Where Have All the Eyebrows Gone?
AT a recent party at the downtown club China Chalet, two attendees stood out from the rest of the hipsters. Among those gathered to see the group Salem perform were two individuals who, at first glance, had no eyebrows.
If I had Brooke Shields’s eyebrows, I wouldn’t have erased them,” said Lauren Boyle, a 26-year-old fashion consultant. “But they weren’t adding to my look.”
Her friend David Toro appeared similarly shorn, but upon closer inspection, he had actually bleached his brows to invisibility.
“I get a lot of stares,” said Mr. Toro, who wasn’t immediately recognized by his friends that evening, his face had changed so much. “But it’s cool because they are perplexed looks instead of something hateful.”
Mr. Toro, a 29-year-old photographer and art gallery worker, was inspired by Martha Plimpton in the 1989 film “Parenthood.”
“And Whoopi Goldberg, too,” he said. “Whoopi’s awesome and I’m pretty obsessed with her.”
Ms. Boyle, who painstakingly plucks her eyebrows each day, thinks of her look as “a very optimistic and idealistic statement.”
“It’s unifying,” she said. “There is an asexual element to no eyebrows. We are much more accepting of the ‘other’ nowadays. Removing eyebrows removes a degree of expression, which makes one look less human and more cerebral, maybe even mechanical. It’s an exercise in modernity.”
The host of the party, the artist Terence Koh, recently had completely shorn brows. They have since grown out, but he is considering removing them again.
“I was reading a lot about Buddhism,” Mr. Koh said of what impelled him to grab the razor. “Thai monks shave off their eyebrows. Maybe the monks are affecting everyone subconsciously?”
Forget shaping and plucking. The newest trend in eyebrows is to get rid of them altogether, either by bleaching them into oblivion or by shaving them off. The look has cropped up across the fashion world and is trickling to the streets. It was a conspicuous trend on the fall and haute couture runways, on models like Lara Stone and Iris Strubegger, and is now reflected in magazine and advertising images.
In the new Givenchy advertising campaign, shot by Mert & Marcus, a bevy of male and female models recline in an opulent French chateau. Without brows, they are inscrutable, alienlike mannequins. Depending on the viewer, they exude serenity or menace. This is an atypical description of one of the stars, the curvy Adriana Lima, best known for her work for Victoria’s Secret.
“I wanted to use Adriana in a different context,” Riccardo Tisci, the Givenchy creative director, said of re-imagining the model. “People aren’t used to seeing her dark side.”
Having no eyebrows is by no means new — look at the Mona Lisa. It’s not just the smirk that makes her enigmatic.
“No brows has been a beauty option since the beginning of time,” said the makeup wizard Pat McGrath, who bears responsibility for putting the look on fall runways, notably at the Prada and Balenciaga shows. “Think of those looming images of Queen Elizabeth.” She cited other images, of David Bowie and fashion photographs of Kristen McMenamy and Karen Elson.
The models Ms. McGrath name-checked were celebrated as the Venuses of no eyebrows. Ms. McMenamy became omnipresent after Steven Meisel sheared her brows for the famous 1992 “grunge” shoot for Vogue. Now, at 42, after years of retirement, Ms. McMenamy is having another “it girl” moment and graces the August cover of Italian Vogue, sans eyebrows. In 1997, Mr. Meisel made Ms. Elson’s forehead a blank canvas for an Italian Vogue cover, and another supermodel was born.
A generation earlier, Jane Forth, the Warhol actress and Factory receptionist, was the chic no-browed poster girl for a crumbling 1970s New York. In 1997, in “Gummo,” Chloë Sevigny was the redneck-metalhead diva of poverty with ivory eyebrows matching her feathered hairdo.
Could no eyebrows be a reflection of economic downturn? Can one be too poor to have them? Having no eyebrows is certainly a way to express oneself without buying a product.
“The economic troubles we are facing now open people up to be more daring and willing to don cutting-edge looks,” Ms. McGrath offered.
Sarah Brown, the beauty director of Vogue, took a similar stance: “People are saying, ‘How can I shake things up? I might not be buying a new bag every three months, but what can I do to feel fresh and current and in style?’ ” The August issue of Vogue features an otherworldly Steven Klein shot of a model epilated above the eyes.
“What they’re doing in the fashion magazines is not literally taking them off,” said Mindy Hall, a movie makeup artist . “They’re just blocking them out with product and then probably digitally cleaning it up. We were hard core. We shaved them off!”
As head of the makeup department for the recent retcon of “Star Trek,” Ms. Hall was responsible for the decimation of countless brows. After sessions with her team, the actors were given eyebrow pencils and specially made eyebrow merkins created by the wig department. But most of them didn’t use the brow camouflage, Ms. Hall said.
So are eyebrows a useless evolutionary remnant, like the appendix? Will we enjoy salty sweat dripping over our eyeballs? Sacrifices must be made for style.
Not everyone is open-minded about progress.
“Everything is possible right now, and that’s a great way to look at this moment,” said Ms. Brown of Vogue. “I don’t know how great it would look at work or at your parents’ house for dinner. Maybe just lighten your brows, bleach them a little bit.”
Miss Hall was undeterred: “It is a fantastic look. On the right face, it’s gorgeous. On the wrong face shape, it’s not so …” She thought a moment. “You wouldn’t use the word ‘gorgeous’ for it.”
Before shaving off both eyebrows, we suggest doing just one to see if it suits you.
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