RUBY WOO by MAC (2016)




One of my most beloved childhood memories is staying up after all my family had gone to bed and watching 80s B movies on TV. Thrillers or horror were the main favourites, Fright Night, Fright Night 2 (even better!), Vamp with Grace Jones, anything with a darkness and whisper of sinister sex. But in particular, the best were movies set at night, hopefully in New York, especially ones which featured smoky clubs or taxis, lipstick and stockings, some venetian blinds, neon and blood. Daryl Hannah doing a strange performance art piece and possibly being an arsonist. Yes please. MORE please.
After Hours, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Desperately Seeking Susan, Something Wild, these made my childhood heart scream “ESCAPE!”
I wanted to be one of those women, I longed for an apartment with an outside metal staircase where I might escape near death from an intruder, I yearned to use my perfume or stiletto as a weapon.
As a performer, my persona as Belgium Solanas started incredibly specifically.
Red/ auburn hair: As soon as we could afford proper wigs, always.
Vintage dresses and furs procured at a cheap used shop in America Mura in Osaka, nothing over ¥400. (We got the most EXTRAORDINARY starter wardrobe, I’m still amazed.)
Coloured tights for every look.
Always an element which was a bit off, glamorous evening dress with a neck brace, a piece of some scrounged object or wig pinned to a shoulder, nerd spectacles and socks with silver platforms.
Multiple looks for each night out, I have no idea where the energy came from but it felt like so many years of ideas were finally able to be unleashed. We could do anything we wanted!
The first time I ever went out by myself in full drag (the day I christened myself) I had a taxidermy crow pinned to one shoulder of my purple dress. I was invincible (also HIDEOUS in retrospect, but still proud I didn’t go out in something off the rack or a studded Gaga bra or something).
It was the day my grandmother died, and I felt a tremendous guilt for not being able to be with my family. Her middle name was Belgium. And so Belgium I became.
The story when we started in 2010, was that I and Sasha Zamolodchikova were ancient cannibal witch shapeshifting man killers, in our current guise as Euro-supermodels.
Utterly evil, sinister and otherworldly. Our shows were violent, underground and wilfully anti-drag. No Katy Petty. No cute stuff. Ever. We used music by bands like Crystal Castles, Divinyls (the early, rocking, goddess version before I Touch Myself), Beach House, Phantogram, Velvet Underground and Nico, using overlays of dialogue from Picnic At Hanging Rock and screeching seagulls, patched together in the most ramshackle way but always taking the audience out of this world for a moment.
Strange, political, often shocking shows (I beat Sasha with a real fish on stage which exploded into guts over our black corsets at Diamonds Are Forever in Kyoto for our second show of two on our first night on the stage, in the first show we slapped each other in the face, progressively getting more turned on with the violence, a show which probably we could no longer do I imagine) that landed us on a proper concert sized stage in Osaka for our third show ever, where we ripped up a bible and threw pages of it into the frenzied crowd. This was real life.
Sasha left Japan a few months into the start of our newly formed art collective, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (eventually KKBB Colective), although we eventually went on to continue making films and doing shows internationally and made a long form film in 2013 Yūrei Ga Tōru.
Initially I was too shy to think to continue on my own, but somehow I did, more often than not finding people who had never performed before to take roles in these little cinematic moments in smoky clubs at 2AM in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya. I much preferred this energy to the desperation of people who were “performers” and who begged me to put them in shows. People who craved the attention and not the experience. NO.
The main thing was the energy. I wanted it to look like a story was unfolding on the stage. We practiced a lot, certainly, but it was mostly about finding moments in these shows, this will happen at this point in the track, this will happen here, the in between parts were where instinct and real life took over. Dreams.
My early obsession with movies was the greatest teacher. An education of composition, colour, movement, use of music. I always imagine myself to be in a movie onstage, even now. In real life too actually, I am a photographer and filmmaker at heart and often picture things happening in my head from the perspective of a lens, as if it’s not actually happening at all. And maybe it isn’t.
Drag, for me, has always been about EMOTION. Connection. Eyes.
A performer who can work their eyes and look like they are truly in the moment will always mean so much more to me than one who is studied and precise and practiced but cold. I don’t give a fuck about eyebrows or splits, I want something real. So often after a show everybody is gushing over some lace-fronted glossy statue, where I am mentally obsessing over the first time on stage stumbling mess who created a moment of magic, even if it was only for a fleeting few seconds. This is it. This is what I came for.
The evolution of drag into what is now, more or less, THE go-to hobby for queer or queer adjacent kids out to make friends or Instagram followings is a curious one, and ultimately mostly a positive one, but the true diamonds, the ones who NEED it still stick out. I’m always attracted to the quiet ones who live for 5 minutes on stage. The artist.
Anyway, to the perfume! Red lipstick has always been my go to. It evokes 80s to me, 80s horror and sex stars. Blood and limousines.
My favourite red will always be MAC Russian Red, a true, hyper pigmented blue-red which reminds me of 70s saturated screen blood, the sickly vanilla scent ALWAYS instantly takes me back to those early years of drag. I have lipsticks everywhere, I find them inside gloves, in pockets, in suitcase compartments.
 After a show I am often packing in a half euphoric daze and put things anywhere they will fit. About once a week I will open a tube, on the way to the bathroom perhaps, stepping over the corpse in the living room and passing my bikinied oran-utan named Linda Manz and sniff it, just for a moment of memory.
Red is such an evocative colour I think, instant cinema, I particularly love bright hyper red and blonde hair as a combo, the sex goddess Satanic look. I live for it.
I had no idea MAC had done a small series of perfumes based on their lipsticks. I had no idea MAC did perfume. I found a sample poring over yahoo auction listings in the witching hour one recent night.
The only MAC perfume I was aware of is the semi ubiquitous Turquatic, evocative of a certain culturally empty 2000s era of MAC store members asking me every time I went to buy some makeup “Who is this a present for?”
For ME darling. It’s for ME!
MAC’s Ruby Woo is a gorgeous SHADE of lipstick, but an utter nightmare to wear. It drags on the lips and has the texture of sand. I hate it. But it is an iconic red. THE red of the 90s. So that is the perfume I wanted to try. And I’m so glad I did!
It smells, to me, of second day tobacco (another illicit thrill of childhood, the smell of the downstairs rumpus room the morning after one of my parents parties, smokes and alcohol and half empty glasses of rum and coke and potato chips, vinyl records and a faint whiff of an Australian summer lawn and jacaranda, yum!), of cheap vintage leather and, yes, of cherries.
Fake cherries.
Bubblegum cherries.
It smells of an abandoned pinball arcade after a screening of Grease accidentally turned into an orgy and then everyone disappeared.
It evokes being in a half empty club at 4AM, after a show, half asleep but wanting the magic to last, on a cold leather sofa, watching people trying to make a connection to someone or something, and failing. Dancing to this.
I love it. Recently I always wear vintage Opium on show nights (a gift from the black narcissus himself!) and often Devil’s Nightcap by Gorilla perfumes which is vegetal, primordial and sex deep for my day to day. Sometimes Rentless also by Gorilla perfume which reminds me somehow of booze, occasionally with a squirt of Cardomom Coffee for sprightliness.
But this Ruby Woo is really truly delicious! A very happy discovery. And a true Belgium perfume, sinister, sexy, a bit silly and certainly quite the cannibal.


