29-Jun, 08:49

15:57, November 08 117 0

2016-11-08 15:57:14
Skin Deep: The Meaning of Selena

One morning last month, Maria Herrera, a 28-year-old makeup artist, got in line outside the MAC store in downtown Chicago. It was 1:30. There were already 18 people ahead of her waiting to buy a limited-edition makeup collection inspired by the Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla Pérez. By 9:30, their numbers had grown by dozens.

“Someone would go get snacks, someone else would go to Starbucks to charge phones,” Ms. Herrera said. “When it rained, we shared umbrellas and a plastic tarp. We bonded and were all so happy.”

The Chicago throng was among thousands of Selena fans who took off work, camped out at stores, and sent friends, husbands and fiancés to get a piece of MAC Selena. The 18-piece collection of lipsticks, a gloss, eye shadows and a face powder compact in purple packaging (Selena’s favorite color) sold out in five hours online. At some stores it sold out in an hour.

“People were coming up to me asking: ‘What is this Selena collection? I don’t even follow MAC, but it’s trending,’” said Catherine Bomboy Dougherty, senior vice president for global communications at MAC Cosmetics. “We were saying it broke the internet for us.”

In a first for the company, MAC has an online wait-list and plans to restock the collection in early January.

Her fans “went to such great lengths because they love Selena so much,” Ms. Bomboy Dougherty said. “This was a no-brainer for us.”

Resellers on eBay are asking up to $1,000 for the complete set. The retail price is $228.

Selena Quintanilla Pérez, with her family band, Selena y Los Dinos, was one of the biggest Tejano acts of all time. But why can the singer, murdered in 1995 at age 23 by an estranged former employee, still galvanize, inspire and, ultimately, sell?

In a way, what happened isn’t surprising. MAC Selena came to be through the will of her fans.

About two years ago, José Antonio Figueroa, a makeup artist based in Las Vegas, mocked up faux packaging for a Selena MAC collection.

“Around this time, MAC had a Cinderella collection and one with a jewelry designer,” Mr. Figueroa said. “But I couldn’t identify with that. Selena is my American icon.” His image spread over the internet and inspired Patty Rodriguez, a radio producer and bilingual children’s book publisher, to start a change.org petition calling for a MAC Selena collection. It received more than 37,000 signatures.

“Eventually, we had 20 or 30 people outside our New York office with mood boards and signs,” Ms. Bomboy Dougherty said. “They had product names and ideas. I went out to talk to them, and at that point I said, ‘We have to do this.’”

The company worked with Selena’s family to design the collection. Her sister, Suzette Quintanilla, still has Selena’s makeup case. She sent images of the makeup Selena actually wore to the company so it could match the colors.

“People remember Selena and think of her beautiful smile,” Ms. Quintanilla said. “But I know Selena was never about herself. That is one reason we didn’t put her photo all over the packaging. She would want to keep it simple.”

Ms. Quintanilla wanted the collection to be an easily identifiable badge of inclusion for her sister’s fans, another reason for the standout purple packaging. “If they’re out at a restaurant or a club, and they pull out that lipstick and see another woman with it, there will be automatic connection,” she said.

“Her appeal from the beginning was always cross-generational,” said Deborah Peredez, the author of “Selenidad,” which explores the posthumous celebration of the performer’s career. “She was singing Tejano music, which was a genre that appealed to her parents’ generation but was doing interesting things in that genre, like blending in other Hispanic and popular styles, so that made her appeal to younger generations.”

From mundane Saturday mornings to life’s milestone baptisms, quinceañeras and weddings, Selena’s music is on the soundtrack of Latino family life. “Now that I have kids, I know they’ll be listening to her,” said Briana Robledo, 25, a stay-at-home mother and Selena fan who missed out of the collection this time but hopes for better luck in January.

Beyond the music, Selena’s self-assured personal style still resonates with her fans. Because of her tragic death, Selena is frozen in time as an unapologetically brown Latina. She designed her own clothing for the stage — elaborate pieces with rhinestones, bell-bottoms, bright colors and animal prints.

Her face and body reflect the Latino diaspora. Brown skin with indigenous features. Full lips, not downplayed to lean into idealized whiteness but, rather, emphasized with bright red lipstick. She had curvy hips and a round rear-end. She seemed to embrace herself fully, and in this age of standardized pop-diva beauty, her self-love translates to tremendous authenticity.

“She was not exceptional of Latinas but, in fact, representative of them,” Ms. Peredez said. “I see Latina women every day who are doing exactly what she did. Self-fashioning in ways that don’t fit in with mainstream sensibilities of style.”

Makeup can embolden or serve as a form of social armor. “It’s a way of confronting people’s assumptions about you,” said Sarah Gould, lead curatorial researcher for the University of Texas, San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures. “It’s a way of saying, ‘I’m gorgeous,’ when society may suggest otherwise.”

This may be especially true of wearing a lipstick tied to a woman who is the pride of her people. “She succeeded in all these ways that it is assumed that brown women won’t,” Ms. Gould said. “She was a businessperson. She owned fashion boutiques and designed the clothes. She was an award-winning singer. She was a huge source of pride for many Mexican-Americans, because like so many of them, she was third generation and working class.”

Larissa M. Mercado-López is an assistant professor of women’s studies at California State University, Fresno, and mother of four. She didn’t have time to stand in line for MAC Selena. A friend from Idaho sent her some pieces from the collection.

“I’m probably the only professor who has Selena posters in my office,” she said. “It’s been a conversation starter with my students, many of whom are Mexican-American or Latinas. Selena’s still doing a lot of work in the community.”

Last month, when Dr. Mercado-López was putting together her tenure file, she put on “Como la Flor,” Selena’s signature red lipstick. “It made me feel powerful and strong,” she said.