It won’t surprise you to learn that I love scenes in old movies when stars use makeup. It somehow feels like being let into some kind of secret, even if their kind of beauty is unattainable and the products have probably long been discontinued. But the ritual of applying makeup is one of my favourite parts of the day and somehow seeing it on the big screen makes me feel connected to that, as if I’m carrying on some kind of tradition. There are, of course, lots of classic moments I could choose from but here are a few of my favourites:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
That part in the taxi where Holly Golightly says to George Peppard’s character, “Hand me my purse, will you darling? A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick.” Nobody can say for certain whether Audrey Hepburn really is using Revlon’s Pink in the Afternoon but I’m pleased to say that this very pretty vintage shade is still available in the UK.
George Cukor’s 1939 masterpiece famously boasts an all female cast with some of the greatest stars like Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard and Norma Shearer (above). The trouble in the film begins in the beauty parlour when the beautician can’t keep her mouth shut while painting Rosalind Russell’s nails in Jungle Red which sets off a chain of gossip, backstabbing, jealousy and recriminations until Shearer’s character also grows her own claws. The film is shot in black and white, except for an amazing fashion show when it bursts into colour. I became interested in it after reading that it is one of François Nars’ favourites which led him to create his own nail polish and lipstick in Jungle Red which have a pride of place in my own makeup bag.
Le feu follet
I’ve written before about my love for this film. In the opening scene, Maurice Ronet’s Alain Leroy and Léna Skerla’s Lydia spend an awkward night in a hotel together after which she gets up and applies the perfect eyeliner. Few scenes obsessed me more as a teenager – I wondered how she could create that beautiful cat eye using just a pencil and in the days before YouTube tutorials, I spent hours trying to recreate her look without much success but am pleased to say my technique is much better these days, even if the ultimate flick still eludes me. I should also note that Lydia is beautifully dressed in Chanel and thank Jan, author of the wonderful Clovis Sangrail fashion blog, for drawing my attention to this.
The postman always rings twice
Lana Turner makes one of the most amazing entrances of all time in this classic noir when she appears in this sexy white summer outfit which leaves John Garfield’s character open-mouthed with admiration. Her white cased lipstick rolls across the floor to him, he infuriates her by refusing to walk over and give it back then tries to kiss her. Lana’s character wipes her mouth in disgust, then opens her compact and reapplies the lip colour.
People often talk about Elizabeth Taylor’s or Audrey Hepburn’s brows but personally, it’s Marie Windsor who gives me brow envy with her perfectly shaped and oh so high arches. Plus, she was a bombshell born to play film noir who really deserves more recognition. In Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Killing’, she plays the manipulative and sexy Sherry who has more than enough brains and guts to match any of the men. There’s also a scene where she goes to her dressing table and applies cake mascara by spitting on the straight little brush. It’s a reminder of how familiar beauty products started out and just how far they have developed.
Many women want to be Rita Hayworth’s Gilda, if only for the chance to wear that stunning black satin strapless gown by Jean-Louis with those long satin gloves that make for one of the greatest stripteases in cinema history. Rita Hayworth’s entrance in the film is also justly famous when her husband asks if she’s decent, to which she replies, “Me?” while tossing back her magnificent hair in a gesture that can only be described as the Gilda flip. While it won’t give you hair like Rita’s, it’s certainly a good way to achieving more volume.