FLANNELS THINKS: OUR ENDURING OBSESSION WITH BLUE EYESHADOW

FLANNELS THINKS: OUR ENDURING OBSESSION WITH BLUE EYESHADOW

FLANNELS THINKS:

OUR ENDURING OBSESSION WITH BLUE EYESHADOW

Got the blues? Nellie Eden takes a deep dive into the cultural significance of the baby blue lid.

WORDS: Nellie Eden Photographer: JANE DOE


Of all the ways in which we have chosen to express our identities and characters using the tools of hair and makeup over the years, some techniques and hues continue to remain quippy shorthand for whole moods, subcultures and genres. A puckered red lip, read as pure sex appeal. A smoky kohl eye, subtext: “don’t mess with me”. And, of course, the powdery blue eyelid; the baby doll look that came to define the pop-art era and beyond as an expression of bold femininity.

Makeup goes back a long way: it’s been in recorded use since 10,000BC – mad. And Madeline Marsh, in her novel, Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day, stresses that a preserved look was as important to an Egyptian’s everyday life as it was to their happiness in the afterlife. Marsh notes your average Egyptian woman, "lived and died surrounded by kohl jars, makeup boxes, [and] perfume vials.”

Blue eyeshadow, for most, pierced the common cultural imagination in the swinging ‘60s. The look became synonymous with the rising hemlines of the boomer generation, the growing women’s liberation movement and the sudden availability of the contraceptive pill. It spoke of a new freedom; of hope and of joy and a diva-ish potential. Who do we have to thank for that? None other than the matriarch of the batted eyelid herself, Elizabeth Taylor.

In 1962, Taylor was in Rome filming Cleopatra. Her makeup artist Alberto De Rossi had hurt his back and so wasn’t on set. Left alone to her own devices, Taylor painted her face, adding to Cleopatra’s mythological black kohl a contemporary swipe of blue eyeshadow. The look became cult overnight after the film’s release, and inherently tied in with Taylor’s infamous pursuit of glamor and decadence.

Before Liz pioneered blue eyeshadow on the silver screen, however, there was another diva who did it first. Barbie was born in 1959 with a full beat and – ice-blue eyeshadow.

The mod-look that had taken shape in the late ‘50s was now dominating the London fashion scene. Models like Edie Sedgwick, Jean Shrimpton and London’s own Twiggy, were setting the tone – huge doe-eyed eye-makeup looks that saw double rows of false lashes, geometric shapes and blue shadows.

In fact, in 1968, Mary Quant, designer of the OG mini skirt, even launched her own makeup brand. In 2004, she spoke about why it felt necessary to add cosmetics to her brand’s offering: “There was no flexibility and no fun with makeup.” Suddenly the idea that the face was just as much a site for potential creative freedom as the body, caught up.

BLUE IS NOT THE FIRST COLOUR MOST WILL THINK OF WHEN TRYING TO CREATE A FLATTERING MAKEUP LOOK AND THIS, IN PART, SEEMS TO BE IMPORTANT.

Andy Warhol, whose work acted as a critique on the rise of capitalism, racism and sexual repression in the United States throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, created his Shot Sage Blue Marilyn in 1964. It’s Marilyn Monroe as we know her, but with garish red lips and sky-blue eyeshadow. In short, the look came to symbolise both the establishment (take, Barbie) and a critique of the steadfast rules of what a woman should look and behave like that predated that era.

In 1973, Liza Minelli dons the hue in her Oscar-winning performance of Sally Bowles in Cabaret, set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic in 1931. Once again, eyeshadow comes to embody an anti-establishment, pro-freedom stance on life.

 
In the ‘70s there’s a marked twist in the tale for blue eyeshadow. John Walters, the self-described king of “bad taste”, qualifying this fixation as a movement towards things “that aren't right, they're just off and unfashionable, a bit uncool” releases his controversial film, Pink Flamingos (1972). The film starred Walters’s friend Divine, a famous drag queen, decked out in blue eyeshadow. A look that continued to be favoured by outsider creatives, often adorning the faces of retrospectively lionized feminist icons in cinema and art. Take Isabella Rossellini in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Again, we see the use of a heavy red lip and intense blue eyeshadow on a “dangerous” and highly sexualised female lead.

Similarly, in the ‘90s, blue eyeshadow continues to be picked up by counter-culture icons, like PJ Harvey, and in offbeat cinema and underground music scene creatives. Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film, Jackie Brown, sees Pam Grier star as a flight attendant, never without her lids painted blue. In 1998, the look got the cool treatment once more. Christina Ricci starred alongside Vincent Gallo in Buffalo ‘66. Her makeup look, created by Gucci Westman, continues to influence makeup artists and fans alike (see Lana Del Ray). Westman spoke about wanting to create a look that suggested “a dreamy innocence.”

WHAT TAKES THE LOOK FROM OUTSIDER TO INSIDER, ALLOWING THE HUE TO BECOME THE MOST FAVOURED OF GLAM-TRASH VIBE OF EARLY NOUGHTIES?

What takes the look from outsider to insider, allowing the hue to become the most favoured of the glam-trash vibe of the early Noughties? There's only one woman for that job. Enter Kate Moss in the late ‘90s, styling out a deeper shade of blue.

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The fashion world loses interest in the smokey eye, and the shade dominates the eyes of It girls everywhere. This of course, is happening in parallel with the hey-day of MTV Base and the adoption of blue eyeshadow on some of the R&B industries most feted lead women. In 2000, Aaliyah wore blue eyeshadow in her video for her hit single Try Again and the style was recreated endlessly. Frosted eyelids became the look du jour; Britney Spears; Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera and Rihanna all sported the fierce pantone with pride on the red carpet.

Blue eyeshadow falls out of favour in the mid 2010s. The dominant aesthetic falls into the binary categories of full-face contour (think Kevyn Aucoin soft glamour meets full face coverage) and bare-faced, barely-there makeup propelled by the normcore fashion movement. Then, an app called Instagram is launched in 2010. The image-sharing platform arguably becomes the most exciting new tool for creatives working with colour, ever.

We see an explosion of colour-led makeup looks that expand the limits and realms of possibility for makeup artists globally. YouTuber Jeffree Starr launches his own smash-hit makeup brand in 2014, and in 2020, he launches an entire line inspired by the colour… blue.

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As gen Z came of age, a natural nostalgia for their formative years bubbled under the surface of the fashion conscience and decorated the moodboards of industry leaders alike. Then, fictional character Maddy Perez (played by Alexa Demie in HBO’s Euphoria) and her viral powder blue eyeshadow happens, and nothing is the same anymore. Euphoria’s head makeup artist Doniella Davy embraced blue for the smash-hit series, adopting but adapting the look for the next cohort of makeup obsessives: gem encrusted, pale, deep, graphic and hand-applied, however you styled it, it blue was officially back.

Sure, we can decide it’s just makeup, or we can choose to canonize blue eyeshadow as one of the most joyful expressions against hate and repression throughout history – a reminder of how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

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