Opera on acid: make-up in fashion film

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Chris Chang / MAC

Make-up and fashion: they seem to be always inextricably linked. With every season, a new make-up look, endlessly paraphrasing itself in waves throughout make-up history. With every trend, an opposed reaction. Interestingly, M.A.C’s spring 2016 collaboration with fashion designer Chris Chang seems to be an abundant counter aesthetics towards the “mainstream” or conformist normcore trend. But except for a visually interesting image, why could “extreme” forms of maquillage be considered beautiful?

To answer this question I would like to turn to the poet, essayist and art-critic Charles Baudelaire, who dedicated a chapter “the praise of make-up” (éloge du maquillage) in his book The Painter of Modern Life. One of the points he makes here is that what is bad or horrid is created naturally, whilst the good is always a product or an art, and beauty the result of human reason and calculation. This should be interpreted with regards to life’s ever-regeneration cycles of birth and death, where all things die in order for new life to resurrect. Destruction, so to say, is intrinsic to nature, and therefore “crime” is natural to human beings, whilst what we perceive as “good” needs conscious awareness and effort, or even a spiritual learning experience.

Therefore, Baudelaire argues, what is truly beautiful are the things created by the human mind, those things that cannot be found in nature itself, but have only come into existence through our thought-through actions. Beauty, therefore, can be found in artifice, in that which is produced by human beings. And fashion, indeed, is of course on of those highly unnatural creations, a ‘sublime de- and reformation of nature’ by the human brain that rises above the ‘rough, earthly and sinful’ things that have been accumulated in  our heads by natural life.

In order for women to be beautiful, she then has the right, or is even fulfilling what Baudelaire calls a kind of duty, to appeal “magical” or “supernatural.” It’s the sur-natural that creates beauty, since it is an art created by men, and therefore rises above nature. Make-up essentially was created in order to achieve a certain ideal that nature couldn’t give by itself. It should therefore never try to imitate nature, that is to hide itself or to appear “natural,” since artifice can never be ugly but only serve beauty, wherefore Baudelaire is in fact of meaning that make-up should always be used in an abundant, or at least expressive way. Artifice is stepping away from the fundamental destructive and thus what we conceive us as “bad” operating of nature, and is therefore something “good.”

Film as an artistic medium is yet another way of how the human rationale rises above nature, as it actually creates its own filmic realities and worlds. This has even become stronger with the emergence of special effects and digital manipulation that is so present in contemporary film culture. And the M.A.C x Chris Chang fashion/make-up film embodies it all: it’s a truly artistic feast of artifice. Isn’t that beautiful?

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Does “fashion as art” need cinema? – (Un)dressing Fashion Film

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