What inspired you to become a makeup artist?
When I was 16 years old, I was obsessed with everything to do with the arts: I was obsessed with music, by fashion magazines; with movies and books and literature. I loved current affairs – after all, I was growing up in the Eighties, which was a hotbed of culture – but, because of the fashion magazines and the movies I watched I became obsessed with cinematography. I fell in love with the incredible lighting and pre-digital fashion photography, which led to me trying to recreate the magic of these incredible films through the blending and light reflection of makeup. It was something that spellbound me.
You’re an advocate for broadening the idea of beauty – how would you define “beauty” today?
I think it’s changed a lot since I first started. It’s very “mass-on-mass”, its more inclusive. But simultaneously, it’s even more cookie-cutter than it was when I was a kid. I grew up with Grace Jones and with Annabella Lwin with a mohican… and they were beautiful to me, but you couldn’t put them in a box. Did Grace Jones look like a conventional woman? Was she “male gaze”? No – she was threatening, she was kind of scary to a man who wants a little quiet blonde in the corner. But, to me, she was beautiful.
Beyond making people look beautiful with makeup, you’ve initiated pioneering movements to encourage unity and rebalance the representation of women of colour in media, arts and politics. Have you seen any positive changes from when you started?
It’s changed massively. I love the fact it’s now normal to be anywhere in the world and see brands like H&M displaying a massive poster of a black girl. I grew up with loads of black imagery, but it was all a subculture; it wasn’t for the average person on the street – you certainly wouldn’t see a black girl in an advertising campaign. Also, the diversity surrounding body image – that’s all really evolved. It’s still got a long way to go, because I feel we are still caught up in extreme binary thinking due to social media – there is no space in-between. I look forward to us being able to go back to a more nuanced place, where one thing doesn’t negate another. I miss that – because that’s what I grew up with.
You mentioned a greater movement towards body positivity – are there any other movements that you’re excited about?
Well, I’m currently working on a series of podcasts, which explores ideas in what I call “the space between”. Because the thing about my career is that I’ve experienced so many of the myths that we are all brought up on – I’ve actually seen them, I’ve actually witnessed them and I’ve lived The Wizard of Oz. I was Dorothy walking down a brick road, and I opened the nylon polyester curtain and saw the Wizard of Oz standing there – and I realised what is real, and what isn’t real, in my long life. And these experiences are very unusual: most people go through their whole life thinking that if they had more money, that everything would be OK. That if they were beautiful, everything would be OK. If they were thin, everything would be OK. I’ve met the thinnest, the richest, the most beautiful of all of them. And I know that real life isn’t what we thought: that those people are just as likely to suffer heartbreak, to have parents or loved ones pass away, or to die young. In other words, I don’t live under any illusions, because I’ve seen too much – and I want to share this.
Speaking of illusions, what new innovations are you excited about in the world of makeup?
When it comes to makeup, there’s nothing new stylistically – we’re way past post-modernism; we’re way past things like a trend that we haven’t seen before. But what we haven’t seen before are the ways in which we adapt those trends and put them together. That’s how fashion and style exists: it continues to morph because all the actual “looks” have been done. However, technology always excites me: after all, there are only so many shades, or only so many foundational tones, but technology keeps improving to make each of those products even better-looking. Of all the products in makeup, foundation is the one that has excelled and that keeps continuing to improve.
What about colours – what are you currently inspired by?
I’m always amazed that there are different forms of colours – it’s all about how you put them together! Even after all these years, I’m still inspired to use different colours together. Perhaps because there has been a lot of revolution in the last few years: people are now more likely to use a lot of coral and warmer tones, such as burgundy. In the Eighties and Nineties, we would never use a colour like that around the eyes – however, it’s surprisingly flattering. I also love using these colours in a less traditional way – for example, a shade like burgundy to contour. The CHANEL Les 4 Ombres Byzance Parure Baroque palette combines Ruby Red with the Emerald Green – it’s an incredible colour, I can’t wait to use it!
What products should we be adding into our makeup bags as Autumn approaches?
Autumn is a good time to extend the lifespan of your summer suntan – so, pre-makeup, I add in a cheeky bit of fake tan. (It works beautifully alongside an autumnal, smoky-eye). Then, as winter approaches, think about switching up your skincare a little bit, as the skin starts to become drier.
You work with one of the world’s leading beauty brands, CHANEL – what encouraged you to align so closely with this aesthetic powerhouse?
I mean, what’s not to love?! It has to be the best brand in the world. No other brand has retained its DNA in the way that CHANEL has – and yet it still somehow manages to find new ways to stay on top of the market: not only through technology, but through a level of care, and a level of detail.
Which CHANEL products should we keep an eye out for this season?
I’m really excited about all of the strong, denser colours that tend to come out in winter – and I always look forward to the CHANEL Christmas collection. I’m also very excited to be involved in CHANEL’s most recent launch, 31 Le Rouge: a luxurious refillable lipstick in a mirrored case inspired by Gabrielle Chanel’s famous mirrored staircase at 31 Rue Cambon. Made from glass and with a gold rim, it’s total luxury – but it’s also sustainable, and plastic-free. The new formulation is incredible, providing the perfect amount of matte velvet, moisture and shine as well as super pigment – in 12 different shades. Basically, it is a necessity.
What advice would you provide for anyone wanting to experiment more with makeup?
Get yourself a big mirror, sit in daylight, and change things gradually. If you’ve found a concealer or foundation that works for you, keep with it – but gradually introduce subtle changes. Start with a new lipstick shade or eye shadow. If you’re adding in a strong or dark colour, always ensure that you conceal adequately – but avoid a heavy base. Real skin looks much more beautiful. And, if you’re thinking: “How can I create really beautiful skin when my skin isn’t beautiful?”, then that’s where the technology of amazing foundations come in. You can get foundation which is a sheer veil – giving your complexion luminosity. Or, if you like matte, you can still find wonderful formulations which are sheer and matte at the same time. Otherwise, try a light loose powder.
What are the beauty products that you yourself cannot be without?
I’m obsessed with eyelash curlers – I can’t go anywhere without them! I have a pair in my personal makeup kit, I have some in my car… I literally stash them everywhere because I’m nervous that I won’t have them when I really need them. They’re also crucial on holiday because the humidity stops your eyelashes curling. Oh, and RapidLash – it’s unique, plus you can use it on your brows.
What do you do to feel grounded?
Exercise. Without exercise I’m a disaster. It’s something that I’ve always done because I grew up doing ballet and then contemporary dance when I was at school. And then I would be in the nightclubs dancing. Being physical is so important – it regulates me, and it normalises me.
Which female figures inspire you?
There’s a wonderful African American feminist writer who’s not with us anymore – Bell Hooks. I go back to her wisdoms a lot. I adore her. I just find her so emotionally, intellectually intelligent. I also love Zadie Smith – I really like her essays. I always loved what she says. I love courageous women.
Which books are you currently reading?
Busy Being Free, by Emma Forrest– I’ve been following her since she wrote for the Times when she was 16 years-old. And I’ve just finished Sarah Polley’s book – Run Towards the Danger.
What podcast are you listening to right now?
I love one called On Being by Krista Tippett – she has really great guests. I also listen to Sarah Wilson, Wild With Sarah Wilson – she has written several books too, including a new one, This One Wild and Precious Life.
What’s your idea of the perfect morning?
Apart from talking to you?! Well, I love being in my kitchen, looking at the garden and having my coffee and reading or reading the paper online. Or writing in my journal. That, in my eyes, is perfection.