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Tracing the History of the Cat-Eye

Photographed by Mann Butte for Vogue Arabia, September 2018.

The cat-eye can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where Cleopatra would don thick, wrap-around liner around her eyes. Produced using a variety of minerals, including copper ore and malachite, women drew thick, green, and black flicks that dramatically framed the eyes. Eyeliner was a form of protection from the evil eye just as much as it was a beauty statement.

During the same period, kohl was steadily gaining momentum in the Middle East. Bedouin men and women originally wore kohl—which is essentially crushed-up lead sulfide—as a means to protect the sensitive eye area from the harsh desert climate, before ultimately evolving into the modern-day wing simultaneous with Arabian beauties.

However, it wasn’t until brands like Maybelline’s and Max Factor’s invention of liquid eyeliner in the 1950s that the cat-eye became a worldwide phenomenon. Egyptian movie stars Souad Hosny, Hind Rostom, and Shwikar dominated the silver screens wearing look-at-me cat-eyes sketched in a variety of different ways. Whether neatly traced over their lash lines, or extended past their temples, eyeliner acted as beautiful decoration on their dark eyes. Meanwhile, over in Europe, French actress Brigitte Bardot practically made sultry eyeliner as much of a beauty signature as her backcombed bombshell hair, and others instantly followed suit.


Vintage Max Factor ad for peel-off eyeliner.

A decade later, supermodel Twiggy popularized graphic liner paired with heavily coated lashes, which reigned supreme until the ‘70’s when kohl-rimmed eyes were reserved mostly for goths and punks. Eyeliner ultimately made its comeback in the ‘80’s, but this time it was considered less glamorous and more grunge. Music icons Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and front-woman of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon, pounced across the stage with smudged, inky liner anchored by platinum hair.


Fendi Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear. Photo: Indigital.Tv

Today, eyeliner is sported in a number of different ways—colorful, graphic, thick, smudgy—and can take you from high glam to effortless beauty depending on the technique. Entertainers like Yasmine Sabri, Lana del Ray, and Myriam Fares embrace the transformative aspects of the cat-eye; and models are sent down the runways sporting pretty, unconventional takes on the beauty staple (cue the disjointed cat-eyes at Fendi Spring 2017 RTW) proving that while beauty trends may come and go, nothing is as timeless and classic as a flick of obsidian liquid.

Watch Vogue Arabia’s video with Charlotte Tilbury and Rawan BinHussein on how to create the perfect cat-eye.

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