Thursday, July 22, 2010

MAC Cosmetics for Rodarte - Our thoughts.

MAC has collaborated with fashion house Rodarte for a collection to be released in North America in September 2010.

The Rodarte fashion house is based in southern California and is helmed by two sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy. MAC Cosmetics for Rodarte was inspired by a road trip taken by the sisters along the border Texas shares with Mexico. The Mulleavy sisters, who have Mexican heritage say they were inspired by the beauty of the landscape and people in the areas that they traveled. With their gothic and distressed fashion aesthetic, the promo picture below makes sense: 

But when the product information and names were released recently, there was an immediate reaction from the online world. Media, bloggers and fans expressed anger and shock at what appeared to be a horrible and ignorant oversight. While the promo imagery simply can be taken as a reflection of the Rodarte aesthetic, in combination with the products the whole thing took on a very different tone.

Many of the product names reflect the Mulleavy's bordertown road trip inspiration but there is a very dark and very real connection that belie the fact that these are nail polishes, eyeshadows and lipsticks. The product names include:
  • Ghost Town
  • Sleepwalker
  • Factory
  • Bordertown
  • Softly Drifting
  • Quinceanera
  • Juarez
The gothic, ghostly imagery, muted tones and references to ghosts, sleepwalking and a girl's coming of age celebration and most starkly the names Factory and Juarez brings to mind immediately the Mexican bordertown of Ciudad Juarez. This impoverished, violent city near El Paso, Texas is known as "The City of Lost Girls" because hundreds and possibly thousands of women have been sexually assaulted and/or violently murdered or have gone missing presumably with the same fate, there since 1993. Amid reports of government and police corruption there has been little or no official investigation into the cases and families are dissuaded from reporting their daughters, sisters, granddaughters and nieces missing. Most of the women are from poor families, between the ages of 12 and 22 and many of them targeted as they walked to and from work at Juarez's many factories. Authorities estimate the number of murders to be around 400 while locals believe the number to be closer to 5000. The murders are being called femicide and it's speculated that they're being committed by a number of men including serial killers, gang members and copycat killers.

With this in mind, the promo image above no longer looks just vaguely gothic. The pale, muted colours of the make-up collection also start to seem offensive since they bring to mind death, ghosts and even blood. Not only are there ethereal mauves, pinks and greys but there are also products, such as the Lip Erase and Chromagraphic pencil, designed to make the user look unnaturally pale.

To date, MAC and Rodarte have both released statements (you can read them here) and MAC has announced that they intend to donate $100,000 US to a charity "that has a proven, successful track-record helping women in need and that can directly improve the lives of women in Juarez in a meaningful way." To date, the collection will be launched as planned but the product names will be changed.

We at Beauty Squared wanted to weigh into the controversy since we feel that the situation in Juarez needs attention and also that the MAC/Rodarte controversy presents a controversial conundrum.


The combination of product colours, names and the imagery for the collection were a terrible oversight on the part of MAC and Rodarte. That they did not anticipate this negative reaction and did not think to announce a charitable donation or portion of the proceeds from this collection before the controversy broke was a misstep for a brand and company that has always been known for its philanthropic work. For make-up products to bear the name of a city known primarily for its violence and specifically for its violence against women, is shocking and offensive, particularly since there's no reference to that information. For a company whose customer base is mostly female to develop a collection that references not only violence against women but a patriarchal society that clearly devalues women, is appalling. In addition, the whole thing saddens me as it only supports the popular opinion that the make-up and fashion industries are frivolous, superficial and have their heads up their asses. This collection should not have been developed in the first place. It should not have taken an outcry for MAC to realize this collection is insensitive and offensive.

