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Brief Published: 25 Jan 2018

NYC Exhibit: A History of Eye Make-Up

Maybelline’s Blue Eyeshadow in 1950s

Eye of the Beholder at New York University’s 80WSE Gallery explores the history of eye make-up over the past century. The collection of more than 90 items illustrates how mascara, eyeliner and eyeshadow have been marketed to women, and reflects shifting cultural notions of beauty.

Starting with the advent of eye make-up in Hollywood’s burgeoning film industry in the 1910s, it traces the development of formulations through to the arrival of glitter eyeshadow in the 2010s (see Product Projections 2018: Cosmetics for more on glitter’s current dominance). Key trends from each era correspond to influencers of the time, ranging from early film star Mary Pickford’s eyelash extensions, to Kim Kardashian’s spider lashes.

Other pieces include Maybelline’s iridescent blue eyeshadow from the 1950s, which points to the belief that blue was a neutral, eye-enhancing colour. In contrast, vibrant Mary Quant eye pencils from the 1960s represent an early instance of make-up being sold as a form of self-expression.

Advertisements complement the products – such as a Maybelline comic strip from the 1940s that identifies mascara as the key player in a woman’s journey from secretary to wife.

According to the curators, showcasing eye make-up allows the exhibit to represent a diverse range of faces. While foundation and lipstick brands have been criticised for offering limited hues, eye make-up can be used by everyone. This mirrors the current move towards an inclusive beauty culture (see Inclusive Beauty: 5 Key Lessons and Empowering Beauty for more).

The exhibition runs until February 2 2018.