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Under The Loupe With The Makeup Museum
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Under The Loupe With The Makeup Museum

Under The Loupe With The Makeup Museum

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a great week so far. 

For our next instalment for "Under the Loupe" we chat with Hillary, founder and curator of one of the world's only Makeup Museums. We first found Hillary's collection when on a jewellery rabbit-hole for bejewelled minaudieres, and, we can confirm that it was love at first sight! Much like jewellery history, fashion history and makeup history is often overlooked as a field of academic study. However, if you read on, you can see why Hillary's work is just so vital, and you never know, you might change your view on makeup altogether!

Plus, those Van Cleef & Arpel's Revlon lipsticks are to die for aren't they?

Hi Hillary, It’s time to go Under the Loupe! Introduce yourself and the fascinating Makeup Museum! 

“Thank you! My name is Hillary and I’m the curator and founder of the Makeup Museum, an online museum devoted to cosmetics I established in 2008.  The Makeup Museum is dedicated to the preservation, research and exhibition of makeup from all eras and cultures.  While the Museum was initially focused on contemporary makeup, I began collecting vintage pieces and researching makeup history a year or two after it was founded.  I was getting so many inquiries about vintage objects and history I sort of had no choice!”

Chantecaille Butterfly Eyeshadows, c.2006, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

You say that you have a background in art history on your website, what drew you at first towards makeup history? 

“When I first started the Museum, I was really interested in popular artist collaborations with makeup companies, and how certain makeup ads or objects would remind me of various works of art. Plus, as a lifelong makeup aficionado, I was always very fascinated by the relationship between art history/traditional art mediums and makeup.”

Urban Decay Basquiat Collection Palette, c.2017, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

It’s so interesting that you treat makeup (objects that a large number of the population today treats as disposable products) as found historical objects. In fact, you are completely right in that you can learn so much about sociological and design history through them! What, in your eyes, makes a piece collectable?  

That’s a tough one! Most of the time I think a piece is collectable because it’s a good representation of a particular era or culture, but sometimes I choose pieces simply because of their aesthetic qualities – unique packaging or design makes an item collectable too.”

Vintage Powder Boxes, c.1920-1930s, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

Do you think that the reason as to why makeup has been overlooked as a field of study is because it was and still is a woman-dominated industry?  

“Partially. Men have participated and continue to participate in grooming and other beautifying rituals for centuries, and in the early 20th century some of the major companies were started by men. However, makeup has a long history of being perceived as frivolous or a symbol of women’s vanity, and throughout the 20th century it was marketed to and used mostly by women, so that could be a reason it hasn’t gotten the academic treatment it deserves.”

Volupte Petite Boudoir Compact, c.1950s, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

You have a range of pieces in your archive, from a 2019 Bobbi Brown Eyeshadow palette to a 1940s Lucite compact.  What are your favourite pieces in your collection?  

“So hard to narrow it down! I’d say my favourites are 1920s powder boxes, a 1950s compact shaped like a vanity table, and Paul and Joe’s cat-shaped lipsticks from around 2010. Of course, I also love any powder makeup with pretty embossing. Florasis (a Chinese brand) makes some beautiful eyeshadows where the embossing almost looks like sculpture!”

Florasis Miao Eyeshadow Palette, c.2020, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum


Do you have anything in mind that you want to acquire?  

“So many things! I’d love to have the Elgin Dali Bird in Hand compact, along with Schiaparelli’s lipsticks from the ‘40s. I’m always looking for authentic ‘90s makeup too.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring collectors or for those just starting out?  

“Very simply, collect what you love or what you think is important. It can be overwhelming to determine what to collect when you’re just starting out because there is a lot out there, but as you continue browsing, over time you’ll see that some objects just call to you more than others. Also, never compare your collection to others!”

NARS Andy Warhol Holiday Collection, c.2012, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

We love it when we get jewellery that has an intended utilitarian function, like pencils or cocktail stirrers! Especially jewellery that also translates to makeup history as well, like Victorian pomanders, vinaigrettes or Art Deco compacts. Our research at the moment has actually taken us down the rabbit hole of minaudieres, especially the ones crafted by Van Cleef & Arpels, which is where we first came across yourself and the Makeup Museum! Do you find that you also come across makeup that could also double as an item of jewellery? 

“Absolutely! The Revlon Futurama lipstick cases were also designed by Van Cleef and Arpels and advertised as jewelry. In the Art Deco era, there were cuff bracelets containing compartments for powder and lip color. Jewelers at all price ranges – from higher end ones like Tiffany and Cartier to more affordable brands such as Paul Flato and Ciner - made compacts and lipstick cases in the early-mid 20th century, and some still do today.  Also, luxury fashion brands (Hermes, Carolina Herrera) promote their new refillable cases as jewelry. Louboutin’s lipstick and glosses actually have ribbons attached so you can wear them as pendants.”

Revlon Futuruma Lipsticks, c.1955-1963, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

What stops you from choosing a piece that is for the collection and choosing a piece that is for your own makeup box?  

“If it’s something I don’t mind “ruining” by using it, then I’ll buy it to actually wear.”

How do you keep all of your makeup pieces in such good condition?  

“I actually feel like I don’t! The contemporary objects are just stored in their original boxes. Vintage pieces are wrapped in tissue or bubble wrap, but I’m working on getting proper archival-quality storage for them.”

Paul & Joe Cat Lipsticks, Blush and Highlighter, c.2010-2012, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

Some people may be able to completely see why you collect the older pieces, but maybe not the newer pieces from mass-produced brands like MAC or NARS, which again challenges what makes a piece historical or worthy of interest, how would you argue your case and make people rethink the makeup they have in their makeup bag?  

“Well, most of the vintage pieces we see now were mass-produced in the time they were made, and I think people had the same attitude back then – many did not see their compacts and lipsticks as historical pieces, yet 50 years later they’re in a museum. Time and hindsight play a big role. Early 21st century makeup might not be historically significant now, but 50 years from now I bet it will be. Plus, there are some beautiful pieces out there that qualify as genuine works of art. Just because they’re mass-produced by big companies doesn’t necessarily diminish their aesthetic value.”

Vintage Stratton Mermaid Compact, c.1940s, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum

What are your go-to makeup pieces that you wear everyday? 

“I don’t wear anything every single day – changing my makeup helps me not lose track of time – but I do have some favourite products: Fenty Pro Filter Matte foundation, Benefit Goof Proof Brow Pencil, Pat McGrath eyeshadows, NARS blushes, MAC Lip Glasses and Bobbi Brown Luxe lipsticks. I also love Japanese makeup brushes – Chikuhodo is amazing.”

What are your ultimate goals for the Makeup Museum? 

“I would love to properly digitize the collection and finally establish a physical space!”

Mary Quant Crayon Eyeshadows, c.1960, Image Courtesy of The Makeup Museum


And, lastly, as we ask all of our Under the Loupe guests, what is your favourite piece within the Lillicoco Collection? – 

“Oh, it was so hard to choose! But if I have to, I’d say this enormous opal ring is my favourite!” 

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