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That Flattering Flutter

Cheaper Than Diamonds, False Eyelashes Are This Girl's Best Friend

June 30, 1996|HILLARY JOHNSON

Sometime in the '80s, i figured out that seven shades of iri-descent powder and a couple of dollops of waterproof Maybelline made me look more like Boy George than David Bowie. I loved makeup, but I looked better without it. For 10 years, my makeup routine consisted of just lipstick. Then something in me snapped. I found myself over 30, with a small child, a Volkswagen, a flat chest and a blunt cut, living in L.A. I had nightmares in which I was just about to go Birkenstock.

The answer to my identity crisis came a few months ago when I was visiting a friend whose 5-year-old daughter received a pair of false eyelashes in her Christmas stocking, a demure pair of black Ardell Sweeties. On the pretext of playing dress-up, I plastered them on, and suddenly there I was: a vixen extraordinaire. My face was brighter, my gaze more voluptuous, my mien both doll-like and dangerous. Moments later, I was peeling down Silver Lake Boulevard, reveling in the feel of the wind in my stolen lashes. The next day, I bleached my hair platinum.

I wore my new glamorous look at an extremely glamorous dinner party soon after. There I met Michael Woulfe, who costumed Ava Gardner, and Bob Sidney, who choreographed Rita Hayworth. Together, they sighed at the sight of my lashes. "There aren't any glamorous movie stars anymore," Bob said.

Michael nodded, expressing pity for my entire generation. "I bet you can't name one movie star with an ounce of style."

"Sharon Stone," I said without missing a beat.

"Ah, yes," said Michael, "but she's the only one."

A couple of months later, I experienced a miracle of miracles, a conversation with Ms. Stone's makeup artist, Tricia Sawyer, whom I now believe to be the most important person in all of Hollywood.

Tricia, trailed by a black cat named Mascara, led me to her garage, where a pirate's bounty of beauty products is heaped to the ceiling. "When I was a kid, I used to go next door to Wilma Alcorn's house," she said, explaining the genesis of her obsession. "She'd sit me on the counter, and I would watch while she 'put on her face.' " Over the next hour, Tricia initiated me into the mysteries of underlashes and overlashes, and how to cut a pair in half and wear them "for the 'I Dream of Jeannie' look." She sent me off to attack my brows and have another go at eyeliner, but I had a bigger mission, a kind of glamour grail: hand-tied silk Wunder Lashes, the Cadillac of facial accessories.

I found them at Columbia Stage & Screen Cosmetics in Hollywood, each whisper-light pair nestled inside a heart-shaped plastic case. They looked like something you'd find in the locket of some sad, long-haired poet. Suzette Ashland, a makeup artist whose scary claim to fame is Rodney Dangerfield, gave me a startled, ghostly look from behind the counter when I told her that I would probably cut them in half. "I have something to show you," she said, opening a copy of People magazine from Aug. 10, 1992. On the cover was a picture of Marilyn Monroe, looking overexposed and frowsy, if no less goddess-like.

"It's a terrible picture," Suzette agreed, "but you can see exactly how her makeup is done. Marilyn wore the lashes just on the end--like you. And the brown liner, too." It was true. I got chills and plunked down my $30.

The first time I wore my silk lashes I went to see Eartha Kitt perform at the Cinegrill. Though I was in the back of the room, I could make out her lashes as she batted them at a May-December couple and said: "Aren't you the guy who went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back? And what's that piece of green apple pie you've got with you now?"

Afterward, in Eartha's suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, I got myself even deeper into the mystery. First of all, she disapproves of half-lashes entirely. And $30 lashes? "I don't believe in paying a lot of money for eyelashes!" she declared, amused at my folly. "Mink eyelashes! Who the hell is going to know that they're mink?" Before I left, Eartha showed me her stage lashes: 747 Longs. She's right--cheap lashes really do look great.

But my silk lashes will do just fine for now. At night, when I'm dressing for a party, I put on Eartha purring "Mink Shmink," slip into a pink satin dressing gown and go to work, practicing that special alchemy that women do, the idea being something along the lines of: Va-va-voom! Did you see that girl with the lashes out to there?

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