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The Beauty Primer: Eyes
by Dain

More than any other feature, a woman's eyes lend a characteristic mood to her face entire.

And more than any other feature, they are the focus of maximum inquiry, a confusion of brushes, colors, and techniques. Conventional wisdom tends to rely heavily on eyecolor; if you dug a little deeper, you might be able to mine more pointed advice on winged eyeliner or contouring. Ultimately, there is no substitute for practice. After a few years, you find you've settle on a few favored (maybe even predictable) techniques. It's not necessarily conscious. We all make minor adjustments to fit our individual features, perhaps not to the same degree of success, but always with the design that the makeup flatter. Naturally, we gravitate towards the particular techniques that complement our particular anatomies. If you look good with a defined contour, then most of the time you'll sport one—whether the look is natural or dramatic, whether the pigments are brown or purple, whether irises are grey-green or golden hazel—these considerations, though important, come secondary to anatomy.

Three blue-eyed women of European extract, and not the least bit alike in appeal.

It is little wonder that Leslie Caron was cast again and again as the naïf, her big blue eyes set far apart on her face, tilted upwards for a slightly elfin effect; even in this photograph, when she was 33, she could be easily be mistaken for a teenager. But while large eyes suggest youth, their very prominence is limiting and requires the utmost restraint: mascara alone is probably enough emphasis. Normally, small hooded eyes are considered a disadvantage, one that grows ever more pronounced with age. They do not invite makeup. Rampling, with the instinct of an actress, has trained her deficiency into a trademark—that withering gaze is sharper than ever. The intelligence of her expression both suits her features, and transcends them. Finally, Marilyn Monroe's stylized bedroom eyes are as meticulously orchestrated as a skyscraper: lightly contoured, an echo from an older Hollywood, where bone structure determined everything, but the weight primarily concentrated on the lashline via liquid liner and false lashes. The visual suggestion, as if you were viewing her from above, while she lies prone, in bed... oh my, these eyelashes are so heavy...

A diet of peaches and golds and warm browns, the standard prescription for blue eyes, would cause no harm here. Beyond that, we cannot reduce these women further, Makeup-For-Blue-Eyes, with this much variation in size and shape. Each merits a unique application, tailored to her face. More than choice of colors, eye makeup depends on technique, the structural underpinning, born out of practice and familiarity with your own features*. Proper application always, always comes first. It sounds obvious, but there's not much use in slavering over Chanel's trendy new release, if your technique is poor.

People get work themselves into a furor over eyecolor, but insofar makeup is concerned, it is probably the least critical characteristic. Eye makeup that considers only eyecolor is quite limited, even old-fashioned. As a rule, the shade most directly opposite your eyecolor will provide the strongest contrast, on the condition it is not too strictly observed. Obviously, red-orange eyeshadow, directly opposite sea green eyes, is not at all advisable (though you might pick it up through coral blush and warm red lipstick, skin tone permitting). This trick is particularly useful for finetuning neutrals. If you need a high-quality beige, you might as well calibrate the undertones in concert with your eyecolor: to bring out the green, you might favor NARS Cairo for its subtle inflection of rose over the peachier Laura Mercier Sandstone, but you could hardly err with either regardless of eyecolor. With more vibrant shades, color for the sake of color, a certain independence from your natural skin tones is desirable; otherwise it won't pop. There's no sense in avoiding a beautiful green shadow simply because your eyes are green. A final note: colored contacts and circle lenses are UGLY. I will not sanctimoniously intone that natural is better—makeup itself is fundamentally artifice—it's just that colored contacts are fundamentally hideous.

Perhaps more important than eyecolor is skin tone. With dark brown eyes, one could theoretically wear greens and purples and blues equally, but against pink undertones, I am better served by blues and cool purples; I can never wear browns unless "dirty" is my deliberate design.

In combination with the setting (the size of your eyelids, the depth of your crease), the size of your eyes, measured against the proportions of your face, determines the amount of makeup you can carry. It's not exactly restrictive, but the range of options is narrower if your eyes are disproportionately small or disproportionately large.

