Eyeliner is my super-power for a mystic gaze.
I would rather wear sunglasses at night (and indoors) than go without eyeliner.
It’s my Samson thing – like the awe-inspiring Queen of the Nile, I almost always can’t leave home without first putting on power liner.
Cleopatra, you see, is something of a makeup icon to me.
Her noble regard, made more penetrating with grand, well-defined strokes of eyeliner, has been the inspiration of many in the fashion, beauty and entertainment trade, little old me included, although when I started experimenting with eyeliner in my teens, it was a small endeavor to only define my lower eyelids at the waterline.
There is unfortunately no historical recording of who Cleopatra’s skillful makeup artist was, who it was that creatively engineered her eternally famous mien – of kohl-rimmed, fish-tailed eyelids, malachite green shadow, and, on occasion, white liner accents on the inner corners of her mesmerising eyes.
The late, regal ruler of Egypt must have had a team of professional beauticians in attendance, and I wish there was some evidence of who those true artists were. For all we know it was all her. But no matter.
The fact remains that though 12,000 years have passed since the first Egyptians and Mesopotamians lined their eyes, way before even the time of Cleopatra (who lived between 69 BC and 30 BC), the look of defined peepers really hasn’t changed much.
Cleopatra may not be a pioneer in the use of eyeliner, but her style of eye makeup is unarguably the most copied.
From the upper eyeliner flick that took women from the 40s right through to the 70s, to the smoky orbs of the 80s, 90s and noughties, all the eyeliner trends I’ve seen come, go, and stay in my lifetime so far, have had their roots in Cleopatra’s look.
A snapshot of 2018’s top runway beauty trends – from big names and the majority – is proof that Cleo’s look transcends generations, continents, and artistic inclinations.
While models at Oscar de la Renta, Dolce and Gabbana, Moschino and Jason Wu sported the classic upper eyelid liner flick, Tom Ford’s models had their eyes powered up with full-on glittery eyeshadow on their entire upper eyelids, in addition to very chunky flicks at the upper outer corners.
At the Marc Jacobs and Versus Versace shows, however, it was quite simply full-blown Cleo.
I particularly like Carolina Herrera’s and Coach’s throwback to the 80s, with models donning liner on their lower eyelids, just at the waterline.
I’ve spied on Fendi’s models, something I’ve yet to attempt successfully. I’ve nicknamed it Extreme Egypt. It’s a classic (but not easy-to-do) exaggerated upper eyelid fishtail that’s definitely an ode to queenly Cleo.
Images courtesy of (left to right) Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Coach
If you think guy liner is an Adam Lambert incarnation, or the result of a punk movement makeup trend, you couldn’t be more wrong. The progressive ancient Egyptians, whether women or men, royalty or commoner, wore eye and face makeup every day. Even the servants.
This painterly practice was born of both vanity and a real need. While, like many of us (if we care to admit it), they sought the help of dark kohl tints and beautiful hues from minerals and rocks– a bright green shade from malachite being a particular favourite – to make their eyes bigger, more deep-set and alluring, the formulations they wore also protected them from eye infections, which were a common occurrence in the tropical marshes along the Nile.
The makeup they wore contained particularly low doses of lead that, while not being fatally poisonous, increased their immunity against bacterial infections. It also protected their skin from the harsh desert sun.
Expressions aside, what has changed for eyeliners, besides the formulations, is the fact that there is an immensely rich supply of accessible knowledge concerning application techniques, tips and product reviews from all quarters and mediums, including some positively useful video tutorials that teach you how to fully recreate Cleopatra’s eye makeup. You just need to google ‘eyeliner’ to find a great river of information.
As far as recipes go, I’ve teared up to bone-dry kohl pencils and chancy black liquids that bled into the whites of my eyes, and employed fiddly powders to create the look of softer, smokier edges.
Since gel liners came to be in the early to mid 2000s, I’ve used nothing else (to the exclusion of all others) because I’m done with unplanned smudges, tears and tugging at my lower eyelids.
I like gel liners in all incarnations – pots, compacts and pencils – because, with the pliability of fine cream, and the steadfastness of indelible ink, they are easy and painless to use, perfect for creating a wide variety of looks, and require minimal or no touch-ups.
Wouldn’t Cleopatra have loved them.
I’ve learnt a thing or two about eyeliner product efficacy and application just from working with makeup artists and beauty trainers in my former life as a magazine editor, and I like paying it forward.
If you’re still searching for a comprehensive work-to-play gel liner, Clinique’s Brush On gel liner in a mini glass pot, complete with equally minutia brush, is the one that gives even novices good control over many different liner styles, and that – true story – won’t smear a smidgen while you’re running in the pouring rain or doing laps in a pool. Black suits fairer complexions and brown is stunning against tan skin.
If you are time-starved, keep a stick or two of Tony & Tina’s Herbal Glitter Eye Pencil handy for when you need to quickly dress up your eyes for a big do. The liner goes on silkily and the subtle glitter gives your pair a sparkly Tinkerbell effect. I like it best in Clear/Silver.
When I’m doing don’t-care-rock-chick eyes and am too lazy to layer eyeliner with eyeshadow, I whip out YSL Beaute’s Couture Kajal in No. 2 (midnight blue) and No. 4 (deep green), or Couture Eye Marker No. 1. Both products afford my orbs an other-worldly, albeit rough-hewn finish in intense colour.
For a splash of uplifting aquamarine, Kat Von D’s Starry Eyes Autograph Eye Liner in Eyegasm never lets me down. Its slightly metallic sheen is a cool return to the buoyant looks of the 60s.
Idiot-proof gel liners leave me not much to add when it comes to technique, except to say that you shouldn’t be boring, but experimental.
Clean wing-tips or smoky spheres; fat fish-tails or thin lines; upward sweeping or downward going; coloured or jet black – every eyeliner look has its day and mood, and nothing is too simple or dramatic.
The more I use these magic pens, the more refined and bolder the guises I’ve achieved, and the more I own it, like Cleo.