Sunday, 18 July 2010

Mac, naming your products after the sites of horrific abuse is not big, clever or funny!

Yesterday i went on twitter and saw a lot of tweets about some sort of Mac controversy. I hadn't heard anything about it and was a bit shocked as, while i've had my problems with Mac, i'd never heard any real controversy about the company.

I'd seen some of the Rodarte collection  before but hadn't looked into it because, once again, the colours of the collection did not interest me. But now I am horrified.

The reason everyone is so angry at Mac is that some of the names of the products are named after a border city notorious for it's crime rate, called by many 'the most dangerous city in the world'. Further more part of the reason for this reputation is that a horrendous string of murders against the women of the city (thousands have occured since 1993 and are unsolved). The majority of the women killed were between the ages of 12 and 22 and were factory workers.  And most of them showed signs of sexual violence and torture on their bodies.

Ignorance is one excuse, i can admit that i had never heard of or the atrocities comitted there, so if noone had pointed it out i wouldn't have known anything was distasteful about the names. However after learning about it i cannot believe that anyone who understands where the names stem from cannot see anything wrong with it!

As for Mac and Rodarte being ignorant about the subject, i cannot imagine how this can be possibkle.  The name 'Juarez' could have been an innocent mistake but when combined with others such as 'Factory' and 'Ghosttown' how could they be inspired by anything other than the city and the crimes. Especially when Rodarte have admitted that their A/W collection was inspired by 'the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night'

'that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They’d build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.'

'I came across a note about Rodarte's Fall 2010 ready-to-wear collection and the source of its creative energies – maquiladoras in Mexico's Ciudad Juárez. Yes, maquiladoras. The same maquiladoras that serve as the site for violence, exploitation and femicide, all neatly brokered by global corporate capitalism.'

The group of murders is known as 'las muertas de Juárez'  or 'The dead women of Juárez'. The makeup of the models from Rodarte's show and now the promo pictured for the Mac collection makes the women look like corpses or ghosts and this deeply troubles me. It's as if these women are supposed to represent the murdered girls, but a beautiful, high fashion, couture version of a murdered girl (reminds me of that awful poor-taste episode of ANTM where the girls posed as dead girls and the judges said things like 'you look beautiful...and dead'.). And this along with the idea that the show was inspired by 'Sleepwalking' does not sit well with me.

The idea that the models, inspired by the Factory workers are 'sleepwalking' is horribly offensive to me. The workers are real, living women. Many will have friends or family members who have suffered horribly and many must fear for their lives as so many poor, young women have been murdered. To use these women as 'inspiration' for you multi million selling makeup or clothes range just does not sit well with me.

I cannot put it better than the author of this:
'Women in Ciudad Juárez contend with casual violence, grinding poverty, and a higher risk of death than almost anywhere else on this earth — and they make our jeans. It's a little icky to ask them to "inspire" $4,000 dresses as well. Rodarte has done collections inspired by Japanese horror movies (they made dresses dyed so that they looked like they were bleeding), but there's a huge difference between aestheticizing fictional violence and aestheticizing real violence. It's discomfiting to think about the latter.'

Makeup is, let's not forget, a beauty product. While it can be used to create art, to make people look grotesque, etc it was invented primarily to make people look and feel more attractive. The collection is made of 'regular' makeup (as apposed to Special FX makeup or similar) which again is meant to enhance a woman's natural beauty. When this is combined with a concept to do with death, kidnap and so on it becomes incredibly morally dubious. The promo photos are not meant as artistic photographs illustrating the suffering, they are advertising a product. The model's look, while not to everyone's taste is meant to be something to inspire. Should Mac and Rodarte really be saying a murdered mexican woman is something to inspire us?  Should the  idea of these women be used to sell makeup or clothes?  Using these sort of ideas in conjunction with a beauty product appears to be glamourising Juarez.

As well as being shocked and appalled at Mac for this i am also just as shocked and appalled by some of the comments on the website. Many people seem to see absolutely no problem with the names.

The main argument people are saying as for why these names are fine and not morally dubious is that makeup is art, art is often inspired by horrible events, and so there is no problem.

