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The 80s were undeniably one of the most creative eras in 20th century for fashion, design, club culture, hair and, of course, make-up. There was nothing subtle about it, it was the decade of excess, power, passion and politics and when it came to make-up, the phrase 'Anything Goes' was never more appropriate.
One of the things that inspires me most about the 80s is the DIY element - it was all about creating your own outrageous costumes and flamboyant makeup. This was certainly true of iconic new wave band Duran Duran, who had a huge influence on fashion.
I've known Nick Rhodes, the founding member, keyboardist and most immaculately made-up member of the band, for ten years. Not only is he an incredible musical talent (he wrote Girls on Film when he was just 16!) and a fascinating storyteller, he's also a brilliant photographer and one of the most knowledgeable people I've met when it comes to the creative process and history of everything from magazines to beauty. Nick really is a true aesthete, so I asked him if I could bombard him with makeup related questions while he was on tour with the band in New York recently and, lucky for us, he said sure!
L.E. I stumbled upon an interview with you and the boys on YouTube recently from about 1981 - you were doing a photoshoot on the street. I think you were only 19, and even then your makeup looked great. Where did you get your beauty inspiration back then?
N.R. Hollywood, glam rock and vampires were the main inspirations I had for makeup. When I was growing up I loved theatrical visuals - movies, fashion, and David Bowie being largely responsible on the music side - it was all the more appealing and beautiful to me when it had a little extra drama to it.
When we were starting out with the band in the very early 80s we’d just been through the punk movement, which wasn’t specifically known for its use of makeup - although it was very stylish with artists like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Siouxsie and the Banshees. So it was glam rock I suppose that was the largest musical influence in our lives - that period in the early 70s when we were kids, and everybody made an enormous effort with their presentation. It’s easy to look back on it now and say, ‘Ah yes, but some of them really didn’t do it that well,’ but, successfully or not, they had their own identity.
It was clear to me that there were two things I wanted from Duran Duran - one, that we had our own musical identity and carved out a sound that was truly unique (though obviously inspired by electronics, punk rock, glam rock and all the other things we were listening to). And secondly, I wanted the same for our image - hair, makeup, clothes and styling were very much a part of the character and identity of the band. It wasn’t a time when you really thought about it too much, you just knew you wanted to stand out and have a strong visual identity.
L.E. Yes it was about making a statement and doing things that felt instinctive, things werent as polished and resolved as they are now.
N.R. For sure. Obviously back then we didn’t have photoshop and things were barely even airbrushed haha, it was too complicated and no one ever really gave a damn about it. And that sort of ‘raw’ makeup is still much more appealing to me - I’ve never really liked pristine, perfect makeup, definitely not for men, and it wasn’t really what we were about. If I’m applying makeup I do it with my fingers - I think it’s nicer when it’s a bit rough around the edges.
L.E. It was the 80s and it was London, but were your family a bit like, ‘Ooh our Nick’s wearing eyeliner now! What was the reaction?’
N.R. When John [Taylor] and I were about 16/17 and got the number 50 bus from Birmingham Barbarella’s nightclub home to the Maypole, a Birmingham suburb, wearing makeup was challenging for sure - the night bus was never filled with people who were particularly appreciative of our efforts to present ourselves slightly differently! Haha. When I look at makeup I always think of characters too, the way people look in movies, from old school Hollywood all the way up to the over-the-top special effects that we have now. It’s fascinating to me how you can change yourself - and if you can make yourself that little bit better, why not!
L.E. I hear you! Were you ever happy for makeup artists to get involved when you were working or making videos, or were you quite territorial over your own face?
N.R. When we started out we only ever did our own makeup - we didn’t even know about the existence of makeup artists outside of movies. The first time we actually used a makeup artist wasn’t until a photoshoot with a renowned photographer - previously we always did our own. It’s funny because I was talking to someone the other day about stylists - I think stylists for entertainment only really came about in a serious way towards the end of the 80s. Before that we’d always turn up to photoshoots in what we were wearing that day, and maybe if we were asked we’d bring a different outfit, and that was it.
L.E. Hmm, so interesting, that whole industry is relatively new really.
N.R. Even now when I’m doing a photoshoot, sometimes I’ll use a makeup artist but if I want something more spontaneous then I’ll often do it myself because I know what I want it to look like.
L.E. So you’re a bit of a closet makeup artist really haha?!
