Back in the 1960s, when make-up and I forged a lifelong bond, eyeliner was integral to the doe-eyes of the day. Not that I aspired to the sidelong, feline flicks immortalised by Bardot, Hepburn and Loren; rather, it was Françoise Hardy’s restraint that spoke to me – fluently, in French, with an “et alors?” shrug, as if those confident, fine lines were the only stitches of make-up worthy of a place on that beautiful face.
Some 60 years on, inspired afresh by the array of artistry winking from catwalk lids, I’m still trying to wing it like Hardy – for nothing dresses up an eye quite like liner, especially at this time of year, when simple embellishments can quickly transform a workaday face to cocktail-ready chic. I mention this to Christine d’Ornano, global vice president of Sisley, another Frenchwoman known for her effortless style. “Hardy’s impression of the perfect, graphic line makes for perfect lids. But after 40, it’s not so easy to pull off,” she says. Certainly eyeliner is the trickiest of techniques to master and especially for those of us who need definition, yet dread overkill. Will our tired eyes look even heavier? Will it smudge, crease and show up our crinkly lids? More to the point, where do we draw that line?
D’Ornano’s own approach is pragmatic, yet effective. She simply finger-blends Sisley’s creamy Phyto-Eye Twist Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeshadow (£31) over her lids, then sweeps a concentrated line of the same shadow next to her lashes with Sisley’s flat-edged Eyeliner Brush (£33), et voilà. “Work fast and it will look effortless,” she says.
Terry Barber, MAC’s director of make-up artistry, agrees that the flick is not the only chic gesture. “There are many different personalities to a line,” he says. “It can be strong and seductive, sophisticated and stylish or even smudgily subversive. All these are expressions that women apply when they do their make-up.”
What mature eyes need most is definition, yet a heavy hand coupled with less-than-perfect eyesight is a recipe for risible results – and the reason why so many of us are liner-shy. I find Simplehuman’s 12cm Sensor Mirror (£109.99), with its 10x magnification and automatic light, indispensable. Even so, a swanky cat eye does require skill, a steady hand and a liquid liner, Barber concedes.
For diehards determined to nail the technique, he recommends liquid MAC Brush Stroke Liner (£18.50) applied in a series of lightly sketched strokes with its hair-fine brush. “Attempting a single-stroke line is asking for trouble – it will invariably get thicker,” he cautions. “If you’re lining the whole upper lid, go from the inner corner of the lid to the centre, then from the outer corner in. Or, you can simply go from the centre of the lid above the pupil. Then lightly flick upwards from the very last lash. Where your brow ends is the guideline to aim for.” Inspired by Japanese fine-tipped shodo brushes, Charlotte Tilbury’s The Feline Flick (£22) encourages fluent, inky strokes; gently stretching the lid with a finger at the outer corner smooths any crinkles that could otherwise judder a perfect line.
Meanwhile, Amy Conway, Pro artist at Bobbi Brown, contends that a wedge gives lids a more flattering uplift than a flick. “Apply liner to the outer third of the lid and softly buff it with a similar shade of eyeshadow, lifting slightly upwards and outwards without winging it for a softer definition,” she suggests.
Try this with Bobbi Brown Perfectly Defined Gel Eyeliner (£19) in Pitch Black, Chocolate Truffle or Violet Night. Should we or shouldn’t we underline? “The most flattering way to open your eyes is to use a lighter shade such as a soft grey under the lower lash line, so that all the attention is drawn to the upper lid uplift,” Conway says.
So far, so simple. But Barber has yet another trick up his sleeve. “I like the idea of eyeliner that is more accidental – smudged, smoked or finger-rubbed so that it melts into the skin slightly.” This “pushed line” works particularly well for women who are conscious of dry or lined (by nature) lids. Rather than struggling with a liquid, opt for a pencil such as MAC Eye Kohl (£14.50) or By Terry Crayon Khol Terrybly (£24), and buff it into the lash line.
“Slightly waxy kohls give a beautiful gleam on the lash line when the light catches it,” Barber points out. Dispensing with extra eyeshadow creates a simpler look that’s as effortless as eyeliner gets, he adds. “When you look as if you haven’t tried too hard, it can be both charming and knowing – as if you’ve worked out what suits you most.”
Inspired, I had a go at slicking Laura Mercier’s exquisitely blendable Kajal D’Orient Eye Liner (£22) in a soft grey colour next to the lash roots, then buffing upwards in a seamless gradation with Trish McEvoy’s excellent Va Va Voom Smudge Brush No 54 (£22). If you’re a powder person, Victoria Beckham’s Smudgy Matte Eyeliner (£36; in collaboration with Estée Lauder) in smoky Graphite has a slimline polyester applicator that makes easy work of definition. For the bottom line, Beckham herself recommends an almost imperceptible, eye-opening “dip” mid-way across.
So to the real masterstroke. Suspend all squeamishness; “tightlining” the inner waterline just beneath the lash roots gives the eyes intensity, makes spindly lashes look thicker and is the ideal way to define hooded eyes, which have very little lid on show. For this stealth lining gesture, pens such as Christian Louboutin Oeil Vinyle Luminous Ink Liner (£58) and Sensai Liquid Eyeliner (£31) are more accurate and long lasting than pencils – gently lift the lid upwards with a finger and touch the tip along the exposed inner rim. Don’t worry if you wobble or the line’s not straight: it won’t show. I prefer to keep things subtle by starting at the lash line instead of the inner corner, and filling in the upper waterline only, as tightlining all around the eyes can narrow them. Black invariably works best, although coloured mascaras such as MAC’s Beets Me Sized to Go Zoom Lash (£10), a plum shade, Chanel’s Inimitable Intense Mascara in Purple (£26), and Diorshow Mascara (£25.50) in 288 Pro Navy soften the impact while maintaining definition. Or, for a final, flattering, light-catching glint, tuck Chantecaille’s gilty Luster Glide Silk Infused Eye Liner in Olive Brocade (£25) or YSL Couture Eyeliner in opalescent Nu Absolu Irisé (£25) behind the lashes, directly above the pupils.
Effortlessness may still be a work in progress, but after a lifetime of blobs and failures, I’m ready to kick the flick. Judging from her most recent pictures, Mlle Hardy herself prefers a softer, more diffused line these days in accordance with her still-exquisite but inevitably changed features. As Christine d’Ornano points out, eyeliner was never a case of one style fits all: “You have to know your eyes and what works for them.”
Terry Barber encourages us to keep experimenting. “Women have been bombarded with so many dos and don’ts, no wonder they’re apprehensive about eyeliner. Try things out, then play around until something suits you. Let it be an attitude rather than a rule.”