Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dia de Muertos Collection - Shades of Phoenix Review

You might have noticed I'm kind of a not so reformed Goth; this means Halloween is a BIG deal for me. They don't call it Goth Christmas for nothing! So I'm gearing up for a big month of all things creepy, ooky, kooky and spooky here at the Reluctant Femme.
Shades of Phoenix very kindly asked me to review their Halloween season offering, a quirky little trio of Dia de Muertos themed polishes. Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday thought to have emerged from a collision of an Aztec festival around the same time of year that centred around remembering and celebrating the dead, and the Catholic holidays All Saints Day and All Soul's Day. There are similar celebrations in lots of different cultures, but in Mexico the declared Dia de Muertos is a public holiday, and there are often festivals on either side of the actual day. Dia de Muertos has also developed a very distinctive set of visual trademarks - skull motifs, bright clashing colours, and big bunches of marigolds everywhere they can possibly fit. Despite being a festival all about death, and remembering everyone we know who is already dead, Dia de Muertos is actually quite a joyous event. Traditionally, Mexicans don't like for the dead to be thought of as sad in their afterlife, or to be thought of sadly at all. They prefer to consider all those who've gone before us to be having one big party while they wait for us, and Dia de Muertos is an expression of how happy we are that they get to party on down in the afterlife, how happy we are to have known them, and how excited we are that we will see them again.

As befits a collection inspired by such a colourful, happy festival, this collection consists of  three brightly coloured, glitter filled jellies. The jelly bases are gorgeous, but don't seem to suspend the glitters as well as some of the other Shades of Phoenix polishes I have. You'll need to stand these upside down for around ten, fifteen minutes before you use them, but the results are totally worth it.

Let's start with the brightest of them all - Calaca is a vibrant orange jelly filled with a rainbow of scattered medium hexes that remind me delightfully of confetti drifting in the air. It also has large pink holo circles, which, like every other large circle glitter are a bit of a pain to get out of the bottle.

For this polish, Teneil has actually come up with a rather brilliant idea - she included a little baggy of the round glitters separately, so you can place them wherever you want without fishing around in the actual polish too much. There are some in the polish itself, but damned if I could get them out. So I dabbed one coat, placed the dots where I wanted them, and dabbed another coat on top. Easy peasy!

These swatches are over Picture Polish Tango on all but the ring finger, and my ring finger is over OPI I'm Not Really A Waitress. As you can see, the jelly base allows for quite a bit of versatility. If you want it bright, you could make this fucking NEON. If you want it darker, just put it over a darker colour.

Calaca is named for possibly the most recognisable visual trademark of Dia dos Muertos - the skulls.
During Dia de Muertos there are skulls and skeletons EVERYWHERE. Sugar skulls in all the stores, skeleton figurines in all the shrines, decorated skulls on all the signage and artworks...they're just EVERYWHERE. Calaca is the colloqiual Mexican Spanish term for any and all skull and skeleton related items related to to Dia dos Muertos.


There is a particular subset of the skulls and skeleton motifs, called the Catrinas,that are all female and often with various styles of giant hats. They have their own polish in this collection too! Catrina is a beautiful vibrant green, with gold and green glitters in a wide range of sizes scattered through it.

If you remember the Shades of Phoenix "In A World Of My Own" collection, the base colour for this polish is very similar to the green used for Why Is A Raven Like A Writing Desk, but because the glitters are less contrasting it has a calmer, more coherent feel to it.

These swatches are all two dabbed coats over Chi Chi Show Me The Money, the same green I used underneath Why Is A Raven Like A Writing Desk.

It's interesting that this polish feels so calm and collected, considering it's named for a skeleton with a hat that represents the inevitability of death and the futility of aspiring the be something you're not.

La Calavera Catrina, by Jose Guadalupe Posada
La Calavera Catrina was an illustration done by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, in the early 1900's, that was an attempt to poke fun at fellow Mexicans the artist felt were forgetting what it was to be Mexican, and putting all their effort into trying to copy wealthy European settlers. The giant (deliberately ridiculous) hate represents the aspirations of this particular group of people to be "fashionable" like Europeans, and the skeleton is a reminder that no matter what hats we put on, we are all really the same underneath. Death comes for us all, so you might as well be who you are in the meantime.

This one illustration seems to have inspired a whole subset of motifs, that are now an integral part of Dia dos Muertos celebrations. Catrinas are one of the most recognisable visual aspects of the holiday, and I always find it kind of interesting when I see people using it in makeup, and decorations etc. I would be curious to know how many of them have considered the original subtext. 

Check out these fancy ladies!
Finally (fittingly), we have Mitclas, a stunning purple jelly named for the underworld of Aztec mythology. 

This one is by far my favourite - and not just because I'm a sucker for a good dark purple. The formula is great, with the glitter being slightly easier to retrieve in this one that the others. The iridescent blue glitters are what really made me fall in love with this one though. They glow delightfully in the right light, and really add something special.

These pictures are all two coats over Kleencolor Disco Purple. 

Mitclan, according the Aztecs, was relatively similar to Dante's idea of Hell. It had nine levels, and the dead had to travel from the first to the ninth, overcoming all sorts of challenges and avoiding being eaten by jaguars, before they could move on to heaven. Interestingly, the Aztecs believed Mitclan actually had a physical location. It was thought to be far to the North of wherever the Aztecs in question happened to be, and there were other destinations for the dead in the other corners of the compass as well. Warriors who died in battle and those who had been sacrificed got to go east, and travel across the sky with the sun every day. In the evening, they would pass the sun on to the safe keeping of women who had died in childbirth, who went west when they died and got the be the sun's night time posse. People who drowned went south, and got to go straight to the Aztec equivalent of paradise, which seems kind of unfair when you think about it.

This lovely trio will be available from the Shades of Phoenix Etsy store from 7PM, 27th of September.


  1. I thought Hell was just anywhere where there are people? :P #misanthrope

    1. There are many different interpretations of Hell :D


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