Noir Knockout: Isabella Rossellini

I am starting a new series within my blog called “Circling the Lens”.  This series will focus on actors, musicians and artists in the entertainment industry who have made impact with makeup as an art form.  This post is dedicated to the one and only Isabella Rossellini.

“If we are completely honest with ourselves, everyone has a dark side to their personalities.” – Isabella Rossellini

isabella rossellini david lynch helmut newton
Isabella Rossellini and David Lynch photographed by Helmut Newton – 1983

Isabella is just so darn cool.  An artist.  A philanthropist.   A true beauty.   She emits profound confidence while also appearing totally grounded.  A chameleon who seems to effortlessly embody the character of any film role she takes on.  She’s the daughter and spitting image of the controversial Oscar-winning actress, Ingrid Bergman.  Her father was the master of neorealism, director Roberto Rossellini.  David Lynch became so captivated by Rossellini’s je ne sais qui that she ended up not only as his muse, but also his girlfriend.

But in spite of all of her good fortune at birth, she has lived her life remaining true to her personal beliefs.  She has the backstory of a celebrity that would make you want to hate her for her privilege or be jealous of her crazy beauty.  That is, if you didn’t admire her.  Her elegance comes across as totally authentic with a bit of toughness that echoes “spare me the bullshit”.  Isabella Rossellini is the real deal.

While maintaining her authentically cool factor, Rossellini also made it into the mainstream consciousness.  On Friends, she was the actress removed from Ross’s list of celebrities that he was allowed to sleep and Rachel wouldn’t be allowed to get upset.  Joey told Ross that she was “too international” and that she would never be around.  And then, poof!  Isabella herself appears at Central Perk.  Sorry, Ross.  You blew it.

Model Maven

Rossellini began modeling in 1982 at the age of 28 and her career took off like a rocket.  While I was searching for photos to showcase Rossellini’s vast modeling work, it was a quick reminder that this stunner cannot take a bad photo.  So it was a no-brainer when the French beauty brand Lancôme snatched her up to be the exclusive face of their brand.  She quickly became the highest paid model in the world.

isabella rossellini young lancome ad makeup

She remained as the exclusive face of the brand for 14 years.  That is until, according to Lancôme, Rossellini became to old.  She was 42.  Gasp!  Ancient.  Over the hill.  You can only imagine how decrepit she would have looked at 42 for Lancôme to say she was over the hill, right?  Well, here’s what Isabella Rossellini looked like the year she was sacked.  Oh lordy!  Avert your eyes!  She’s just so painful to look at.  Jeez Louise.


Rossellini was understandably frustrated, or shall we say downright angry by Lancôme’s actions.  Yes, the beauty industry is obsessed with youth but age is just a number.  She rightfully argued that the majority of Lancôme’s customers related more to women that were older than a person in their 20’s. Lancôme didn’t listen and stuck with their decision and replaced her with the younger Juliette Binoche.


So what does a bad ass broad do when she’s tossed out due to unrealistic standards?  Well, Isabella wasn’t going to retire and hide her barely visible signs of aging away in a mansion on the hill.  She gave a big middle finger to the beauty industry by creating her own beauty line called Manifesto.

isabella-rossellini-feminist-makeup manifesto

Rossellini’s approach to her brand was pretty innovative at the time by marketing to all age ranges and all colors of skin.  Manifesto’s ads featured a diverse selection of models including teenagers with braces, plus-size beauties, women of all colors and gorgeous older women with gray locks.  In today’s marketing world, brands are slowly creeping towards utilizing more diverse models in their marketing.  But in the late 1990’s, this was pretty unheard of.

The products were created with practicality in mind.  Isabella wanted you to be able to conveniently fit your makeup in your pocket.  I am all for convenience.  Who wants to dislocate their shoulder lugging around a purse weighed down with 77 pounds of makeup?  Blushes could double as lipsticks and had a mirror attached to the lid for on the go application.  Each product was packaged in clear plastic so you could keep your stored makeup more organized.  But if you wanted to gussy up your packaging, they also came with bands of resin that could double as jewelry.

isabella rossellini manifesto makeup line
Photo Credit: Wenn

Like many other brands that are ahead of their time, almost all of the Manifesto product line was unfortunately discontinued by their parent company Coty in 2002.  Although you can’t get your paws on her makeup, you can still snag the Manifesto fragrance in some stores.

Who Has the Last Laugh?

