The first time I properly put on red lipstick, besides one of my mum’s around age 3 (sorry mum!), was after seeing The Aviator and its portrayal of several 30s icons such as Ava Gardner and Katharine Hepburn. And I’m certain my obsession with eyeliner stems from watching Factory Girl with Sienna Miller portraying Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick.
Even though nowadays I rarely step out of my comfort zone of a classic cat eye, I still have a folder packed with creative makeup inspiration, taken from editorials, fashion shows and, yes, film and TV, for when I finally feel adventurous enough to just go for it. And do you know what? On a rare occasion, I actually do and it makes that day or evening all the more special than if I routinely applied my usual go-tos (because yes, it has become a routine). Makeup, much like fashion, is a tool of self-expression through which we can communicate something about ourselves to others. So perhaps when a TV or a film character dons a bold makeup look, they offer us a window into their story and inner world.
It always makes me excited whenever I’m wearing something new and different and that excitement stays with me throughout the day. Even though not every experiment turns out a success, more often than not when you step out of your comfort zone and try something new, magic happens, as one of my favorite makeup artists Violette Serrat often asserts.
So I encourage you to do the same as we highlight and celebrate the times that film and TV graced us with swoon-worthy beauty looks which told us something more about the characters that wore them.
Euphoria – Maddy played by Alexa Demie and Jules played by Hunter Schaffer
Pretty much every makeup look on Euphoria is a mood in its own right, which makes it difficult to choose just one. The show’s creator Sam Levinson along with the actors used makeup as a tool to tell a story about their characters – whether that’s Jules’s artistic and colorful eye looks that resemble abstract paintings, expressing her aspirations as an artist. Or Maddy’s jewel-encrusted liner, reminiscent of Showgirls from 1995, since she is first and foremost a performer. Lusting over those makeup looks was a big highlight of the show, at least for me.
A Single Man – Charley played by Julienne Moore
Before we are ever introduced to Julienne Moore’s character, Charley, in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, we are met with the making of her statement eye makeup as she gets ready for a dinner with the hero of the story, George. That’s what makes this look so iconic. The style of the makeup is reflective of the time the story is set in – it’s very 60s with its high arch and winged liner, joined with another line on the bottom lid and white eyeshadow. But seeing how long she spends perfecting it, while matching it perfectly with her black and white caped dress, nods to a sense of vanity of the character. And that sentiment is reinforced by her request of George to bring a bottle of Tanqueray gin because she loves the color of the bottle.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Chiyo played by Zhang Ziyi
The attention of the spectator is constantly being drawn to the delicate face of the main character Chiyo, as she, rather unusually, possesses a set of watery blue eyes. « Too much water, » one character says as she gazes into them. When young Chiyo transforms from a child to a geisha named Sayuri, her face is highlighted even more with porcelain doll-like powdered skin, rosy cheeks, dark red lip and a delicate black liner framing those eyes, where her new makeup is symbolic of her transformation.
American Horror Story Hotel – The Countess played by Lady Gaga
The bad and bloodsucking intentions of the always well-dressed vampiress called the Countess, as masterfully portrayed by Lady Gaga, are obvious just by looking at her devilish makeup. As her bleached eyebrows blend in with her complexion, they give way to dramatic liner and smoky eyes that resemble horns, paired with blood red or fuchsia lips.
Marie Antoinette – played by Kirsten Dunst
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette really makes a case for the blush. Starring in the titular role, Kirsten Dunst sports the rosy « flushed cheeks » look throughout the majority of the film, as she seemingly never stops blushing, signifying the innocence and naïveté of her character. While historically accurate, it also complements the pastel color palette of not only her period ensembles, but the Versailles interiors and the cakes and macarons that she eats many of.
A Woman Is a Woman – Angela played by Anna Karina
One can look at any image of Anna Karina from any film and beyond and be mesmerized by her beauty, for one, but secondly the strong winged eyeliner that she favored throughout her life and brought to almost every one of her roles. The one that stands out to me the most is when she paired it with a graphic baby blue eyeshadow and a red sweater in Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme, playing a striptease artist Angela, desperate to become a mother as her biological clock starts ticking away. Because « a woman is a woman », as Angela exclaims.
Mahogany – Tracy Chambers played by Diana Ross
Diana Ross dons many outlandish outfits as a model-turned-fashion-designer Tracy Chambers, aka Mahogany. But one constant of all those looks are her statement long lashes that go on for days, accentuating Ross’s Bambi eyes – big, beautiful and brown – and the innocence, fear and loss of direction of her character. They are usually teamed with a brown or even purple eyeshadow and glossy lips. So pile on the mascara!
The Mummy Returns – Anck Su Namun played by Patricia Velasquez
Being half Egyptian myself (genetically, not so much culturally), I am somewhat biased in saying that the Ancient Egyptian aesthetic is beyond beautiful. Hence, my love for the convincing looks seen on the character Anck Su Namun in The Mummy Returns, as her metallic gold lip is matched by a heavy hand of eyeshadow, accompanied by an intricate black liner resembling the hieroglyphics, all showing that she is the queen here. Granted, this is probably not your everyday kind of look. But if you think you can pull it off, we say go for it.
Moesha played by Brandy Norwood
Originally released in the 90s, TV show Moesha was given a new spur of life last year when it became available to stream on Netflix. New generations can now rejoice in seeing R&B princess Brandy Norwood as Moesha Mitchell, a teen navigating school, relationships and home life, learning to accept her dad’s new wife. She, of course, does all of that in style, setting a trend for earthy brown makeup hues that beautifully complement Brandy’s skin tone but will look amazing, albeit different, on any skin color. The show marked the departure of bright colors and heavy makeup of the 80s and the arrival of darker, as well as more natural tendencies of the 90s.
Flashdance – Alex Owens played by Jennifer Beals
Who doesn’t know and love the classic 80s flick Flashdance? Where Jennifer Beals portrays Alex, a girl wanting to become a professional ballerina, while working as a steel welder by day and a cabaret dancer by night. That’s exactly when you can spot the shimmery wash of silver glitter across Alex’s cheeks, extended all the way to her temples, during her first dance scene on stage. You know, the one where she ends up soaking herself in water. Contrasted by Alex’s natural complexion that she sports for the majority of the movie, this divide is representative of the duality of her life.