“The only way I'd be caught without makeup is if my radio fell in the bathtub while I was taking a bath and electrocuted me and I was in between makeup at home. I hope my husband would slap a little lipstick on me before he took me to the morgue.” - Dolly Parton.
I don’t know when it was exactly that women or society more likely hijacked makeup as being an almost exclusively female activity, but until fairly recently, certainly in my short lifetime *ahem* men with makeup on has always been viewed as a bit of a freakshow. This is with the exception of drag per se, that has little ambiguity about what is going on.
More often than I care to mention, when I explain to someone what I do for a living, it is quite often, and rather ignorantly, met with questions about whether I wear makeup, or even if I ‘do drag’ myself. The assumption being I suppose that if I am a dab hand at a bit of lipstick, and a brush, and I love a bit of glitter, that I must covet the most feminine of all things that is makeup, and want to decorate my face with it, ironically in a female parody sort of way.
But makeup and men do have a very long lineage. There have always been men, who still wishing to look like men, have worn makeup. I am not talking about those possibly too vain men that pop on a (very lightly) tinted moisturiser, or slick a little Touch Eclat under their eyes after a heavy night, and god forbid it should look like you are ACTUALLY wearing makeup for fear of ridicule.
Men who wear makeup, but to all the world don’t fit into this little box of drag, or camp, or androgyny, or feminine or all the other rather emasculating vocabulary you can throw at them because they are wearing something other than sweat on their faces.
Makeup, for me is a gender neutral product. Out of the pot onto a face, be it male or female, it’s the same. In this respect, there is a subculture of men that do wear makeup because quite simply it pleases them to do so. But, when looking at male makeup, there are few reference points. Until now. This week, I was invited to the launch of a new book The Art of Male Makeup. Its creators are the two prolific and frankly fabulous David Horne and Mark Bowles.Both makeup artists, and both incredibly clever.
The book was born from this lack of reference to makeup from a male perspective, or worn by men that wasn’t as I said earlier draggy, or trans, or feminine. Far from detracting anything from these particular styles, the book seeks to demonstrate that male make up is an art form all on its own.
An important and rather insightful analysis took place as to what exactly *is* feminine about makeup? A very particular eye was cast over the various techniques that we are all so familiar with and examined to see what exactly feminised them.
An example of this would be eyeliner (guyliner *shudders* I loathe that term). A straight, unbroken line is feminine; a flick for example is also feminising the eye. Matte, for example, is deemed more masculine than a shimmer, or a shine. Glamour is not the goal here. Any ‘traditional’ cosmetic tricks are pulled right back so as not to overdo, and become about the makeup, and not the face.
And fundamentally, what is masculine makeup? It’s not about decoration, so much as it is enhancement. It’s less about correction, and more about character. The Art of Male Makeup presents 28 characters to us, that are all familiar male types, and shows us with these rules how makeup emphasises the masculine traits of the face and body. There is not one that isn’t intriguing, and doesn’t drag you into the story of that particular character, and some will even surprise you. It is beautifully photographed by the extremely charming Daniel Ellyot Moore.
Flicking through, not one of these men has been feminised by the makeup, or the hair. And each time I go looking at a different page, I notice something new in the picture. They are all very beautiful indeed. A true collaboration of creative talent, there were a number of artists who worked on this book including the amazing Julia Townend (on body makeup this time), and Spob O’Brien on hair duty.
So what does it mean?
Well for me it’s a welcome relief on many levels. Not only is it a perfect reference for the way maleness is perceived by Mark and David, but it also signifies a new perspective in the world of makeup, and artistry as a whole. We are seeing a lot of the same type of thing all the time. Another smoky eye, another cut crease, another contoured face that we’re all supposed to mimic and get excited about, when actually, these are not new concepts but just lazy populist re hashes of the same thing over and over. The Art of Male Makeup articulates a whole new world of possibilities for you to look at, and equally for me as an artist.
A stunning book, and an incredible body of work. I leave you with some beautiful illustrations of the looks by Achraf Amiri. If you are at all serious about makeup, you need to own this.
The Art of Male Makeup is available by emailing email@example.com and is £25.
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