In beauty, blush may be the most reliable response to the age-old imperative look alive.
Does it follow that more blush equals more life? Elizabethan courtiers thought so, taking the impulse to such extremes that it became a parody of good health.
Things calmed down considerably over time, as our chosen picture of wellness merged with that of fresh-faced, natural good looks. But good looks, like good taste, can start to feel tyrannical, or at least dull, and lately things have started to shift.
Arriving at the opposite of a subtle trend does not entail its abandonment — who would notice? — but a stronger embrace.
The new blush, then, is full-on artifice.
Sensible, even prim peaches and pinks have begun to deepen, the gentle dabs and dustings meant to approximate insouciance replaced with broad, purposeful strokes.
These flourishes make use of an expanded canvas, reaching up past the cheekbone and onto the temple, so the pigment wraps around the eyes like the blinders that keep a racehorse’s focus ever forward. It is not a technique for the pale-hearted.
Rather than a healthy glow, extreme blush evokes feverishness and high drama, which makes sense, given the revived interest in the sharp angles and big shoulders of 80s fashion and its attendant icons, Grace Jones and David Bowie.
Both musicians turned the face into a landscape for creative expression — Jones used blush to amplify her fierce female power, Bowie to soften his maleness, to communicate sexual otherness.
The current iteration, more dramatic than come-hither, does not indicate, for example, the uncomplicated sexiness of a bold red lip. On the other hand, it’s more adaptable than you might think.
At the spring and summer shows, it was the Chanel models who wore baseball caps and the Fenty x Puma models who wore pearls, but both groups sported face-framing blush that — what a notion — doubled as eye shadow.
For the Adam Selman show, the makeup artist Emi Kaneko nodded to Diana Vreeland’s signature Kabuki look, with colour stretching not just cheek to cheek, but ear to ear.
o one uses the word “rouge” anymore; it summons visions of cracked compacts long forgotten in a dresser drawer. Even “blush” is losing ground.
The younger set — having discovered that face colour can be layered and blended to play up light and shadow (the better to photograph) — talks, instead, of “draping.”
The designer Marc Jacobs abetted this discovery with his Air Blush Soft Glow Duo palette, introduced last summer to much fanfare.
A few months later, at a film premiere, Kristen Stewart took draping for a bracing spin off the runway.
The Puritans, who established white America’s complicated relationship with vanity and beauty, believed makeup concealed character.
What modern women are revealing is the opposite: Extreme blush may cover large portions of the face, but it exposes real personality.