When Vogue deems a make-up artist ”one of the most influential of her time”, you sit up and take notice. Once you’ve taken a good look at Dutch born and bred Ellis Faas’s body of work, their high praise is understandable: Ellis plays with and distorts the accepted construct of beauty but, crucially, creates beautiful images in so doing.
An erstwhile photographer who decided the intuitive nature of make-up appealed more than photography, it’s rather apt that Ellis’s portfolio caught the eye of one of the great fashion photographers; in 1999, Mario Testino picked Ellis to collaborate on a series for L’Uomo Vogue. After this, Ellis worked frequently with Testino, travelling the world to make up his subjects.
An encounter with French fashion editrix Emmanuelle Alt lead to a partnership with Karl Lagerfeld, for whom Ellis Faas designed and managed the make-up for Fendi and Chanel shows.
When Ellis’s contract with L’Oreal came to an end in 2007, she embarked on a new project; that of starting her own make-up line. The eponymous range is designed to both declutter make-up bags and mimic the colours naturally found on human skin. The result is a range of make-up that is infallible and easy-to-apply.
I stole ten minutes of her time to ask a couple of burning questions //
ML: You’ve had an extraordinary career. How did your passion for photography segue into a desire to become a make-up artist?
EF: I have always liked photography, makeup and telling visual stories. But when I was growing up, I didn’t know that it would be possible to turn doing makeup into my profession. So I did a photography course at the Amsterdam Museum of Modern Art. It was still the analogue days of photography, with a limited amount of shots on an (expensive) roll of film, then having to wait a week for the film to be developed, before I could print and finally see the result. I more and more liked the instant gratification of makeup: you have an idea, you do it, if it’s nice it’s done, if it’s not you simply start all over.
Then someone started the first makeup school in Amsterdam, my mother saw the ad in the newspaper, and she said “is this something for you?”, so that’s what I did, and makeup became my professional life. But I still love photography, and I do it more and more: I shoot everything for the brand myself, and I just did my first editorial as a photographer for Dutch Vogue.
ML: You trained at Christian Chauveau’s Technical School of Artistic Make-up. Do you feel that training set you in good stead? Would you suggest would-be make-up artists go to a school to learn techniques?
EF: Absolutely: I don’t believe in beauty rules, but there is certainly technique. And (as with music, arts, or anything like that) technique allows you to do whatever you feel like and be free. At Chauveau, I learned a lot about mixing colours and playing with textures. My whole time there, I did nothing but experiment experiment experiment – and I still pick the fruits of that every day.
ML: You’ve worked in fashion and film. Why did you stick with fashion?
EF: I didn’t do a lot of film – only two, I believe. But film is not for me: it’s too many days of doing the same thing over and over again. I did do a lot of pop-videos when I lived in London – and those were the 80s, so there was a LOT of makeup! In fashion, I did tonnes of shows, but also tonnes of shoots for magazines and campaigns. Both have their own appeal. On shoots you really work with a focussed team on a result that is there to stay, because it will be printed and go all over the world. On shows, I really like working with my team and the fun you have together to make it work in only the few hours you have to do the make-up on 20, 30 or even 90 models. When it’s over it’s really over: models immediately take off the makeup and rush to the next show.
ML: You’ve made up quite a few famous faces – who do you enjoy making up and what have been some of your proudest moments?
EF: I wouldn’t know really. I have never been a ‘celebrity makeup artist’. Of course there have been actresses, and singers, and famous models, but I never really care about whether someone is famous or not. My fondest memories are of working with people who collaborate, who respect other people, who inspire the people around them and of the other things that really determine whether someone is ‘beautiful’ – being perfectly symmetrical doesn’t make you beautiful if you are a nasty person. My proudest moments are all my firsts: the first show, the first campaign, the first whatever – and I am proud having created the brand in the midst of a dreadful economic period, and that we are still here!
ML: How do you approach the design element of make-up? Are you a planner or a spontaneous worker?
EF: I am predominantly a spontaneous worker, and I like to work fast and try things out (and still have enough time to start all over, if I don’t like the result). But sometimes a designer or photographer has a really specific idea of what they want, and then I make drawings and plan a bit. But it’s not that I go through books with references of things that I like – I prefer going with the flow of the moment, and be inspired by the mood and the story we are trying to set.
ML: At what point did you decide you’d like to make your own make-up range and why?
EF: It was when I got the idea for a portable and fully-flexible line. My private kits had always been neatly organised, but my personal makeup bag was a mess – like most women’s, you had to turn it upside down to find that mascara and then everything breaks and gets dirty. I don’t like portable solutions like pallets with five shades, as you use two of them and throw out the rest. So I came up with the holder, in which you carry only the makeup-bullets that you want to take along on a given day. So that packaging was the starting point of it all.
ML: Tell us how you built the range and what you feel differentiates your approach from other brands.
EF: When selecting the range of shades, I simply made the colours I love most. Then I stood back and tried to figure out why I loved these colours so much. I realised that it had probably to do with my love for special effects: if for a movie you make a black eye and you use the ‘wrong’ colours, even a five-year-old will see that it’s fake. I believe that this is the same for beautifying makeup.
I like colours that somehow naturally belong to the human body, nothing too primary or cold. That is why I called the range Human Colours. The good added value is that our shades look good on each skintone. Whether or not you like a certain colour is a matter of taste, but it will not look ‘fake’, so in that sense they are fool-proof. And then of course the textures are incredibly important: they are subtle and sort of become one with the skin instead of lying on it, and yet they contain a lot of pigment, so it stays put wherever you apply the colour, until you take it off. No hassle, and no having to look into the mirror all the time to see if everything is still where it should be.
ML: What are your hero products, both from your range and others?
EF: I actually love all the textures – simply because I don’t want to bring anything to the market that I don’t fully believe in. I believe our foundation is the best on the market, so is our concealer. I’m very proud of the Creamy Eyes texture, our mascara is really no-fuss-simply-excellent-without-vibrating-gadgets. From other cosmetics brand, I continue to use Eve Lom cleanser, and I really love Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist.
ML: What are the most common make-up mistakes you see and how would you suggest women (and men) approach applying their own make-up?
EF: I don’t believe in ‘mistakes’: there are no rules, and I really really want people to loose their fear of making so-called ‘mistakes’. The only thing that you really have to choose well is the correct shade of foundation. The rest is just trusting your own sense of style and your own taste. If you like a certain colour or a certain shape, then it can never be a mistake. So play play play!