How did you become involved with War Paint?
In the Spring of 2016, I was asked by the producers of War Paint if I would be interested to design a new musical starring the iconic Tony Award winning Broadway actors, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. The Tony Award winning creative team was equally impressive and I accepted the invitation. This was the beginning of a very exciting journey.
What is the production about?
War Paint explores the infamous rivalry between two cosmetic titans, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, during the height of their careers in the early and mid 20th century. It is about beauty, makeup, power, ambition, discoveries, innovation and the business of makeup at the beginning of the 20th century through the 1960s.
How did you prepare for this project?
I worked very closely with costume designer Cathy Zuber and wig designer David Brian Brown in creating the looks for the characters in the show. It was particularly challenging to design the looks for the two leads. Both women were these larger than life characters who reinvented themselves to become icons of beauty and glamour and feminine power. I did a lot of research, reading about both women, researching cosmetic ads and photographs of the actual makeup and skin care products from both Rubinstein and Arden’s lines starting from the teens through the ‘60s.
How were these women different from a style standpoint?
Helena Rubinstein was famous for her eclectic and extravagant personal style, dressed by the great couturiers of her time: Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. There are many photographs of Helena Rubinstein and beautiful portraits of her painted by famous artists like Salvador Dali, Picasso, Miro and Tamara de Lempicka. Elizabeth Arden was more conservative and classic in her approach to fashion and style. She exuded a reserved elitism. As a young woman, Elizabeth Arden had joined the suffragette’s movement and met many high-society doyennes in the process. At the height of her career, some of her wealthy clients were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
What did you need to consider when designing the looks to get across who these icons were as women?
What was important to me in designing the makeup was to capture the spirit and essence of two women who lived extraordinary lives. It’s a rags-to-riches story. In a business dominated by men, these two immigrant women from humble backgrounds – Helena a Polish Jew, Elizabeth a farmer’s daughter from Canada – reached unimaginable wealth and public success.
For Patti LuPone, I designed the Helena Rubinstein signature look: dramatic and theatrical, pale skin, lots of pale powder, red lips, a hint of pink blush, very dark brows and black eyeliner. She wears a very dark brown wig in a classic chignon style throughout the play, designed by wig designer Paul Huntley. Both women have multiple costume, hat and jewelry changes.
For Christine Ebersole as Arden, the look became her signature pink: classic clean period makeup, pink lipstick, pink blush, soft eye makeup. She wears several blonde wigs in different period styles throughout the show.
What are some of the ways you went about researching these women and desiging the show overall?
I spent a long time researching the Arden and Rubinstein looks and products. The show covers almost five decades, so the research for those very distinctive periods was extensive. MAC was the official makeup sponsor for the Broadway production of War Paint, so I spent days swatching makeup products, obsessing over the perfect shades of red and pink. In addition to designing the looks for the two leading ladies, I had to design the many looks of the ensemble women who change multiple times and play different characters. Through the makeup, costume and wig changes in the ensemble, we are told the story and experience the passing of time.
What were the makeup looks like for the rest of the casts?
The makeup for the Arden girls who work as beauticians at Red Door have a distinct, pink, bubbly look. They are dressed in pink – their world is pink. The Rubinstein beauticians are dressed in white uniforms. Their look is clinical more minimalist with pale skin and darker lips. The female ensemble cast is very busy; some of them have up to 10 costume changes and multiple makeup and wig changes throughput the show. There are also two leading men and three supporting characters who all wear period makeup.
What were some of your go to products for War Paint?
MAC Studio Fix, Pro Longwear concealer and foundation, Studio Finish concealer, Haute & Naughty waterproof mascara, eyebrow pencils in black and brown, Fluidline Blacktrack, Penultimate liner in black, Fascinating eye pencil, a variety of pink blushes, Retro Matte, Liptensity and Cream lipsticks in various shades of red and pink, lip pencils in Cherry and Brick. It was an amazing opportunity to work with such a great range of products when recreating such icons from our industry. The entire project was just an experience of a lifetime.
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos Joan Marcus