N.R. Haha, well the thing is you just learn and absorb stuff don’t you - we work with some amazing creative people, and it’s always fascinating for me to learn little tips and tricks from them, but because I’m so used to doing my own face it’s sort of easier and quicker for me to do a lot of things myself.
L.E. You know how your face photographs as well, no one knows your face better than you.
N.R. Once you’ve grown into your face, and stared at it far too many times in the mirror, then you know what you want to look like. I analyse makeup on other people too - I look at them and think, ‘that’s clever because your eyes are that shape and you’ve managed to extend them.’ You know when people have really paid attention and accentuated their better features.
L.E. Aha, so you do analyse faces like a makeup artist, that’s what I do too.
N.R. Yes! Particularly if I’m reading a fashion magazine I’ll analyse the makeup in a shoot if I like something - I was reading LOVE magazine the other day and there was the most fantastic makeup in one particular shoot. The effort and invention that went into it was just incredible - it never ceases to amaze me after all these years that the best makeup artists still come up with truly original ideas. I guess it’s like painting.
L.E. Yes I agree, its always being moved on and developed. Did you ever do the guys’ makeup?
N.R. Oh no, no - boys never ask each other to another boys makeup! Haha, no we all just sort of managed and learnt as we went along.
L.E. You learnt well - you were always very glamorous and glossy!
N.R. You’re too kind! Well I suppose I try to have attention to detail in anything and everything, and if you’re going to do something - do it the best you can.
L.E. Absolutely! Do you have a favourite look that you ever wore?
N.R. I don’t know - even I have to draw a line under my own personal vanity for things like that! Haha. I’m very proud of our catalogue of songs and the things we created, the videos - but to me it has it’s place, sort of like a diary. It’s interesting watching the way style has changed throughout the decades that we’ve been working - the 80s was truly a fantastic time to be starting out because it was so much more experimental then. I personally found a lot of the 90s much more subdued - perhaps not in high fashion, if you think of people like John Galliano there were some really fantastic things going on, but in street fashion everyone was wearing the same jeans and trainers… it was quite dull to me I have to say.
L.E. Yeah and hardly any makeup! Did you have any serious favourite products in the 80's and early ninties?
N.R. A lot of the YSL makeup at that time was particularly good right across their range. I also liked the Japanese brands - Shu Uemura, Kanebo, Shiseido. But sometimes I just went into Boots and bought a black eye pencil. Back then you didn’t think about products the way we do now, that sort of education wasn’t really there. Of course women have always liked beautiful makeup but certainly for men there didn’t seem to be any thought put into it at all. But then men didn’t buy beauty products that much in the early 80s - I don’t know the actual figures but I’d be astounded if they haven’t gone up several thousand times.
L.E. Yes you’re right - particularly in the last five to ten years there’s been a huge increase so you’re spot on there.
N.R. Whoever thought that men weren’t as vain as women… I think that was an error, a grave error! In my experience, men want to look as good as women do!
L.E. And for your makeup now what do you wear? What’s your look if you’re going out?
N.R. It depends what kind of mood I’m in - I wear everything from no makeup to far too much! It also depends on where I’m going, what I’m wearing, and the kind of event it is. On stage I always wear a little more because the lights are so bright you need definition. There are lots of products out there that I think are really good now - a lot of Tom Ford’s makeup is fantastic, I like MAC and of course Nars but then I’ve always been such a Guy Bourdin fan. But give me a black pencil and I can do all sorts of terrible things to my face!
L.E. And you still don’t use brushes, you prefer fingers for everything?
N.R. Yes, if I was putting any kind of shading on then I would use brushes, but for foundation and things like that I find it’s much quicker to just use fingers if you know where you want to put it.
L.E. Is skincare still a big thing for you now, are you still involved with Geneu?
N.R. I first got involved when I met Professor Chris Toumazou and he told me about this fantastic new skincare technology he’d developed - it was as simple as having a very brief genetic skin test which was then analysed to ascertain what the best possible combination of skincare would be to suit your skin. I thought that this was a spectacular development because a lot of the time buying skincare is all guesswork, and the Geneu concept removes that sense of doubt, and gives you a scientific analysis which is unique to you. I got involved at the beginning as a kind of creative director - naming, store concepts, packaging, photographs for the website, the visual side of it. I don’t have much involvement now but I still use the skincare [read more about the brand here].
HUGE thanks to Nick for allowing me to quiz him! I hope you enjoyed the interview - if you want to see what the guys are up to, or see them play live on tour, have a look at the Duran Duran website here. And remember to let me know who you'd like to see in my next #makeupmoment in the comments. X