Tara wears jacket by SYSTEM, earring by BALMAIN

Please, Drag Me.

Popularized by actors and drag queens, the contour makeup trend lets you become whoever you want to be. Until you wash your face, that is. Photographed by Estelle Hanania. Fashion Editor: Victoire Simonney.

by Philippa Snow
Oct 20 2019, 9:45am

Tara wears jacket by SYSTEM, earring by BALMAIN

Eve wears cape by MARINE SERRE, earrings by D’HEYGERE

Women with a flair for the dramatic—not to mention drag queens inclined to dress up as dramatic women—have been using extreme forms of makeup in order to look extremely feminine, extremely hot, extremely skinny, or extremely strange, for decades. The change, recently, has been the ubiquity of the drama, not the method.

Max Factor, the inventor of Joan Crawford’s famously-outsized lipstick—a style he called the “smear”—pioneered a proto-Kardashian contour in his work for film and television in the 1930s, shading actors’ faces in wild colors in order to prevent their features from appearing flat on black-and-white film. Unblended, the technique looks like a child’s drawing of a skull, a faintly racist voodoo mask. In color, the effect would have been even more horrifying. “Green lipstick and rouge replace the customary red in make-up designed for actresses appearing in television broadcasts,” explains an article from a 1938 issue of Popular Science. “The television camera…does not record the red coloring in the human complexion, leaving the transmitted image flat and unnatural. When green is substituted, however, the lips and cheeks of a performer appear in accurate relation of tones with other facial features as the image is projected on the screen of the receiver.” Factor’s intention was to re-create life, plus a little movie magic, in the illusory realm of Hollywood.

Louisa wears top by CEDRIC CHARLIER, bra by ERES, pants and shoes by MAISON MARGIELA
Sweater by HERMÈS

YouTube has forever changed the game of beauty, and its hacks. The correctives used in Max Factor’s design for cinema have been given a whole new life by influencers and their iPhones. To watch a beauty vlogger’s contouring tutorial without sound is an experience not unlike that of watching Clara Bow seduce the camera. They twist their mouths and blink their eyes, making their cheeks convex and their lips pillowy, pausing to smile dazzlingly more often than they speak. To say too much would spoil the artwork — better, therefore, to stay quiet and un-smudged. It turns out that in the future, everybody would be Joan Crawford for fifteen minutes.

Drag, of course, is another chapter in the history of contouring. In the era of RuPaul’s Drag Race, when even my sixty-year-old mother owns a pin-badge that advocates for “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent,” it would be naïve to write-off the influence of female impersonators on the aesthetic of the modern, heavily-embellished woman—and even more naïve to suggest that drag queens did not, in turn, get their inspiration from the biggest, most outré faces of classic Hollywood. The result is an image of femininity to the infinite power, a merging of high-camp cabaret and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. When Kim leaves the house, it is with an aim to be photographed; when Kim chills out at home, it is with an aim to be filmed—each choice requires its own distinct makeup. With every passing season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim appears less and less realistic, and more and more exquisite. Her symmetry is now something beyond a natural phenomenon, and more like an act of cinematic trickery. She looks like real life, plus a little magic, plus a lot of money—plus at least an hour of time.

Lately, I find myself leaving the house with a bare, pale face. Call it contour fatigue — a reaction to that Kardashian influence on geometric brows, mock-cheekbones, and eyeliner drawn not just to kill a man, but to kill every man in a fifteen mile-radius — or call it laziness. In either case, contouring now seems less like a beauty routine and closer to the act of making oneself into public sculpture. I can’t keep up.

Eve wears jumpsuit and cape by UNDERCOVER, necklace by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, boots by MAX MARA

Citations; Hair Joseph Pujalte, Makeup Anthony Preel, Models Eve at Metropolitan, Fifi at Metropolitan, Louisa, Sabrina at Supreme, and Tara at IMG Models, Casting Julia Lange at Artistry London, Manicurist Beatrice Eni at Agence Saint Germain, Photographer’s Assistants Alex Sjoeberg and Louis De Roffignac, Fashion Assistant Salomé Rouquet, Hair Assistant Yolette Bouchar, Makeup Assistants Jill Joujon and Sarah Wandee, Production M.A.P., Film Lab Arka Laboratoire