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emmamaddenwrites

another moron trying to be trendy

Profiling Amy Doan

For long enough now, the cosmetics industry has depended on self-hatred to sell their products. A sure way to get outside validation, to have your beauty legitimized is to paint yourself like another human being who is considered much prettier than you. Kim Kardashian is prettier than you, Zayn Malik is prettier than you; Courtney Act is clearly prettier than us all. For these rare few, the beauties that came out of the womb with thick lips, cow-like eyes and a ready-made contoured face – they can expect to be both honoured and resented. In order for this elite to be told that they are beautiful, it’s only a matter of chapstick and mascara. For the rest of us, to deviate away from this monolithic vision of beauty is often scary territory. We put our faces next to these adorned mugs, and the difference between the two is made up for in self-hatred and many dollars worth of make-up. In the drag world, this is only one category of beauty. It’s fine to be fishy, but it’s inspired by a place of self-love; these queens project a fantastical image that is wholly self-representative. Amy Doan, founder of Sugarpill cosmetics feels that the rest of us have a lot to learn from drag queens. Her line of cosmetics has been inspired by the underground queens who have used make-up, not just to become someone else, but to perform as a character of their own making. Sugarpill is unabashed, unapologetic make-up and offers a very appealing alternative to the near-impossible image that the beauty industry wants you to aspire to. Amy’s brand is not only cruelty-free; gorgeous and eccentric; spectacular and ludicrous – it allows us to perform to the outside world as the person that we truly see ourselves as.

After finishing a journalism degree in the early 2000s, Amy’s first creative export was Shrinkle – an indie, DIY clothing line which she pursued in her ‘drunk party girl days’. She remembers these formers years with friends who modelled her early designs in front of a pink leopard print bed sheet taped to her fridge. Her theme was, in her words, “slutty, hyper feminine, technicolour” clothing. To actualise her chichi concept she and her friends wore super bright theater and stage makeup. Alongside selling her garms, Amy had many inquiries about the makeup she was wearing in these initial photos. Since the cosmetic industry at the time seemed to be beggared of anything non-bland, it was difficult to obtain any high quality makeup in bright colours. As Amy recalls, “if you wanted rad colors you had to stalk the Halloween store once a year and buy cheapie stuff that made your face smell like crayons.” Vibrancy was inaccessible but as Amy observed, highly sought after. She began to start selling the theater makeup as worn by her and her friends; taking regular trips to the theater store to restock. Though without the cloying scent of crayons; sourcing makeup from someone else couldn’t fulfil Amy’s prodigious vision. She needed control over the quality, brand identity, and the products and colors on offer. Separating herself away from the security of the theater store, she started work on Sugarpill Cosmetics. What intended to be a weekend hobby soon became Amy’s best business venture – and has effloresced into one of the most revered makeup brands today.

Amy creates makeup to bring fantasies to life. In her own, she is “Barbie 80s and 90s era only, when she had the biggest hair and makeup” Sugarpill has always teemed with fantastical, theatrical intensity as it hailed from those theatre store days. But for many, the fantasy is simply to go out and feel good in one’s skin. Whilst most other cosmetics companies try to achieve this by allowing the wearer to slide more easily into conventional ideas of beauty; Sugarpill is an extravagant F- you to all of that. Amy’s selection of eyeshadows, nails, eyelashes – encourage people to go out, unafraid and ashamed, away from the modesty of insipid makeup. However, Amy adds that “it breaks my heart whenever someone tells me they wish they could pull off wearing bold makeup. Anyone can pull it off, it just takes confidence!” There seems to be a vast difference between wearing makeup that transforms you into someone else’s ideal, and curating the dream version of yourself, with help from Sugarpill. Those who consider makeup as wholly vapid are sorely mistaken. The transformation is evident in dramatic forms like drag, but makeup can also metamorphosise those without a stage. The way we beat our mugs not only alters ourselves, but the world around us and how it affects us. It is Amy’s belief that, “When you feel awesome, others will pick up on that confidence and think you look awesome too.” Amy calls herself “a VERY late bloomer” to the world of cosmetics, but her first source of inspiration happened to be a “cross-dressing hooker being arrested on some cop show.” Amy remembers her wearing bright royal blue eyeshadow covering her lids all the way to her brows, and thinking, “WOW I can’t wait until I’m old enough to wear makeup like THAT!” When she finally was, Amy stumbled upon a tiny pot of loose eyeshadow in the perfect shade of ‘hooker blue’ that she had seen on TV so many years ago. Sugar pill’s Royal Sugar eyeshadow most closely resembles the inspired hooker blue, but Amy says that, “I wish I could find out whatever happened to that sex worked and send her one!”

