Look around at the myriad of lash products on the market. Go on, you can’t deny it; blinking back at you is the proof: we take our eyelashes very seriously, very seriously indeed. Once upon a time a lady would not have left the house without applying her lipstick; these days it’s a curl of her lash, followed by the lick of a mascara wand. For some reason, dark, anything but short, spindly, pin straight lashes make a modern woman feel ready to face the world.
Eyelash treatments can be traced back to around 4000B.C when the Ancient Egyptians tinted theirs using bone or ivory applicators dipped in pigment made from kohl, burnt almonds or lead mixed with honey and crocodile droppings. Both men and women favoured in the practice, believing it helped conceal their eyes, rather than enhance them, in effect drawing the shutters on the windows to their souls as protection. Later mascara was endeared for its beautifying properties as well. However it’s popularity remained somewhat subdued between Ancient Egyptian times and the Victorian era (circa 1830’s). Still, in Europe around 900 B.C women were taught the finer points of making mascara using soot. Then, around 100 BC, at a time when the Roman’s were convinced their lashes fell out after sex, women used the remains of burnt rose petals and date pits, as well as the more ‘traditional’ ashes, kohl and soot to define their lashes, thus hiding their prohibited behaviour. In 1500 A.D, mascara was again used, though this time made from crushed walnut shells. Come the Victoria era women were known for their indulgent beauty habits and rituals, routinely spending all day pampering themselves and secretly preparing homemade cosmetics. During this time, women turned to artists from the Renaissance period, who had depicted women with delicate long lashes, for inspiration. Mascara was made usinglampblack (the soot from oil lamps) or ashes mixed with elderberry.
Prior to 1917, mascara was made in the home. However, thanks to the ingenuity of Maybelline Cosmetics founder, Eugene Rimmel, the first mass-market mascara was released. A cake-like formula, it was tinted using black coat dust and featured the key ingredient, the secret to the success of recent mascara formulas, petroleum jelly (patented some years earlier in 1872). Also created around that time (1916) were the first false eyelashes. Ordered by the American film director D.W. Griffith for his leading lady at the time, the lashes were made with the aid of a wig maker who wove human hair onto fine gauze, which was then “gummed” to the lids. Though other Hollywood stars eager to define their features on the silver screen saw their potential, the general public did not find f
alse lashes appealing.
From the early 30’s onwards lash products have seen a fast and furious rise in demand and supply. In 1933 a product called Lash Lure hit the market. Sadly it killed one woman and blinded a handful of others. Then, in 1938, the first waterproof mascara was developed. Though with it consisting predominantly of turpentine, users complained of its unpleasant smell and ill side effects. Next, in 1948, the first lash growth product was released; followed by the revolutionary tube (“automatic”) mascara in 1960. The formula proved safe and gentle, and also waterproof, which, when coupled with the social, political and economic changes at the time, urging women to decorate their eyes and not their mouths - as had been the case for decades - a lash craze was spurned. As a result, women also demanded high volumes of false eyelashes. Thus they were pulled out of the archives and plopped on every pharmacy shelf. Women designed themselves on pop culture idols, such as Twiggy and Veruschka, proving the bigger, the faker the better. “Back then I was layering three pairs of false eyelashes over my own… I would [even] paint extra lashes,” said Twiggy of her impossibly long, impossibly thick lashes at the time. In 1971, false eyelashes were given icon status themselves when they appeared encircling the right eye of Alex, the “charismatic delinquent” in Stanley Kubrick’s sinister cult film A Clockwork Orange.
In the 80’s, excessive make-up was in fashion. In order to fortify the heavy shadow and deep socket lines favoured at the time, lashes had to be equally as big and bold. Therefore mascara was a must-have, with coloured formulas also proving popular. While Princess Diana was the finest example of how to wear mascara during this period (she always wore blue), Tammy Faye Bakker, the then wife of a prominent American evangelist, with her clumpy, splotchy lashes, best illustrated how not to wear it. In 1988, perhaps in reaction to the over use of mascara in the earlier part of the decade, Max Factor launched the first ever clear mascara. Called No Colour, it was the ideal product for women wishing to achieve a more natural look. .
Since the 1980’s lash developments have also represented the semi-permanent market. In the late 1990’s, for example, eyelash extensions were created. First in Asia, they
soon went worldwide. W omen of all ages have since lined up to have these individual lashes made from materials such as synthetic fibers, mink, silk, and even human hair, attached to their own natural lashes and adhered in place. The appeal of course being, aside from the fact they remain intact for up to a month, is these lashes arrive in various shades, lengths, density and amount of curl, giving women a made-to-measure look. The 90’s saw the release of many additional developments, such as the launch of tubular mascara and vibrating mascara, as well as an array of mascaras that promise to lengthen, thicken, add volume, lift and separate. Sophisticated eyelash curlers have also become popular, with heated models, models that create various shapes and degrees of bend, and those that apply your eyeliner simultaneously becoming widely available.
Lashes are now a multi-million dollar business; reason enough for cosmetics companies to make every effort to appeal to consumers. With numerous competitors releasing an abundant array of lash products, the lengths some cosmetics companies go to to garner our attention are questionable at best. Hence why regulations were put in place earlier this decade, ruling that if mascara advertisements featured models wearing false lashes it had to be clearly stated. Despite this, in 2007, it was revealed some companies were not doing so, thus misleading the public and creating widespread skepticism about claims made by the beauty industry as a whole. Naturally when Latissetm was released in the 2008, the first and only science-based eyelash enhancement treatment approved by the FDA (the U.S Food and Drug Administration), the medical endorsement helped amass the product much attention and many celebrity devotees. Also in 2008, the highly regarded Japanese cosmetics company, Shu Uemura, rolled out their Tokyo Lash Bars around the world. With each bar featuring an array of delectable lashes in various colours and shapes, made from materials, such as feathers and fur, the fact they offered expert lash fitting and tutorials helped make the venture a success.
Fashion certainly seems to have been at the helm with regards to the lash. Coupled with technology, or lack there of at times, it has steered the eyelash’s nearly every rise and fall - unlike lipstick, which has been constantly affected by politics and other dramas. Thought what we see on the runway isn’t always suitable for everyday. At Chanel’s Fall RTW 2009 collection, for example, the house’s cosmetics creative director Peter Philips had the same ateliers that work on Karl Lagerfeld’s intricate designs craft lace and bejeweled lashes for each girl in the show. Applied to the lower lash line only, the effect was romantic with an edge. Not wearable certainly, but still, it sent shivers down the spin of every lash loving girl and beauty editor at the time. Even more thankful we are when given the occasional attainable look, however. Such was the case at recent Fall RTW 2011 collections. There they were not nearly combed, polished lashes. No. Rather sexy, clumpy lashes: 60’s inspired yet modern. Ordered at both Gucci and Chloe by Charlotte Tilbury, and at Lanvin by Pat McGrath, it's not hard to imagine us arching over our bathroom sinks in the coming months in an effort to achieve them for ourselves.
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