Filed under Cherry, Japan, JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Rare

30 responses to “RUBY WOO by MAC (2016)

  1. Sometimes I like to mix things up a bit.

    These last few days we have had Monica Bellucci, tyrannosaurus rexes, and now we have a red lipstick invasion by Osaka horror star / artist / photographer / filmmaker Belgium Solanas (the director of my Martin video), a faithful part of the Closet Ball Collective that D and I sometimes perform at in the guises of Dr Whom and Burning Bush, a period in our lives that has been nothing short of real liberation (that is D in the skeleton glasses as Belgium Solanas’ back up dancer/ stage assistant, by the way ; a role he has taken several times).

    I will be reviewing perfumes again soon, and chewing my cud in the usual manner. With madness going out on there on the streets of Japan, it is very likely that I will soon be returning to more normal ,ranting ‘reality’.

    But don’t count on it.

  2. Nelleke Oepkes aka booknose

    Hello Belgium, here is Holland!
    There used to be a brown cafe in Amsterdam, called Holland-België, where you could buy self made ‘frites’ and drink coffee from the coffee pot; very vintage Van Nelle, one of the eldest coffee/tobacco companies.
    I can just picture you coming in on wooden shoes (klompen) and torn black net stockings, wearing your pyama’s with a huge granny woollen vest! Or anything you fancy!
    O yes, Opium Russia with huge shoulders and the Poolvos (Pole Fox?) look with white eye sockets, circled by black and messy thick mascaraed lashes!
    I think in pictures and images too! Your post got me 🐝 ng at once like a movie camera!
    And oh thank you for the Oh Martin film.
    One great magnificent ride into terror.
    Still shaking, screaming and yes sighing with bliss …
    What does that sound like?
    Yes it is all in the …

    • Oh my god I LOVE the sound of that cafe with the frites and the coffee pot…..

