11 November 2012

making faces :: inspired by "saucy jack"

amidst everything else happening in this past week, it probably escaped the notice of almost everyone that this past week marked the 124th anniversary of the end of the terror waged by a killer known to history as "jack the ripper". his last confirmed or "canonical" victim, mary jane kelly [also known as marie jeanette kelly] was found in the room she was letting in the early morning of november 9th, 1888.

i was reminded of this because i picked up a nail polish by the name of "saucy jack". i'm not exactly sure what possessed butter london when naming the brilliant deep cherry-red gel-finish [which looks almost exactly like the varnish on a candy apple], but for people like me who label themselves "amateur ripperologists", it's easy to catch the reference to the infamous "saucy jack letter", supposedly penned by the notorious serial killer and sent as a taunt to police. [although still controversial, this letter is one of the very few believed to be genuine, in that it seems to have possessed information not yet available to the general public.]

"saucy jack" according to butter london
many people consider my fascination with this case to be morbid. ok, it is perhaps a little morbid, but scratching the proverbial surface does reveal that the case is enthralling on a number of levels. first and foremost, of course, is the mystery of the killer's identity, which has never been [and in all likelihood never will be] revealed. it's hard for anyone with a curious disposition to resist the siren call of a riddle no one else can crack. but there's so much more to it than that.

for instance, the sheer volume and depth of police archives and investigative information is remarkable. it's a patronising and entirely false assumption that police of the time simply did not have  the resources to capture the killer in the late nineteenth century. in fact, many of the technologies we take for granted today had started to be introduced at that time and, in fact, many were given their first trials as part of the ripper investigation.

additionally, it's erroneous to assume that the ripper's victims were all nameless prostitutes. in an era where neighbours knew far more of each other's business and even the largest cities functioned as networks of small communities, even the most obscure had histories that could be recorded. we know a remarkable amount about the women the ripper killed and about the circumstances that lead them to become the lowest level of prostitutes in the dangerous streets of easy london.

most fascinating to me is the social dimension of the case. this was not just a tabloid crime story of the time. it was that, of course, but it was considered important enough that queen victoria herself was briefed on case developments. nothing had served to call attention to the plight of london's poorest and most vulnerable as the ripper murders of autumn 1888 and, in a grisly irony, this did propel those voices for social change to the forefront and made those in power pay attention. after all, threats of popular uprisings were very real threats to european monarchs at that time. czar alexander ii of russia- once considered a suitor to queen victoria- had been assassinated only eight years prior as a result of the growing social unrest that would eventually see the collapse of the russian royal family.



all in all, a ripping yarn, if you'll pardon the horrific pun.

the lives of the ripper's victims was at once dickensian tragedy and commonplace. most were born into the poverty they died in. all had grown up around alcoholism and were known to have drinking problems themselves. one victim, kate eddowes, was killed on her way home after being released from the prison drunk tank earlier that day. most [save kelly] were past the bloom of youth and the harshness of their lives was evident upon them. but it's a mistake to assume that this meant that they were wizened old hags, deprived of beauty by poverty and drink.

to the contrary, most of them had gentlemen "in the picture" at the time of their deaths, despite their occupation. the eldest of the victims, mary ann "polly" nichols [canonically the first victim, but in all likelihood the second], was forty-four at the time of her death, but the coroner believed her to be a good ten years younger- and we can assume that he did not see her at her best.

poor though they were, they took what meagre steps they could to tend to their appearance. some were found with small combs, or pieces of a comb. one had sustained a bruise in a fight with another woman over fragment of mirror, much coveted among women in such a position. such discoveries are testimony to the sadness of their situation and also to a strange braveness. and so, on a day when i simply could not hide how fatigued i felt, i got the idea to recreate a look that might have been typical of the times.

truthfully, it's unlikely that women so low on the social ladder would have had access to cosmetics at all, but at the time, makeup was the purview of actresses and ladies of the evening, whereas women of means concerned themselves with maintaining pale, radiant skin.

prostitutes imitated the complexions of society ladies by applying pale powders and rouge to approximate the flush of youth. in my case, of course, i used a combination of liquid foundation [clarins everlasting, a more matte-like formulation] and powder- diorskin forever in the lightest shade, which is actually just matched to my complexion. to offer a bit more lightness to the overall look, i used a bit of lush's colour supplement in "jackie oates" on my cheeks and forehead.

