Before I saw M. at the club, I had thought of makeup simply as another form of social masking, a donning of a kind of facial armor, a covering of pimples, an embellishment that anticipates public exposure. Which, of course, it is: In thinking about those Babylonian soldiers painting their nails for battle, it’s impossible not to be reminded of my mother, back in the 1980s, putting on her public face before heading to the office to process insurance forms. How vulnerable she looked late in the day, after work, when the center of the lipstick had worn away and the blue line had sunken under her eyes. It’s with a more complicated nostalgia that I remember my beautiful redheaded aunts, my father’s youngest sisters, sitting before their electric travel mirrors with tiny light-up bulbs. What seemed to me then a kind of secret feminine art, a clandestine rite of adulthood — the elaborate shading of cheek- and brow bone, multiple layers of mascara applied and dried, a routine that took the better part of an hour — now feels like a classic, if slightly archaic, scene from art history, a woman at her toilette primping in anticipation of being seen, while we (implied male spectator and voyeur in one) observe the intimate transformation. Now, thanks to the rise of the beauty vlog, it’s just as often men at their mirrors while we all watch at home on our screens.
Today, as I put on makeup for a party — the first social gathering I’ve attended after a long pandemic year in our own homes, looking at our own faces — I think about this anticipation of being seen, and the tension between concealing and revealing, of pleasing oneself and pleasing others. I don’t really know if makeup’s popularity is a great leap forward — visual evidence of a capitalist society’s expanding notions of gender, beauty and expressions of self-acceptance — or a giant step backward, the triumph of the beauty industry: artifice for all! But as our gaze shifts, so does the flow of power, disrupting the old binaries of male subject and passive female object, reminding us that the act of looking at each other has always been reciprocal, charged with layered meanings and, perhaps, a kind of hopefulness. The fact is, we all want to be noticed at the club; we just want to be viewed in a certain way. Makeup invites us to look.
Models: Hector Estrella at Joseph Charles Viola, Mohammed Nabeel at Bri’geid Agency, Michael South at Crawford Models, Idriys Ali-Chow at One Management, Amadou Sy at Bri’geid Agency, Medoune Gueye at Next Management, Franklin Ayzenberg at Midland, Jake Lively at State Management and Tyler Hogan at Marilyn Agency. Hair: Tamas Tuzes at L’Atelier NYC using Bumble and Bumble. Makeup: Raisa Flowers. Set design: Jesse Kaufmann. Casting: Midland.
Production: Hen’s Tooth Productions. Manicurist: Elina Ogawa at Bridge. Photo assistants: Jarrod Turner, Ariel Sadok, Tre Cassetta. Hair assistant: D’Angelo Alston. Makeup assistants: Eunice Kristen, Alexandra Diroma, Chinenye Ukwuoma. Set assistants: JP Huckins, Murrie Rosenfeld. Tailor: Carol Ai. Stylist’s assistants: Andy Polanco, Rosalie Moreland, Victor Morrow