A harsh black line all the way around, as the unfortunate Sarah Jessica Parker shows, crowds them into a squint. Instead, keep the line soft and diffused, as Catherine Zeta Jones has done, fading a third of the way up the eyelid (beyond a third, dark pigment tends to close the eyes). Choose colors that are rich, but not so intense as black—graphite, blackened plum, golden bronze, navy, smoky browns, jade, ultraviolet—like poetry, restrictions stimulate experimentation. In essence, this is the "edgy", "rock 'n' roll" eyes (such horrid terminology) that you often see on Kate Moss and Kirsten Stewart; you will notice, they also have small eyes. Tightlining is an excellent idea (and you can use black), but unless it's a light pencil the waterline is best left free of product. The lower lashline depends on the shape of the eyes: if you want to accentuate a nice almond shape, then run a light touch of pigment along the lower lashline, blending well, not all the way into the inner corner, but if your eyes are extremely small or noticeably asymmetrical, stick to the upper lashline only.

If you have the alternate option of defining the crease, it will also open up the eyes. People make eye contact with your pupils first, and a distinctive shade in the crease, even if it's a shimmery variant on your usual taupe, automatically draws the [viewer's] eye upward. Keep your eyeliner minimal and your base muted and neutral—too much will read as a block of color, which drags the eye down—so that the movement upwards is uncomplicated.

When it comes to makeup, bigger is not always better. By far, the models chosen for beauty shots do not have huge eyes. They make a face memorable but, in their very domination of the face, they resist the malleability necessary for a wide array of makeup techniques. Even a minimum of makeup is amplified to garishness. Hathaway's attempt at a Bardot (normally she wears it soft and diffused), though it's a degree of application commonly seen, is overwhelming on eyes already so striking in their size; Hepburn judged it better with an understated flick only on the upper lid and a feathery pair of falsies. Ironically, many of the same principles of restraint and simplicity apply for big eyes as small.

If the space between your is the same as the width of a single eye, your eyes are evenly spaced. If less, they are close set, if more, then wide set. Surprisingly, for such an absolutely straightforward, minute detail, they alter a face considerably.

Closely set eyes lend a pinched, narrow look to the face that can sometimes register as bitchy, e.g. Kirsten Stewart, whose penchant for dirty, metallic shades transcends the issue into bitchy cool, incorporated into her public image. Cosmetically, narrowly spaced eyes can be remedied by a pale frost on the inner corner. A darker wedge, the pigment packed intensely at the outer corner then fading it towards the center, will augment a highlight on the inner corner. Finally, you may start your eyebrows further apart, but do pluck conservatively, or you'll end up like Victoria Beckham, who's embraced inner corner highlight, dark wedge, and aggressive tweezing all. By contrast, widely spaced eyes suggest a baby's unfocused gaze, slightly lost and innocent, certainly Vodianova's appeal. Widely spaced eyes, as they are generally more desirable, don't require any special treatment, so when a makeup artist grows aggressive with a gold frost in the Guerlain ad above, the result is highly unflattering. Another technique to avoid on widely spaced eyes might be a pronounced flick, which draws the eye outwards.

Eyes that droop at the outer corners appear sad and serious, sometimes even old, an echo of the inevitable drag of age. Contouring adds lift, but if your eyes drag down at the corners, a graphic flick of winged eyeliner is your best friend. Marilyn Monroe countered the downward tilt of her eyes by both methods. An upward tilt, while more flattering, sometimes looks a bit catlike. Additionally, the inner corners can feature a pronounced tear duct that tucks down, which varies how you might apply the inner-corner highlight.

By far, the size and shape of the eyelid is the primary factor when it comes to makeup techniques, because it serves as the canvas for eyeshadow. It is also the most variable, depending on the prominence of the orbital bone (brow bone, in cosmetic parlance, technically, it is seven different bones that shape the eye socket) and the depth at which the eyeball is set into the hollow of the skull. There are four major variations, in reality the diversity of eye shapes is staggering; for the purposes of moving our discussion forward, these have been grossly simplified. Conventional terminology for describing eye shapes is virtually incoherent. We have to start somewhere.

If your eyes are deep set and the orbital bone is very pronounced, you might describe them as hooded; essentially, the eyelid is hidden beneath the brow bone, and therefore, not the best candidate for eyeshadow. It can sometimes give the face a slightly masculine appearance. At the extreme, Blake Lively's makeup artist focuses on getting her lashes fluttery and perfect through precision mascara work and false lashes, taking care to define her lower lashline for balance. If your eyelid is somewhat more generous, say along the lines of Katharine Hepburn or Gisele Bündchen, or if your have become more hooded out of maturity, contouring, a little higher than the standard crease, to make the brow bone recede slightly. Blend well, concentrating pigment at the outer corners where the orbital bone is flatter, if it still seems harsh, apply over a lighter matte contour, so that depth builds up more gradually. For drama, you can wing the pigment out; hooded eyes are well suited for this shape, with your head tilted down, after Bacall.

Deep set but without the prominent orbital bone, the typical Asian eye has a shallow crease that often looks comical when emphasized. To create depth, a wedge blended softly inwards against a softer wash is much more flattering. Like all deep-set eyes, the eyelid is small, and in the case of Asian eyes, fattier, which may or not fold. Though the fold is made much of among Asian cultures, it does not significantly alter how you apply makeup; other factors, such as the size, shape, spacing, and tilt of the eye, are more important. If anything, the monolid is better suited to makeup, since the fold gets in the way (My Tiger Lily has written an excellent article on the subject in further detail). Sometimes the Asian eyelid can appear quite puffy, so restrict medium-to-dark pigments close to the lashline, no higher than a third of the lid; deeper pigment well diffused counteracts the puffiness, which means you may proceed with more colorful washes, what is typically known as a gradation. Perhaps a better term for the "Asian eye" would be "shallow crease"; unfortunately, terminology for eye shapes is limited. Many Asian women have a pronounced orbital bone, closer to the hooded eye, while some even have a large eyelid, with a crease. Sometimes Caucasian women, such as Vodianova, feature a shallow crease.

If luck would have it you've got a generous eyelid, the orbital bone makes more room for the shallow-set eyes, protruding slightly from the socket, so that the eyelid dips into a deep crease, before rising again over the brow bone. This is the most versatile eye shape for showing off technique, therefore a common feature among models for beauty shots, since the makeup artist doesn't have to work around any asymmetries. Elizabeth Taylor, who often prefers the sex appeal of smoky eyeliner over contouring, could most likely wear any kind of eye makeup, even the hieroglyphic eyeliner and blue eyeshadow from Cleopatra. The classic contour is best exemplified by Marlene Dietrich; given the technological limitations of black-and-white photography during the 30s and 40s, makeup was all about bone structure. The eyelid droops as we age, so contouring is a useful technique to add lift. A matte taupe well blended is enough for everyday, but for extra emphasis layer a deeper shade over the haze of medium shadow; sweep a matte taupe along the sides of the nose, up towards the inner corner of the eyebrows, then blend well (it is part of the orbital bone, so it balances heavy creasework). For smaller lids, drop a bit of metallic frost to highlight the center. But be wary, old-fashioned contouring can look old fashioned, even when reworked in colorful pigments. Also, the more you emphasize the shape of the eye through eyeliner, the more neutral should be your crease. A graphic flick, for example, might gain better balance from a gentle contour, but messy rock-'n'-roll black eyeliner would be better without.

If your eyes are even more shallowly set, or the orbital bone is less prominent, then the eyes seem to bulge, as Bette Davis's do. Contouring, here, might be overkill, since it is a technique that draws attention to the size of the eyelid. Instead, focus on eyeliner, dark or vibrant, layering medium eyeshadows onto the lid, growing lighter as you reach the crease; deeper pigments will make a prominent eyelid recede. This is why heavy contouring and statement eyeliner do not mix, unless the intended purpose is to create a dramatic eye. They compete with each other. With prominent lids, you can carry eyeshadow, even in a wide variety of color combinations, to excess.

A hundred hundred tutorials show you how to achieve the perfect smoky eye, step by meticulous step, until you watch them all and apprehend dozens of variants: some with cream shadows, others with powder, some with graphic eyeliner, or deeply contoured eyelids, or with a dab of frosty highlight at the inner corners, others still rimmed heavily with kohl. How does one begin to make sense of it?

The smoky eye spans a breadth of techniques, from the most stylized, with the eyes mapped into zones of pigment ("let's get another pair of lashes on" sums it up) to Eldridge's extreme reduction of eyeliner and very, very deft blending, to effect the proper intensity and haze. I've yet to see a guru who does not repeat the same techniques, for the simple fact that good eye makeup is about adjusting techniques to the shape of the eye, the unique combination of these characteristics. So, rather than showing you how to apply a crease (medium shade into the socket, blend well) or wedge, how to apply a diffused eyeliner or draw in a perfect flick, it seems more important to emphasize that eye makeup is about individualizing these techniques to your particular anatomy. Buy a basic set of inexpensive shades (L'Oréal HIP, Wet 'n' Color Icon, and NYX are good brands to consider), a basic set of brushes from Sonia Kashuk, and practice. Learn to blend, layer powders over creams for intensity, and through this process of trial and error, refine what flatters you.

Sorry about the delay. It took me a couple weeks to write; many strands to capture at once.

* This is readily obvious if you are a makeup artist, but not necessarily to a layperson.


4/10/2011 [2]

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