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By Ray Stern
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By Stephen Lemons
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"Whether you're alive or whether you're gone, you have to wear some kind of makeup if you want to look good," says makeup artist Pat Van Holton, co-founder of As You Remember, a month-old business that offers personalized maquillage, hair styling, manicures and pedicures to the deceased. The price of its postmortem wizardry? Two hundred dollars for a standard one-hour session.
Never mind that virtually all funeral homes already offer such services as part of the usual package. Instead, say Van Holton and partner Rita Tate, they pay much more attention to important personal details like lipstick color and cosmetic brand.
"If you've ever gone to rosaries or viewings or wakes, the first thing you usually notice is that they don't look like you remember they did," says Van Holton. A chatty woman who briefly entertained the notion of naming the business You May Be Cold--But You Look So Hot!, she rolls her heavily made-up eyes. "Myself, I'm constantly in red lipstick and red nail polish. When, God forbid, I go and they come and see me in pink lipstick, it'll be, like, 'Wait a minute! That's not Pat! Where are her red lips? Where's her black eyeliner? This isn't what she was all about!'"
To find out what her own dear, departed clients are all about, Van Holton sits down with a family member and asks questions. "What kind of lipstick did they wear?" she queries. "What kind of music did they like?" Armed with makeup (frequently borrowed from the vanity table of the deceased), hairspray and emery boards, Van Holton and Tate set to work in the mortuary, backed by a blaring boom box. "I always do their makeup to their favorite song," says Van Holton. "Why not? They're entitled."
In theory, at least, the duo's business should find a solid customer base in people like the Phoenix woman who, upon seeing the wrong-headed cosmetology job a local mortuary performed on her grandmother several years ago, was mortified. "I'll never forget it," says the late woman's granddaughter. "Here was a woman who had never, never worn a trace of makeup in her life, and they had her wearing pale pink lipstick, like a little girl in junior high. It was absolutely grotesque."
Matching Revlon hues is one thing. How do you transform an ashen-colored corpse into something Van Holton and Tate insist looks like a healthy person taking a snooze? (The pair explains that professional ethics prevents them from keeping a photographic scrapbook of their handiwork.)
"Bronzers," says Van Holton. "Even with men, who don't even wear makeup, the key is bronzers, blushers and blending. We create the illusion that they're sleeping. I give them life, color."
One former As You Remember customer has high--if somewhat curious--praise for Van Holton's work on her late aunt. "The makeup was flawless, just fabulous," says Terrye Powell. "Patty made her look better than when she was alive"--a compliment that lays waste to Van Holton's aim to send the deceased into heaven looking just as they did on Earth.
Whether their new business ever gets off the ground is something both partners are dying to find out.
In addition to advertising their services in the obituary section of the local newspaper, the pair personally visited 20 Valley funeral homes, hoping for referrals. "We've been through some challenging hurdles," concedes Tate, a part-time medical assistant/bartender who handles the hair-styling end of the business. "They don't want us to cut into their pie."
"One we visited was really snooty," says Van Holton. "They were, like, 'We have our own people, why would we use you?'"
A good question--and one that still has local funeral-industry insiders scratching their heads.
"There are people who have been in this business for 40 years," counters Patty Briguglio, spokesperson for the Arizona Funeral Directors Association. "What exactly is it that [As You Remember] is offering that isn't already being offered in the marketplace? I think what they're encountering is simple competition in the business world."
As far as Van Holton and Tate are concerned, it's the difference between a schlep to SuperCuts and a visit to a stylist on New York's Fifth Avenue.
"This is about love and compassion, a final gift," contends Van Holton. "When I did my mother, it was, like, 'This is my last thing to you.' And, believe me, my mother was a pain in the ass. But I was lucky to have her as long as I did, and was glad I could make her beautiful one last time--even though she still aggravates me."
Contact Dewey Webb at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org