Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Report: Pretty Iconic by Sali Hughes

Is there anything more cheering than a best friend who loves cosmetics turning up at your place with her makeup bag? Playing at painting faces with a dirty martini at your elbow and Donna Summer blasting out of the stereo is the very best thing for curing what ails you. What if that best friend also worked in the industry and had access to the best, most covetable kit? Oh and wait, what if your best friend was also an irredeemable beauty nerd, as likely to be packing a favorite drugstore brand as well as the priciest designer favorites? I must impress on you that no, there is nothing more cheering than this. My most best friend Karen, makeup artist/makeup junkie, stylish lady and all around great dame, and I used to have magical evenings in front of the light-up mirror, trying a variety of new beauty products before hitting the town. It was Karen who bought me my first tube of properly red MAC lipstick, who introduced me to LancĂ´me mascara, Chanel perfume and Essie nail polish, it was because of Karen I dropped money I didn’t have on department store lipgloss and cult Korean skin care, and it was Karen and no one else whom I trusted to help me choose a lipstick to wear on my wedding day. Sadly, Karen and I now live on two different continents, so those happy evenings of makeup, magic and sympathy are well and truly over.

However, Santa knew that I needed a boost, and boy did he deliver, a BFF in book form—Ms. Sali Hughes’ terrific new makeup bible, Pretty Iconic. I know I am late to this party, the book came out many weeks ago, but having received it Christmas morning I finished it Boxing Day evening. It’s an encyclopedia of the most iconic beauty products, the best and most influential in the beauty world. From the evocative smell of Johnson’s Baby Lotion to the space-age serums and Swedish brands shaping the future, it’s a look not only at the products that shape the way we make faces today but at the formative (and transformative) role beauty plays in our lives. A rigorous tester Hughes goes beyond the hype and the buzz of a marketing campaign to judge the products on what they do, who they might be for, and how they have the power to soothe, comfort, and embolden the wearer. According to Hughes, red lipstick is not just a hunk of red wax in a tube: depending on the color base and your skin tone, it can be a magic potion to turn you from a poor grey ragamuffin into Cinderella.

I am a makeup junkie, yes, and discovering and rediscovering beauty buys was an undeniably fun part of reading this book, but what truly kept me turning pages was the trip down a makeup memory lane. Hughes' highly personal writing style is funny and engaging, whirling us through her own past to bathrooms where the “special” soap reserved for guests resided in a glass apothecary jar, vividly recreating the memory of the smell of a Max Factor powder compact wafting through the bottom deck of a city bus, the horror when she looked in the mirror to discover a Toni drugstore perm and the burn of Jolene creme bleach, events in a lifetime of beauty experimentation that most women my age must certainly recognize. I too had a MAC Spice lip pencil (which I saved up my wages from a crummy part-time job to buy and which looked terrible on me from start to finish) in my handbag on my first serious date. Ah, Sali, thanks for the memories.

It’s true, nothing can replace my best friend and her marvelous kit bag of makeup, but this comes about as close as a hardback book can. Read it, now.

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