There’s a lot to love about Old Hollywood movies: the dialogue is fantastic, the sound effects are minimal, and the stars aren’t likely to end up as tomorrow’s tabloid scandal. But the real reason to watch old movies is the Glamour – movie stars looked so ravishingly elegant that it’s no surprise that today’s actors seek to emulate them on the red carpet.
The makeup in old movies is especially beautiful, and the techniques and tools are hard to divine by watching the movies alone. But makeup artists have a secret: they call Gabriela Hernandez, creator of Bésame Cosmetics.
About thirty makeup artists got the chance to meet her here in New York for a vintage makeup workshop at Chic Studios while she was in NYC to debut her new Vanilla Face Powder at Sephora. We were a lucky group.
I’ve mentioned Gabriela Hernandez here at Wild Beauty before: her book Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup is the go-to source for breakdowns of historical makeup trends, complete with examples of artwork and advertising. But the book is a small fraction of what she knows about makeup: in person, the petite Argentine has a ready stream of historical knowledge about makeup in fashion, film, and society. Production makeup artists consult her to make sure their makeup looks are as historically accurate as possible. And her makeup line, Bésame Cosmetics, is the ultimate capsule collection for vintage enthusiasts, with its charming packaging, authentic colors, and surprising creations.
This “matchstick” Lipstick Sampler might not seem obviously useful, until you realize that Bésame is a favorite of makeup artists working on film and video production. Vintage looks require vintage colors, and at Bésame they derive their colors from actual vintage lipsticks. Gabriela has an extensive collection of vintage makeup and artifacts – she swatches colors from old lipsticks, then recreates the colors. Her makeup has been used in countless productions, such as American Horror Story Freakshow and Bonnie and Clyde. If you watch Agent Carter, you now know that Peggy’s lipstick is Bésame’s Red Velvet.
Which brings us back to the lipstick sampler: how do you touch up a cast of dozens in vintage makeup? Bésame created the sampler for makeup artists to hand to the extras, so after lunch the “ladies” (as Gabriela always refers to women) can touch up their lips themselves. Pretty clever – and they’re also good for traveling light (or trying new colors).
We were treated to a slideshow of 20th century makeup history, which in the US parallels the rise of the Hollywood movies. While Hollywood makeup pioneers like Max Factor were creating makeup for use in film studios, some of the products were being pilfered by the actresses for street wear. So product lines were launched, actresses were lassooed into endorsements (in the studio system they promoted what they were told to), and the rise of the five-and-dime ensured that cosmetics were distributed even to small towns across America. The makeup habit, previously viewed as whorish, began to be looked upon as modern and empowering. By the 1940’s, wearing it was almost a civic duty:
Bésame’s makeup artist Kristen showed a 1940’s look on Yissel Ayala, who had conveniently shown up in a victory hairstyle. Bésame is a decidedly boutique line, with “vintage” products like concentrated cream foundation, cake liner, and cream blush so bright that it could be clown makeup (but can be blended down into an imperceptible flush, which makes it a makeup artists’ favorite). And we left with goodies: a lipstick sampler to try a couple new colors ourselves, and our choice of vanilla powder. Which smells as lightly wonderful as you would imagine. And comes in its own vintage-inspired case, with a thoughtfully designed safety lid to keep it from spilling everywhere (as loose powders generally do).
Most importantly, we walked out of the event stuffed with makeup knowledge, though Gabriela Hernandez has plenty more of that, I’m sure. And if you want to try her makeup, you can get it at Sephora, or the Bésame flagship boutique in Burbank, California. Where you might – if you’re lucky – run into the woman herself.
P.S. If you want to see more on Bésame and their methods, here’s a video of them from Ovation’s The Art Of (Makeup):