Some would argue that the best kind of art is created in order to make its viewers uncomfortable—challenging norms and ideals, pushing buttons.
And no matter the medium, just where that line of civility and decency is drawn is open to question—though many would agree that cosmetics line MAC and high-end label Rodarte have gone too far with their recently announced collaboration.
MAC has been teaming up with guest designers for years—from Hello Kitty to Raquel Welch—and when word spread of a Rodarte collaboration, the media and fans were put on high alert. Rodarte, helmed by sisters and Berkeley alumni Kate and Laura Mulleavy, has only been around for about five years but has already made itself a big name in the fashion industry. Known for off-kilter, imaginative hybrid pieces of mesh, lace and loose-knits, the Mulleavy sisters’ designs have been worn and favored by all the “right” celebrities: Kirsten Dunst, Chloë Sevigny, Natalie Portman, Joanna Newsom, even Michelle Obama.
The Rodarte X MAC collection launches Sept. 15 and features lip products, eyeshadows, pigments, powders, blushes and nail lacquers all in pastel, soft-hued shades—taupes, mints, blush pinks, icy blues. And, actually, the way the products look isn’t the problem; it’s really all quite pretty, especially the rainbow palette of the Lipglass glosses ($18). But it’s the names Rodarte and MAC have decided to give these products that are the issue here.
The collection drew inspiration from the culture, colors and landscapes of Mexico: There’s a sheer-white lipstick with pearlized pigment called “Ghost Town” ($14) and a powder ($25) called “Softly Drifting.” But it’s the name of a particular opal nail color that’s drawing major controversy: Juárez. As in the more-than-troubled border town known for its drug cartels, police corruption, poverty and everyday violence. In short, it’s kind of like creating a Poland-inspired collection and dubbing some cotton-candy-colored lip gloss Auschwitz.
On top of all that, Ciudad Juárez has come to be notorious for the phenomenon of the feminicidios (femicides) or las muertas de Juárez (“the dead women of Juárez”). Anywhere from 400 to 5,000 females, mostly factory workers, have fallen victim to unsolved homicides in the town, many targets of rape, torture or disfigurement.
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Oh, and the other nail color in the MAC X Rodarte line? “Factory.”
So naming a lip gloss after a highly volatile region of the world . . . insensitive? Yes. The total exotification and degradation of a tragic reality that can be easily out of sight/out of mind? Definitely.
Both companies have since issued apologies, following the explosion of e-outrage from blogs such as Jezebel, New York Magazine’s The Cut, Stylite and the Frisky. MAC has stated that it will donate a portion of the proceeds to “help those in need in Juárez.” Rodarte, on the other hand, said the collection’s inspiration was drawn from a road trip to Texas, from El Paso to Marfa. “The ethereal nature of this landscape influenced the creative development and desert palette of the collection. We are truly saddened about injustice in Juárez, and it is a very important issue to us,” Rodarte’s statement explained. “The MAC collaboration was intended as a celebration of the beauty of the landscape and people in the areas that we traveled.”