A show about the last queen of France is guaranteed to bring the high tea.
Marie Antoinette, a new series airing on PBS on March 19, explores Maria Antonia's betrothal to Louis-Auguste—the soon-to-be crowned king of France—and the glitzy, glamorous and grandiose life they lived before they were guillotined during the French Revolution.
But ahead of Marie taking her final breath, she was viewed as, er, drop dead gorgeous. After all, she earned the title of the queen of style. So, how was the late royal's je ne sais quoi encapsulated on the show? Head makeup artist Mathilde Humeau turned to the history books, using them as a palette to transform actress Emilia Schüle into the enchanting queen.
"The period called for makeup," Mathilde exclusively told E! News. "It was a luxury for the upper class. The more makeup you wore, the more affluent you were. I believe for this reason she would have chosen to use makeup to amplify her beauty. This alone would have been an advantage within the gossipy court of Louis XV."
And the style of makeup you wore mattered. Mathilde pointed out that the beauty standards of 18th-century France valued "the whiteness of the face," as it "was a symbol of distinction."
Cosmetics would've served another purpose as well, according to the makeup artist, who said it helped "mask the conditions."
At the time, cosmetics were formulated with lead—a toxic metal known to cause high blood pressure, kidney damage and other health issues, per the World Health Organization. In particular, the most popular skin whitener used among royals and other aristocrats was called Venetian ceruse or Spirits of Saturn. The lead-based product would've left the wearer with scars, spots and disfigurements, which is why they'd apply more layers of it onto their face to cover up their imperfections. Thus, creating a vicious cycle.
Marie's devotion to beauty went beyond painting her face though.
In her research, Mathilde discovered that the empress concocted her own elixirs, creating the famous face wash Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon—"which, yes, was crafted using the bird itself," the makeup artist shared. "According to the Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion, the recipe included the juice of water lilies, melons, cucumbers and lemons, as well as the crumbs of French rolls, white wine and stewed pigeons."
Marie would then tone her skin with Eau des Charmes, an astringent made of drops exuded by grapevines in May.
"Her signature face mask, which is still popular in France today," Mathidle noted, "was made from two teaspoons of circulation-stimulating cognac, 1/3 cup of dry milk powder, brightening lemon juice and one egg white."
The makeup artist also revealed that the most challenging scene was when Marie "gets her makeup done by the Countess du Barry (played by Gaia Weiss)." Mathilde had to balance creating a look that captured a significant moment, but it couldn't come across that a professional did it.
"It was necessary to design makeup that could be made by the character," she explained. "But follow the description of the script."
Whether or not you're a fan of France's last monarch, it's clear that there's power in beauty.
"Makeup can bring out the confidence within and be empowering," Mathilde said. "Just as you'd wear a sharp suit to an interview or your fave glam getup to a party, the makeup you wear helps you to feel put together and prepared. Everyone is their most confident and beautiful when they're doing what feels right for them."