For make-up collectors, the excitement around a new collection by MAC is akin to that of tweens and the new Twilight movie. It’s a time when beauty bloggers in particular speculate what the imaginative beauty brand will come up with next. Known for its bright, flashy colours, quality products and imaginative approach to marketing (it has collaborated with Barbie and Hello Kitty in the past), MAC’s limited edition lines sell out as quickly as it takes to slick on one of their fundraising Viva Glam lipsticks. But the latest collection, a collaboration with fashion house Rodarte (run by the young sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy), is getting bloggers’ attention for all the wrong reasons, and the fallout from it has demonstrated the immense – and perhaps unanticipated – power that customers wield online.
The problem with MAC’s new Rodarte collection? The products are inspired by a city in Northern Mexico. But not any Mexican city – they’re inspired by Ciudad Juárez, a place so dangerous for women that the term ‘femicide’ has been coined to describe the death of hundreds of females who lived there. At least 500 (some estimate that number could in fact be in the thousands) young women have gone missing from the town, their decomposing bodies later found in the desert – in some cases, feet away from the corpses of other missing Juárez women. Women have disappeared into the ether on their way to or from work; vacant lots have become crime scenes, the desert a giant graveyard.
The violent deaths of las muertas de Juárez (‘the dead women of Juárez’) have been occurring since at least 1993, and the senseless crimes are continuing year on year. Men have been arrested, some have been charged, but still the violence continues, and questions are on the lips of every mother, father, friend or child who has lost a woman in their life to an invisible murderer.
The majority of these women worked in the maquiladora, known for their intensive, sweatshop conditions, long hours and monitoring of women’s fertility. These are not pleasant places to work. But they are a means to an end for women, for it is mostly women who work in them. A handful of the women who were murdered worked as prostitutes. Some were natives of the town, others had moved to work in the maquiladora. The youngest women were in their teens. Many women have never been found; many bodies have never been identified.
Juarez may not be a household name in Europe, but it is not a place that can have escaped MAC’s attention. Groups such as the Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa and the Juarez Project, to name just two, have been formed. Numerous television programmes, films and documentaries have been made about the deaths. Books, poems and articles have been written about the city. Musicians such as Tori Amos and At the Drive In have been inspired by the shocking violence and murders.
When some beauty bloggers realised that the MAC Rodarte collection was inspired by the landscape of Juarez, but that the items were named ‘Sleepwalker’, ‘Ghost town’, ‘Factory’ and ‘Badlands’, they were incensed. These names have clear links to the plight of women working in maquiladora – and the promotional photographs feature a ghostly, dead-eyed model. Women who love make-up are sometimes seen as having a frivolous hobby, of only being interested in make-up because of its camouflaging (rather than transformative or creative) power. As we saw when Beaut.ie won the best blog award at the Irish Blog Awards, beauty blogs are seen by some as fluffy, unimportant websites that aren’t bothered with big issues. What this case has shown is that in fact there are many beauty ‘junkies’ who do care about what they purchase; women who will not wear an eyeshadow that is streaked with bright red rivulets when they know that it is inspired by a city where women have been left to die on bloodied concrete floors.
Thanks to these bloggers, MAC have stated that they are sorry for offending customers and fans, and that this was never their intention. “We are committed to donating $100,000 to a non-profit organization that has a proven, successful track-record helping women in need and that can directly improve the lives of women in Juárez in a meaningful way,” they announced yesterday, adding that the names in the collection will be changed.
Rodarte said their makeup collaboration with MAC “developed from inspirations on a road trip that we took in Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa”, but that they “are truly saddened about injustice in Juárez and it is a very important issue to us”.
The names can be changed, the apologies made; but the fact remains that women are being murdered every year in Ciudad Juárez, and there is nothing beautiful about that.