as a blush, i used guerlain's new blush duo in "pink punk". it's a bright shade, indicative of the sort of thing that would have been typical of the time and also fairly matte, also in keeping with the look of the late 1880s. i applied it almost entirely to the apples of my cheeks, since shaping and contouring were unknown.

for the lips, the advent of modern lipstick and gloss were still years away, so women used tints or stains.  most of those were made from vermilion, a warm red pigment derived from cinnabar. to get the effect. i blotted yves st. laurent rouge pur couture in #03, "rouge saadi" on my lips, mostly in the centre to create the "english rosebud" style mouth [and in acknowledgement of the fact that such tints were not precise in their application, so carefully matching the shape of the lip was out of the question].

eye makeup was virtually unknown at the time. kohl, of course, was sometimes used to line the eyes and women sometimes applied powders to add a little sparkle or light to their lids. so i went for a very neutral, soft look with a little sparkly highlight, courtesy of the le metier de beaute eye kaleidoscope in "nouvelle vague". i used the company's signature "couches de couleurs" technique of patting the colours in layers to achieve and overall prismatic effect, while i used the darkest colour, an unbelievably rich black, smudged into my upper lashes to give a bit of a powdered kohl effect. [in fact, i've often used powdered kohl from guerlain, but my applicator broke recently, so i went with what i felt was the next best option available to me. [proper eye kohls are nearly unchanged from the time of the egyptian dynasties. they are the sharks and crocodiles of the cosmetic world, created perfect.]

i did use a little mascara- a coat of benefit's "bad gal" lash, the formula for which seems to be much more anemic than i remember compared to when i first started using it. this is cheating a little- mascara wouldn't have formed part of the cosmetic arsenal of any victorian-era woman- but it's really the one thing that i can't make myself do without.

here's a complete list of what i used ::

the base ::
marcelle beauty balm "light/ medium"
clarins everlasting foundation "103"
diorskin nude hydrating concealer "01"
diorskin forever compact flawless perfection fusion wear makeup spf "010" [side note: makeup names are getting out of hand. i had to check the sephora site three times to make sure i got all this]
lush colour supplement "jackie oates"

the eyes ::
lmdb e/s "icon" [dusty plum-mauve]*
lmdb e/s "gamine" [frosty cool pink]*
lmdb e/s "nouvelle" [shimmery light peach]*
lmdb e/s "fin" [blackest ever black]*
mac e/s "vanilla" [satin white-peach highlight]
benefit bad gal mascara

the cheeks ::
guerlain rose aux joues blush "pink punk" [bright warm matte pink, deep muted rose-plum]

the lips ::
ysl l/s "rouge saadi" [rich, warm red]

the nails ::
essie base coat "grow faster"
butter london n/p "saucy jack" [candy apple red]
quo by orly top coat

*suggested alternates :: i'll have swatches and a review of the "nouvelle vague" kaleidoscope coming shortly, which will have comparison photos for all the colours. for the purposes of this look, i'd say to use the following :: icon = mac quarry [lighter, softer]; gamine = mac swish [more cooler, frostier]; nouvelle = chanel complice [lighter, more reflective]; fin = guerlain eye kohl in black. however, there's really no reason to rush out and buy alternates when the limited set is still widely available.

if you're interested in reading more about jack the ripper, his victims and his times, the casebook is the place to go. there are also dozens of books on the subject and heaven knows i've read most of them, but none is so balanced, comprehensive and well-researched as philip sugden's aptly named "the complete history of jack the ripper". it's a weighty tome and some interesting developments have come to light since its publication in 1994, but it's still the authority for 90% of the facts of the case. or more.

despite the fact that the murders served as the inspiration for alfred hitchcock's phenomenal silent film "the lodger", i would argue that there has never been a good cinematic adaptation based chiefly on the facts of the case. get busy, filmmakers.

and don't worry... no kates were harmed in the making of this blog post.


any strange interests that have inspired you? please feel free to share...

2 comments:

Sherry said...

Kate, first time commenter on your blog, but from one ripperologist to another, may I just say that you make a hauntingly beautiful version of our poor Catherine Eddowes? So lovely and world-weary.....

Kate MacDonald said...

I'm very flattered you think so, Sherry. I've always had a particular soft spot for Catherine Eddowes, possibly because she was also a "Kate", but also because she seems to have been a plucky, self-reliant sort who, had she lived in other times, might have accomplished something remarkable with her life.

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