Friday 3 May 2024

poise and charm (11. 532)

Via Weird Universe, which astutely demonstrates that despite advances in technology there’s little new under the sun with this 1964 print-out pageant winner Miss Formula with unobtainable measurements, we learn that the first generative beauty contest is being organised under the justification that such competitions, to be judged by a panel of two humans and two AIs, are dehumanising so should be safe to export more of this sort of exploitation and biased unrealistic idea of perfection to the synthetic and rates entrants on beauty, technical achievement and social clout—no mention of congeniality. Much more at the links above.

Monday 11 December 2023

schminkautomat (11. 182)

Via Messy Nessy Chic’s peripatetic findings and although originally staged as a hoax (Aprilscherz from the photo archives of the Sรผddeustsche Zeitung), such acoin-op beauty dispensary must certainly be a contemporary, inevitable reality regardless of whether the calibre of the technology has seen much improvement over the intervening century. 

Prospective users are invited gauge the colours to right tones and style, insert 10₰, face the portal and turn the hand crank. A bell sounds when the makeup (the word comes from the Late Middle High German verbs for smearing and stroking) has been applied.

Friday 17 June 2022


accepting payment in magic beans: professional scammer who bilked people and companies out of hundreds of thousands by posing as a German heiress turning to NFTs  

closed captioned: indexing video subtitles by any phrase of one’s choosing—via Waxy—perfect for creating a supercut  

great choice: award-winning short comedy-horror by Robin Comisar, via Super Punch  

the brautigan library: a repository of unwanted, unpublished manuscripts 

not reading the room: consumption and consumerism overshadow commemoration  

cat righting reflex: ร‰tienne-Jules Marey’s 1894 short is the first motion picture to feature a feline, demonstrating how it lands on its feet—see also 

web3 saint laurent: digital cosmetics for one’s avatars and more metaversal makeup from Web Curios

Monday 7 February 2022

falรฒ delle vanitร 

Though mostly used in the figurative sense, the term bonfire of the vanities is sourced back to an actual auto-da-fรฉ of thousands of articles condemned as “occasions of sin”—that is, externalities that appeal to human frailties and lead to temptation—which occurred on this day in Florence in 1497. The Shrove Tuesday bonfire held in the central square saw the destruction of countless mirrors, cosmetics, finery, playing cards, musical instruments and works of art was organised by Fra Girolamo Savonarola, personally dedicated to combating luxury in all forms and the indolence it brought, but his zealotry and aestheticism didn’t win him many friends with Pope Alexander VI condemning Savonarola to death by crucifixion and immolation in that same public square a year later.

Thursday 22 October 2020

scarlet gn

The above compound also known as Red Dye Number 4 (E number, European standard, E125—that’s a strange tale too) was banned for use in all foodstuffs or ingestibles—still used in cosmetics, by the US Food and Drug Administration when the chemical was found have carcinogenic properties including horrendously causing tumours in the bladders of dogs. Formerly cocktail maraschino cherries were exempt with the rationale that they were mostly decorative and not to be eaten.  There are now safe alternative but red-colouring is mostly avoided by association.

Saturday 10 October 2020


Rotten and selfish to the core—not to mention our ocean alpha-predators being a personal target of America’s impeached, superspreader idiot-in-chief who was not even willing to join a global coalition to develop a vaccine pooling resources and trying to go forward with production as responsibly as possible—humans will be, if left to their own devices, reliant on a compound harvested from the livers of sharks. It was not bad enough it was formerly an ingredient used in cosmetics, the filler ingredient used to cut inoculations so a little of it goes a longer way it triggering an immune response, there are alternative solvents available—such as olive oil. The irreplaceable species already under threat from human activity could be driven to extinction if we were to cull hundreds of thousands more to jockey for cure, throwing the rest of the oceans’ ecosystem towards turmoil.

Sunday 21 June 2020


Having made forays into nearly all aspects of design, Weird Universe brings us the account of how a Brazilian cosmetics company approached IBM Artificial Intelligence Research to commission a pair of complementary, wholly machine-engineered (its collaboration was not completely unheard of but the help was solicited under human supervision for concocting, modelling new blends of existing fragrances).
Absent a robust dataset of aromas at the time, it turned to German fragrance clearing house with some two million formulรฆ of smell samples from household cleaners to toothpaste flavours and of course analysis of perfumes and colognes to train a program to compose unique inventions—called Philyra, the Thessalian goddess of beauty, healing, writing and perfume, credited with the invention of paper as well as the alphabet also mother to the Centaurs, owing to a visitation from Cronos in the form of a stallion. The neural network, free from human interference created some unique suggestions, resulting in at least two so far being brought to market.

