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Ne m'oubliez pas

 
 

    On lipstick and Shakespeare...

   

 

  

 

The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,

Burn'd on the water; the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made

The water which they beat to follow faster,

As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,

It beggar'd all description....

 

William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

 

Shakespeare modestly stops, doesn't elucidate further…but if he had described Cleopatra's lips he probably would have told us that they were colored carmine (she used lipcolor made of crushed cochineal beetles in an ant egg base).  This past year the Lipstick Effect - that in economically difficult times, consumers tend to buy less luxury items, but will splurge on small items that make them feel better -- has been popping into conversations and economic discussions (interestingly, this time around it has been more of a foundation effect in terms of cosmetic sales!).  What is known is that from 1929-33, cosmetics sales went up while industrial numbers tumbled.  During WWII, red lipstick was encouraged as a morale-booster, the idea of 'putting your face on' was taken to its extreme!  It was the era of Elizabeth Arden's Montezuma Red.  Similarly, after 9/11, lipstick sales in the US spiked dramatically.

 

 

The history of lipstick goes back to the Sumerian Queen Shub-ad (she preferred a mixture of crushed red rock and white lead).  The Romans and Greeks mixed dyes and pigments in a wax base, which both men and women wore.  In the early 20th century, it was the domain of actresses until Guerlain popularized it with the first bullet form push-up lipstick: Ne m'oubliez pas!  

 

We found this marvelous piece in The New York Times from 1917 reviewing Theda Bara  (she of the cupid's bow and dark lips of the silent film era) playing Cleopatra: " the star by dint of much rolling of eyes and many other manoeuvres contributes a thoroughly successful portrait of "the serpent of the Nile, the siren of the ages, and the eternal feminine…."  The 1950s saw the entry of numerous lipstick brands into the growing market, and also the appearance of the frosted and nude lip, the 70s saw David Bowie's glam lips, and the 80s turned red again with Madonna wearing MAC's Russian Red and Nancy Reagan at the other end of the red spectrum.

 

Perhaps the lipstick effect is just the comfort in small pleasures, timeless pleasures.  The eternal feminine.  Or a return to classics.  Or words that linger, that custom cannot stale…So curl up with Antony and Cleopatra again: "Eternity was in our lips and eyes…"

 

Read: Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare


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