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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.

Why Wild Swimming Is Worth Your Consideration

breaking waves on beach

There comes a time in every woman’s life where she needs to take her clothes off and get into the water.  I’m not talking about taking a bath, I’m talking about the invigorating thrill of slipping into the cool, dark water of a pond, a river or even, in my case at the moment, the icy grey North Sea.

There’s nothing more freeing than swimming in a place that was meant for ducks, seagulls, fish and in the case of Hampstead ponds where I often swim, the odd Heron. It probably helps that I was brought up in the land of the broads (Norfolk) where I spent a lot of my childhood falling out of boats into the river or off horses into the sea. Both venues had one thing in common: they were bloody cold.  They both also had the desired effect of waking me up and making me look at the world differently, more calmly and with a better perspective. Even aged ten I could see and feel the benefits – albeit that the dingy  had sailed off without me or the horse had cantered back to the stable.

These days I know when I need to get into the water – even if, during the coldest months it’s into my local chlorinated local pool. You’ll be familiar with the warning signs  – the creeping of the shoulders towards the ears, the aching back, the ragged temper and that most precious of human virtues – patience – disappearing down the plughole quicker than the dregs of last night’s wine bottle.

I’ll admit I’m not always in a position to down tools and pick up my swimmers, but sometimes just thinking about being in the water during the summer months, taking long, slow strokes in amongst the lily pads, the weeds and yes, the ducks, can begin to have the desired effect. There’s something almost primeval about returning to the water, especially the sea. To paraphrase John F Kennedy:  ‘When we go back to the sea..we are going back from whence we came’.

There’s also something a bit daring about plunging into an environment you have previously considered off limits. When Roger Deakin the grandfather of Wild Swimming, who lived around the corner from where I currently reside in Suffolk, wrote his bestselling 1999 book Waterlog – an account of swimming the lakes and waterways the breadth of Britain, most people thought he was mad. Well, ok he was a bit mad – he lived in a house with no central heating, swam daily in his moat and allowed swallows to live in his chimneys, but he was also a genius. A man who underlined the human race’s need for space, freedom to roam and appreciation for the natural world, to the extent that he founded the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground.

Deakin talked about the need for freedom from virtual reality long before most of us even knew it existed. “Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things.”

Blame the soaring temperatures for this season’s Wild Water craze, but Swim England says that ‘outdoor swimming’ continues to increase year on year.  Websites like Wildswimming.co.uk or Wildswim.com offer advice on your best local swim spots. Caveat: leaping into deep cold water is a bad idea. It can stop that thing called your heart.  Approach with caution.

Why Gardening Might Just Save You, Mentally and Physically

Gardening quipment against fence

Gardens frequently make me cry – with joy, in sorrow and often, on my own patch, with utter frustration at my shortcomings (horticulturally related or not). It’s a rare thing though to be moved to tears by a garden presenter (and even rarer for me to be watching TV). But Rachel de Thame’s fleeting presence at The Chelsea Flower show, being interviewed about her breast cancer diagnosis, had me in floods. Here was a woman, clearly somewhat off her game, admitting firstly that she had been having a tough time, and secondly that her garden had been her solace. It was a dignified, sympathetic handling of what could otherwise have just been social media fodder and a headline in a red-top. But most importantly, de Thame’s message of grace and hope in the face of adversity reinforced what we have known all along – gardens are good for us.

Countless studies reinforce the fact that horticulture can help everything from depression to dexterity and boosting the immune system. I grew up in an environment where everyone gardened (well it was Norfolk – what else can you do?) – from sugar beet and potatoes, to sweet peas, lettuces, tomatoes and roses – pretty much everything came from the land. My great-grandfather gardened two acres until he was 85, when what began as a ‘gardening injury’ eventually claimed him. He would have thought there was no better way to go and frankly, once Dignitas moves from a car park to a greener environment I will be utterly persuaded of its inviolable viability as a means to an end. Pun intended.

What this is all about of course is ‘getting out’ of ourselves, of our situation/our illness, off our screens and out of our homes and into the great outdoors. When my auto-immune is at its worst and I’m bed bound, all I want to do is read about people who have gone off into the wilds, lived off grid, swum deep rivers, or built themselves an incredible garden in the face of adversity. (Favourites: Wild by Jay Griffiths, Pondlife by Al Alvarez, The Jewel Garden by Monty Don). I started gardening with a focus verging on fanaticism when I got divorced and moved to a Georgian cottage at one of London’s highest points, with a wayward, downward sloping 90 foot garden. I had just begun to feel unwell and for weeks I stared out forlornly out at the overgrown green and yellow mess that was the unloved garden. And then my friend Anna (a trained gardener) arrived with a car full of tools. ‘Right then’ she said, ‘lets get started’. Within a day we’d cleared the garden of its ghastly light sucking shrubs and Anna had a plan. Swift, visible progress which was sorely lacking everywhere else in my life, was manifest in the green space before me, in under eight hours. I was hooked.