Monday 27 April 2020


Via TMN, we discover to our delight that lip-sync’ing stand-up comedian John Mulaney routines whilst applying cosmetics has become a trend on a popular platform for sharing short videos and dozens of the site’s most popular make-up artists have contributed performing his best bits.

@fayvourite John mulaney skits as Hogwart houses: Ravenclaw ๐Ÿฆ… ##harrypotter ##canadalife ##hogwartshouse ##makeup ##killyourvibe ##makeuptutorial
♬ original sound - god_john_mulaney

Wednesday 15 May 2019


reaction faces: Tadas Maksimovas creates a twelve-barrelled sling shot to pelt people with likes and hearts

line item: the humble receipt gets a rather brilliant redesign to visualise how your grocery bill adds up

novgorod: Sergei Eisenstein (previously) collaborated with Sergei Prokofiev to produce the score for Alexander Nevsky (1938), which remains the cinematic standard

pink pop: a delightful vintage Shiseido cosmetic commercial from 1968

saving face: San Francisco becomes the first municipality to prohibit the use of facial recognition surveillance technology

happy accidents: much needed pick-me-ups from Bob Ross—previously  

Thursday 25 January 2018

they call me mellow-yellow (quite rightly)

The Atlantic showcases the latest episode of Gastropod which explores the hidden history behind the prized spice saffron. Attaining the reputation of a panacea and versatile staple cosmetic—and taking on tranquillising, addictive properties in large enough quantities, most of the world’s supply comes from Iran but for a period in the sixteenth century England was sourcing its own and the episode goes on report on one individual’s efforts to revive saffron cultivation in the country.

Saturday 16 December 2017

l.a. looks

Reacquainted with the often praised through imitation or pigeon-holed as dated detritus of the 1980s (such are the wages, I think, of establishing a signature style) work of Patrick Nagel some time ago while trying to summon-up a Duran Duran video, we appreciated this overview from Dangerous Minds about the profusion of homages to be found in beauty salons—hair, makeup, nails and tanning. Of course, the trend is towards the bourgeois smug with sleeker and twee dandy gimmicks and cultural appropriation on offer with increasing frequency but (and I sadly had to witness my barber’s go from later to the former recently and did not know how to take the change) they’ll probably be window-dressing in the style of Nagel for some time to come. Be sure to check out Dangerous Minds at the link above and a place called Trashy Salon Art for more examples and to contribute your own.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

fungus among us

Inspired by the diversity of toadstools and mushrooms we came across recently on our walk in the woods, I was drawn to a special exhibit at Wiesbaden’s museum (previously here and here and probably in more spots) on the nutritive, toxic and social history aspects of fungi.
From classification and identification to application and preservation, the displays were engrossing and enlightening as they ranged from the culinary, pharmaceutical and their oversized role as pigments for dyes and warrior cosmetics and I especially liked the artistry of the dioramas with a section dedicated to the workshop that created these diverse, liminal (neither animal nor vegetable)  mushroom mannequins.
Actual specimens, like creatures of the deep, wouldn’t survive public scrutiny and many could potential offer hazard and models were made and placed in their native environments to illustrate their role in the ecologies of various biomes. The exhibits on the usage of fungi were supplemented by local anecdotal enterprises, like a crafty woman who coloured wool in many shades with mushroom sourced pigments and another who was a successful farmer and we’re thinking of cultivating our own in our root cellar and have embarked on a course of study to those ends.
It is strange to think how these elaborate and embellished fungal fruiting bodies are just vehicles, ultimately, to spread spores and propagate the species but I suppose that the same is true for ourselves, however we might consider ourselves the refined heirs of a long line of succession. 

