How did you first develop an interest in make up?
Growing up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it would be hard not to develop an interest in make-up. When I was around 11, I found a big picture book on David Bowie at the library and I saw photos of the New Romantics from London at around the same time. The mix of future shock and nostalgia for an imaginary past inhabited by Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. This became my initial motivation.
You are well known for your extraordinary creative artistry but you have an incredible body of work in beauty as well. Is there one type of work that you find more satisfying?
To quote Judy Garland,“You give the people what they want and then go buy yourself a hamburger.” I’m kidding, but there is some truth to that in the way that you should be flexible and do the make-up that’s appropriate for the project. The satisfaction comes from doing the best version of that work you can and in a relatively short amount of time so the energy at the shoot doesn’t go down.
What is the most challenging thing about being so innovative in your artistry? Do you feel the need to reinvent your work regularly?
It’s good to explore beyond your comfort zone. There’s a lot of making it up as you go along. It’s also important to know when to stop. Working with talented models, hair stylists performers, photographers and fashion stylists provide an atmosphere where you can invent something that surprises even yourself. It’s not something I plan though, usually it’s more a case of rising to the occasion.
You’ve worked in so many areas of the industry, from fashion to advertising to celebrity work and beyond. If you had to give up all but one what would it be that you stick with?
There’s so much overlap it’s hard to say. Lately I’ve been working with FKA Twigs and her projects – personal appearances, videos, ad campaigns – have been like all of the above that you mentioned. If the people I’m working with are great, then I’m happy.
Your social media truly gives followers a wonderful peek into your personality and your life, whereas many just focus on their work itself. Why do you feel it’s important to show both your personal and professional sides?
I’ve never thought about it really. I guess it’s more organic that way. If they just want to see the work then they can look at my website.
You have had one of the longest, high-profile and unique careers in our industry. What do you think gives you and your work that staying power?
That’s nice of you to say. It helps to be lucky and not burn any bridges. My agent and husband has guided my career with the choices he makes regarding the projects I accept. As far as the quality of the work goes, I always try to do my best otherwise I would be doing something else.
You are an illustrator and artist as well as a makeup artist. Do the two worlds intersect and influence each other?
Yes, because it’s all design, craft and knowledge of your medium, whether it’s paint or make-up. Sometimes the makeup ideas have a preliminary sketch to focus the idea for discussion. Photo references can be distractingly specific but a sketch can be more abstract and work better as a jumping off point. It was through painting that I learned control of the brush and explored color combinations that I benefited from when I became a make-up artist.
Are there any new products out there that are must-haves for you?
I love MAKE UP FOR EVER’s new Matte Velvet Foundation formula. I’m a big fan of Danessa Myricks’s entire line. Sian Richards Hydro-proof Longwear Crème Pro Palettes. Lemonhead Glitter Gels. MAC’s Fix+ is a staple in my kit. I use it for blending.
You’ve been a fixture at fashion week for over a decade. How do you prepare for fashion week?
I try to contact the designer a few weeks beforehand to get some grasp on their collection. Sometimes they have lots of ideas for the make-up themselves but more often they want to see sketches and ideas from me. Things get simplified and ideas get streamlined on the day of the test, when we see the makeup together with the styling and hair. But I still like to be overly prepared and bring a lot of stuff that could possibly work with the concept. Things that I wouldn’t normally bring with me for a regular shoot. The Manish Arora show is a case in point. Every season is different from the last and has to feel special. For last season, I had stencils laser-cut to duplicate the ones I made by hand for the test. A few seasons ago I had masks made out of rainbow-colored plastic change purses. Who knows what this season will bring.
What’s next for Kabuki?
I’ve come up with some concepts for beauty shoots, a new approach for me since I usually come up with ideas after I’m brought on board a specific project. Other than that, we’ll just have to wait and see. I plan to be around for a long time.
Words Michael DeVellis