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2019 was the year we put anything and everything on our faces

TextKristen Bateman

Paint, fruits, vegetables, you name it; nothing was off-limits when it came to the creativity of beauty

Swatches of thick multi-coloured paint, slices of cucumbers, broken mirror shards, and glimmery, googly eye stickers: these are just a few of the things you might see plastered on people’s faces when taking a scroll through Instagram lately. Rather than a simple stroke of black eyeliner or a subtle contour, veggies and pieces of plastic have unexpectedly become some of the most modern forms of covetable make-up.

It’s no wonder weird is the new wonderful. This year, more than any other, was the one for the books when it came to the beauty community becoming more and more experimental in what they were doing and how they turned everyday objects into make-up. Take for example Dazed Beauty Community member @jar.of.fliez, who uses actual artist’s paint and food to layer up dimensional creations on her eyes, while @thundergirl_xtal uses plants and vegetables to redesign and reshape her face. Beyond that, tonnes of other beauty Instagrammers are using many other objects that go leaps and bounds beyond traditional make-up to break the boundaries of beauty. While unconventional shaped eyeliner in unusual colours may have been groundbreaking in years past, make-up’s future is shining bright with safety pins and stickers.

If we take a look back, we can trace the history of using unconventional materials as make-up to a time long before Instagram beauty communities existed. The make-up artist legend Val Garland who has worked with Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Lady Gaga, and John Galliano is well-regarded for using everything from nylon stockings to real flowers – and her 2018 book dedicates an entire chapter to the subject of non-make-up materials she’s used since she started her make-up career in the 1990s. Meanwhile, Kabuki, who is responsible for iconic looks seen on the Moschino runway, in Sex and the City and the face of Michael Jackson has also used everything from latex to paper and eye patches – also long before today’s Instagram generation of creatives.

Today, the effect of graphic make-up looks created without the use of cosmetics is clearly seen on the runway too. At Collina Strada’s SS20 show in New York City in September, make-up artist Allie Smith took slices of cucumbers and radish and gently placed them on models’ faces with nothing else. The vegetables themselves were all the colour and texture needed to make a totally fresh statement. Meanwhile, at Marc Jacobs, Pat McGrath directed a show-stopping collection of beauty looks including pearls and swirls of chunky rhinestones – both which took dominance over any form of make-up. 

@margarita__art is one Moscow based make-up artist who is also making a name for herself on Instagram with unusual materials. In the past week weeks alone, she has used pieces of fabrics, plasters, slimes, stones, rhinestones, stickers, flowers, food, hairpins, and her personal favorite, plasticine. “I’m bored of using only cosmetics, because in this case you are still quite limited by texture,” she tells us. “For me, make-up is a place for experiments and rapid creation of live, temporary art objects. Feathers instead of eyelashes, foil instead of shadows and so on,” she adds. She started placing odd objects on model’s faces nearly four years ago and has only gotten more and more dedicated the unique art form of it.

Likewise, @thundergirl_xtal has become a popular Instagram account run by the art director Katya Molchanova, also out of Moscow. She uses items such as mushrooms, layering them on top of the lashes as if they were some kind of surreal lashes from another planet, or orange peels over the lids as unique, textural version of eyeshadow. She doesn’t use any traditional make-up and instead puts all of her focus on raw, organic materials that she often finds in her parents’ garden. She has built up nearly 20k followers on instagram and typically uses herself as her own model, and has even worn some of creations out in public. “When I or my models appear in the public space, the reaction is always very different,” she tells us. “Most often, it’s just interest. I haven’t met with any kind of aggression yet. Inside the community, I only hear words of support and rare criticism.”

The inspiration for this relatively new form of beauty, however, seems to have a common link. Both of these aforementioned beauty artists are taking inspiration from their childhood. “My works are techniques from childhood, they are based on children’s games,” explains Molchanova. “Many people, as children, glued petals to their nails, decorated their clothing with flowers, made cookies out of the sand and pretended that leaves were money while playing. That is what inspires me, I’m interested in rethinking children’s games.” Similarly, @margarita__art says, “I loved to do applique as a child. Every holiday I crafted them for parents and every year tried to do more than I’ve done before. This fascination is seen in my work with make-up.”

