A History of Rouge

posted on: October 22, 2014

CM History of Rouge Nars Matte Multiple with Title.JPG

I always find the history of makeup to be truly fascinating – the weird ingredients, the changing looks, and the implications of changing cultures. Even more so, the way in which some items of makeup have really stuck around.

In the accepted aesthetics of beauty, there has long been an association between a pale, flawless complexion and red cheeks and lips. Pale, almost white skin was accepted as beautiful in Europe and in Asia for centuries, even millennia, as a sign of wealth and leisure. The bearers of these delicate complexions were wealthy enough, as the thinking went, to never need to burnish their lily-white skin with working outside in the sun and the wind. Rouge, therefore, has always been popular, not just for the fashion statement, but to make the wearer seem alive and awake.

It is immensely interesting that blush is still used for the same purpose today. It brightens the face, makes you look energised and young, and can sometimes be all you need to look like yourself.

The manufacture and sale of rouge (and perfume) was really the starting point of the gigantic behemoth that is the beauty industry today, once people started selling more complicated beautification formulas than people could make at home.

Even in times when the use of makeup has been generally discouraged as vulgar or unnecessary, an exception has been made for rouge:

“If ever paint were to be proscribed, we should plead for an exception in favour of rouge, which may be rendered extremely innocent, and be applied with such art as to give an expression to the countenance, which it would have without that auxiliary. White paint is never becoming; rouge, on the contrary, almost always looks well.”

The Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion, Allen & Ticknor 1834

Couldn’t have said it better myself. And don’t you love the word “countenance”?

Before the first half of the 19th Century, most people made their own rouge at home. In the 4th century BC, Ancient Greek women used crushed mulberries to stain their cheeks. In later times, people would make their rouge in slightly more complicated formulas, in large batches that would be stored in little pots, or cachous, some very ornate or personalised.

(side note: Sam, if you are looking for an Xmas present for me, they sell these at auction, hashtag justsaying)

CM History of Rouge Silver Cachou 1

CM History of Rouge Silver Cachou 2

Thousands of different recipes abounded, almost all in two different forms – dry, with all-powder ingredients, or more commonly in a paste, where powder ingredients were mixed with a medium such as Almond Oil to increase spreadability and help it adhere to the skin.

A powdered red pigment would therefore be mixed with a “filler” (they had them even then) such as talc or powdered chalk, mixed with the oil, then pressed into the little pot. This completely simple formula, without water or any organic ingredients which could rot, also had the benefit of a very long shelf life – samples have been found from the early 19th century which are still usable, if anyone should want to try.

The red pigments came from natural animal, vegetable or mineral sources:

CM History of Rouge Carmine

– From animals, the most common was Carmine, from the crushed wing cases of cochineal beetles. Originally a Polish source of this bright red pigment supplied the (often adulterated) rouge needs of Europe, but this was eclipsed with the discovery of the Americas, as the beetles from Mexico and Central America were found to have a much stronger colour. This pigment is still used in cosmetics today, as red pigments are extremely hard to make synthetically, and Carmine is known to be completely safe on the skin, and is even edible.

– From botanical sources, a variety of plants were used, usually for a softer, pinker red. These included Safflower flowers (the most common), Alkanet roots, Madder root, Brazil wood, and Red sandalwood.

– Mineral sources are a bit trickier. The most common, and the brightest, pigments that were used were Lead Tetroxide (red lead or minium), or Mercuric Sulphide (cinnabar or vermillion). These are all highly toxic, and were known to be even in the early 19th century. People still used them, in some strange mixed-up-priorities game. A completely non-toxic mineral source for red, however, is Iron Oxide, which is the most used pigment in cosmetics today, and which I wrote all about here.

Starting at the beginning of the 19th century, people starting buying their rouge from manufactured sources. These versions were a little more sophisticated than the homemade ones, either in formula or in delivery method. Formulas were made smoother, with more variations of colour, or sold as crepons, thin crepe fabric strips dipped in the makeup, to be applied delicately to the cheeks.

A very popular product, and one of the first to be sold in a wide market, was Pear’s Liquid Blooms of Roses, which has some of the most stunning advertisement language ever seen on the face of the planet:

CM History of Rouge Pears Liquid Blooms.JPG


“… gives a most delightful tinge to the Female Countenance [that word again, high five], and to such a degree of perfection, that it may with propriety be said that Art was never so successfully employed in improving the Charms of Nature.”

La Belle Assemblé, Bell’s Monthly Compendium for Advertisements for May 1807

What a beaut of a copy writer. I would hire him.

As we all know, rouge, or blush, is still one of the best-selling cosmetic products out there. I definitely never go a day without wearing some, just a dab, to pull it all together and make me look 0.00001% less like a snob. The top picture here is the new Matte Multiple from Nars in Laos, a truly modern formula which can be used on the cheeks or lips, which I heartily recommend.

