When an Eyeshadow Becomes More than Just an Eyeshadow: How the concept behind “Ignis Antiquita” was born

We’re very excited to share this with you- how the new “Ignis Antiquita” collection came to be, and here is a special posting from Aromaleigh founder and product formulator, Kristen Leigh Bell, on how this concept became near and dear to her. Hope you enjoy this and find parallels to it in your own life! This quote sums up the sentiment of the collection very well- “Having the knowledge of a world full of inspiring female history is something which can have more impact on your attitude and self-concept than you might realize. If eyeshadow becomes something that helps us achieve that, merely by naming and association, then eyeshadow is in fact a powerful thing.”

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When an Eyeshadow Becomes More than Just an Eyeshadow:
How the concept behind “Ignis Antiquita” was born

By Aromaleigh founder and formulator, Kristen Leigh Bell

“The concept behind “Ignis Antiquita” was sparked in me many years ago. Not the idea to create eyeshadows inspired by badass historical women, but rather the idea of finding strength in the women who came before you. Whether those women are your immediate ancestry or distant relations. Or just a woman you’ve learned about, that you connect with, and are left wondering why you never learned about her in a history class.

For the last five years, I’ve been quite obsessed with working on my family tree. It’s been a journey of exploration for both myself, and to establish a family history for my Son to have. Growing up, my parents didn’t really talk much about their ancestry. I never knew much of anything about the ancestry and traditions of the cultures from whence my family came. My parents couldn’t even fill out the spaces on their family tree with names, much less know where those people came from. Good thing I’ve always been so curious, because it became my mission to figure it all out!

Working on a family tree, you frequently find yourself wondering what it was like to live in the era of whatever ancestor you’re researching. You start to daydream and place yourself in that time period. One of the first strong women in my family tree who made a deep impression on me was my Great Grandma Augusta. She was basically left as a single Mother with a newborn baby, in the tiny town of Corva, in Northern Italy, when her husband got on a boat for the United States. Being a single Mother myself, I felt a kinship with her when I learned that she raised my Grandfather for 13 years before the two of them boarded a ship to New York, and after two months in 3rd class, eventually were reunited with my Great Grandfather in Philadelphia. I found myself thinking of her whenever I was having a hard time. She did it, she was strong- I would be strong too. I knew that one of the reasons my Grandfather was a great man was because of his Mother. It’s much easier to find strength in yourself when you have someone dear to you, that you can relate to.

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 Great Grandmother Augusta Crestan Calderan, with my Grandfather

A while later, still working on the family tree, I came across the fascinating discovery that my Father’s ancestry included several Mayflower passengers. One of only five of the women to survive the voyage and the first winter was Mary Love Brewster, who is my 12th Great Grandmother.

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Monograph from “Voyage of the Mayflower” by Blanche McManus

I couldn’t imagine the indomitable will she must have had to have made that journey and weathered that first perilous winter. I can’t tell you how many times I remember her, and draw on her strength when it is needed. Even if I hadn’t found that I was related to her, I would have been able to find inspiration in her existence. Then I wondered, in all of the years of school courses where I have learned about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower voyage- why I had never learned about her and the other women in the colony? Other than what they prepared for the first Thanksgiving, that is. I never even knew their names. Not only was Mary Love Brewster a badass historical woman, but millions of Americans descend from her, and if she hadn’t made it through that first winter, I’m not the only person who wouldn’t be here right now.

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Gwenllian ferch Gruffyd by Charles Keegan

My curiosity of awesomely badass historical women piqued when I came across Gwenllian Ferch Gruffyd in my family tree, as a very distant ancestor, but still a direct relation- my 25th Great Grandmother. This woman was the Welsh equivalent of Boudicca. For hundreds of years after her death, Welsh soldiers marched into battle chanting her name. Millions of Welsh girls have been named Gwenllian, in her honor. Why had I never heard of her? Why was most of the history I had learned centered primarily around men and their achievements? In order to learn more about women in history other than Cleopatra, I had to go searching for it. I found this to be unsettling.

Fast forward another year, and I found myself feeling a lot of conflict in regards to the nature of cosmetics and why women wear cosmetics or feel that they have to wear cosmetics. Women’s place in society, how societal standards demand that women present themselves a certain way, and the attitudes towards women in the workplace and also popular media- were all things that were on my mind. I found myself feeling confused about the nature of my work, and sometimes wondering if it was hypocritical of me to rely on formulating cosmetics to pay the bills and put food on the table, when I felt so strongly about these things. I’d been creating cosmetics, fragrances and personal care products for almost 15 years, but this was the first time I felt truly confused about the worth or value of what I did to support my family.

And that’s how the idea for “Ignis Antiquita” was born. Getting in touch with the women of my ancestry was incredibly empowering. I often wish that I had known about these women when I was a young girl, or a teenager, struggling to find my place in the world. I wonder if I would have seen the world differently, if armed with the strength of my female ancestry? The answer is yes, definitely- it would no doubt have had a powerful effect on me. Not only the stories and spirit of the women that I descend from, but all of the contributions that women across the space and time of history have made. That the years of history classes never gave me a glimpse of. When I was a teenager, I had a few eyeshadows in neutral colors, with boring names. What if I had owned eyeshadows named after amazing women in history, such as “Theodora” or “Tamar” or “Boudicca”? Would I have felt more confident, being armed with that knowledge? When you think of it that way, it’s not really just an eyeshadow anymore.

The last six months of intensive research have unearthed a list of hundreds of historical women, most of which I never heard of through all of my years of primary school, high school, college and graduate studies. The “Ignis Antiquita” collection became my way of honoring the women I learned about. I read about each woman and focused on their history when I created each color. The first color I created was “Gwenllian” in honor of my badass 25th Great Grandmother. I feel very passionate about this collection, for so many reasons. But the most obvious is that there exists in this world a vast amount of amazing feminine history and energy, that we can all connect with. Not necessarily by putting on an eyeshadow, but by becoming aware of, and reconnecting with that which came before us. Having the knowledge of a world full of inspiring female history is something which can have more impact on your attitude and self-concept than you might realize. If eyeshadow becomes something that helps us achieve that, merely by naming and association, then eyeshadow is in fact a powerful thing.

The act of applying makeup can seem trivial and even hypocritical at times. I still find myself thinking and over thinking these topics, but the process of creating this collection and learning all that I have has helped me to find some peace within it all. I have found some solace in knowing that by creating this collection, I would be able to introduce other women to these historical figures, and hope that others found it as empowering and inspiring as I have. I feel that one of the most important things we can teach little girls is the many stories and histories of women that history has forgotten, or rewritten. Would the world be a different place if, instead of seeing Barbie as a role model, little girls learned about Boudicca? Or Eleanor of Aquitaine? Or Empress Theodora of Byzantium?

I hope you enjoy the “Ignis Antiquita” collection as much as I enjoyed researching and creating the colors. It’s been an incredible experience to work on this collection, and has put me on a new journey and direction in the work that I do. That work isn’t finished, because I have a long, long list of women who have made profound contributions to history who don’t yet have colors! I think that 2014 is going to be a great year, full of many new historical lessons and a much deeper connection with the everlasting feminine energy that creates all of our stories.

IGNIS ANTIQUITA is a new Aromaleigh permanent collection of 40 eyeshadows, inspired by history’s forgotten women. See the whole collection, HERE.

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When an Eyeshadow Becomes More than Just an Eyeshadow: How the concept behind “Ignis Antiquita” was born