Unlike a startling amount of cosmetics companies, Sugarpill is strictly cruelty-free. “Animals are for kissing and cuddling, not testing on” Amy attests. Throughout her creations, both in Shrinkle and Sugarpill – cats are a prominent feature and integral to her brand. They are an emblem of Amy’s vegetarianism and love of animals, for as she testifies, “Cats changed my life!” Although she never had any pets growing up, Amy adopted her first cat aged twenty-three. Enter: ‘Maus’, the love of Amy’s life. “The love and connection I felt with Maus was so intense”, Amy says, “I discovered parts of my heart that I never knew existed!” For most of us, the seminal parts of our lives include falling in love (with a human); growing out of bratty puberty and into boring adulthood; discovering RuPaul’s Drag Race. But for someone as gentle and as twee as Amy, it seems fitting that her life’s plot-twist began with a kitty-cat. It’s almost impossible to believe now, but life pre-Maus, Amy considered herself a “selfish, pessimistic and shallow person.” But soon after bringing him home, Amy says that “Maus taught me to be calm, gentle, and compassionate.” Because of him she also stopped wearing fur and became a vegetarian and maybe wouldn’t have become my lady-icon as she is today. Nevertheless, she makes her point poetically; declaring that “self-improvement is a lifelong process I work on every day, but I believe world peace can be achieved if everyone just has at least one to two cats.”

Roy

The drooling moo of a cow came from beyond the barn. The clouds palmed ahead, July dayed itself away. All was still, hot, quiet, dumb. But what I remember most: the smell of wicker, a brown moth, my shoelaces stuck in the brambles, a swelling of strings that was heard by no one. This is what we called our ‘ramble’. We walked a mile after school, paired boy-girl and Roy chose me. I knew that Rosemary, the most attractive girl in our club was fond of Roy.I was taller, less neat, less gorgeous and Roy chose me! I linger longer over that wooden smell. You know it’s a fine day in July when you can smell each splinter in the stiles. The shadows casting lank and long over his neck, butterfly kisses all over his back. We left our packs and walked lunchless. The farmer’s barn was two miles from the youth club and we walked with balmy palms. Roy gruffed as he stumbled into the brambles and I pottered around the pansies. Dragging our heels out of the mud, we spoke of the war and my mother and his mother and how I hated growing up with three other sisters. Roy was my first boy. He sniffed away the flies and cursed schoolboy curses to the bees. I fell down on my knees several times, stalked by those brambles along the way. Then we spoke of our friends and how handsome they looked together, we wondered what the other pairs were doing. We wanted Oz’s mirror to see their first shy kisses, whiskers touching, intruded by the buzz of bees. The grass grew taller and my legs purpler as we crossed towards the barn. Between that barn and the stile, between the bright lilac sky and purple knees, between my mouth and his mouth (isthmus full of kisses): he held my hand. The balmy palm which had slept walked its way through the rushes and combed through the threads of the hay. It was all curling, stretching, sleeping in my shy little paw. It clung onto mine as we stood gazing at the barn and unclasped as I went to push open the doors to where we would rest and palm. I ran my hands along the wooden planks, half-blind from the lack of light, trying to read the shadows as though they were made of braille. The wicker, the brown moth jutting out from the light, the lines of light between the planks casting themselves onto Roy’s face. We sat and made the straw crunch, the cow’s moo spilling in from the open lines of light. We made a nest from the straw. We dove into the pool of hay and emerged spitting, untangling the strands from our hairs. Just as the hedgehog hibernates in winter, we built our den throughout the summer. We would stack the straw up in piles to make our bed. Roy shooed away the mice who were trying to rest as we slept all knotted. Sometimes I’d see him sleep-smiling. That smile, like an old sheepdog scratching off his fleas. Then, when the voices of our friends foxed through the barriers of the barn we would spring from our bed. Roy would join the boys and play cricket and I would join the girls. We spoke of our rambles as we watched the boys play. Roy was bowling, his face all stern like a soldier. He was facing John, a boy who Roy repeatedly told me was, “terrible at cricket.” When Roy hit the wicket his arms went in the air and his mouth was wide. His tongue was lolling as he ran in circles, the thin air filling his mouth. He did not look for my praise when he had won. His smile, open wide like a lion was reserved for cricket. Mine, in that barn, in our beds, in photo frames now around my nest. Mine was always closed, a fixed sternness always in his eyes as his lips wiggled. From the wick of my mouth to his, and those kisses where his whiskers pricked at me. His mouth always waggled like a tugged buoy. In all those nests we made, where breakfast would come in the form of eggs and soldiers. Where Christmases were spent with cold toes jutting out of the covers, where we made our children, where our grandchildren would clamber onto our legs. I clamber out to ramble and I pack cucumber sandwiches and eat them by the sea. And Yes. There are drooling moos. And Yes. The clouds are palming ahead. And Yes. December is daying itself away. Yes. It is all excess. Yes. Yes. And so. I see you. I have told you what I am seeing. And yet. How can anyone know what I am seeing.

