The book I have been reading for months now (mainly as I keep re-reading passages and researching further, it is rather addictive and enthralling - review to come shortly enough!) is the L'Oreal commissioned "100,000 Years of Beauty".
It reminds me of when I was young (adopt voice: "In my day...") when I spent hours with my grandma's precious Encyclopedia Britannica volumes. This tome is the Encyclopedia Britannica of Beauty! Every page is a lesson in itself and the varied voices make this even more enriching. Lately I was struck by this truism, which I had always wondered about, and which for all the bluster of modern rebels Illamasqua et al, still rings out:
"The persistent rejection of blue and green for lips and face can be explained by the fact that the skin of the face and lips silently conveys extremely powerful messages. An eyelid dusted with violet, set against a fresh complexion, is not perceived as a bruise, and a mouth ringed in fluorescent yellow fools no one. But bluish or greenish lips immediately evoke cyanosis [deficiency of oxygen in the blood] or poisoning. These colours are distress signals that cannot be taken lightly[....] At no time has society exploited the huge stock of pigments available to modify the colour of skin and lips in any radical way. Respect for natural complexion has survived despite all the revolutions in cosmetics since 1850. This phenomenon goes far beyond the desire to appear young and fresh - it would seem that the colour of the face and the lips involves what might be called an 'archaic foundation' in which the colour red embodies a biological dynamism and thirst for life that, even today, can be neither ignored nor violated."
In broad terms, the beauty values we prize have been largely unaffected by the fact that we now live in an age of photoshop (which, frankly, has been around since the first ever photograph was taken by our Victorian counterpart, who would painstakingly erase anything unappealing) - and modern beauty remedies.
Ironically, beauty salves started off by being homemade mother to daughter recipes made in a kitchen - only relatively recently exploding into modern, Metropolis inspired, Lab-produced products... These 'potions' are unrelentingly advertised as the answer to our prayers; the appetite for beauty has certainly proven itself to be a billion pound industry worth mining. Yet, again, plus ça change, we now see more and more companies who proudly insist their creams are all "natural" "homemade", "ancient secret recipes", made to order, etc. Nasty sounding additives are deliberately highlighted on packaging by their absence. Like E numbers in food, which were created to assure people of their Lab-approved identity, nowadays nothing is more gruesome than an abundance of E numbers, and similarly in beauty products, sulphates etc are shunned wherever possible.
It seems that whatever era we are in, we can never feel "Beauty" can exist unless it is moored in nature. Whether that be natural human colouring or natural ingredients, the inherent aim is to improve nature and create our own being.
In many ways I think that is why I am excited by Illamasqua's hugely time-consuming new collection concept. The enormous cast of characters, part of the "Art of Darkness": a delightful play on one of the best novellas ever, Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." (I was told by my tutor that word for word this has the most practical criticism ever written on any book of all time, and hardly surprising if you read it and allow the story to take hold.) The further inspiration for Illamasqua's collection seems to be ancient Egypt (the scarab beetle on the nail polish; the distinctively Egyptian ornate mirror) but equally, elements seem to be taken from ancient biblical Kings and Queens. It is an overwhelming mix of cultures and themes. But that is what I enjoy about it: the tale of how,
"Lured by the promise of immortality, a host of fantastical beings try their hand at creating the ever-elusive Elixir of Life. The resulting potions dazzle the eye and ensnare the senses, a beautiful array of jewel-like substances. They may not deny mortality, but they do make the theatre of life a more colourful stage on which to play."
The decadence and futility of beating nature and creating beauty is as old as time. But it is fun trying, and capturing our quest for the Elixir of life. Illamasqua address this dichotomy, between the unending search - and the stagnation of reality.
Do you think there will ever be a time when true "futuristic" beauty will come? Will blue lips ever be mainstream accepted beauty: there for Beauty's sake and not for any shock value? It seems the facts deny this, but could that change...?
Pics from top: Vogue Italia, June 2010 (who advise it be worn for a very special evening, "deep and very glossy.") Illamasqua A/W 2010, Paul Smith and House of Holland S/S 2010, Kesha wearing blue lips both before and during her performance at Casio's Shock the World 2010 event. Photo: Getty Images | AP