Sunday, 18 July 2010

What's in a name?

 "So I'm thinking "Deep Throat", "Sex", "Orgasm", "Milf" and I'll just finish it off with this "Lube in a Tube" 

With NARS having lampooned makeup names with "Orgasm", "Super Ogamsm" and "Deep Throat", and Benefit following the trend with "Throbb", Soap and Glory's "Glow Job", Urban Decay's "Lube in a Tube", not to mention Illamasqua's litany of crude names: "Phallic" (a dark blue nail polish, so not even a logical name, at least one would hope not),"Fetish" (a blue lipstick, perhaps this is a clue??),"Welt", "Milf", "Climax"... What would it take to shock us now? Nothing short of the F bomb, or the C word, or a combination thereof, before we would flinch. But wait, here's some unchartered territory: how about tragedy and violence? Yes Ellis Faas introduced her so-called "Human colours" theory, and Illamasqua have both a "victim" and "Sadist", but apparently MAC have gone one better.

The criticism has so cut to the bone that both MAC and Rodarte have issued statements, and MAC has decided it had better give some of the profits to help.

The latest MAC collaboration takes inspiration from Mexico, and isolates Juarez as the perfect name for a "bright opal pink" nail polish. Juarez is notorious as a hotbed of drug dealing, violence and corruption.
"According to tallies at the respected Ciudad Juarez daily El Diario, June was the bloodiest month yet with 306 deaths and July could surpass that total, with more than 130 deaths over the past 13 days." In addition to its drug wars, there have been hundreds - possibly thousands of murders, young women working in the local factories, killed for sport. This video gives some inkling of the entrenched violence that pervades the area.

Rodarte, the fashion label owned by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, have used the town as inspriration for their clothes.
"Before their show, the sisters explained that a long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They'd build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking."

You know what? The beauty blogging world have had the knee-jerk reaction of condemning the use of an impoverished and traumatised town, exploited for a fashion line - or worse, a makeup line! - but I have to tentatively disagree. Looking at the collection, it is clear that the sisters have genuinely absorbed the atmosphere and distilled the misery and beauty of the area. They transcend the stereotype of Juarez and come out with a haunted, stifled beauty. In an age where we are hardened to news articles reporting death (in fact just yesterday in Juarez drug hitmen killed 17 at a party), not to mention troops being killed in Afghanistan; suicide bombs; crazed gunmen - these reports and the language become hackneyed. Until the context is misappropriated, then, suddenly, our senses come alive.

Perhaps MAC and Rodarte were oblivious to the outrage they stirred. Perhaps MAC thought Viva Glam gave them carte blanche. But I think both deliberately set out to achieve a social commentary, they just misjudged their audience. In fashion, where Alexander McQueen and countless others already paved the way for fashion to be allowed to reference tragedy and death and any issue which inspires, makeup is not afforded the same lenience. It appears makeup is not allowed to be as complex as fashion: makeup is its poor, simple sister, merely there to be pretty or flatly artistic. I refute this, and moreover I welcome makeup houses to step away from the tired sexual double-entendres.

Of course both Rodarte and MAC are businesses, and there is an undeniable edge of exploitation. This would have been eliminated if at the outset the collection had been introduced as a charitable project. It appears neither realised that they had to justify their inspiration. But the fact still remains, that we are all now aware of this sorrowful town.

The collection itself looks wonderful for pale skins, and I also think the ghostly and sad promo image is fitting. Juarez is not the only part of Mexico that Rodarte could have found when searching for their heritage, but that place affected them and they used their artistic senses to translate the emotion. Pretty pictures are all very well, but sometimes it is only by searching into the abyss that you can find depth of beauty.

I applaud MAC for forcing us "consumers" to realise there is a whole world beyond that lipgloss. Life would be great if every makeup brand took on a current global issue, named its products after it, and gave a portion to charity. And to those who compare this to calling a lipstick after a concentration camp, that is hugely offensive. Firstly for the scale: there is no comparison; but fundamentally, because this issue is a live one, that can be helped via campaigns and raising awareness. I will be buying from the collection because it looks pretty, and because some of it goes to charity, and because it has made me THINK.


20/07/10 ///STOP PRESS/// UPDATE:

MAC and Rodarte released a further statement. See Temptalia for details. I must say I find it patronising to be repeatedly addressed as "consumers and fans", as if MAC is a cult or tribe...? Evidently MAC assumed that their name was synonymous with equality and charity, so much so that they didn't remotely forsee the backlash. It must have been sobering for MAC to be greeted with people declaring they would NOT be purchasing! The PR statements have unfortunately given credence to the fear that this was an insensitive error, and not that it is us consumers who misunderstood them... I do like to think that this is PR damage limitation, doing what they have judged that we want to hear - and that in fact we did misunderstand them, afterall. It will be shrouded in mystery now, anyway.

