Cosmetics as Science Fiction

Bruce Sterling
1995
The following short story consists of edited advertisements from the March 1995 issue of the American edition of VOGUE magazine. These advertisements are real, genuine advertisements, aimed at the magazine's fashion-conscious female subscribers. They are also science fiction: they describe the technologization of allure and femininity.

VOGUE's advertising copywriters have accidentally supplied us with a very hip and fashionable story about inner spaces, a rather grim and scary little story. In other words, this 1995 ad copywriting from VOGUE is a classic New Wave SF story, which might easily have appeared in Michael Moorcock's NEW WORLDS in 1967. The cut-up editing gives it something of a William Burroughs cast. All that is missing are some J. G. Ballard style ``condensed novel'' numbers and subtitles. I've supplied these myself.


1. The Technical Skin

GUINOT the most complete and technically advanced skin and body care system... expertly trained

2. Way, Way Out

MAX FACTOR Now, stretch it to the limit... amazing new crisscross... depositing deep, dark color... lashes reach their ultimate potential. Eyes stand out -- way out

3. Shattering the Laws of Nature with Uninhibited Force

REVLON Age Defying Makeup. Unique color particles are wrapped in moisturizers so that the coverage floats above fine lines -- makes them seem to disappear. Your makeup stays virtually line-free all day. Don't lie about your age -- DEFY IT!

4. The Acid Body Zone

ESTEE LAUDER ThighZone Body Streamlining Complex. Astonishing new way... invents... latest news... most advanced formula...unique complex: Retextures Multi-Fruit Acids... the surface of your skin... preventive botanical and marine extracts...as though your metabolism has changed.

5. The 60-Second Revolution

REVLON ColorStay... sets in 60 seconds... won't kiss off on your teeth, your glass, or him.... a revolution for your lips!

6. The Defense of the Eye

L'OREAL Plenitude. Eye Defense Gel Creme with Liposomes... Skincare Laboratories... unique, tri-action defense... ultra light gel-cream utilizes the penetrating power of liposomes

7. The Future Capsule

ELIZABETH ARDEN: Ceramides, the future of anti-aging skincare... Time Complex Capsules

8. Your Creamy Acid Mask

CLARINS Perfect Your Skin In Minutes -- New Perfecting Cream Mask with controlled fruit acids

9. Three Eyes Opening

MARY KAY three eye opening benefits... the power of an alpha hydroxy acid... light diffusing microspheres... you'll call it miraculous.


Is it really `miraculous' -- this technologization of cosmetics? No, not quite. Not quite yet. But why can't it be? Who's stopping us?