7/7/7

I throb like a drug thinking:

Thoughts in a butterfly net

How can I return to form?

I still stall between two fools:

My love will be barbed in spite

My love will be spiked with love

Make me dumb, where life is still.

The Undiscovered Music Videos of Studio Ghibli

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On Your Mark – Chage & Aska

It’s been over a year now since Japan’s pre-eminent animator, Hayao Miyazaki decided to clear his desk at Studio Ghibli in Tokyo. Hayao had been there almost thirty years after he curated the animation studio in 1985 with his partner, Isao Takahata. Over this 29 year-long period, the studio managed to moil out 19 full-length feature films, including Japan’s highest-grossing film, Spirited Away. Studio Ghibli produced a perfect picture of Japan’s ethic and aesthetic to the world, and this image became Americanised, popularised and universalised. The works are gentle, bold and kind – every bit Japanese. Many will look back on the Ghibli oeuvre and remember the delicious strangeness of Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke – or whichever obscurity you happened to stumble across between skimming channels. Ghibli consistently presented vast worlds, disconnected from the safety of adulthood. Big skies, forests too deep to be untangled and seas spread too wide to riff through. As the age of Ghibli has supposedly ended, there are certain works that jut out in our memories. As the fan community recap, there seems to be a certain Ghibli cache that many have missed. As well as films, television series and video games – the studio also made music videos. Though they seem to be clouded moments amongst the studio’s opus, at their best they are small, brilliant encapsulations of the Studio Ghibli project.

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The studio produced six music videos in total but the most startling is under Miyazaki’s direction, ‘On Your Mark’. The video was made in 1994 as Miyazaki wrangled with writer’s block whilst working on Princess Mononoke. Essentially, Mononke – one of the studio’s most revered films – may not have been so without the experimentation that Miyazaki exercised in the music video. He used computer animation instead of the Studio’s usual hand drawn cell animation for On Your Mark. Without these early undertakings Mononoke wouldn’t have had the change in sensibility needed for Ghibli’s romantic epic. To be sure, the use of computer animation added greater poignancy and severity to the whole of the Ghibli oeuvre and On Your Mark bears this transition. The video was made for the Japanese rock duo, Chage & Aska and still contains many of the Miyazakian staples despite the progression. The most formative of these being the wind which sweeps throughout each scene and the police aircraft reminiscent of Ghibli’s beginnings. ‘Ghibli’ of course being Italian for wind, and the inclusion of the aircraft is a nod towards Miyazaki’s father who designed and operated the A6M series of aircraft during World War II.

Despite it being a compressed Ghibli experience, the music video hits you with the same pangs that come with a full-length feature. In these films you can usually expect to find someone – usually a human girl or animal who is trapped somewhere she shouldn’t be. On Your Mark follows a similar paradigm in which a girl with exquisite wings is found on the ground, hesitant to fly. As akin to many of the films in the Ghibli canon also, the girl escapes and ostensibly returns to her homeland. In a moment of Shakespearian triumph, she ups and flies away like Prospero from Ariel and all of this happens over some of the most gloriously gaudy rock music I’ve heard in a while. Archivists, by all means reiterate again and again the importance of Miyazaki’s full-length films but there’s a lil’ bit of undiscovered magic to be found in his music video.

How The Past is Taking Over the Future

A pretty sure way to get hits nowadays is to write a piece which solicits nostalgia. If you’re like me – white, middle-class and kind of tacky – your Facebook feed will be filled with Buzzfeeds, Vices goosing you into the past-tense. Titles such as: “Things All Nineties Kids Remember!”, “The Greatest Moments of 2005” and “The Cracking Banter at the Potato Famine of 1845”. The more we change, the bigger the incurable pang and the trashier we get.

For those of you who were unaware (specifically addressing my peeps of the Potato Famine) – the internet happened. Before that the past was only confined to certain places. Archivists would have to take their wagon and drive it for five miles to the nearest library and READ A BOOK to find that ‘Flo Rida’ spells out ‘Florida’. Today we can just go on Facebook™ or Youtube™, plunk on ‘Low’ and let 2008 enter into our lives again. We can also watch Barry falling off a cliff a hundred times over, we can small-screen Karaoke to Alanis Morissette and stream archived episodes of The Bill until we’re left asking, Now what?

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Why does that pang for the past keep growing as we move onwards? Instead of forming its own present-tense we reconstitute styles and impressions from yesteryears. Our fetishes for the retro are unshakeable and it’s so easy to capitalise on this. Think Coca Cola ads with the 1950s pinup ladies, resurrecting old marketing ploys to get cash money. Think of 2009 as twinned with 1985 à la La Roux and Ladyhawke; 2015 twinned with 1976 (un)thanks to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Think unnecessary and mouldering remakes like this year’s Jurassic World and Poltergeist.

Since 2000, nostalgia has been responsible for the main bulk of fashion, music, film and for conversation starters on the internet. Kids of my generation who were born in the ’90s have only recently been able to reflect on the trademarks that stamped our childhoods. Before the internet it was kind of easy to catch up with the world – we had our jelly aliens and pogo sticks and everybody needs a bosom for a pillow. Now as 24 hours worth of videos are being uploaded every minute on Youtube, there is too much information to cling on to. As we keep accelerating, the rifts between the world you grew up in and the world you’ll grow old in get a lot deeper. In Adreas Huyssen’s words, “total recall seems to be the goal. Is this an archivist’s fantasy gone mad?”

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Nostalgia as the word and concept was coined in the 17th century by Johannes Hofer to describe the conditions of the Swiss mercenaries and their pining for home. Nostalgia was associated with homesickness and a pining for their native land. Today’s nostalgia is more about transportation than time-travel. Spaces and places can easily be travelled to and tweeted about, but we’ve yet to build a flux capacitor. It is a lost time that we long for simply because we can never get there. I guess nostalgia just feels better than whatever this is. Then again, a few years down the line I’ll probably think of this – sitting down and writing this in my student room as one of the best times of my life – how dismal. Regardless, looking back at photos of my dad in 1980s Adidas makes me wonder how he got to the 2004 line of Rocha John Rocha. The present-tense sucks.

Shoegaze was a British Miracle

Shoegaze, Nu-gaze, Blackgaze; Chillwave, New Wave, Doritos Chilli Heatwave. As prefixes and suffixes are constantly added to help you make sense of your latest Garageband product, it does not come without ridicule. It is far better to be tolerable than trendy, so when asked “what music are you into?” it may be preferable to answer with “Oh everything… Except country” -rather than “circa-1991 shoegaze”. The term ‘shoe gaze’ itself was originally a mockery of the incoming bands with hair to their chins and eyes fixed to their guitar pedals below, but its ‘golden age’ has largely been considered to have only spanned a year. With the release of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Lush’s Spook this shortly-lived ‘scene that celebrated itself’ was one of the finest and most miraculous moments in recent British musical memory. Despite being nudged over hastily by the bourgeoning of Britpop in 1994, it has seen somewhat of a resurgence recently with Slowdive’s comeback tour and ‘Ride’ peppered on many festival posters this year. At its time, Shoegaze was an apolitical blank. It found itself sandwiched between the working-class efforts of the Madchester scene and the class struggles narrated by an array of regional accents in Britpop. In a country whose most lionised bands are so for their rugged Britishness and songs concerning life in Britain, the Shoegazers were glaringly un-British.

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On my first listen of Ride’s 1990 record, Nowhere, I imagined sleepy limbs walking the Nevada desert, infinite horizons turned to pink bokehs from exhaustion. Oceans big enough to be forgotten in, the beginning of time, kisses as big as America. It was like having everything I’d ever felt squashed together and presented to me, saying: “this is your life.” Instead, I found that they came from the skimpy city of Oxford and were made famous in my homecity, Reading. The little city that had always bored me somehow heralded the most exciting music I had heard. My Bloody Valentine played the first show of their Loveless tour at Reading University and Shoegaze greats Chapterhouse and Slowdive too originated from Reading. The Face even talked of a ‘Thames Valley Scene’ which encompassed the bands who created sonic cathedrals, making it mandatory for audience members to wear earplugs. These were bands that dismantled the expectations of songs and made the musician-listener relationship interactive. By stripping away the traditional verse-chorus-verse architecture, they made music comprised of hints and impressions. The lyrics are almost wordless and watery, the instrumentation whirls together in its indecipherable maelstrom and the listener is left to fill in the gaps. It is like no other musical experience — it is miraculous.

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Shoegaze was quickly forgotten with the arrival of Britpop, and the much needed return to music of the working-class was reaffirmed. Journalist David Quantick wrote a satirical column each week entitled, “Memoirs of a Shoegazing Gentleman” which portrayed Shoegazers as overripe aristocrats. British music was once again made a class issue. Those who had struggled most under the Thatcherite government came to the forefront in the form of Britpop and Shoegaze was satirised into non-existence. But for that brief moment it was extraordinary – Shoegazers could create that bigger-than-Britain sound from the ennui of the middle-class.

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