The decision to give a bulk sum ($100,000) is either brave or stingy, depending on who you ask. I think, again, it is damage limitation - to throw out an impressive round number like that, and not alienate those who swore they would boycott the collection. In any event, this makes the collection a charity one to some degree, and that is a good result.

However, if none of the names make it, surely the charity link becomes ostracised? What has been shown is undeniable: unfortunately, tragic events can colonise the evocation of a place or time, and some things should be treated with dignity. Calling a mint polish by that name - really was offensive to many. Time will tell whether the whole collection takes on a different tone. Because if they keep that misery-drenched image of a model haunted by a ghost, well, people will remember the outrage afresh. For the sake of a clean sheet now that MAC and Rodarte have made a big show of bowing to popular demand, they ought to re-evaluate the whole concept of a deathly pale, gaunt, black eyed woman enticing us to buy a pale lipstick....

(Lucky MAC come up with collections nineteen to the dozen, soon this will all be forgotten.)


  1. I was looking forward to seeing what your take on this would be: you can always be counted on to have a thoughtful considered approach to contentious issues in the beauty blogging world. I'm definitely a big fan of your blog and writing.

    I appreciate your point of view which is different in tone from those which I've read up till now but it hasn't persuaded me. I was one of the knee jerk reaction crowd. I'm a lazy occasional beauty blogger and I'm not engaged with much of the wider beauty community at large apart from as a reader. However coming across this issue on Temptalia infuriated me and has led me to post, comment and raise awareness. Bravo to MAC, and Rodarte then for educating me, and the wider beauty community on this important, tragic, issue.

    However I don't for a minute buy that this was MAC or Rodarte's mission. If it was I'm sure they would have taken charge and put forth a much more definite stance on their actions and their reasons behind it. If their purpose was as you said to "deliberately set out to achieve a social commentary" then why does their official statement sound so meek with a strong undercurrent of "we're so sorry, we didn't realise"...

    You say that "Looking at the collection, it is clear that the sisters have genuinely absorbed the atmosphere and distilled the misery and beauty of the area. They transcend the stereotype of Juarez and come out with a haunted, stifled beauty." It's not clear to me though that the Mulleavys have done anything of the sort. Nothing short of a firm statement of their intent straight from the horses mouth make it 100% clear but in art the artist rarely gives us the message so clearly or specifically. Instead we're left to guess and deduce their intentions. You've given them the benefit of the doubt, whereas I remain unconvinced and it leaves an ugly dark stain over Rodarte in my mind.
    I will also say that they've been fortunate to keep an intelligent and thoughtful customer such as yourself in the midst of the many they've lost in this episode. I think that's more a credit to you than them to be honest.

  2. I hoped you would write on this, I always appreciate your take on issues, even if I don't always agree with them.

    If MAC/Rodarte had been a charitable collection from its inception, I would agree with you on the intent, although for me personally it would still be in poor taste to get inspiration for a look from tortured and murdered girls. Just because millions of them haven't been murdered doesn't make it any less horrible.

  3. My first thought was that I am thankful for anything that brings attention to the horror that is happening in Juarez. It is only now getting attention because of the drug violence; but the murders of women have been going on (mostly ignored) for a long time.

    I did wince at the name "Factory", though. I tend not to like things that romanticize (and profit from) the hard lives of poor people.

    Maybe the charity stuff wasn't MAC's idea, but I'm glad it was the result. I do wish that their statement had been more clear. I recently heard someone say that an apology isn't an apology unless you specifically state your wrongdoing and take responsibility for it. I don't feel like they did that in this case.

    As for "Orgasm" etc.-- I guess I'm old-fashioned in that I am put off by profanity and vulgarity. I do refuse to buy products with silly names (just like I sometimes will buy a product only because I like its name, LOL). So I guess product names do matter to me. What makes me chuckle is watching a YouTube video where the person holds up her blush and says "here's my Orgasm".

  4. Hmmm I'm not sure about your argument to be honest but it did make me stop and think. What it boils down to, in my humble opinion, is there is a huge injustice in the world - some people on this planet have to live in misery whilst others are able live in ignorance unless they are made aware of that misery via a pretty dress and a lipgloss. All this is, is exploitation of people that are already being exploited for the benefit of the western world.

    I do appreciate your opinion though.

  5. Firstly, thanks so much for that! And also for praising my moral character of course! I agree, the initial PR statement came out making them look guilty, there is something off about the patronising "consumers and fans" I might add an edit update on that to my post in fact.

    @Grace London haha thanks!!! Yes I do totally agree, if only MAC had introduced the collection as a fundraiser, none of this would have happened...

    @Ms. M interesting, yes their latest statement specifically says they are VERY SORRY now! I guess many others noticed that omission too.
    As for crude names, yes I agree, the joke is wearing a little thin now isn't it!

    @Georgia haha oh well, must play devil's advocate sometimes! I do agree there IS njustice in the world, but that is exactly it: that's our reality. People who would rather not be exposed to the ugly truth now have, via beauty. That's what I thought was admirable.


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