Sunday, 18 July 2010

MAC and Rodarte: Taking Tasteless to a New Level

I wasn't going to include this picture in my MAC/Rodarte post as I really can't bear to look at it every day. But then I noticed the blue-red dribbles in the silhouette on the left. Is that blood? You probably wouldn't make the connection unless you knew the 'inspiration' behind the Rodarte Autumn/Winter 2010 catwalk collection shown in New York.

The Mulleavy sisters (the design duo responsible for Rodarte), inspired by a road trip from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, became interested in Ciudad Juárez, the troubled Mexican border town that boasts the title of 'murder capital of the world'. Escalating violence between rival cartels competing for governance of this 'drug corridor' into the United States has led to the murders of more than 5,500 people since January 2008.

After the North American Free Trade Agreement was established in 1994, 'maquiladoras' (Mexican factories that take in imported raw materials and produce goods for export) became commonplace in Juárez and other cities. Staffed predominantly by young women, conditions in these factories are often dangerous – the toxic chemicals used in manufacturing cause nosebleeds and long-term health problems – but, despite receiving approximately one-sixth of the average US hourly wage (Mexican labor must remain cheap and competitive to keep United States firms operating within the assembly plants), workers are still paid more than those in other sectors.

A brutal phenomenon known as feminicidios (femicides), or las muertas de Juárez (The dead women of Juárez) has arisen in parallel with the growth of both the maquiladoras and the drug cartels. Hundreds, possibly thousands of young women have been kidnapped, violently raped, tortured and murdered in Juárez since 1993; the majority of whom are young maquiladora workers aged between 12 and 22. Many of these women vanish as they walk to and from their factories at dawn. Despite the continual flow of defiled and mutilated female corpses, Mexican authorities rarely investigate the murders or succeed in prosecuting anyone. 

I know what you're thinking: this all sounds like the perfect inspiration for a designer clothing collection and subsequent makeup brand partnership. Well, you'd be right!  

The sight of the female maquiladora workers 'drifting' to work in the middle of the night gave the Mulleavy sisters the idea to build a collection around the (impoverished) sleepwalking women of Juárez and the 'ethereal nature of the landscape'. Because, god knows, a backdrop of violent gang wars, mass female homicide and worker exploitation is nothing if not romantic.

The collection was a huge success, the inspiration behind it mostly lost (the Catwalk Queen TV website gleefully described the 'touch of Mexican thrown in for good measure'), and Rodarte succeeded in comodifying the troubled lives of Mexican workers. They also failed quite spectacularly to use their obvious platform as a catalyst to do anything whatsoever about the manifold atrocities in Juárez. 

Estée Lauder-owned international makeup brand MAC have collaborated with Rodarte to launch a limited edition range based on their Autumn/Winter 2010 clothing collection. As of September, customers can buy lipstick named 'Sleepless' and 'Ghost Town' and nail polish called 'Factory' and 'Juarez'. This charming blood-streaked eyeshadow is called 'Bordertown'.

If this macabre collection is turning you pale, perk up your cheeks with a sweep of 'Quinceanera' – a blue-pink blush. Presumably the fact that Quinceañera is a ceremony held in Latin-American cultures to mark a girl's fifteenth birthday is a tasteless reference to the feminicidios killings; teenage girls often failing to make this seminal age.

In response to the calls of outraged bloggers and beauty folk, MAC have issued a statement (which you can read elsewhere) saying that they are sorry if the 'product names' have offended anyone and that they will donate 'a portion' of the proceeds from the collection to help the people of Juárez. I think they're rather missing the point. I am offended by the whole ethos of the collection, from its Rodarte inception to its MAC diffusion, not merely the product names. And I'm not the only one. Dozens of beauty bloggers have come together in unison against the tastelessness of the Rodarte collaboration. Click here for Tsunimee's rather excellent and comprehensive list.


  1. Well, I'm almost speechless. Taking tasteless to a new level is indeed the best way to describe this. Being controversial in fashion is one thing. Attempting to make some sort of a grotesque trend out of the systematic rape & murder of women is something else altogether.

  2. Unbelieveable, totally agree with the comment above.

  3. It's not only attempting to make some sort of a grotesque trend out of the situation of those women. It's also attempting to make $$ out of it. I understand the inspiration and the rights of art and I think it can never be limited anyhow, but we have to remember that this is still a commercial art and someone is making his business this way...

