ATas she goes from pose to pose, the photographer offers her a product that is supposed to reveal more of her beauty. “Yes, honey, it’s eyeliner, liquid eyeliner!” » She sits down, tilts her head and, excited, lets herself… inject the product intravenously. “It’s in your blood, can you feel the miracle of liquid eyeliner?” » The answer is yes, according to this scene from Female Trouble (1974), a cult film by the man nicknamed the “Pope of trash”: the American John Waters. The “model” is the drag-queen Divine, an unforgettable character by Glenn Milstead, who knew a thing or two about eyeliner, liquid or not.
At the origins of this bestseller in the make-up department, there is, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, this paste based on lead sulphide and antimony, used by both men and women to give more intensity to their look and above all protect their eyes from the sun’s rays and diseases. Egyptomania, which inspired the West from the end of the 19the century, revived the fashion for kohl. Not in the street, but first in the performing arts.
In 1917, the American actress Theda Bara played Cleopatra in the silent film – since lost – by J. Gordon Edwards and made smokey eyes her trademark. In 1963, it was Elizabeth Taylor’s turn to play the Queen of Egypt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film. She appears there with an iconic make-up: Hollywood reinterpretation of the mesmedet of the pharaohs, its liner, sometimes split and extended to the tip of the eyebrow, inspires a significant number of young girls in the second half of the 20th centurye century. Imposing a certain idea of femininity, in which the (always complex) application of liner is something of a rite of passage.
In the 1950s and 1960s, eyeliner reigned supreme. He has his ambassadors: Audrey Hepburn in the United States, Sophia Loren in Italy, but also, in France, Brigitte Bardot or Anna Karina, whose unforgettable Velásquez gray eyes he brings out, the most beautiful eyes in the history of cinema.
Today, there are countless tutorials on YouTube to try to reproduce the makeup of Anna Karina, but also of Diana Ross, Ariana Grande and many other stars. It seems innocuous and yet, with Amy Winehouse, who drew on her eyes a cat-eye proportional to her ultra-puffy half-bun, a disturbance sets in, tipping the thing over to the side of artifice, of performance.
In Drag Race, a drag-queen contest launched by Ru Paul in 2009 in the United States, the spectator witnesses the transformation of the candidates in each episode, in particular making make-up a (political) art, demonstrating in practice how much the codes of femininity are constructs. First drag superstar, Divine partially shaved her head to draw disproportionate eyebrows on her forehead, accompanying the exuberant movement of her liner.
In gender disorder, the American philosopher Judith Butler introduces her reflection by noting about her: “Is drag an imitation of the genre or is it rather a staging of significant gestures that establish the genre as such? Is being female a “natural fact” or a cultural performance? » The debate is open. Director John Waters, meanwhile, has always used eyeliner to draw a thin mustache. But this is another story.