They've got one thing right, art is often inspired by horrible events.
Take for instance Picasso's piece Guernica:

The piece was comissioned by the Spanish Government, meaning that yes, in a way, Picasso was making money out of the suffering. However what Picasso did was bring the true horror of the bombing to light, there is nothing remotely glamourous about the piece, nothing celebratory or heroic, just a piece that shows the misery and pain that war can create. Seeing the piece makes me feel a little queasy because it is just so raw and brutal, it's horrible and painful to look at because it relects the true misery of the bombing. And in fact the painting has become an anti-war symbol and a reminder of the tradgedies of war.

Then let's take the Juarez polish as our next example. It's described as a 'Bright Opal Pink' with a frost finish. I've seen no photos of the polish but looking at the packaging of the other pieces in the collection i imagine it will be a normal Mac polish bottle with 'Rodarte' on it.  Does a pink nail varnish named after a town where thousands of women have been raped and murdered do the same thing as Picasso's painting? Will this polish become a symbol of how wrong femicide is? Somehow i don't think so.

Also while Picasso (and other artists who make work to do with pain and suffering) was paid for the piece I believe (maybe i'm a little biased as i am an artist myself) that money is not the only, or even most important thing on the artists mind when they create the work. And while Mac may have had some artistic vision behind the collection the main and most important thing is to sell makeup and make money. 

I agree entirely that makup can be used to create art, makeup artists are amazing and can use the medium to make pieces as creative and moving as any painting or sculpture. However a nail polish is not art in and of itself! A lipstick named Factory is no more a piece of art than my tube of 'Titanium White' acrylic.

People are arguing that 'it's just makeup so lighten up' but  to me that's part of the problem! I love makeup but, lets be honest, it's not the most important thing in the world! It's a fun, frivolous thing that brings me a giddy little thrill and makes me feel better about myself. And as such it seems morally dubious to name something so frivolous after a horrific thing that is happening.

Another argument is that to complain about this is just politically correct nonsense. Political correctness Gone MAD to me is something along the lines of how once my Mum worked somewhere where you could not call coffee 'black' or 'white' (true story). Not being offended and appalled that someone would name a piece of makeup after horrific violence being put upon women.

A commenter made a brilliant point that, were the collection based on the Holocaust with colours named things such as Auschwitz, Gas Chamber etc people would have been up in arms, but for some reason it's ok when the name is inspired by a town where the murder and rape of hundres of mexican women has taken place. Other commenters then were furious at this comparison, but why? If we have learned anything from World War 2 and the Holocaust it is incredibly wrong to treat any person, no matter what colour or creed differently. Suffering is suffering no matter who it is happening to, which makes it perfectly sensible to compare 2 examples of human suffering. If it's somehow wrong to make light of the slaughter of Jews by naming a product after the place of their suffering why is it fine to do the same to Mexican women?

To me it also depresses me that, in the first Mac collection inspired by Mexico (as far as I am aware) there is very little the celebrates the beauty of Mexico and it's culture. The majority of the names are things like 'Bordertown', 'Badlands' and 'Ghosttown', which just seems that they are looking only at the problem areas of the country and can create quite a miserable, cynical view of Mexico as a whole.

As i wrote about before i was disenchanted with Mac's products and ideas, but I never thought they would be so careless, offensive and insensitive. Mac has often presented a front of being philanthropic, raising money and awareness about AIDS with the Viva Glam program for instance which i guess is why i'm so shocked they would do something so stupid and offensive.

Now, only after realising people are upset Mac have deigned to donate to charities to help the problem. This also is awfully distasteful to me, they had no intention to help before and were happy to capitalise on selling products named and inspired by a place rife with femicide, but then realised that people were unhappy and might not buy from them. Only then did they decide to donate an as yet undisclosed portion of the profits.

It's great that this has raised awareness of the awful situation in but this was not Mac's intention. They did not make any statement about the atrocities to go with this collection and so they should not be applauded. I'm certain they would never have brought it up at all. The awareness is coming from people who have been offended by the names, not Mac or Rodarte themselves. What they did was just wrong, and though some good has come out of it, it does not make it any less wrong.

To be honest I don't know what to do about this situation. People have already written to Mac with their complaints and they claim to have taken them onboard by donating some of the proceeds. Even i they were to change the names the damage is already dumb. To me the problem now is not so much  that the product is called 'Juarez' but that someone thought it was a good idea to name it such an insensitive thing. Inspiration can come from anywhere but it's just poor taste to profit from a glamourised idea based on human suffering. Especially when it's not saying anything about the problem. Is this what the murdered women's families will want to represent them? A collection of makeup?

