Pretty Literal: The Cat Eye is the Statement Look of the Season

From the runways to celebrities, it’s all about the feline flick this fall.

Written by Jane Larkworthy
Photographs by Olivia Locher


Ask ten people to create a cat eye and, chances are, you’ll get ten different versions, although one thing is for sure: none of them will be subtle or unnoticeable. The cat eye look is not for the shrinking violet. “It’s sexy and powerful,” says makeup artist Deanna Melluso who created this version (although she prefers to paint the more fashionable, less literal flick). “A cat-eye line exudes boldness and confidence. It’s the perfect way to add a little sex appeal.”

While the cat eye has a few euphemisms, such as “the wing” or the aforementioned “flick,” add an apostrophe and you’re suddenly in the fast lane. The Cat’s Eye is the name of those reflective road studs that stick up on the edges of highways to prevent you from driving off the road. It was invented by an Englishman named Percy Shaw in 1934. And now you know what to call those things…

But back to the liner. The most commonly referenced wearer of the look is Cleopatra, although it’s highly likely that a more recent historical figure is responsible for bringing the look to the masses. That would be Elizabeth Taylor, who killed it with a filled in black and teal version while portraying the Egyptian Queen in the 1963 film. Not that Taylor was the first, though. Screen sirens like Sofia Loren and Brigitte Bardot were donning the sleek extended line across the pond a few years before. One thing we do know for sure is that this makeup look has more than nine lives: Priscilla Presley in the Sixties, Twiggy in the Seventies, Pat Benatar and Boy George in the Eighties—you get the drift.

More recent icons like Amy Winehouse and Gwen Stefani brought it back with gusto in the Aughts, followed by a subtler pendulum swing of shorter flicks on Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie and Olivia Wilde.

Where the catnip really flies is backstage at the fashion shows, the recent Fall 2016 ones being no exception. The looks ranged from Altuzarra’s free-floating versions to the wide perimeters at Kenzo, to the thickly lined at Oscar de la Renta and uniquely chubby filled-in chocolate versions at Givenchy.

The tool of choice to achieve the cat eye varies among makeup artists: Jeanine Lobell loves Stila’s Liquid Liner, while Daniel Martin uses an art store angled brush and Wolfe’s FX Hydrocolor Cake from Camera Ready Cosmetics’ website. For his subtler versions, he relies on Dior’s Diorshow Art Pen. Gucci Westman prefers starting with a palette of matte brown, grey and black (“Tom Ford or Chanel”), then finishing the look and elongating the shape with a liquid liner.

When Melluso creates her cat eye, she begins with a marker (she likes Kat Von D’s Tattoo liner), aiming it in between the lashes to fill in any gaps, thereby covering up any skin from peeking out underneath. She then repeats, this time raising the liner up a tiny bit to glide along the actual lash line. When it’s time to extend beyond the outer eye, thus creating the lower part of the flick (aka, the tail), she switches over to Bobbi Brown’s Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner. “The creamy gel helps it last a long time,” she says, recommending Tom Ford Eyeliner and Definer Brush #15 and Hakudo’s #263 as her favorite tools.

Recently, beauty brands have dipped into the Kitty Litter, coming out with products aimed at attaining that feline flick, including Max Factor Masterpiece Max Mascara and Burberry’s aptly named Cat Lashes mascara. Woosh’s new Eye Stencils are these soft rubber pads that fit along the eye so the makeup or shadow goes where it should, then you can keep it clean or intensify layer by layer.

Finally, to fill in the flick or not? Again, varied opinions, but we give Melusso the final word. “Filling it in with shadow will certainly pop the look even more,” she says. “But I like it clean.”

Spoken like a cool cat.

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