Kevyn Aucoin: The Face Painter

Kevyn Aucoin: The Face Painter

‘I need you to go to Paris and shoot some beauty with Christy Turlington, Berry Smithers and a new girl we’re trying out called Kate Moss,’ said my Editor-in Chief, Liz Tilberis of Harper’s Bazaar US. I was up against it, having turned in some dud pictures from LA, where it had uncharacteristically rained buckets, the photographer had turned out to be a drug addict and the models, having sat in the Winnebago for two days eating donuts, had all broken out in spots. With that black mark against me I wasn’t exactly about to say no.

And besides, the chance to work with the legendary team of the world’s number one make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin, hair god Sam McKnight and photographic star Steven Klein was a thrill. The pictures and words from that two day shoot in Paris remain one of my favourite pieces of work.

Aucoin, McKnight and I quickly became friends, working together over the years on any number of shoots and with any number of ‘Supers’ – (it was the era Linda, Cindy, Naomi et al)- shrieking together over jokes, disasters and the rampant gossip that characterised New York fashion in the early nineties.

When Aucoin decided to write his first book The Art of Makeup, he invited me to co-author. I was delighted. I had never seen anyone paint faces like Kevyn. From Janet Jackson to Diana Ross, Isabella Rossellini, Uma Thurman and Barbara Streisand, he transformed them all with the painterly eye of a proper artist. If space was available Kevyn would lie them down on the floor (no matter who they were Janet Jackson included) because he believed the facial canvas was easier to work on that way.

In the absence of floor space he’d flip his make-up chair (and the unsuspecting model) backwards to lay them as flat as he could. And then, with forensic precision and a battery of sponges, brushes and mainly his fingers, he’d get to work. Sometimes he was so ‘in the flow’ he’d get carried away, like the time he plucked out Kate Moss’s eyebrows to within a whisper of nothing and taped Linda Evangelina’s face so tightly it made her feel nauseous.

Nothing Kevyn did to a face was without purpose. Today social media make-up mavens spew out hundreds of thousands of hours of make-up tutorials on contouring, brow shaping and false eyelash application. Back in the day, Kevyn was the man. She probably doesn’t even know it, but without him, Kim Kardashian would be, well Kim Kardashian without the 3D contouring, the lips and probably even the fake lashes. His influence reaches farther than that of any other make-up artist to date.

Kevyn is the star of a new documentary film about his life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story: Larger than life. Watching it took me back to the time when applying heavy make-up or rather painting faces was a rarity and not the norm. Those were the days when make-up artists were the only ones to spend hours making up their subjects, when ‘no make-up make-up’ really meant, barely any make-up. I know I’m from another era, but truly I find the time that teenagers – girls and boys- spend in their bedrooms applying their make-up utterly terrifying (what happened to reading a book or chatting to your friends?).

I’m not sure Kevyn, who died tragically young aged forty, in 2002, would approve either, but I am sure he’d  be happy for me to pass on to you some of his make-up tips. He thought make-up in the right context was empowering. And he wanted everyone to learn how to use it to its best advantage. So here readers, in no particular order are some of the things I learned from make-up legend and all round lovely guy, Kevyn Aucoin, both on shoots and whilst writing The Art of Makeup.

  1. Blend with your fingers and then blend some more – Kevyn was not a fan of sponges or brushes. Even when he used them he’d toss them aside at some point in the session and return to using his hands. He used to say that it was impossible to properly blend or contour without feeling the skin. He applied foundation, lipstick, blusher, concealer, eyeshadow with his fingers. Even eye pencils were ultimately  smudged and smoked by hand.
  2. Never apply a mascara wand to your lashes without first removing the excess on a tissue. I still do this. It prevents clogging and makes the mascara much more effective.
  3. Place the mascara wand under the root of the lash and move it gently back and forth to build up the depth of the lashes as you apply.
  4. Pale, frosted lips never go out of fashion and they flatter the face. Ditto caramel coloured lipstick, especially on darker skins
  5. Make the most of your assets. Kevyn loved to streamline Asian eyes, accentuate African American cheeks with strong blush and to increase the freckles on Anglo-Saxon skin. He loved working with models of different races and thought the beauty industry was way too ‘white’ – this was the early nineties. If he were still here he’d likely be saying that not enough has changed.
  6. Foundation – if you don’t have the right colour or texture mix two together or dilute with moisturiser. I often saw him mixing his own palate to achieve the dewy affect.
  7. If you are not a fan of lipstick, apply just onto your lip ‘bow’ with your fingers then pat over the top with lip balm to achieve a natural ‘pout’.
  8. Way before the recent Kardashian trend, Kevyn was using a browny blusher to deeply contour. He would continue the blush lightly down the centre of the forehead onto the bridge of the nose and continue onto the chin.
  9. Use the same brownish blend on your eye sockets for night time drama.
  10. Kevyn often wore make-up himself or tried out new looks on himself before applying it to the models. His favourite things for himself were eyeliner, concealer and Kiehl’s lip balm. He would have approved of the current trend for gender blurring make-up.