February 1997
s m u g
by Leslie Harpold

The Premise

For reasons I won't go into, I recently found myself completely without any beauty products. No lotion, mascara, soap, not even a runaway lipstick. So, the time came when I had to replace it all. Now, I gave some thought to just buying a bar of oatmeal soap, and a copy of The Beauty Myth and taking a stand against the corporate machine that processes women's bodies and self esteem like so much hamburger meat, but then I realized that I wasn't willing to forego the feeling of Nars King Kong lipstick - a rich red-brown with copper highlights (that makes Chanel's Vamp look chaste) gliding over my lips and instilling that rented "who's laughing now" feeling. It's a cheap thrill, but it's mine.

A great secret of women is that makeup costs pretty much the same wherever you go. So, I like to have the most sumptuous experience possible. I knew I was going to be dropping a small bundle, because I needed the works, from eyeliner to a "skin care regime" and I decided since I had the chance to start fresh, I would look into trying something new. Ordinarily I would head to M.A.C., but my last experience there had me leaving the store looking like a drag queen, and when it comes to beauty, once bitten, twice shy. Maybe the RuPaul as spokesmodel thing was being taken too seriously by the salesperson who waited on me.

I went to Barney's. A very chi chi upscale NYC department store, kind of a Bergdorf Goodman for the hipster set. I clomped around the makeup counters until a counter girl started talking to me, and as soon as she learned of my purchasing aspirations she said "Wait, you need everything?" I was sure she realized just how vulnerable I was at the moment and I started checking for the exits.

Enter José

She had mercy. If I was going to start from scratch, she thought it would be a good idea to meet with José, the head of the department and the chief makeup artist, who had no loyalty to any brand and the most likely to make unbiased suggestions, and get a full makeover in a private room upstairs (which appealed to me, if you've ever seen the ladies in the makeup aisle getting painted up looking all foolish.) Free pampering. I'll take it!

I came back an hour later and a man with the best skin I had ever seen escorted me up to a room overflowing with makeup, a chick's bathroom to the extreme. We talked about blemishes, and the Internet - we had the same ISP so I knew he understood me as a person, and all the usual chit chat and in an hour and a half, I emerged with a list of things to buy and a new attitude. I actually looked better than I remembered looking, possibly ever. I felt completely different. Dutifully I returned downstairs to buy everything. Not really free, in the long run.

Hope in a Jar

I have always known in my rational mind that's what they are selling. The miracle ingredients, the colored glass bottles, the smelly runny stuff that when used regularly will transform you. I respected that the philosophy line of cosmetics is intentionally marketed at those jaded by the consumer beauty products market. To read the booklet that outlines the line, it seems that the woman who started the line found herself weighted down by corporate dogma, and decided to break free and find her own path. She is never named directly, which leaves room to believe, that like Bartles and Jaymes, this is a mere front for a larger ugly machine, but I choose actively not to believe this. Here's why.

It's good Stuff

So, I don't care. I like to read the booklet, I like a makeup company telling me it has a mission statement about beauty being something that isn't age, color or gender sensitive, and I like a company that calls a spade a spade.

Hope In A Jar

This is what I knew I was buying all along, and at least now I could stop pretending. I can forgive that they have, in their line a fragrance for cats and dogs, even, which you may not realize is a huge stretch for me, because the pared down packaging and inspirational but sparse copy touch that girly part of me that really wants to believe in Cinderella and the transformation myth. Because the products have names like "real purity" and "windows on the soul" and the colors are soft and believable. Because my skin looks almost as good as José's now. All that hype makes the wizened consumer feel like they are in on some sort of secret, a great anti-marketing play that works for me. I didn't convert wholly, I still have my loyalties to Shu Umera powder and Molton-Brown eye rescue, but the rest of me has been sold. My favorite bit of packaging is the lipstick:

Word of Mouth

Hey, before you go ballistic about me having a smart mouth and whatnot, cut me some slack. Almost every chick has an inner girly girl that hates to take out the trash and kill bugs, no matter how much of a badass we are most of the time.


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