Even before its premiere, The Great Gatsby’s impact on contemporary fashion was clear, from the brands involved in the film to those “inspired” by its high profile, all on view in the May issue of American Vogue, which features Gatsby star Carey Mulligan on the cover in Oscar de la Renta and full 1920s make-up.
In the long run, however, the film’s influence on beauty trends may be greater. Lindy Woodhead, consumer historian and author of War Paint, points out: “The 1920s was the most important decade in the 20th century for the development of the beauty industry.”
Although brands such as Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein were founded in the 1910s, it was in the following decade that they came of age and went global: by the 1920s, Rubenstein was operating in Australia, the US, France and England; US-based Arden opened in London in 1922.
The decade also saw the launch of other game-changing brands: Hungarian skincare supremo Erno Laszlo, whose eponymous label is being relaunched this spring, started his company in 1927; Charles of the Ritz, a now-defunct but once global beauty company founded by hairdresser Charles Jundt, began marketing products in 1926.
“The 1920s was the decade that – because of the development of photography, magazines, and films – defined the face,” says Woodhead. “Wearing make-up, and applying it in public, became ultra-fashionable. Flappers took to putting powder in the buckles of their shoes in special compacts. Women applied lipstick at the dinner table and rimmed their eyes with kohl, like [American actress] Theda Bara.”
According to make-up artist Lisa Eldridge, the celluloid used to make films at the time had a darkening effect on the skin, so red lipstick appeared as dark on screen and special lightening face powder was used.
The look of the era was “almost childlike” she explains: big sooty eyes and a small dainty mouth with an exaggerated cupid’s bow, as inspired by actress Clara Bow (whose make up was done by Max Factor himself). Another beauty icon was American dancer and actress Louise Brooks, known for both her iconic bob and her thinly drawn eyebrows sloping down at the sides.
But it wasn’t just film that was influencing women’s beauty routines. “Women were getting more independent and expressed their emancipation through clothes, strong make-up, short hair and loads of attitude,” says vintage hair expert Nina Butkovich-Budden.
In came the bob, along with finger waving and Marcel waving techniques (the latter used hot irons to create waves close to the head). “The most drastic and shocking cut was the Eton crop,” says Butkovich-Budden. “It was based on the look of Eton schoolboys and invented so hair could fit under the then-very-fashionable cloche hat.”
The 1920s was also an important time for perfume. Four big name classics – Chanel No 5, Guerlain’s Shalimar, Jean Patou’s Joy and Lanvin’s Arpege – caused stampedes when they hit the counters.
Perhaps it is little wonder that industry veterans expect The Great Gatsby to have a similar impact. Pablo Rodriguez, senior artist at MAC, thinks thinner jazz age brows may return, and, “I can see a return of pale skin with dark colours on the lips, eyes and cheeks.”
John Vial, creative director of Fudge haircare, thinks a trend for shorter hair is already starting to emerge. “Short, flapper-style hair reminiscent of this era is everywhere. We’ve seen models such as Edie Campbell sport a sleek 1920s bob on the cover of British Vogue recently and, after years of long hair, Karlie Kloss has followed suit and also gone for a short, choppy hairstyle. I believe this is only the beginning.”
Kathleen Baird-Murray’s column is back in June