PREVIEW: Makeup - A Glamorous History, BBC Two

In this series, professional makeup artist Lisa Eldridge takes a fascinating journey through the history of hair and makeup.



Taking three iconic eras in British history - The Georgians, the Victorians and the 1920s - Lisa explores what the beauty look tells us about the world it grew out of. From the high hair and heavily painted faces of the aristocratic Georgians, to the demure ‘natural’ faces of the middle-class Victorian lady, to the red lipped bobbed hair flapper, the series explores key moments in Britain’s past.


Lisa uses her knowledge of makeup and cosmetic product development to authentically recreate the look. Using contemporary recipe books and original formulas she makes cosmetics that haven’t seen the light of day for hundreds of years, trying them out on herself to see how they really worked and what they actually looked like.


She visits archives, and meets experts and historians, to understand why the beauty look developed as it did. In each episode Lisa recreates the look on 21st century model Queenie, building it up step by step, using products that she has made, and in a final reveal we see what an authentic period beauty would have looked like.

Makeup can be seen as frivolous subject, but what this series reveals is that what someone puts on their face - and why - says as much about an era as art, architecture or food.


Episode one: Georgian Britain

In this first episode Lisa explores the peacocks of British history: the high Georgians. This was an era when bling was in. Wealthy Georgians used their look to show off just how rich they were - and it took time, skill and money. The sheer glamour of the high Georgians was no accident, it’s a style that owes its origins to the turbulent history of the age. The 18th century was a period of massive ostentation matched by staggering inequality - ending in parts of Europe with bloodshed and revolution.


Lisa visits Chatsworth House in Derbyshire in search of one of the beauty icons of the day, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, and learns that she employed a full-time hairdresser who travelled everywhere with her and earned the equivalent of £100,000 a year plus expenses.


She discovers how in this period of extreme wealth in Britain, the rich entered a beauty 'arms race', competing to go more and more extreme to show that they belonged. With the help of pharmacist Szu Cheng Wong, Lisa recreates the toxic white face paint, which in some cases proved fatal. She explores homespun recipes for rouge and eyebrow pencils and marvels at the elaborate hair styles. Gathering all this together she recreates an authentic Georgian look on our 21st century model, Queenie.


But a look can go too far. By the end of the 18th century the excesses of this aristocratic look came to represent all that was wrong with the upper classes, and when Marie Antoinette lost her head at the guillotine, such an ostentatious look became not just unfashionable but downright dangerous. There wouldn’t be another look like it again until the 20th century.