  4. Really good post.
    Like you touched upon it all really stems back from the Rodarte collection and how the 'inspiration' was glossed over and made into something almost beautiful.
    The Rodarte sisters really didn't care.

    But translating that into a makeup collection that is available for alot of people is a totally different thing. It just cannot be done, unless it is treated with compassion and it really hasn't been.

    Again thanks for the post.

    Fee xx @

  5. Another great post on this topic.

    The only good thing about the collection it is that it has educated people (including me) on the horrendous issues in Juarez.


  6. I understand that inspiration can come from any source... I get that. But marketing and making a profit out of tragedy, is just tasteless. I'm a mexican woman, and seriously, there is nothing fashionable about murder. Anyway, guess what we can do? don't buy this collection. Let it sit on stores, do NOT buy any product from this collection and that'll teach MAC to do better next time.

  7. Is there nothihng that a business won't stoop to? Jesus, I love makeup as much as anyone else but this is beyond despicable.

  8. This is a great post. And you are so right - that promo picture now makes me feel sick, sick sick. As does the entire tasteless fiasco.

  9. That is sickening. I for one am boycotting MAC immediately. How dare they treat the women of Juarez with such contempt.

  10. Great post, thank you.
    The more I see that image the more sickening it is. It really is just such poor taste and so, so naive to think that people wouldn't notice. Do they really think their customers are that stupid?
    Let's all feel proud that we've made a stand and are talking about the long forgotten women of Juarez. My thoughts here:

  11. am absolutely disgusted that people can be so callous and uncaring. am joining the boycott of MAC and encouraging my friends to do so too...
    a great article, thank you for bringing this to our attention

  12. Really interesting and shocking post to read. I feel completely outraged. If the aim of controversial art - fashion - is to shock and generate discussion that forces people to see atrocities that are taking place behind a smoke screen, then that can only be a good thing. And if it's disturbing enough to kick people into doing something about it, then it serves a purpose - it's a medium for delivering a message - and in this way it becomes almost beautiful.

    But this is something else. The callous Rodarte sisters glamorising murder and rape and MAC creating a grotesque range of makeup purely for profit is a crime against man. They ought to withdraw their collection and face up to the huge error and massive indecency of the judgement they've made. I will be boycotting MAC for a long time.

  13. Dear Laura:
    I´m from Mexico and my mother, such a strong woman that is in her 60´s now, has been working all her life with mexican women victims of violence. I not only agree with you but also i question ¿Did anyone notice It before? I mean, I´m a producer and I know this things do not happen in a night... Maybe more of a hundred people had to work in this campaign untill It saw the light of media. I find really darkie that this kind of "missunderstandings" keep happening all over the world, to make money without taking responsability of anything and people treating other people disrespectfully.
    I know: I´m an idealist, but I hope, al least in our lives and in our works, we will never allowd such attitudes.
    I apologize for my bad use of english too, and send you greetings and care.
    Atte: Lucía Malvido

  14. Laura Thank´s to the universe that people like you still exist. Thank you for care about it and give your time and work to make consciousness of this. There is still consistency on the world. Mother´s of "las muertas de Juárez" thanks you for helping them keep the little dignity they still have. Thank´s from the heart. RODARTE SISTERS ARE A SHAME, BUT THANK´S TO THEM WE FIND PEOPLE LIKE YOU. And we have to focus on the positive side of each thing.

  15. I'm so glad that the women on here are supporting our campaign and even further justify what we were trying to do.

    Check out my thoughts here:

  16. I hope the efforts that have been with all the posts and the petition will prompt MAC to donate all of their profits not just the $100,000. I really think MAC need to take a long look at how they want to be perceived. I'm still shocked that at any point they thought this collection was appropriate.

  17. Great points Laura. Rodarte/MAC shouldn't be trivialising the situation in Juarez, i'm with you that isn't just the product names that are insulting - its the entire mindboggling idea behind this collection?! In my post on this, I suggested that it may be a publicity stunt (all publicity is good publicity) because I can't believe two massive companies would make SUCH a mistake by being "inspired" by a place that is notorious for violence... its in really poor taste.


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