Forget beauty, makeup is the ultimate form of expression.
We asked Reba Maybury, Editor of cult underground magazine Sang Bleu and lover of all things radical, to talk to five London-based creatives – Toni Blaze, Jender Atomie, Thuy Le, Harriet Scott and Matty Bovan – about what make-up means to them in 2016. Whether they’re making political statements, playing with identity or subverting generalised ideas of beauty, these are the men and women who know putting a face on is much more than skin deep.
Their unique MAC looks were all self-directed and applied by makeup artist Daniel Sallstrom.
Matty Bovan, Fashion designer
Reba: What was the first piece of makeup you started wearing?
Matty: I remember I used to put white eyeliner round my eyes in circles, and it would look horrible and sometimes black, and sometimes one eye – which was horrendous. Very teenage, not sure what you’re doing…
R: So you started off doing things which weren’t that complicated, more like a pen drawing…
M: I didn’t want to wear mascara, because it does change the look and makes it more feminine. And at that time, it didn’t make sense
to do it.
R: Your work as a designer is completely informed by your make-up. Because you make all your clothes, it’s just an extension of the clothes you’re making. And the colours you use and the way you apply it…
M: Exactly, it’s just putting different colours together and trying different things. It’s very natural and not really forced.
R: How does makeup make you feel?
M: I often say I look more attractive without makeup, but it’s not about being attractive to me. The whole point is I enjoy the process and how it looks and I enjoy that you can look different.
R: Well it’s about making yourself individual, I suppose. It’s about exaggerating your identity and who you are. How do people react to your makeup?
M: I think when I wear more, people definitely aren’t sure whether I’m trying to be a girl or a boy.
R: That’s not about who you are. I suppose your makeup isn’t about any gender stereotype, it’s just about you looking like who you are and that’s what’s exciting.
M: Yeah, it’s weirdly an icebreaker in shops and stuff. Women at the counter will be like, “Ooh, that’s a nice blue!”
Harriet Scott, Fine Art student
R: What do you enjoy about makeup most, putting it on or wearing it?
H: I like that I can change my character, I wouldn’t have any confidence or presence outside my house without make-up. Even in my house I would feel completely defenceless without it: I can’t stand it, really.
R: When you were growing up, how aware were you of that friction between wearing make-up to please men, and doing it for yourself and making an image of yourself that wasn’t about conforming?
H: I constantly contradict myself about my make-up. When I am going out there’s a tension, big time, and I can’t deny the fact that when I’ve got my face on I get far more attention from men, obviously. There’s this constant problem in my life of whether I’m doing it for myself or not.
R: I think we all feel like that, you’re just being honest.
H: But now I’m in a relationship with a guy for the first time in ages… which has made me realise that what I’m doing is for me because I’m not going into it with the idea of meeting someone in my head as much. There’s no potential there anymore, so I know I am doing it more for myself. I’m not doing it for the male gaze anymore.
R: Have you got any makeup inspirations that you can mention?
H: Makeup, for me, I don’t really pay attention to. I literally just do me. I’ve completely constructed my own face.
Thuy Le, Makeup artist
R: You’ve got an exceptional outlook on makeup. When did it start?
T: I love makeup! I think it started from my older sister who is a little bit older than me. I always used to see her do her makeup, but she used to do just the simple brown smoky eye and I used to think, “Oh my god brown, is so boring.” I was the opposite of her and I’ve always been really experimental. I love changing my look all the time.
R: I know for a fact you wake up very early to get your makeup done. Tell me more about that.
T: I always allow myself an hour and a half every day. So I wake up, go to have a shower, and then I probably won’t have breakfast and I’ll probably leave my clothes and hair and be left with 10 minutes!
R: And do you put a selfie up on Instagram every day?
T: I try to do at least one or two uploads every day. Even that’s hard. So I always find that’s what drives me… to get like a really good picture that day just so I can look back and think, “Oh, I like that.”
R: You get the most enjoyment out of doing that as well? You are experimenting.
T: I’m fucking experimenting with anything! It really upsets me when people only like to stick to one look and they just get so self-conscious. When I get compliments now it doesn’t really affect me, because I don’t feel weird or, like, something special that I’ve done today. It just feels like me. Everyone always knows me for having a different look all the time. One day I want to do gothic, one day I want to be super 90s and laid-back. I love that I can change my look and I change my hair and accessories too. It’s a really big part of who I am.
R: So, when did you start wearing makeup?
T: I started wearing makeup when I was 19/20.
R: Quite a late bloomer then?
T: I was an ugly duckling. I literally didn’t wear any makeup. My mum hated it. She didn’t want me to look too old, but when I was 20 I started getting into it and then I started working at make-up counters. I was obsessed with YouTube tutorials when they first started blowing up – that was my favourite thing to do.
R: What sort of tutorials did you like watching?
T: It was all very natural. People like Beauty Crush that were all “what’s in my bag?” Not really contour and highlights, like it is right now.
R: How long do you spend doing makeup, averagely?
T: If I’m in a rush, I can do it in half an hour. I could take an hour on my face though, because I like to take everything really slow. You do feel that extra bit better about yourself.
R: So it’s more about, “I’ve taken some time out to do something for myself and I feel like the best version of myself.”
T: Yeah exactly, you could be having a shit day but you look in the mirror and think, “Oh God, my contours are looking good today. My highlights are popping!” I might have 100 emails to send, but I’m looking cute doing it…
Jender Anomie, Performance Artist
R: Makeup-wise, what are your style inspirations?
J: Weirdly, in terms of makeup, Anna Nicole Smith. This classic femme look but it’s almost like a caricature of that – like a clown version of that. That’s my inspiration, but it’s not always how I look. Really, extremely glamorous to the point where it’s scary, kind of plastic.
R: How do people tend to react to that?
J: Some people think it’s a mask or costume or something, like I’m trying to conceal something. But whenever I’ve got a heavy face on I will also feel more like myself or relaxed. I’m able to be a character that’s myself.
R: That’s when you feel most comfortable…
J: Yeah totally, and if I don’t feel like myself, if I haven’t made myself up completely and someone says something to me on the tube, I immediately feel bad.
R: What would they say, typically?
J: Name-calling. I got called Ronald McDonald. Also Greyson Perry’s wife which was quite a funny one. If I don’t feel like I’ve done myself properly then I’ll feel bad about it. But if I have all the face on, then I just brush it off or I laugh at it.
Daniel Sallstrom using MAC
Make Up Assistant
Reba Maybury, Matty Bovan, Jender, Thuy Le, Harriet Scott