Hollywood’s golden age epitomized a glamour, sophistication and femininity that defined a generation. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and other icons graced the silver screen with perfectly coiffed hair, groomed brows, impeccably colored lips and flawless foundation, evoking a simple yet understated elegance that still captivates.
The style, spirit and sensibility of beauty fascinate Bésame Cosmetics founder Gabriela Hernandez, who strives to bring romance back to makeup with gorgeously designed and historically accurate reproductions of luxury products from decades past. Since 2004, the Burbank company — which has a flagship boutique on Magnolia Boulevard — has sparked a love of retro beauty worldwide with its red lipsticks housed in gilded, Art Deco tubes and its updated takes on rouge, cake mascara and fragrances. Hernandez’s homage has landed her cosmetics on the vanities of casual makeup wearers and actresses alike.
A Love Affair With Beauty
Hernandez has always loved makeup. Growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she often watched her mother, aunts and grandmother go through their elaborate beauty routines. Hernandez was particularly entranced by the ornately packaged lipsticks, blushes and powders. It wasn’t until the 2000s that she acted on her deep-seated passion for beauty. After graduating with a fine art degree from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, she began her own design practice, where her freelance work included product development for cosmetics companies. But none of the products she helped conceptualize excited her as much as those she coveted as a child.
“A lot of the products were very utilitarian, very minimalist,” Hernandez says. “I really didn’t see anything in the market that had a romantic, feminine and glamorous sensibility anymore. I wanted to bring back that kind of feeling in a product.”
She began doing extensive research in 2002, delving into archives and historical texts to study the history of makeup, covering everything from its political and cultural effect to product formulations, color trends and more. Meanwhile, she collected vintage makeup. (She would eventually compile this information into a book, Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup, establishing herself as a cosmetics historian.)
In 2004, she designed one item — a rich red lipstick replicated from a 1920s shade. She called it Bésame Red.
“This was the first color we ever made, and it’s what started the company,” she says. “Red was always my favorite color since I was a little girl, so it was natural that I gravitated toward red.”
Not long after she listed a limited-run of lipsticks online, beauty lovers and the media took notice. “They were interested in our story,” she says. The positive reviews affirmed that Hernandez was onto something big.
The combination of history, art and science used to create Bésame Red became the foundation for all Bésame products, and it’s what makes the brand stand out.
On average, it takes nearly two years for Hernandez to develop a product. She handles every aspect of production: locating an original product from a specific era, studying its provenance, pigments and formula, extracting its ingredients and finding modern-day equivalents. When the formulation is perfected, she designs the product’s molds, mechanisms and packaging. This lengthy process is necessary to ensure faithful reproductions, she says.
“It took me a long time to understand what was possible to create with the machinery and the techniques available,” she says. But once she did, “it opened up the possibility for us to make and bring back whatever products we wanted.”
Hernandez has created a core collection of over 15 era-defining lipsticks, ranging from a bright strawberry from the ’20s to a terracotta brown from the ’70s. She’s also brought back iterations of past color-correcting powders, blushes, mascaras and fragrances, and will soon be venturing into skincare.
“Whenever I see something from the past, I always ask myself, ‘Were they doing something better than what we’re doing now? Is it worth trying to dig this up and bring it back?’” she says.
Unlike the “fast makeup” approach Hernandez says most mainstream companies take when developing products, Bésame focuses on quality products that are perennial, rather than ephemeral.
“People will be reaching for Bésame colors for years,” she says. “The colors will work today, tomorrow and the next day; they’ve got a wearability and a staying power.”
Bésame on the Big Screen
With her expertise, it’s no surprise Hollywood networks and studios have turned to Hernandez as an authority. Bésame has appeared on actresses in period shows such as Mad Men and Agent Carter, and Hernandez occasionally has served as a consultant on props and styling.
“It’s interesting to me because they want to be authentic to [a certain] period, and they come to us because they’re looking for a solution,” she says. “We’ve become an archive for them.”
Serving the studios this way brings her work as a cosmetics historian full circle, Hernandez says, because she often visits neighboring studios’ archives to analyze the face charts of industry legends such as Max Factor and the Westmore family.
Makeup as an Experience
Bésame’s creations contain multiple layers of meaning that make the brand about more than just makeup.
“We take a lot of time with our products, paying especially close attention to details, because we want to give customers an experience,” Hernandez says.
Many details go beyond exact color matching, as seen in the intricate product packaging, which works to transport customers to another time and place. Lipstick tubes include application guides modeled after a two-step process created in the 1940s by industry artists to give starlets “perfect, camera-ready lips that last throughout a long day of filming,” the guide says.
As part of a recent collaboration with Disney, Hernandez created a literal storybook of eyeshadows with colors from the 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs animated film. The artfully designed book opens to reveal “pages” showing customers how to replicate Snow White’s exact look with a step-by-step color guide and face chart using Snow White’s actual face. In marketing the product, Hernandez also made it known that Disney’s Ink and Paint Department was predominantly staffed by women, who painted Snow White’s clothing and makeup according to things they actually wore at the time. This allowed Hernandez to add a touch of history to the product and educate consumers about the subdued, delicate wash of colors favored by women in the ’30s.
Similarly, Bésame’s Marvel Agent Carter collection included Agent Peggy Carter’s British passport with eyeshadow colors she wears in the post-WWII-set series. Hernandez created a marketing campaign revealing bits about the collection with missives and newspapers that mimicked those seen in the show. “You become part of the story, and it’s like you’re in this world now,” Hernandez says of the collection. “That’s our goal with every collaboration; we put the viewer in the world of that film or that decade.”
For the full Bésame experience, head to the flagship boutique on Magnolia Boulevard to try the entire collection and peruse the miniature makeup museum featuring products dating back to the 1900s. The boutique also offers numerous makeup classes, including its Decades beauty classes, which focus on the history, techniques and styling of a specific decade. Hernandez loves hosting such classes because she can share her knowledge and expertise with the community. “The environment we provide for experimenting with makeup is nonintimidating, welcoming and inclusive, and it’s also educational and fun,” she says. “That’s the whole idea behind Bésame.”
Check out “Glamour Through the Decades” to see modern re-creations of some of the most iconic beauty looks from the 1920s to the 1950s using products from Bésame.