There’s something slightly unsettling, even repulsive about foundation, and if you’ve seen The Andy Warhol Diaries on Netflix, you know what I mean. A makeup artist glops Warhol’s face with what could be gesso, blanking out his skin, his eyebrows, even his lips until he resembles a Madame Tussauds wax figure with a Cheshire-cat smile. That may well have been his intention, and if so, bravo! Job well done!
Today’s Warholian foundation can be found among those in pursuit of Instagram Face. The look is a painstaking layer cake of makeup, cosmetic injections, and Facetune. Thanks to the beauty extremists, foundation sales are robust. Each new product has increasing levels of opacity and potency, upping the ante with claims of full coverage for 24 or even 30 hours. Insomniacs, doughnut-makers, and ravers apparently insist on flawless skin as night turns to day turns to night again—not that we’ll notice. It’s a lot. And for some of us, it’s much too much. This may explain the counter-trend of foundation alternatives, including tinted moisturizers that are as substantial as vapor.
Hermès is putting a sophisticated spin on the genre with its new Plein Air Complexion Balm. “Balm” is a misnomer, given the absence of traditional balm-like qualities. (It isn’t thick, Vaseline-like, or in any way lip-balm occlusive.) The texture is airy, like foam at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Picture driving a convertible along the Grande Corniche with a silk scarf knotted under your chin. That’s the spirit of this face tint: stylish, efficient, outdoorsy. The formula is a blend of makeup and skin-care ingredients with antioxidant white-mulberry extract, hyaluronic acid for hydration, and S.P.F. 30. The objective of Hermès’s makeup collection, according to Gregoris Pyrpylis, the creative director of Hermès Beauté, is “to accompany clients in their everyday life with elegance and comfort.”
This makes sense when you consider the essential purpose of makeup, which—before the glitter powder, the neon liner, the stacked false lashes, the sparkly lip gloss, and whatever you call Julia Fox’s eye shadow—is meant to create an impression of health. Smooth, unblemished skin with defined, contrasting features is also what the face looks like when it’s attached to a body at its most fertile. In other words, makeup as natural selection, with Charles Darwin leading product development.
The look is a painstaking layer cake of makeup, cosmetic injections, and Facetune.
There are only 12 shades of the Complexion Balm, a small number in an era when many brands offer 40 and some go as high as 60. Pyrpylis says that, given the sheerness of the formula, each shade can be worn by three different skin tones. No makeup brush or sponge is included, because the tint is meant to be stroked on with the fingers.
The idea of makeup “as a perception of health,” says Agnès de Villers, president of Hermès Parfum et Beauté, fits with the house’s point of view. Hermès is a big proponent of living in the open air. In the 1920s, Émile Hermès, the grandson of the house’s founder, created clothes for his four daughters to wear for outdoor sports—a bold move at the time. The makeup, too, is part of a grander urge for freedom, “a trend in accepting yourself, accepting your philosophy,” adds de Villers.
When Hermès entered the makeup business almost three years ago, it started with marquee products—lipstick and blush—that people tend to flash around in public. Their cases and compacts are as distinctive as just about anything in an orange Hermès shopping bag, not counting a Birkin.
The packaging is designed by Pierre Hardy, who also creates Hermès jewelry and shoes, and it is made of lacquered metal with colored bands and a bright gold Hermès seal. Each one has a look of permanence, which makes sense because each is refillable. “We want our objects to last, even with beauty,” says de Villers.
Almost immediately, the pieces became objects of desire. I can’t even bring myself to throw away the box—the box!—that held my first Hermès lipstick. And, perhaps more pathetically, I haven’t dared to use that lipstick. I don’t want to mar the bullet’s smooth surface, etched so appealingly with the Hermès name. The lipstick still sits in a drawer, a museum piece, virginal and factory-fresh.
Tinted moisturizer, though, is the most quotidian form of makeup in the collection. Even at its priciest and most beautifully rendered, a tinted moisturizer is rarely a treasured object worthy of reverence. It’s meant to be squeezed out and rubbed on in front of the bathroom mirror, not applied in a velvet banquette at the Nines.
Hermès also added blotting papers to the Plein Air collection. They come in the classic orange-and-brown box, and each sheet is stamped with H’s. It turns a slightly revolting task—soaking up oil from the nose and forehead—into a glamorous activity, and I vow never to use a single one. They’re just too good for me.
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies