FASHION / The new pluck: Who'd have thought there was so much in an eyebrow? Those bushy Brooke Shields caterpillars have been refined to Fifties arcs and now they've more or less disappeared altogether. You never know what you've got till they've gone

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The Independent Culture
One of the last great beauty credos of the Eighties is crumbling. The luxuriant eyebrow that every beauty editor and make-up artist held sacrosanct for an entire decade (the same one that was supposed to be absolutely essential to the architecture of any face) is being plucked and pencilled into an emaciated shadow of its former self.

The current deforestation began innocuously a couple of years ago, when a bunch of fashion stylists and photographers decided to recreate the silhouettes and poses of the 1950s. Tweezers were dusted off, rulers (necessary for ensuring the correct length and distance of brows) invested in, and any remaining pictures of Brooke Shields callously tossed in the bin.

This much was bearable. These new forceful, circumflex-shaped brows - seen to best advantage on Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Madonna - looked elegant while still providing vital definition to the eyes. But in the past six months, there seems to be something more going on than mere tinkering. The Seventies and the Forties are being revisited with a vengeance, bringing with them platform soles, strict tailoring and severe rationing of the eyebrow. The circumflex has been ousted by a spindly comma. And since this is a trend tailor-made for recessions (tweezers cost next to nothing) it is bound to be widespread.

All new aesthetics take time to get used to, but the almost non-existent pencilled eyebrow (a pointless exercise if ever there was one: why erase something only to draw it in later?) is proving particularly hard to take, mainly because, like most platform shoes, it doesn't even pretend to be pretty.

Plucking eyebrows is a rite of passage for teenage girls - supposedly a passport to sophistication. But it doesn't always follow. In the West, conventional beauty ideals have always placed at least as much importance on eyes as lips - and often more. So if the eyebrows are depleted, more make-up has to be used to prevent focus swivelling away from the eyes. The trouble is that thin eyebrows make it more difficult to carry off heavy make-up without looking tarty. In fact, in its current manifestation (best exemplified in the Dolce e Gabbana advertisement above), rather than making the models look soignee, the barely-there eyebrow makes them seem creepily victim-like.

What is surprising is just how much difference tiny details can make. When her eyebrows were left au naturel, Naomi Campbell looked younger and prettier than she now does. Reducing her eyebrows to a skinny, semi-circular arch has left her with fewer options: her face looks harder (though not necessarily more sophisticated) and her cheekbones less defined.

The other extraordinary thing is that the issue of eyebrows should turn out to be quite so emotive. Like woman's crowning glory, her eyebrows represent her femininity. From the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance, thick eyebrows were for peasants and witches. To illustrate the contemplative, docile nature of aristocratic women - and make their foreheads look more prominent - aristocratic women shaved off their eyebrows. The results, which look extremely eerie to modern eyes, were presumably, at the time, the last word in ethereal soulfulness. On the whole, however, eyebrow extremes have been avoided through much of history. So when Frida Kahlo allowed hers to run wild, accentuating them in her self-portraits so that they appeared to come into intimate contact with each other above her nose, she seemed to be making a deliberate statement against the delicate kind of beauty that was then admired. This century, the status quo in eyebrows has been far more volatile, and bucking the dominant trend has become a popular reflex with counter cultures - as punks, goths and skin heads have all discovered. Even now, when eyebrows are erased completely, the effect can be as shocking as a bald female scalp, perhaps because shaving hair and eyebrows was the in evitable fate meted out to concentration camp

victims and to female Nazi collaborators in France after the war. For those with the nerve, getting rid of their eyebrows, or at least reducing them so that they are no thicker than a blade of grass, is one way of widening the reference frame of Western beauty in the 1990s. The model Kristen McMenamy is a case in point. She was never conventionally beautiful, but by cropping her long red wavy hair and all but obliterating her eyebrows, she has become a quirky, some might say freakish, mascot for would-be avant-garde designers and magazines, competing on her own terms with more conventional looking

models for magazine covers. (Next to the apple-pie pretty Claudia Schiffer, she is said to be Karl Lagerfeld's favourite model.)

Anorexic eyebrows will always send out mixed messages. They are supposed to be an outward sign of female fragility (the subtext being that even her eyebrows are more refined than a man's), but don't be fooled. If you want the lie to that conceit, just think about Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert and Marlene

Dietrich. Plucking is a brutal process. It would reduce most men to tears.-