January 11, 2016, by Kathryn Steenson

Inspiring Beauty

What do Charles Darwin and the number 7 have in common?

It might sound like the set-up to a bad joke, but it the answer – cosmetics –  is the subject of our next Weston Gallery exhibition, Inspiring Beauty. No7 ~ 80 years of making up the modern woman. Opening on Friday 15th January, the new exhibition was created to celebrate the anniversary of an iconic Nottingham-born beauty brand from its launch in 1935 to its development as an international beauty range.

Poster of the Inspiring Beauty exhibitionOriginally created with the modern woman in mind, No7 has developed over the years to address their changing beauty needs. No7 was launched in an era soon to be transformed by the Second World War. This exhibition explores the social changes affecting women during the last eight decades, and the extent to which No7 responded to them. It charts the measures taken to counteract war-time shortages and the explosion of colour and choice in the 1960s to enable glamour-on-the-go. The exhibition shows how in more recent years the demands of women for purity and efficacy have helped to shape product development.

The history of Boots is deeply rooted in Nottingham, where the company was founded and where so many local people have worked and shopped, and it seems fitting to tell the story of No7 on the University of Nottingham campus that Jesse Boot helped create. No7 was launched just as the modern beauty industry came of age, and it’s a fascinating journey of constant reinvention and adaptation to grow from just a handful of products to an enormous internationally-available range.

There’s more to this exhibition than just make-up: it’s also the social and cultural story of the past 80 years. For the first time, original archive documents and museum objects have been brought together from Boots Archives, The University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections and The University of Nottingham’s Museum to show the wider social and cultural role of cosmetics from Roman times to the present day.
Advert 'the modern way to loveliness' showing a woman applying make-up in a mirror
The partnership with Boots offers a rare opportunity to see treasures from the Boots Archives not normally on display to the public, such as original packaging and advertising.  Posters, products, photographs and Boots staff magazines will also be used to tell a decade-by-decade story of the cosmetic evolution of the modern woman. From the University’s collections are volumes of Victorian advice for young ladies regarding their appearance and Charles Darwin’s writings on blushing and female virtue. When viewed alongside some 20th century beauty advisors’ notes and adverts urging women to express their true selves through make-up, it’s amazing to see the shift in attitudes to female beauty over the space of a few generations.

As always, a series of talks will be held to accompany the exhibition. Admission is free, except for the workshop, but places are limited so please book in advance with the Box Office on 0115 846 7777.

The talks will take place from 1pm-2pm in the Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham Lakeside Arts on University Park Campus.

25 February 2016
Face Values: a Cultural History of Make-up
Dr Richard Hornsey explores the changing meanings of the made-up face in 20th century Britain, tracing how women’s use of cosmetics became a focus for wider debates around morality, freedom, health and self-expression.

9 March 2016
7 steps to perfection
Drawing on material, images and stories from Boots Archive, Archivist Judith Wright will explore the different elements that have contributed towards the success of No7 from the creation of innovative products to eye catching designs and advertising to the people behind their development and the women who loved them.

12 April 2016
Rejuvenate: Anti-ageing in the twentieth century
Ageing is a process which affects us all. Throughout human history we have tried to slow down and even reverse the effects of ageing. Dr James Stark (Research Fellow, Leeds Humanities Research Institute) will explore how and why a wide range of anti-ageing technologies and products gained popularity in the twentieth century, how our understanding of ageing and youth has changed and reflect on what it means to age.

For those of you feeling more practical, we will be holding a workshop in the Performing Arts Studio at Nottingham Lakeside Arts. Please note that ticket for this cost £15 per person.

23 January 2pm – 5.30pm
Lipstick & Lace: Creative Workshop
Design your own unique cosmetic bag using images from the No7 archive collection and an exquisite selection of laces, threads, cloths and other embellishments. Hosted by local craft practitioner Debbie Bryan, and helped along by a sumptuous afternoon tea, you will have the chance to create something truly individual. All materials provided. Booking essential. Maximum 20 people.

Engraving of a woman with beauty patches of crescent moons, horses and stars


This exhibition has been jointly curated by Sophie Clapp and Judith Wright from the Boots Archives, Dr Richard Hornsey (Lecturer in Modern British History at The University of Nottingham), and Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham. With thanks to Dr Clare Pickersgill from The University of Nottingham Museum.

Inspiring Beauty. No7 ~ 80 years of making up the modern woman is at the Weston Gallery, D H Lawrence Pavilion, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD from Friday 15 January to Sunday 17 April 2016.

The Weston Gallery is open Monday to Friday 11am – 4pm, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays noon – 4pm (Closed Easter Sunday). Admission Free.

Posted in Exhibitions