Saturday, October 27, 2012

Of the Art of Hand Painting

Michele Lamy (Jak & Jil)

I stumbled upon those mysterious and intriguing fingers over a year ago on Jak & Jil  to discover that the belong to Rick Owens' muse and spouse, Michele Lamy and then my memory of them slowly faded until recently while browsing through my impressive collection of inspiration pictures.
Back in 2011, when the pictures were taken, Michele's hands started a mini-trend on the runways, designers like Mara Hoffman and Juan Carlo Obango painting the fingers of their models to create a raw, shadowy and exotic look.

Backstage Mara Hoffman F/W 2011 (Source)

Juan Carlos Obando's Golden Fingers (Source)

I always wondering what was the meaning behind those darkened fingers...Where did Michele find her inspiration? Why has she painted her fingers so?
So the wanna-be anthropologist in me did a little research on the subject and I came up with this...

1. Mehndi


When it comes to the concept of hand painting, Mehndi is the first thing that pops into my mind. Mehndi is the millenial art of  henna painting practiced from India to Northern Africa passing by the Middle East. Henna plants are believe to bring love, good fortune and protection from evil. That's why they are used traditionally for important rites of passage such as weddings or pregnancies.

Henna paste is made from the leaves of the plant. It was also used to dye wool, silk, animals and hair. We can trace back usage of henna down to the Ancient Egyptian era on the nails and hair of mommies!

The beautiful shapes created with the paste of the plants' leaves are not randomly chosen. Each pattern has a meaning and the body part on which it is painted brings an extra dimension to its symbolism.

Palms = opening and offering
Back of hand = protection
Left hand = receptive
Feet = Point of contact with the divine.
Peacock = beauty
Paisley = fertility; good luck.

You can find a throughout list of the different meanings of the designs here.

2. Bong Seon Hwa


In Korea, every Spring women stain their fingers with Garden Balsam leaves after the rain season. The plant leaves a beautiful orange color on their nails that lasts few weeks. It is an ancient tradition which was originally done to ward off evil spirits in addition to its aesthetic use.
It is said that if the color remains until the first snow fall, you'll marry your true love...As a currently single woman, I'd like to put that to the test!

To achieve this look, you have to crush the leaves and the flowers of  a Garden Balsam plant and then apply the paste on your fingers that you'll wrap subsequently for the night. For a darker hue, the process can be repeated the next night. Initially the stain will be on the skin and the nails, but as time goes by it will  fade off the skin to leave only the nails stained hopefully until winter...

3. Election ink


This form  of finger inking is more of a political act and than fashionable statement although there is something quite stylish about it. In countries where a digital identity reconnaissance system is not securely installed, voters' fingers are inked to make sure they only voted once.

"Electoral stain typically contains a pigment for instant recognition, and silver nitrate which stains the skin on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is impossible to wash off and is only removed as external skin cells are replaced. Industry standard electoral inks contain 10%, 14% or 18% silver nitrate solution, depending on the length of time the mark is required to be visible. Although normally water-based, electoral stains occasionally contain a solvent such as alcohol to allow for faster drying, especially when used with dipping bottles, which may also contain a biocide to ensure bacteria aren't transferred from voter to voter."
 - Election Ink, Wikipedia.

The ink can last up to a month to make sure that it stays on until the elections are completed.

While travelling in Honduras, during the last elections, I could feel a sense of pride from the people displaying their  inked fingers. In countries where democracy is often baffled, voting becomes an united effort of the people to try to make a change for the better egardless of their political views, an effort that often has been recently highly paid in the History of some of these countries. It was beautiful to see people display their blue fingers with so much hope in their smiles and joy in their eyes that I actually wished I could join them...

I haven't been able to find a origin of Michele's black fingers inspiration, but I sense it is probably for good fortune or protection from evil. I remember reading somewhere that in a tribe of the Amazonian forest women do paint their fingers black for a reason I cannot recall right now...

Nevertheless, I find the idea so appealing that I am considering giving it a try eventually!


  1. Great article. Great original viewpoint. Thanks a lot.