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Inspiration - Kevyn Aucoin

30th Oct 2011 - Comment

I've been a big fan of Kevyn Aucoin, the make-up artist and the man, for a long time. 2012  marks the 10th anniversary of his untimely death so I really wanted to celebrate his life and work here on my blog.
Kevyn had an incredible career – he worked with legendary celebrities, created iconic images, wrote best-selling books (as well as a regular column for Allure Magazine) and designed his own make-up line which is still going strong and winning awards today; regular viewers of my tutorials will know that I’m a big fan of his line, especially his lash curlers!

Kevyn became interested in make-up at a very young age when he began making up his five year old sister Carla, recreating images he’d seen in magazines and taking pictures of her with an old Polaroid camera. As a young, obviously gay, flamboyant boy with a passion for make-up, growing up in Louisiana in the 60’s and 70’s was extremely difficult but despite being relentlessly teased and bullied he stuck to his dream of becoming a make-up artist. In 1982 he moved to New York where he ambitiously perused his career. Initially working for free with up-and-coming models and photographers, he was discovered by Vogue and championed by their then beauty editor Andrea Quinn Robinson. For the next year and half, he worked closely with legendary photographers Steven Meisel and Irving Penn before shooting his first Vogue cover in 1986 with Cindy Crawford – over the next three years, he did the make-up for 18 more!

Kevyn had a legion of celebrity fans who you can see in the video, beautiful women like Whitney Houston, Andie MacDowell and Nicole Kidman, who once told the New York Times, “When Kevyn did make-up, it was kind of magical; he would look at you and say, ‘Oh, I know exactly what to do.’” He loved to celebrate individuality and really knew how to bring out the beauty in every face he touched…. Often completely transforming his clients with breath taking results.

He was a real style leader and truly innovative. His talent was quickly recognised by Revlon, who hired him in 1993 (aged just 21!) to be the Creative Director of their new prestige make-up line Ultima II. With them, he developed a make-up line called The New Nakeds (later renamed The Nakeds), which broke all of the trends for cosmetic brands at the time as it incorporated make-up for women of all skin tones. He also used a variety of neutral, matte, tones in his face, eye and lip products that went against the best-selling vivid colours of the time but that followed his belief that make-up should be a tool in helping people to discover their natural beauty. Kevin led the way for brands like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier, which were also built on this aesthetic.

In a way his most enduring legacy to the world of make up was creating the original ‘Nude’ Look, and particularly his take on a look that I like to call ‘Heavy Natural’. Using neutral tones of mainly matte texture he would sculpt, define, highlight, shape and tone a face, minimizing and maximizing features like no one before him (or since!). It was a look, which has become synonymous with the late 80’s early 90’s and although he moved on from this style later in the 1990’s I think most of us will always remember and admire him for that particular vision of beauty.

Tragically, Kevyn passed away in 2002, not long after he finished working on his own brand, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, but his legacy definitely lives on. I love how this video portrays all sides of him: his passion, his hard work and dedication, his love for make-up but also his personality as a genuine, caring, charming and funny man who was also very cool and completely un-divaish. I love it when he says that make-up is fun, but he knows that he’s “not saving lives”. I also love how he say's that a celebrity client, like a german shepherd, will sense right away if you are not confident or dont know what you are doing.... he got that right!

Hair dresser Sam McKnight, who worked with Kevyn on some of his earliest Vogue shoots and many times after, recalls - “ He really lived and breathed his work. The thing that made him unique was his ability to transform a face… he had the power to truly transform a face like no-one else. He became great friends with his clients and completely indispensible to them. He could turn an already iconic face into the face of a goddess - he could take it that step further. On top of all that he was just such fun to work with!”

Top beauty journalist Nadine Baggott interviewed Kevyn at the height of his fame - “Kevyn was the first MUA that I actually sought out credits for. I would scan the gutters of the glossies trying to find out what products and techniques that he used. I met him in NYC. He was very handsome, quite shy, modest and brilliant to interview. Before celebrity MUAs, before everyone and their dog had signed to a make-up company, he was doing his own thing, being unique, breaking beauty boundaries and being brilliant. I was in total awe and in fifteen minutes tried to get him to explain and show me his groundbreaking shading and highlighting skills. I was raised on 1940's and 1950's Hollywood films and this man spoke my language. His books should be on every beauty addict's shelf and handled with cotton gloves. The man was a true artist”

When I first started out in make-up I would have loved the chance to assist him and watch him work first hand but I started my career in London and Paris and Kevyn was always based in New York where he was loved by photographers, hair dressers and models alike. When I began working in New York in 1993 I heard such great things about him (particularly from the editors at Allure who I was working with a lot at the time). I hoped to meet him when I worked with Shisiedo in Japan. as he had been creative director of another of Shiseido’s brands Innoui (where he was the first person to design a double concealer palette…surely the inspiration for Laura Merciers Secret Camoflague) but sadly, by the time I started there he had moved on to start work on his own line…. It just wasn’t meant to be.

He really did have an incredible career becoming great friends with many of his childhood idols like Barbara Striesnd and Liza Minelli and did far too many amazing things for me to possibly list or summarise here. If you’re interested in finding out more about him, I urge you to invest in one of his books (nearly time for the Christmas lists!) which truly show off his amazing artistic mind and talent to the max. There is also a posthumous biography by Kerry Diamond,"Kevyn Aucoin - A Beautiful Life" which charts his life from difficult childhood to superstar Make-up Artist featuring quotes from those that knew him best.

I hope you enjoy this short video, it’s always been a favourite of mine. I’d love to know what you think…did any of you have the good fortune to meet him? Do you already have any of his make-up books?


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