Kohl containers in france

Le Khôl

Another lovely book on kohl containers! The Musée International de la Perfumerie in Grasse, in southern France, hosts an exhibition on kohl containers in the winter of 2021-2022: Le Khôl. Le secret d’un regard envoûtant venu d’Orient. The exhibition is accompanied by a concise publication in magazine format, in which various authors provide background information on this elaborate private collection.

The museum was donated a private collection of 268 kohl containers, collected over four decades by Mme. Leblanc in various parts of the world. She describes in the chapter on the history of her collection how she first became enamored with kohl containers in 1967, whilst living in Africa, and how after those first pieces her collection expanded gradually until it encompassed hundreds of pieces from several continents.

A chapter on the history of kohl containers by the head of the department North Africa-Middle East of the Quai Branly-Musée Jacques Chirac, Hana Chidiac, explores how eye make-up was used from Antiquity through the Middle Ages into our own timeframe, as well as how the meaning of kohl was perceived throughout time. Hélène Kessous, anthropologist specialized in India, contributed a chapter on the uses of kohl in India, including the differences between kohl, surma and kajal as well as their respective containers. I enjoyed that this chapter also included a recipe for kajal, as well as short discussions on the magical aspects of kohl and its presence in movies.

The second part of the book is a catalogue of kohl containers from various parts of the world, which I enjoyed reading in tandem with Paint It, Black, the existing and elaborate publication on kohl containers. Le Khôl complements Paint It, Black geographically with kohl containers from further afield such as China, Central and Southwest Asia, adding to your overview of these wonderful items.

Throughout the book, the kohl containers are shown in large, full colour photographs, which make this book a publication you’ll enjoy browsing through. Not all containers in the collection have been included: a selection has been presented, but the pieces shown are varied both geographically and in their shapes and materials, so there is plenty to see and enjoy. The terminology is sometimes a bit Orientalist, using words like secrets, beguiling, seductive, and mysterious – the book does not need these, as the individual chapters and catalogue are interesting enough by themselves.  Le Khôl is a short, sweet presentation of a private collection of kohl containers in a luxurious magazine format, that you will want to add to your bookshelf!

Le Khôl. Le secret d’un regard envoûtant venu d’Orient, by Ludmilla Renardet & Julie Gérard (eds), Editions Faton, 2021

63 pp, full-colour, in French. Available with the publisher, the Musée International de la Parfumerie and online.

The book was purchased through the Institut du Monde Arabe.

Browse other books on personal adornment here!

More on the use of kohl is in the e-course Scents of the Middle East – bringing you the invisible world of fragrance, make-up, henna, hairstyles and much more.

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Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.