1. 1807 round silver cachou, found here

2. 1912 silver cachou of a woman’s head, found here

Bonpoint Creme de Corps: The Mack Daddy of Body Creams

posted on: October 19, 2014

Bonpoint Creme de Corps 2

Bonpoint Creme de Corps 1

The small skincare offering from the extremely expensive baby store Bonpoint is somewhat of a hidden secret. These formulas, concealed as they are behind teeny tiny dungarees and velvet dresses for 3 month olds, have achieved a cult following in the last few years.

To get to them, you have to inch past overly-friendly sales assistants who want to sell you just the most beautiful white dress for a tiny person, for $400,000. And then they ask you earnestly if this is a gift, because there is no way a baby-less person would just wander into the shop for skincare for themselves. I just hate it when sales assistants ask if the thing you are buying is a gift. Yes, I know that a pomegranate and fig scented candle and matching hand lotion are usually gifts, but these are for me, all me. I am selfish and awful and I am buying these for myself. A regular bag will be fine.

Sorry, tangent. The point is, once you get past these horrific obstacles, you get to a little collection of stupendous skincare. They originally started as purely baby formulas, but Bonpoint have clearly recognised that adults are using them too, and have jazzed them up a bit.

The Creme de Corps is just the most wonderful body cream. Bar the eye-watering price, this is just an example of a simple formula done excellently, with great, unfussy packaging, and a clear purpose. It says it will moisturise your body, and by God, it does. Just my sort of thing.

Bonpoint Creme de Corps 4


Bonpoint Creme de Corps 6

It smells clean and comforting, it comes in a pot big enough to put your entire hand in, and feels pure and unadulterated. Best of all, it is unbelievably rich, but doesn’t leave you greasy or oily at all. Now that Hong Kong is less than 99% humidity, I’ve been slathering it on quite unashamedly, and because it never gives you that feeling that you might just slide off your chair like other body creams do. (I’m looking at you, Nivea.)

It has Orange, Cotton and Cherry Blossom Extracts, as well as extracts of white flowers; Cotton Milk, Queen-of-the-meadow, Jasmine and Lily. Don’t know why they have to be white and exclusively pretty flowers for the best moisturisation, but I’m not going to object. The main point is the base formula, which is a super-rich Glycerin and Shea Butter emulsion, for some pretty powerful hydration, without any fillers, nasty preservatives, or fragrance

Available at all Bonpoint stores.

Placement: Makeup in Composition

posted on: October 6, 2014

CM Dries Van Noten SS15_2

I am most definitely not one to follow makeup trends from fashion shows. In my mind, the makeup for the shows is wonderfully done, but a bit silly to look at for “trends”. Every season, they have an interview with some makeup artist in Milan, or New York, where this luckless person is forced to say “Mascara is over. It’s all about cheeks in 2015.” Or something. Meanwhile, sales of whatever is “over” have never been higher. Or an article dictating that this Fashion Week, “the cat-eye made a comeback”. The cat-eye never went anywhere, believe me.

It seems to me that the most prominent and long-lasting movements of what is considered “chic” in beauty are those which start organically – through girls trickling the look online, on the streets and with each other.

However, that being said, catwalks are the most insane place to look for inspiration. The troops of artists who churn out these dozens of models really are artists – coming up with new ideas and using products in new ways, all with incredible technique. Just take a look at the work of Pat McGrath, Violette, or Peter Phillips, and you will see what I mean.

This fashion month, for example, had so many beautiful ideas. One in particular that I can’t stop thinking about is this idea of placement. Quite literally, placing makeup in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways.

The work by Tom Pecheux at the Spring/Summer 2015 Anthony Vaccarello show was so clever – black glittery lobes in place of earrings. The team painted over the earlobes with black liquid liner, then dusted them heavily with glitter, held in place with Homeoplasmine, the cult French balm. Together with black glitter dusted under the eyes, this made for a pretty rock-heavy look, that somehow is the most modern thing I’ve seen for quite a while.

CM Anthony Vaccarello SS15_3


CM Anthony Vaccarello SS15_4


A similar idea, of makeup as jewellery, continued at Dries van Noten, with a lip ring made of MAC’s gold pigment applied with a mixing liquid (also seen above). Let’s forget for a second about the deep impracticalities and impermanence of this idea, and instead fantasise about what we would look like with a lip ring, if only we weren’t so chicken.

CM Dries Van Noten SS15


Continuing to nails, we must talk Prabal Gurung. We must talk of the sheer minimalism and coolitude of the spare, almost slapdash white stripes painted onto the models’ nails.

CM Prabal Gurung SS15

In fact, we can’t talk about it. There is no need to – you can see it for yourselves. So I recreated my own, with the French Manucure Pen from Dior, and Chanel’s new nude polish called Secret, which is the prettiest nude you ever did see.

It wasn’t über successful. Or even a little bit successful. Le sigh.

Nail Stripes

Nail Stripes 2


Images from style.com and vogue.com.

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