Erin Parsons on Marilyn’s ‘Colour Harmony’

Make-up artist Erin Parsons has spoken to Vogue about her growing collection of cosmetics favoured by Marilyn, and how the Monroe palette was subtler than we think.

What first inspired you to buy Marilyn Monroe’s actual make-up at auction?

It was the hunt for her lipstick: shade L. S 7-22 N. I by Max Factor. I knew the brand and name so I started searching for the replica. That was my first goal; to find the products she used and buy the exact same ones, so I could authentically recreate the way she did her make-up. I found a lot on eBay and Etsy but there were a few products I never was able to find. I had always dreamed of owning her lipstick so when it came up for auction at the end of last year, finally that dream could possibly become a reality.

How would you describe Marilyn’s beauty aesthetic? What is it about it that so appeals to you?

I personally think she was inspired by icons before her and used that to her advantage. For instance, I read from a make-up artist that worked on her that she did her eyes like Marlene Dietrich and the hair was inspired by Jean Harlow. In my opinion, the lips and gestures possibly came from Rita Hayworth.

What was the first piece you bought?

A pair of Martha Lorraine false eyelashes (see here.)

How does it feel to use her actual make-up?

Insane. Being so obsessed with this legend and the make-up she used, it’s still shocking that I own these items. But I also bought them for others. One day soon everything will be on display at a museum with the proceeds from entry going to charity. I want all the Monroe fans to enjoy these just like I have been able to. I understand they may have fallen for her like I did because they had the same childhood situation. I think most of us fans feel that connection.

What are the best tips and tricks you’ve learnt from researching Marilyn’s techniques?

I tried using Vaseline as a highlighter recently which adds such a beautiful luminosity to the skin. I also love using outer corner lashes. I think Marilyn gave herself that sort of sleepy-eyed look by angling them downwards. And finally brown eyeliner. All these years I thought she was using black but that tends to look really harsh. I think with her fair skin and blonde hair she actually used softer colours than we realise. Her most used lip colour was actually orange.

What can we learn about Marilyn from the products she used?

I did a deep dive on my YouTube channel because there’s so much to unpack on this subject. She definitely used make-up meticulously but in soft shades. She understood how to make the eyes appear far apart and downturned, which created a sort of seductive, eyes-half-closed moment. She also mentioned to her [half-]sister (Berniece Baker Miracle) to always use a lip brush for precision on the lips. You can see a lot of pictures where she’s using a lip brush. In another book I read that she would use white around her eyes to highlight them. She used this same white to highlight the tip of her nose, chin and cheekbones. She had a white stick highlighter which was sold at auction. I also want to credit her main make-up artist, Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder.

Has this experience made you rethink your approach to beauty at all? 

Knowing she used an orange lipstick has made me rethink how I recreate a Marilyn make-up look. It still shocks me to realise she mostly used orange. We always think of her in red. Now that I’ve seen all of her make-up up close I know the exact colours she used. All this time we have done these harsh interpretations with black liner, overly long eyelashes and red lips. It’s actually so much softer than that. I now understand more about colour harmony. In the past, brands would tell someone which colours to use based on eye and hair colour. Now seeing the products Marilyn used, it’s clear she was in tune with her colour harmony as a blue-eyed blonde.”