Tuesday 13 September 2016

beautifish or rub-a-dub

The UK government made a laudable decision last week, in favour of the environment, mostly unnoticed and quite unilaterally (which kind of makes me wonder if Britain were still in the EU if it could have done so without extensive consultation—and regardless, it would surely be better if the whole bloc enacted this ban) pledging to prohibit the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics.
In response to a petition championed by several environmental organisations and voluntary-industry action, the tiny plastic beads which for whatever reason were introduced to toothpaste, soaps and facial scrubs (instead of salt or diatoms, I suppose—microscopic fossils of plankton that used to do the scrubbing) will be totally phased out by next year. Although it is disturbing enough that one’s morning shower eventually floods the oceans with billions of tiny particles that enter into the food-chain and never go away, there’s an even more dismaying aspect to consider: though far from inconsequential, the plastic beads are rather harmless in themselves (at least relatively less so for marine life that macro-sized plastic pollution) being inert. That characteristic makes the beads a magnet for the other nasty things that man puts in the seas. Most artificial toxins are hydrophobic and could latch on to the beads and bring more chemicals into the ecosystem. I hope Britain’s stance goes global.

Monday 2 May 2016

ponceau 4r

As possibly one of the biggest hoaxes to come out of France since arguably the Priory of Sion (and notable for being a contemporary phenomenon with the bloodline conspiracy), the missive known as the Villejuif leaflet (anonymous but sourced to the oncological institute in the Paris suburbs) spread from 1976 onward with impressive virality contained a list of twenty or so—several different versions were in circulation for over a decade—of food additives, preservatives, and colouring agents alleged to be carcinogenic.
The original author of the pamphlet that was shared more than seven million times via chain-letters (chaรฎne de lettres, and more by word of mouth) across Europe was never identified and seemed to be spring-boarding his or her concerns off of the newly introduced codes called E Numbers that standardised food chemical labelling for the continent—as if the coding scheme was a veiled way to peddle poison like the notion that barcodes were the mark of the Devil, the classification system reserving E100-199 for dyes, E300-399 antioxidants, E900-E999 for sweeteners and so on. Obviously, processed food ought to be avoided when possible, and naturally the definition of fit for consumption is a fluid one, though I think that these specific panics are sometimes red-herrings, like so many red M&Ms, and regulatory bodies within the EU have rejected some of the substances deemed safe in the US—even if that use in America is strictly limited to colouring the skin of oranges to make them look riper or as cosmetics for other things that generally aren’t in the human food-chain, but that list also included a lot of naturally occurring compounds that are synthesised in industrial kitchens, like sodium sulphite, potassium nitrate, and citric acid. It was that last item that especially caused a panic, which is a pervasive food-additive, and propagated as the most toxic.  Perhaps the list (which we still encounter today as super foods and super villain foods, confronting us especially in the whitespaces of the internet) began innocently enough when a concerned but confused citoyen heard that citric acid was an essential catalyst for the Krebs cycle, mistaking the German word for cancer for the act of metabolising.  Incidentally, E124 or Ponceau 4R is a chemical pigment meaning poppy-red and one of the few not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration

Tuesday 5 April 2016

set phasers to stunning

From the ever brilliant Nag on the Lake comes news that MAC cosmetics will be honouring the five decades that have passed since the debut of the Star Trek franchise with a line of beauty products inspired by the fashionable and strong female characters of the franchise, including LT Uhura, Counselor Troi, Seven of Nine and (perhaps less of a role-model) Vina, the Orion slave girl. Make me up, Scotty, indeed!  Riker is a little jealous, I think, but I can envision a men’s line on offer real soon.

Friday 26 June 2015


colour-coding: three young people in the UK invent a condom that changes colours when it detects STDs, sort of like that Elfin dagger that glows in the presence of Orcs

zero, my hero: typoman, a gaming platform where the adventure hinges on switching single letters

snowden effect: majority of Germans no longer believe that USA respects personal freedoms

all gussied-up: interesting and in depth look at the history of cosmetics and glamour maven Helena Rubinstein

way-back: via the inestimable Kottke, an appreciation of the TimeMachine archives from a marketing and design angle

