Women Makeup BiogarphySource(google.com.pk)
t's a good thing mascara is waterproof these days. Otherwise Donna Mee's eyes would have run dark rivers several times over.
Mee is a makeup expert filled with stories about her profession.
Some of her anecdotes are personal. Others are tied to the more than 2,000 items in her vintage collection of beauty products. She is telling a few of these stories late on a Friday afternoon before the last class of the day at Empire Academy of Makeup, her studio in Costa Mesa.
She's like a guide taking you on a tour of the history of cosmetics, providing nonstop commentary during a whirlwind look at pieces from her collection, ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries.
The display takes up every inch of the deep counters that run the length of two mirrored walls. It's where students would otherwise be sitting to learn the craft that Mee, 48, has mastered over 31 years in the beauty business.
One story that moves her to tears involves a copy of legendary makeup artist Dick Smith's 1965 "Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook," for which his son served as a model.
Mee met Smith at a trade show about 10 years ago. He was in his 80s by then, a "sweet and gracious" man, she says. He began to cry while revealing how repeated applications to get the desired images for the handbook would unknowingly result in his son being impaired from makeup that contained lead.
"He was still taking care of his son," Mee says.
Mee only brings out pieces of the collection once a year or so, when she teaches a class on period makeup. She likes her students to see what she is talking about. It disappoints her that they don't get more excited about the hundreds of years of makeup history right there before their eyes.
"They like the stories," she says, "but they just don't get it."
Mee started collecting cosmetics memorabilia at 17.
She was at the Long Beach swap meet in 1981 when she spotted a 1920s face powder box from Bourjois. That company's Evening in Paris perfume brought a dab of France to Woolworth stores in America during the Great Depression. Mee had gone to the swap meet with her mom, who loved to second-hand shop, and fell in love with the vintage Karess cardboard box with the light blue satin pillow top. It cost her $3.
"You just want to pet it," she says, pointing out how "pretty and girly" the oval satin top still looks even with its slightly worn edges.
Mee grew up in Buena Park and knew at age 10 that she wanted to be a makeup artist. Her dad discouraged it, telling her to become a doctor or lawyer instead. But the desire never left her, even though her mom hardly wore any makeup. She never got that experience of sitting and watching her mom make herself up that many girls do.
Watching movies gave Mee a love for the magic of lipstick and eye shadow. Her collection includes hair and makeup test shots from films such as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Rebel Without a Cause" and TV shows like "The Munsters."
She started doing her own makeup in seventh grade, the backsides of Cover Girl packaging serving as her guide. She got so good at it that her friends would come to her house early so she could make them up, then they would stop by again after school to wash it off before heading home.
As a junior in high school, Mee landed a job at a Sav-On drug store. The clerks in cosmetics were older women dressed in blue smocks, with eyeglasses dangling from a chain around their necks. So when she asked the manager about an opening in cosmetics, she says, he laughed in her face and told her she didn't know anything about makeup.
Her next stop was working in the Disneyland parade as the girl who played the glockenspiel, an instrument she faked playing. Her real value was in doing makeup for the other characters in the parade, she says.
Much of what she knows, Mee taught herself by reading, experimenting and asking the right questions. She once quizzed a Revlon sales representative about the company's beauty products while working as a teenager at JCPenney and used what she learned to rack up sales. Her résumé includes turns with Stagelight Cosmetics and as director of cosmetics for Nordstrom.
Besides running Empire Academy of Makeup, Mee travels the world to teach makeup technique. This month, she's conducting classes and seminars in Australia.
CENTURIES OF MAKEUP
The oldest item in her collection is a small round case that holds rolled-up pieces of brown something. It's the first thing Mee picks up. They are beauty marks, made from tiny pieces of linen that came into vogue in the 1400s to hide scars and blemishes. And back then, she explains, royalty and the privileged class used toxic white face paint that contained mercury and lead.
Mee thinks she paid an antique dealer $45 for the beauty marks.
"She didn't know what it was," Mee says. "To me, it's valuable. But to most people it wouldn't be."
If 600-year-old beauty marks are too ancient or obscure for many to relate to, how about the Twiggy eye paint and lashes by Yardley from the 1960s, when the thin English model with the big blue eyes was all the rage?