The renaissance of coloured eye makeup

Image by Jordan Drysdale
Words by Tim Grant

Let loose.

I know, I wasn’t expecting it either.

I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly when it happened. It might have been around the time that Solange drew two single white lines over her eyelids in 2016. That was a pretty cool moment. Very graphic, very now. Now being Then, not Now. Although it is quite Now.


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This is the level of BFF-dom we should all aspire to be.

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It could have been when we all binged Russian Doll during our lunch-breaks earlier this year and decided it was our turn to be the Sweet Birthday Baby. My sister wore Justine’s eyeliner look to a rave a few months ago, so it’s a good chance it was that.

Maybe it was the ’80s revival we’re undergoing. Nancy Wheeler wears some big hair and bold eyeshadow in Stranger Things.

Maybe it’s the enduring popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and beauty YouTubers.

Whatever the reason, Tyra Banks knew what she was talking about when she said it’s all about the smize. The In Look is bright colours, smudgy shapes, and no primer. It’s a thrilling time to be someone who does your makeup drunk.


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There are, of course, two ends of the spectrum. Euphoria has kicked off a wave of high-art eyeshadow looks among fashion journalists and teens with TikTok accounts. The way Maddy blends shades and applies tones (and dresses, and smiles…) has set a very high bar I personally couldn’t match.

But Maddy is also a combative former-beauty pageant participant – I don’t think we’re meant to match it. We’re meant to admire the artistry. And the FUN! Her looks are so fun. But I think the influence they have seems to be over the inventiveness, not the technique.

But after years of watching the Kardashians wear six shades of beige at once and being told that sharp-as-knives winged eyeliner was feminist, it’s a relief to be allowed to just rub some liquid blush on your lid with a finger. And maybe blend two smudgy eyeliners into each other if it’s going to be a big night. We get to experiment with colour and technique, and failure is always spectacular.

Palomo Spain’s 2020 menswear collection featured models in all-highlighter looks, giving them a ‘covered in ash but also club-ready’ vibe. Ezra Miller – hot off the Met Gala Pink Carpet – is one of the new faces of Urban Decay. And Lana Del Rey had neon green eyeliner in a new music video, which is a huge swing for her.

On home turf, we saw models’ eyes circled with coloured rings sent down the Highrise Runway of MFW. Collina Strada carried on the look at NYFW but around nostrils instead of lids (and cucumber slices instead of foundation).

Because the eyes are, really, the focal point of any makeup look. During those years where the goal was Looking Good and the methodology available was to buy $600 worth of product and wear it all at once, that focus became less clear. The fun was in the process of contouring and transforming, and the satisfaction gained with conforming to the mainstream.

But a process that was labelled ‘simple’ was still a five-step process. And anything ‘adventurous’ still required a stencil. No-makeup makeup, we’ve all realised, was never real. There were too many layers and too many products. It didn’t make it any easier – it just tightened the lens of the microscope.

I don’t think any of these are new observations, and neither are they static. A new makeup trend will come along and undo all that came before it. But I am personally thrilled that the point of makeup at the moment is about ‘looking cool’ and not ‘looking good’. Or just ‘looking awake’.

During the last few years, it was a rare day that I agreed with the idea that makeup was only about self-expression. But I think, having been put in charge of my own, that I may have changed my tune.

So, brb – I’m gonna go blend some gold and silver glitter eyeliners together.

Got a party tonight.

Want the look? Fashion Journal recommends: 3INA The Colour Mascara in pink, Revlon Photoready Eye Art wand, Pixi Glitter-y Eye Quad palette, Too Faced Twinkle Twinkle Liquid Glitter Eye Shadow, Urban Decay Moondust Eye Shadow.

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