as Greta Garbo, Marie Antoinette, Twiggy, and many others, in a complex variation of personalities. It is astonishing to read about how some of these muses established their name through their own maneuvers and talent in makeup, and by having very clear visions of how they wanted to look.
The book contains enough information that invites giggling and impresses the reader, which keeps the text entertaining and easy to follow. The tone is less academic, and more artistic, but that is what makes the book special: it allows for an original storytelling of makeup, which is why, perhaps, the book’s title says ‘Story of Makeup’ rather than ‘History of Makeup’. It is the same reason why, perhaps, my critical eye with literature was relaxed and kept at ease, because it allowed me to feel the story, to live in it and to absorb it with an ease which more factual, academic books do not allow.
Among the fascinating details of this book are the inside covers, the ones at the beginning showing an array of vintage makeup from brands like House of Westmore, Mary Quant, Bourjois, Biba, Max Factor, etc., all gems and exquisite items to look at. The inside covers at the end of the book depict the same arrangement, but this time of modern day makeup with well known items such as the Estée Lauder Double Wear Foundation, the NARS blusher or the Dior eyeshadows.
Another fascinating discussion revolves around makeup during the world wars, and the patriotism makeup started to convey – a discussion which I did not encounter very often.
Face Paint also discusses matters from a makeup artist’s perspective, not just the collector – Eldridge being both – bringing topics such as how colours picked up on the early screens, like the orthochromatic films, and how makeup production and textures had to change from screen to real life.
Another fascinating thing about the book is a short introduction of the current innovations in beauty, that allowed our cosmetics to be as effective and easy to use as we know them today.
Perhaps my only critique on the book is that towards the end, the information seems rushed – but this critique comes with my eagerness to find out even more details about the history of makeup brands and their innovations.
Face Paint opens up a world of intriguing stories and funny anecdotes about the use of makeup and its visionaries
Eldridge’s book is perfect for the makeup lover, the historian, the art historian, the person fascinated by colour, and anyone in between. The information is clear and concise, the time period it covers is impressive, the images are excellently chosen, and the use of quotes is tying it together in a spectacular way, a proof of the perfectionism that Eldridge has. In a recent interview she had with Lisa Potter-Dixon on Instagram, Eldridge mentioned how her projects are painstakingly slow, and that she spends a lot of time perfecting everything. This is something that is obvious with her book, where every detail and thought behind it is perfectly calculated and introduced. Face Paint is a quality book, well written, well illustrated and, I am sure, very loved by many of its readers.
Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about this book is that it allows the reader to come back to it and be able to emerge into a small piece of the makeup universe again and again. There are so many captivating images, quotes and references that one could always pick something else to unveil and further investigate.
It unveils beautiful clusters of colour and details about the universe of makeup…
At the beginning of the book, Eldridge mentions how she had enough information to fill ten volumes the size of this book, which brings me to my conclusion; one can only hope that Eldridge will decide in the future to continue the story of makeup, and provide us with even more magical information about the mesmerising and cunning world of beauty and cosmetics.
Buy the book here.
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