    • Belgium Solanas

      Belgium here. Oh that sounds like HEAVEN! I wish it were still there. I would quite like a woollen vest and wooden shoes to clomp around in. It evokes the Suspiria remake, that European middle aged witch vibe, wonderful!

      I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed the Martin video! We’re all so happy with that one, I’m so glad it turned out the way it did.

      Thanks for your comment! I wish you lots of love….and blood ❤️

    • I haven’t been to Amsterdam but I spent a wonderful holiday in Bruges and Brussels last November. Belgium and its people were lovely!

  3. PS Nelleke: how did the self made pomme frites work?

    The last time I was in Amsterdam (I was given two plane tickets with D as a present for my twenty fifth birthday) we had no money; we had failed to bring any for some reason, had no access to banks, and all we could afford to eat with the notes in our wallets was fries with ketchup and mayonnaise. I have never been so freezing in all my life; the wind howling and whipping up from the canals; our hotel window was BROKEN even though it was about minus 9 outside but we couldn’t do anything about it. We slept on top of each other, one facing up, one facing down, like two penguins, or sarcophagi, shivering.

    (since that time I have always secretly enjoyed chips with mayonnaise)

  4. Robin

    This is such a good read. Thank you, Belgium. I love that all this wild, beautiful role-playing and artifice is in the service of something so essential and authentic and freeing for you and the fortunate ones who participate, and for your audiences. I could feel and smell and taste that Ruby Woo. You’ve got a way with words.

    • I was once given a sample of all the MAC perfumes in little solid wax envelopes in the same way that Serge Lutens used to give out mini samples, and Ruby Woo was the one I liked the best when I smelled all the perfumes (which were all very wearable and put together; sweet gourmands, on point) – then again I love the smell of cherry.

    • Belgium Solanas

      Oh I’m really glad you enjoyed it! It somehow surreptitiously became a strange personal history which wasn’t the initial intent, but right this weekend was going to be a huge 10 year anniversary event in Tokyo (cancelled obviously) and have been thinking a lot about these strange times we are in. Ruby Woo is an interesting one I think! Much nicer than anticipated, genuinely witchy and transporting.

  5. Your prose is always very well written and your photos are always amazing!

  6. David

    Thank you Neil and Belgium for the quarantine read I was in desperate need of. When I do happen do happen to click on IG or FB these days, it is all about comfort bread baking (and the kvetching about flour and yeast shortages) and how to make things with canned beans and a stalk of gnarly broccoli. Let’s not forget the mask making tutorials and the how-tos to make your drab living room look work appropriate for your Zoom meeting. And the wink-wink “I may or my not be in my knickers during the Zoom meeting.” I need A spritz of Ruby Woo stat….Chil’ please….I wish that was all I needed.

  7. Another fabulous read courtesy of Belgium!!
    I really loved all the imagery and photos in this piece, kind of something I was very into around twenty years back. I used to frequent a club called ManRay on Friday nights which were “fetish” nights and I never felt more like myself, or more at home; I wore my catholic school uniform and Doc Martin’s, pigtails and all.
    I love how Opium was a scent choice for so many of your performances. When I frequented ManRay my perfume choices were almost always Opium and Nu by YSL. They just felt perfect for the occasion.
    I am not familiar with the scent Ruby Woo, but am with the lip colour. I must seek it out, especially being described as “sinister, sexy, and a bit silly”.
    So looking forward to meeting you Belgium when I am eventually in Japan

    • It will most definitely be a lot of fun.

    • Belgium Solanas

      Hi there 🙂 Oh that sounds like a really great place, the name alone excites me! There’s a similar night here I suppose called Dept H which Neil has written about before but actually in reality the idea of it is probably better than the experience a lot of the time. It’s strangely stale for such an “underground” experience. Worth going at least once though.

      Opium is such a beautiful scent, it instantly brought back childhood memories of women in my periphery wearing it at the shops or at parties etc, instant cinema.

      Would love to meet you too!

  8. Liz

    I wore the pink fragrance by Mac. Candy Yum Yum.

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