Words James Vincent
Few people and even fewer artists have made such an impact on this beauty industry as Ellis Faas. Bold shapes, broad strokes, unexpected color choices, interesting placement and shape and unforgettable color and texture choices were as much a part of her makeup and photographs as was flawless skin. With a passion for pushing the boundaries of beauty and a humility that belies her accomplishments, Ellis was an artist’s artist. The news of her death left many artists, including myself, sharing stories about Ellis’ influence and impact on their art and career.
Vogue Paris has called Ellis Faas one of the most influential makeup artists of her generation. I knew of Ellis’ work and reputation long before I met the artist herself. Her images with photographers like Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier were pinned to my walls when I began my career. As a young assistant in New York City and backstage at international fashion weeks, I would save up money to buy Collections magazines to pour over her work on runway shows like Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana and Yves St. Laurent and try to practice her unique techniques. A decade ago I got the opportunity to interview Ellis for Beautylish and was fortunate enough to get to know Ellis, her brother Thijs, and the brand that would become a staple in my kit.
Ellis and I had our first meeting over Skype as she was in Amsterdam and I was in Berlin for work. We began to laugh when the video came up because we were both wearing sunglasses indoors due to the bright studio lights. That broke the ice and we began a conversation we would have over Skype for interviews on stages and in person in different cities and countries over the next decade. She never liked to talk about herself or her success but she loved to talk about art and inspiration.
Ellis was born into an artistic family in Amsterdam. Her love for fashion and lack
of sewing skill led her to study photography. Like many of us growing up she didn’t know makeup was a job but became intrigued with the magic and possibility of applying makeup to a model to create art. She loved the transformational power and presence of makeup. I remember her telling me just the smell of makeup excited her and led her to take image after image of herself in different makeup. She left Amsterdam for Paris where she studied at Christian Chauveau’s school for makeup and began her career in London shooting with photographers like Inez van Lamsweerde for Louis Vuitton. Ellis found inspiration all around her and we bonded over her love of music, fashion and icons like Leigh Bowery and painters like Freud and Bacon.
When her daughter was born Ellis moved back to Amsterdam and continued to create makeup looks that were considered outside the box. She considered her breakthrough to be a shoot in Amsterdam with Mario Testino who fell in love with her talents. She loved collaboration and her work with photographers like Jean Baptiste Mondino and Peter Lindbergh led to the creation of iconic images of models and celebrities. Ellis also made a huge impact backstage at international fashion weeks. She loved being in cities like Milan and Paris and hearing different languages, listening to people’s stories and seeing their style of makeup. One of my favorite tales from her time backstage is when she was asked by Karl Lagerfeld to key for Fendi. It was her first show and she had never led a team or assisted so she hadn’t been backstage. She was overwhelmed by the press and the interviews and felt like it got in the way of the artistry. She laughed as she told me about hiding in the toilets to get a break before finishing the final look.
In 2009 Ellis and her brother, Thijs launched the eponymous makeup brand that became a favorite of pros and makeup lovers alike. She developed the brand to bring her aesthetic of clean, beautiful complexion with a focus on eyes and lips to the forefront. Portability and durability were the facets of the brand she focused on. She took her inspiration from the body developing shades she knew would be flattering because they existed already in our human form. She believed makeup should always fit the face and fought against trends or any makeup that was more about the product than the wearer. She wanted every person who picked up one of her products to be able to express their art and aesthetic while feeling beautiful and better.
In the last few years Ellis saw her work shown in galleries all over the world.
She picked up her camera again. She reignited her passion and did research for the brand by focusing less on makeup clients and more on the organic. She loved the autonomous nature of designing and applying the makeup, the lighting and everything involved and then capturing an image herself. Ellis was an advocate of artists following their heart and developing their own style. She wanted every artist to know the fundamentals but forget the rules and let their art guide them. She wanted them to be loose, less structured, more excited about the possibility of the face and the makeup.
Ellis and I were supposed to work together on a project in Amsterdam this past June before covid made it all impossible. In one of our last conversations she talked
about the importance of being strong in your belief in your own work but sensitive to everything around you. She and I talked about being overly sensitive to a fault and how it factored into our work. She wanted artists to remember that it was a strength and not a weakness. Ellis wanted artists to stand up for themselves and stand out. To focus less on celebrity and more on creativity. To focus less on pursuit of recognition and more on passion.
We lost Ellis this past week but her body of work and her makeup brand will continue to influence the industry for years to come. I lost Ellis this past week and the indelible mark she made on my art and my heart can not be measured. All I can do is continue to work to inspire artists to find their own vision and their own voice as she inspired me. My heart goes out to her family and those closest to her. I thank them for sharing her with the world. There will never be another like her.