I’m not sure I remember the first time I began to wear make-up.
’m certain it was several years before my mother allowed it though. Because I couldn’t afford my own, I dabbed away at hers when she wasn’t there.
A touch of rouge, a slick of scarlet lipstick, a puff of powder which always seemed to float in clouds in the air just as I heard her footsteps approaching.
I didn’t dress in her clothes (the 1980s wasn’t a stellar fashion period), or try on her wedge heels – fashionable on their original outing, but the make-up, always Revlon, fascinated me.
The ability to be older by looking older was a much-sought-after quality for a Dublin teen with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
By the time we were permitted such things as nightclubs, we would glam up with (grotesquely) painted faces we thought belied our years, to blag our way in for free, sharing a bottle of Ritz or West Coast Cooler with straws encircled by a bright pink suck.
By then, Revlon was for grannies; we had Coty, Covergirl and, oh joy, Maybelline’s Kissing Potion, a sickly sweet roller-ball lip gloss in flavours such as cherry cola and bubblegum. We rolled it, licked it, reapplied it over and over.
Farrah Fawcett, or let’s be honest, any of Charlie’s Angels and all of Bananarama, were our make-up pin-ups.
Pumped-up big hair, improbably long eyelashes and shiny, pouty cerise lips. Blue eyeshadow was de rigueur; glitter for Saturday nights. We looked fab and we knew it.
Make-up took off as the black and white silent movies first emerged from Hollywood. Actresses, unable to emote vocally, had to look tragic, ecstatic or furious – and layers of black kohl, slicked-back hair and dark lips gave voice to their feelings.
Of course, the Egyptians were on fleek 3,000 years ago, and the white painted faces of geishas were long a feature of Asian culture. But it was only when that bulwark of values, Queen Victoria, pronounced make-up as “improper, vulgar and acceptable only for use by actors” (a euphemism for prostitutes) that it really became fashionable.
A slew of chemists from Max Factor, a Russian émigré who first coined the term “make-up”, Eugene Schueller at L’Oreal – whose daughter and heiress Liliane Bettancourt would become the world’s richest woman, to Charles Revson, the inventor of nail polish, for housewives’ (and mothers’) favourite Revlon invented a global, multi-billion-dollar industry within scarcely a decade.
Elizabeth Arden, destined for nursing – having been optimistically christened Florence Nightingale Graham by her parents – was a rare woman in what was seen as a medical field cornered by serious men.
Mergers saw brands such as Garnier, Kiehl, Lancome and Maybelline bought by the L’Oreal behemoth, while Revlon scooped Elizabeth Arden, inventor of the coveted and beloved perfume which fragranced a million teenage love affairs, “Charlie”.
Last week, Revlon filed for administration, with debts of €3.7bn. Citing… well, you can guess the usual suspects of Covid (who needs lippy in lockdown?), supply chains and the deluge of influencers.
I think I’ll treat mum to one more fire-engine red lippy before they go.