Spob O’Brian on Make-up Through the Ages

By Tindara
 Those of you who went to any of the Selfridges Beauty Project events will be sorry to hear that it’s now all over. The Get Lippie team had a great time and we decided to finish off our Beauty Project experience with a fascinating talk by Spob O’ Brian, Head Of Professional Development at Illamasqua, on Make-up Through the Ages. Spob is thoroughly engaging and very knowledgeable about the history of make-up. She went from the Egyptians covering themselves in ochre and clay, to World War II propaganda featuring red-lipped rosy-cheeked land girls. Like a lot of self-respecting beauty geeks I’m fascinated with this subject, and wanted to share some of the most interesting info that Spob imparted.

A lot of historical lotions and potions are remarkably similar in purpose to those we currently use. The earliest evidence of cosmetics were in ancient Egypt where handmaidens were only allowed to eat certain herbs and fruits as their saliva would be used in the mixing processes. Tomb paintings show Egyptian men and women sporting different coloured skin coverings made of clay, ochre, spit and oil, which protected them from the sun as well as making them look good; a mixture of the foundation and sunscreen that we use today. I hope Cleopatra washed it all off before the asses milk bathing. I’m now imagining her sitting in a bath of something resembling my cup of Twinings Everyday. Her skin must’ve been lovely and soft from all the clay and oils; it’s not so different from the kind of treatment you’d have at a spa, and it sounds like something that men would have taken part in too.

Egyptians also lined their eyes and brows heavily in black, with what we now know as kohl. And I bet you didn’t realise that in Ancient Egypt and Greece the mono-brow was highly prized. Why do we spend all this time plucking, and threading, eh? Or that there was a language of beauty spots in the 18th century when people used small pieces or fur or fabric to cover their smallpox scars. The placement would denote whether you were feeling coquettish or flirty. This could be fun. I dare you to use La passionnée pictured above for work tomorrow.

Of course, not all of it was so fun, the use of lead make-up from Ancient Rome to Elizabethan England led to lead poisoning and disease, but it was years later in 1873 when the production of theatrical greasepaint would lead to the first lead free make-up being made for the general public. Greasepaint was much harder work than current formulations and needed to be melted over candles in spoons before it could be used.

Spob pointed to women getting the vote in 1918 and the beginnings of cinema as the start of a period of greater self-expression and experimentation for women, as well as the beginning of the industry as we recognise it today. Further development came about as a result of WWII due to the market for camouflage after injury, and nail polish came about as a result of the car industry. Yes that’s right, the Opi and Essie stuff you paint your nails with was conceived as a result of spray paint for cars.
It’s a fascinating history and there’s a distinct correlation between Egyptian handmaidens and the red carpet make-up artists for A-listers today. I really want Spob to write a book about all this, when looking for information on this kind of historical detail, there really isn’t much out there. If she does a talk or event in the future I would urge you to go. You’ll love it. I’m off to paint beauty spots all over my face and mix my own mud packs.

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2 Comments

  1. June 18, 2014 / 10:31 pm

    Oooh, interesting! In this heat my eyeliner often goes into a La Passionee position…maybe that's why I'm getting funny liiks! Thanks, Tindara!

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