Last year, Lancôme finally started understanding that perhaps tweens weren’t their target audience.  What a shocker.  I didn’t need Google Analytics to figure that one out.  They re-signed Isabella as a spokesmodel for the brand at the age of 63.  It’s a step in the right direction for the beauty industry.  She continues to be outspoken on ageism in the beauty and entertainment industries.  And you know what?  She still looks amazing and I’m sure Isabella inspires women even half her age.

isabella rossellini lancome makeup ad 2017
Isabella Rossellini at 63

A Muse and a Film Icon

Isabella Rossellini ended up putting most of her modeling career on the back burner to begin a film career.  Since I first saw her in action on the screen, I was captivated by her ability to completely transform into the character she is portraying.  Whether she’s stripped down or dolled up to the 9s, you can’t take your eyes off of her.  Isabella is the perfect canvas to experiment with hair and makeup looks that aid her in her transformations.  Depending on the role, nailing the hair and makeup creations are can be the perfect icing on the cake.  Here are some of my favorite film roles played by Rossellini that also had impactful and iconic makeup:

Dorothy Vallens – Blue Velvet

I first saw the David Lynch creation Blue Velvet at an age where it was probably way too inappropriate for me to be viewing such a violent film.  But even if my adolescent turnip brain didn’t understand the whole story, I was mesmerized.  After becoming a Lynch fan over the years, I came to appreciate this surreal story of paranoia, love and violence with a dash of voyeurism.

Blue Velvet was Isabella’s 4th film role.  She played the iconic Dorothy Vallens, also known as “the blue lady”, a seductive yet tortured lounge singer who has trouble escaping an obsessive psychopath. Rossellini’s undeniably convincing portrayal of Vallens had people leaning forward to stare at the screen in both awe and horror.

Throughout the film, Dorothy Vallens is often seen wearing full-on glam makeup with a nod to the 1950’s, although you feel at times she’s from a time period that is unidentifiable.  The makeup helps to create an image of a woman wanting to radiate sensuality as an effort to cover her despair.   Rossellini’s lids are drenched in rich hues of blue that are reminiscent of the blue fabric seen at the beginning of the film.   Her glossy, cherry red lips play with the colors of her surroundings including the curtains on the stage.  With these vibrant colors against her creamy fair skin, she appears almost ethereal.  You become locked in on her allure while watching her lustrous red lips telling her tales of woe.  Even with being covered in a heavy layer of glam, Rossellini’s portrayal comes across as vulnerable and exposed.

dorothy vallens isabella rossellini makeup blue velvet

isabella rossellini blue velvet makeup

Perdita Durango – Wild at Heart

Isabella transformed into Perdita Durango in Lynch’s Wild at Heart.  In this twisted fairy tale, Durango is a dangerous gypsy criminal and an assassin.  She’s the perfect misfit in this eccentric and gnarled take on The Wizard of Oz.

Rossellini styled Durango herself pulling inspiration from Frida Kahlo.  Her voluminous, feathered brows are unable to take away an ounce of Isabella’s beauty.  Instead, they hint at an underlying melancholy while helping to create a maniacal appearance.  David Lynch added the striking bottled blonde wig with heavy dark roots.  Her coral lips don’t distract from her severe brows yet add a pop of enticement.  She’s bizarre and beautiful.  Sensual and frightening.

Perdita-Durango isabella rossellini wild at heart

isabella rosellini perdita wild at heart makeup

Lisle von Roman – Death Becomes Her

Utter Perfection.  That’s what comes to my mind as I think of Isabella Rossellini as Lisle von Roman in the hilarious film Death Becomes Her.  I love this film and I don’t think it gets the props it deserves.  Amongst an all-star cast, Rossellini is a stand-out.  A gorgeous and mysterious socialite who holds the fountain of youth in the palm of her hand.

Lisle’s look is a sort of otherworldly, 90’s Cleopatra.  You see her bare torso is donned in a chandelier of jewels while her waist is wrapped in a woven sarong.  In another scene, she’s making more jaws drop with envy while wearing a voluminous coat with nothing underneath.  A sleek black bob keeps Lisle somewhat grounded in the time period of the 90’s.  Her makeup wanders into an exotic realm with sharply defined eyebrows, bold red lips and smokey-lined eyes.  Her creamy, porcelain skin adds to her exquisite and ethereal character.

Although Lisle’s makeup radiates an unearthly vibe, you could easily translate it into a wearable look.  While Lisle’s combined look flirts with being over the top, it hovers in the domain of being enchanting and peculiar without becoming a caricature.  Combine her wardrobe, hair and makeup, Rossellini wholly embodies the supernatural siren.

isabella rossellini lisle death becomes her makeupisabella rossellini lisle death becomes her makeup 2

isabella rossellini makeup death becomes her

Isabella’s elegance, intelligence and beauty transcend time.  Let’s hope that Rossellini keeps fighting the good fight of stereotypes of the aging while remaining utterly cool.




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