Oh Industry
Ny Mag
The Frisky
Amnesty International

British Beauty Blogger
Le Petit Jardin De Liloo
London Beauty Queen
London Makeup Girl
So Far So Chic
Sparkle and Shade
Vex In The City
Wande's World
Sparklz and Shine
Diary of a Cake Girl
Skeptic Ladies
Pink Sith
My Lips But Better
Tacky Blue Eyeshadow 
Konglish Beauty

(if you  know any more please tell me)

After reading a few of the posts listed above (and i do suggest you read them, each one has something new to say and they are all very well written and thought through. Many talk a lot more about the awful situation in Juarez, i just touched upon it) I've discovered something else troubling about the collection.
This is a collection based upon Mexico and Mexican worker women. However all of the models are white. The selection of colours, to go with the beautiful corpse look, are pale. For instance there are a couple of products that go by the usual Mac foundation names and only come in one shade, up to NC30. Now this would be too dark for me but too light for the huge majority of Latina women. The other items also seem geared towards pale skin, with pale nude lips and white-ish pink blush. So it would actually be very difficult for the Mexican women that inspired this collection to wear the products. And this is troubling. It's sort of appropriating the inspiration to make it work for the white, middle class customer base of Mac.


  1. Great post, thank you for writing it.

  2. Great post Lillian. Like you, I wasn't aware of the issue until I came across it at Temptalia. I'm hoping that MAC will still make it right... the collection is not released yet and they've still got time to change the product names and put new labels on the products and boxes. I'd also like to see them give all the proceeds of the collection to the right causes not just a percentage.

    I'm interested to note that while the beauty bloggers have taken up this cause, the fashion bloggers have (as yet) not. Not even when the collection was released. Sadly I think controversial and bad taste inspirations for collections are common place in fashion. Alexander McQueen, whose work I loved, had his widely publicised "Highland Rape" collection. Although there was a murmur of protest, ultimately all was forgiven for his fabulous work and it didn't hurt his profile in the long run. I'm betting that Rodarte (who are currently "in" with the right people in fashion) won't get much protest from the fashionistas.

    Thanks for mentioning this and other issues on your blog. I've become addicted! It's so much more than a beauty blog for me.

  3. Great post Lillian - I was interested to read the thoughts of someone with an art background on the concepts of the "artistic inspiration" behind this line. That whole area is not something I can even pretend to be qualified to discuss - but you have presented the issue in a thoughtful manner here.

    I have also written a post on my blog - I have added a link below if you fancy a look...

  4. I think what saddens me about this is that it's MAC that are behind it. MAC have always been "my" make-up brand because they stood for more than just make-up. I've just banged out a quick post on it. It's been great to see so many beauty bloggers getting on the case.

  5. I'm really glad you wrote this piece, it is vitally important that MAC know that most people don't think it is acceptable and you really have to question what the hell was going on in developing this collection. In isolation the names and product are fine but in context, it is unpleasant. The MES with the red veining was one I would have bought without a doubt but looking at it knowing what inspired it makes me think of blood spatter, which makes me queasy. Worrying to think of how many people must have been involved in developing and okaying this collection, even more so to imagine that they thought no-one would care and still spend their hard earned cash on it.

  6. I agree with you. I've been writing about this for the past few days trying to gather my thoughts. I'm incredibly disappointed with both MAC and Rodarte. These women are real people -people who've been raped, abused, and murdered and I'm extremely upset that they're basically "glamorizing" the terrible situation.

  7. spent all night reading all these blog posts! yours is very well written too! im so pleased we are all raising awareness on this topic! im shocked MAC would try to make money out of someone elses misery and promote those ghostly images...very disapointing

    you can read my view here:


  8. How tasteless and insensitive of MAC. Surely they must have done their research and still decided to go ahead with this collection.
    I guess the only positive thing to come out of this is the awareness that will be raised about thanks to MAC or Rodarte.

  9. Why don't they just call one of the products femicide? Did they really think we wouldn't notice?!

  10. *slow hand clap* Nice one, MAC :| Just really, horrible insensitive. Someone must have realised how awful this was during development. Why the hell didn't they just repromote the collection later on, as something else if it was too late? I don't know anything about Rodarte, and while I agree there is certainly a morbid sort of glamour are corpses/zombies, I'm sure that ACTUAL raped snd murdered women is not something they should want to associate themselves with, especially with how damaging the fashion industry is to women anyway. Sigh.