Thursday 9 April 2015


Reflecting on all the terror and ravages of petroleum and how we’d all like to make do with less providing that the industry take the commanding lead, I do suppose fossil-fuels are a better alternative than what sustained humans through the period of mechanisation and urbanisation, whale oil. Before advent of kerosene and the harnessing of vegetable oils, whale oil provided illumination in oil lamps and was a staple in cooking and the product of the waxworks organ in the heads of whales was used for candles and cosmetics. The animals were nearly hunted to extinction until substitute products became cheaper to obtain. And although the legacy of petroleum production and the rampant expansion it has enable probably will cast a longer shadow, at least the inhumanity with the slaughter has relented. We are still jerks but maybe a little more civilised about it.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

pinocchio or bukimi no tani

BBC Future unpacks (inactive link) an idea taken as a given with mixed results, ranging from gut-instincts, testimonials and test-groups to research studies that makes the parabolic projection of the the so-called “uncanny valley” a phrase first coined in robotics some forty years ago by a Japanese inventor who used the term in an essay more elusive.
As the imitation approaches closer and closer to the original, there is a proportional feeling of unease that ends in aversion—or that's what experience teaches at least and there is a general belief it is something vainglorious to romance the mirror. I think too I should feel pretty disturbed if I cannot distinguish a human from a replicant, an avatar or a zombie, and would reject aping perfection out-of-hand. More often, I think, I have mistook a living operator for something computerized. The article is definitely worth the read and I find it interesting that the topic is introduced via a project to build a humanoid robot to assist children diagnosed with autism to better read facial expressions and non-verbal communication. I wonder if that says more about how we perceive humanness and otherness than the cosmetics of an android.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

tl;dr or loving spoonful

I have seen quite a lot of weird and wonderful through-the-looking-glass homages of art imitating digital life, but something about the tribal makeup of this woman, inspired to pose as Grumpy Internet Meme Cat really just struck me as the be-all, end-all, sort of like a Faberge Egg, Busby Berkley choreography, or some amazingly executed Rube Goldberg bucket-brigade of customer service teamwork to make a wish come true. Now with that spoonful of sugar, there is, however, much too much cowardly incivility and trolling, bullying on the internet.

There have been far worse tragedies that ended with consequences more dire and as undoable as the meanness and careless comments and mobbing that have been indelibly commented to the narrative, but one recent and unrelenting attack on a German politician who entered regional service with a seat on the Pirate Party for merely speaking really is a disheartening reminder of how cruel and childish and uncensored people can be. It was not the content of her words but tenor of her speech, as someone who is hearing-impaired, that brought on a barrage of cold and ugly commentary, channeled through one social networking forum, that stirred feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity about how she talked that maybe she had long ago over come or did not know to be anything other than confident about before. This woman was propelled to celebrity and politics for her ability to read lips and shared the unheard conversations between coaches and players and provided some interesting insights during the soccer championships with her play-by-play feed, but she is now thinking of resigning over this harsh and unreasonable treatment. Celebrity and public-service invites criticism, of course, and an audience of any size draws spite and nastiness—if for nothing else, out of the mirage of anonymity and distance. I hope @pontifex will not have to deal with this kind of abuse or disrespect, but such forums deflate inhibitions and encourage something other than courage, making it sometimes hard to forgive what is never truly forgot. Words are as shattering as sticks and stones, and I hope that people could move forward with a little compassion and empathy so the really terrible and permanent things don’t happen again. There ought to be a penance for those who don’t have the restraint to resist nasty, unhelpful comments, like posting enough funny cat memes or inspirational quotes (and say it like they mean it, though no amount really equals sorry) to smooth the situation over.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

ohaguro or iron smile

Until the breakup of the Shogun-system in the 1860s, it was a fashionable practice for aristocratic married women, mostly—and some men, to stain their teeth to a gunpowder grey to black. Not only were dark things, like ebony and finely-worked lacquer, considered more aesthetically balanced, the dyeing process also acted like a dental sealant to help stop tooth decay, and even the latest modern techniques (also coming from Japan) that promise to eliminate cavities. The practice was called ohaguro in Japan, meaning something like iron-drink, and involved daily applications of iron-filings dissolved in a solution of vinegar and tea. There were comparable methods of achieving the same effect throughout Asia in the past, including using the dye of aubergine skin in China. In vintage Japanese prints and in traditional theatre performances, one sometimes sees a very darkly rendered mouth, but that apparently was not just goth lip-stick but also a way to evoke an ancient practice once outlawed and unfashionable, sort of like Western cosmetic discoveries of belladonna or permanent make-up, but now being revisited.