That there are some products clearly referencing the murders of women in Juarez in their colours, names and uses and others (such as the repromoted Kitschmas and permanent White Gold) that do not have names that fit with the Mexican-inspired names is a casual and callous suggestion that this collection is no different from others. The appearance of the model and bloodstain-like imagery of the promo photo, it's clear that the intention was to reference the missing and murdered young women of Juarez in arguably the most frivalous way - by having women want to make themselves up in ghostly colours. Having said this, I can see that this Juarez femicide is already gaining a mythical notoriety and will perhaps one day soon achieve the same gothic fascination as Jack the Ripper. But it's far too harshly current to use it as inspiration for a make-up collection. There hasn't been a Holocaust-inspired make-up line, has there?

I do feel that it is good to bring attention to the situation in Juarez as much as possible and this controversy is doing that. Talking about issues makes people aware and when this controversy broke, even though I knew about Juarez and the femicide, I did some research into it to learn more. I think that changing the product names is necessary for business reasons but before it was announced MAC would be doing so, I thought that would be good to be reminded of Juarez each time you used a lipstick or a nail polish. Perhaps that will still happen thanks to this controversy.


I think this is a gross oversight on MAC's and Rodarte's part. While I respect the idea of artistic integrity, I do not believe a commercial driven endeavour such as this (makeup or fashion) has anything political, topical or even interesting to say about the brutal reality that plagues towns like Juarez.

While I appreciate MAC's $100,000 donation to Juarez, I cannot believe it is anything but damage control on the company's part. It disturbs me that such a foward thinking company (who gave us some of the first fundraisers for AIDS, RuPaul a transvestite spokesperson, and who espouse the message of equality "All Ages, All Races, All MAC") would unwittingly try to "stylize" what is essentially an epidemic of violence, rape and murder.

I do agree with Catherine that perhaps the positive outcome of this controversy (beyond the money donation) is that many online readers of blogs such as this one are more aware of what females in less fortune countries are subjected to.

Western society and fashion has a funny way of stylizing almost anything - think back to the early 90's "heroin chic". Although I don't exactly know what to say about this tendency, I think it stems from a very ego-centric perspective, or another way of looking at it -  no perspective.

If you're curious to see what others are saying about the matter, here are some links:

And let us know what you think! Will you be boycotting MAC for Rodarte? Do you think changing the names and a promise of donation is enough?



  1. This only reinforces my belief that Zoolander was more of a documentary than a satire.

  2. For women to purposefully paint themselves to portray the plight of young sexually abused women is as tortured a form of sisterhood as was the Ellen Jamesians movement.
    I admire Catherine for taking a stand against a company whose products she - judging from her earlier product reviews - obviously admires.

  3. Hello,

    If anyone would like to see MAC and Rodarte do more for the women of Juarez then there is a petition you can sign:

    This petition calls for MAC/Rodarte to donate ALL PROFITS from the Fall collection and help raise global awareness of the violence and exploitation of women in Juarez. They can and ought to do more for the women of Juarez.

    I hope you can help. Many thanks x

  4. I will not buy anything from MAC/Estee Lauder or Rodarte. I think they knew exactly what they were doing and thought that nobody would object. They don't care as long as they make money.

    Furthermore the fashion/cosmetics industry does not hire brown skinned people of Mexican descent. This demographic is invisible in advertising (even on Spanish TV), so it doesn't surprise me that that nobody stopped this campaign early on. Brown skinned Mexicans are not people to them, but disposable workers who serve as "inspiration."

  5. Here's an update on the MAC Rodarte collection. They will donate all global profits to a new initiative that will benefit the girls and women of Juarez.

    Also, Anonymous, I don't want to argue with you but I did some quick research and found the names of three supermodels born in Mexico: Elsa Benitez, Daniela De Jesus Coslo and Liliana Dominguez. There's also actresses Ana de la Reguera and Salma Hayek who have been or are spokesmodels for cosmetics companies (Avon, Revlon, CoverGirl) and fashion brands (Cartier). Mexican cinematic icon Maria Felix was the darling of many legendary fashion houses - Chanel, Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy.

    I respect your opinion and hope you're glad with MAC's announcement today.