  11. Like I told you last night on Twitter, I totally agree with you. I tend to shy away from controversy on the internet as I don't care about most of it, and the opinions are skewed... but this is just wrong. I am very disappointed with Mac. I think it's great that they raise awareness with their Viva Glam campaign (you know, with Cyndi and Gaga on morning shows talking about condoms and being safe).

    But this is a different world -- it's almost like someone was trying to be edgy and just went too far. I can't believe their PR people let this get by. Also, the fact that they did not donate anything until months after the release?? Shady...

    They could have done something like what OPI did with their Breast Cancer 3 pack of nail polish... they named them Encouragement, Empowerment, etc... strong words meant to give hope and strength to people. The names in Rodarte are degrading and so is the promo art. Before I even knew about the controversy, I was disturbed by the promo pic (I remember sending it to Rob going WTF is this? Gross!).

    Sigh. I don't know how to feel -- If I say I won't buy anything, I'm technically taking away my donation to help the people there.

  12. It does indeed seem as though they are trivializing the violence of Juarez.

    When I saw the video for the runway show there was a bit at the end with Muleavy sisters talking about influences etc. And all that they mentioned in regards to why they had used this place as inspiration was that they were interested in exploring their heritage on their mother's side.

    So presumably their mother is from Juarez or another border town?

    In any event the message seems garbled and while it may be some bourgeois novelty to imagine these women as 'ghosts' it is a far cry from the very real nightmare of the women who live there.

  13. Thank you for posting this!!!!

  14. I'll be the first to say I love MAC, but this has disgusted me. I'm actually appauled. xx

  15. great post, I'm gonna write mine as well.
    Well I think the expressive function (and probably the aesthetic value too) of Guernica is very very different from what mac did. Mainly cos, yeah Picasso did get paid, but it wasn't all about mass profit. Plus, a painting is a painting, not a commercial product whose aim was not gathering attention on a problem.

    I'm very disappointed in mac and the donation thing is pure (sorry for the word) bullshit to me.

  16. I learned about the situation in Juarez years ago when Tori Amos included a song about it on her To Venus And Back album. I generally like mac (their products, overall brand image, and Canadian roots appeal to me), but I was horrified when I first heard about this particular "colour story". I actually think the worst part of it is not even that they went with such a horrifying source of "inspiration", but that when people called them out on it, they couldn't come up with a better defense than essentially saying "oops, our bad!". If they could at least tell us why they chose this direction for the collection, then it would show that they put the slightest bit of thought into it beyond "hey, you know what would drum up some controversy and make us seem really edgy?". I also think it's kind of a low move for them to backpedal and associate the products with charity, because now people will look at it like it's some kind of wonderful fundraiser. There are better ways to help combat the problem than to buy an eyeshadow, I'm sure. Personally, I'm offended enough to skip the Rodarte collection even if I do find the products appealing when I see them in stores, and I'll think twice about buying from mac (a brand I've been loyal to for over 10 years now) in the future, too. This is the first time I've ever visited your blog, but have you ever written a post about makeup brands you find preferable to mac? You mentioned you're not a fan to begin with, so you probably have some insights on good alternatives. I think people tend to rely on mac because it's accessible and because they tend to put out more interesting colours than the drugstore brands do. I'd love to hear suggestions for other brands that have unique colours without relying on such ridiculous marketing strategies. Sorry for the super long comment but I had a lot to say!

  17. As a Mexican woman I'm deeply offended by this collection. Violence in Juarez is something that is not taken lightly here, there is no reason that any company should try to "beautify, make fashion" a situation like this. While Juarez' situation doesn't happen in all the country (I live in Mexico City and have had an awesome and calm life), it is not ignored nor is it turned down by the media. There is a reason why people are evacuating that city and going somewhere else, at least those who can afford it.

    Also, I liked one of the points that you said, about the collection not being representative of our beauty and culture and I couldn't agree more. There is so much to Mexico than border cities, violence, beahes and tequila. I think that major companies, Hollywood and global media in general often forget this and like to keep us stereotyped.

    I wans't aware of this collection until I saw a series of posts, I'm not into beauty news or MAC that much to have seen the news before. Thanks for the informative post Lillian.

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