But why, again, in 2019 did fruit, plants, and plastic seem to usurp red lipstick and black eyeliner? There is, of course, one other cultural phenomenon that also may have contributed to the plastering of unusual objects on our faces working its way into our collective unconscious. In the summer of 2019, HBO’s Euphoria premiered and caused even the most non-committed make-up lovers to pick up a packet of rhinestones and put them all over their brows. Make-up artists Doniella Davy and Kirsten Sage Coleman transformed Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Alexa Demie, and more with the unexpected goldleaf, pearls, and oversized crystals. While these items may not have pushed the boundaries, say, as much as a slide of radish, they still contributed to the obsession of unconventional, three-dimensional materials on eyes, lips, brows, and cheeks. 

@jar.of.fliez says experimental artists in the beauty community has been one of her biggest inspirations. She has used plants like cacti, moss, purple hearts, pothos leaves, and wild flowers as well as resin, incense, staples, acrylic paint, and even an insect wing in place of normal eyeshadow palettes and liners. Along with that, everyday household items such as leftover food scraps like onions skins, tomato stems, and coffee beans also make an appearance on her face. “I became inspired when I started following artists on Instagram who played more uniquely with textures and colours,” she explains. “More and more, make-up artists are using unusual things as make-up because they’re realising how many things inspire them to create that aren’t make-up related.”

Elsewhere, make-up artist @aryunatardis uses slime-like textures and mega-sized rhinestones to cover her models faces. “This year I’ve focused on special make-up and transforming my face more than usual,” she says. “I’ve realised that I’ve tried almost every make-up and I wanted to have more, to try different forms of looking human.” @cockatoomakeup too, has put an emphasis on placing seeds, rainbow sprinkles, flower petals, and even filing labels on her eyelids. “I like the idea of creating beauty out of objects that are thought of as very ordinary and not beautiful,” she explains. “There’s something about seeing familiar objects in an unfamiliar setting – like on an eyelid – it invites interesting reactions from people.” She too, has taken inspiration from the diverse beauty community of instagram where anything goes. “There are lots of creators pushing the envelope and doing unexpected and creative things with make-up, which I think is what first got me in the mindset to use non-make-up items in my make-up. I like to not take it too seriously, and there’s something fun in taking a closer look at my breakfast muesli or a suburban piece of nature and thinking, ‘I could stick this on my face.’”

“There are lots of creators pushing the envelope and doing unexpected and creative things with make-up. I like to not take it too seriously, and there’s something fun in taking a closer look at my breakfast muesli or a suburban piece of nature and thinking, ‘I could stick this on my face’” – @cockatoomakeup

But, it’s also possible that the real reason the beauty community is turning to these kinds of materials to make a statement goes back to the overwhelming amount of product in the industry right now. Certainly, using something like a flower petal or onion skin is a much more sustainable option than shelling out for the latest and greatest palette. In North America alone, the $532 billion global beauty industry is showing signs of slowing down. Consumer spending has shifted to skincare over make-up, while make-up sales at L’Oréal and Estée Lauder have declined, with skincare-adjacent products like tinted moisturiser being the only cosmetics product sales that are growing, according to Vogue Business

The creators who are using non-make-up materials to create a new version of beauty share a similar sentiment in that vein of cosmetics fatigue. “Plants and vegetables are both an available material,” says Molchanova. “My goal for 2020 is to invest as much energy as possible into the growing the materials for my work. Such material has a seasonality – what could be done during summer, may be impossible to repeat in the winter. Some plants are available only a few days a year, during their flowering period. For me, this is just perfect, it is short-lived, it can be easily recycled or simply eaten. My works don’t last too long.”

Meanwhile, @margarita__art has a similar feeling. “Everything is so over-invented that there is almost no place for creativity,” she says. “Therefore in order not to get bored with experiments in make-up, artists are using additional ‘toys.’ Make-up is becoming a new art form.”

If 2019 was any indication, it looks like the next decade of beauty might not require any traditional cosmetics at all. 

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