When my diagnosis came through along with its prescription of 30 mgs of Prednisolone, my exhaustion magically deserted me (well actually it didn’t but the steroids masked it). I gardened manically at all hours with little or no sleep, knowing nothing of the negative side effects of steroids, simply assuming I had been bitten by the gardening bug. I was, I thought miraculously cured by my newly discovered love of horticulture.  But when my neighbour stopped me in the street and told me that her husband had glanced out of their bedroom window to see me in shorts, walking boots and a pajama top, digging up a dead lilac tree at 5 am, I realised it was time to re-visit the doctor.

I’m still in love with gardening. When times are tough, just five minutes outside, trimming, weeding or planting is better than any exercise or meditation. The joy of seeing green shoots, pops of colour and catching a waft of fragrance in the breeze, never grows old. Plunging my hands into the soil and getting really mucky after days of sitting in clinical NHS waiting rooms, is my version of a G&T. I believe that gardening can redeem us all in one way or another. From the windowsill spider plant to the five-acre flower meadow and far beyond, the concept of reconnecting with the soil and mother nature has more legs on Instagram than well, millions of tanned, shapely legs (and bums of course).

Best Instagram accounts? @pietoudolf, @thelandgardeners, @greatdixterofficial and hairdresser turned gardenista @SamMcknight1. Chef Thomasina Miers was instrumental in building a garden classroom at a local school, where every child spends at least part of their day ‘learning’, whether it be from the educational curriculum or gardening skills. Take a look at www.schoolfoodmatters.org to see where this utterly transformative movement is going.

The Trouble With Male Doctors

help pink pills

The NHS says 65 percent of consultants are male. If that’s the case I feel sure that I must have seen at least 50 percent of them. I’m exaggerating, and perhaps the area of medicine I fall under, or into – rheumatology, is not that interesting for women (frankly, it’s not even that interesting to me). Either way, in three years (the last month or two withstanding) I have seen precisely one woman in a consultation about my condition and she was a default because the incumbent had ‘a rush on’ that day. Read More…

How I Pull Myself Together

sliced cake loaf

A dear friend, lets call her B, has just suffered a bereavement. We agree to meet for a coffee and a shared piece of cake (let’s not push the boat out too far) at one of our favourite places. If you have read me before you’ll know that I’m wrestling with a chronic illness which leaves me exhausted and often at times struggling to make the simplest of decisions – for example, jeans or Zara striped pants? Today I’m in the jeans which are clean and a sweater which is un-pilled cashmere, so I’m ahead of the game.

Especially since I’m expecting B, who is the most exquisitely turned out person I know, to be somewhat diminished in appearance, given her trauma. When she walks into the café I barely recognise her, so entirely soigne does she appear. The details: a new haircut (thanks to the inimitable Joel at Nicola Clarke, John Frieda) great hair colour – Nicola Clarke herself, a fabulous new pair of shoes (Celine) and a beautifully crafted Yves Saint Laurent spring coat. Read More…

The Joy Of Dog

Dog biscuits and leesh

Readers the title of this piece, which is indeed a play on that joyless 1970’s sex book, is not in any way to suggest that there’s anything sexual by way of your (or for that matter my) relationship with your hound of choice. But ask yourself, over the past few years, which particular relationship has satisfied you more, the one with your faithful, greying companion with the dimming eyes, the increasingly laborious gait, occasionally given to displays excitable if limited affection……. or the one with your dog?

Maybe it’s just me and if you read me before you’ll know that I’m suffering from a chronic illness, which plays havoc with one’s hormones and overall well-being, but the older I get, the more emotional, spiritual and physical value I see in owning a pooch. I grew up with and around dogs and I suspect, if I’d grown up with cats I’d see a value in them too. I don’t though. And, spoiler alert, if you are a cat lover you might want to skip over this next bit, because felines have always seemed to me like the very worst example of a best friend – around for the good times (for which in a cat’s case read food and comfort)- and utterly disinclined to offer any succour in one’s time of need. Read More…