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.

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