PHOTOGRAPHY JASON THOMAS GEERING @jasonthomasgeering
INTERVIEW JESPER GUDBERGSEN @yessirjesper
HAIR LEVI MONARCH @levimonarch @kramerandkramer
MAKEUP ALLIE SMITH @alliesmithmakeup @maworldgroup using @submission.beauty
MODELS MAIYA @maiya456 @uniteuniteus SHELBY @shelbypauline_ @uniteuniteus
THANK YOU CLAUDETTE @uniteuniteus
How do you introduce yourself to the world – and explain who you are and what you do?
Outside of our industry I tell people that I’m a makeup artist and I expand on that by saying I primarily work in fashion advertising, because that’s the meat and potatoes of it. Within our world, I’m not sure… I feel like I live in this weird corner where I do perfect/imperfect makeup. It’s not hyper-real and super glam, there’s always something a little bit like silly about it. My makeup is very human and not too perfect.
How did you come to find that makeup is what you were meant to do?
No one in our industry really has a traditional path, but in my case I did get a higher education in makeup which was super informative for me. I went to school in London and really loved that my teachers had a really oldschool approach to the medium, most of them coming from a background in film and TV as opposed to fashion. Also, Europeans are just a bit more straightforward in their feedback than Americans and I appreciated that. When I came back to New York, I actually began training at hair school, something we had touched on in makeup school in the UK, as many people in the industry there were traditionally doing a little of both. This was also a time before social media where breaking into the industry was less open, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to know a little bit of both worlds. You know you are bad at something when the teacher is pinching their nose and shaking their head… Styling hair was never my passion, and I wasn’t good at it, so I was VERY determined to learn it. It was drilled into me that I needed to know how to do this. The recession had just hit, so it also helped me a bit to know how to bullshit my way through certain jobs where I was asked to do both.. I worked at a salon for a time and when I got let go from there, it felt like the universe had spoken – hair is not the path for me. But it was really good at the beginning of my career to learn a few tricks, get an understanding of what it looks like to be on the hair team and so on. Also, to be in an environment that was more like a service industry, building confidence in what you are saying during a consultation and gaining confidence touching people for a living.
I think you are so right that it’s great to learn a little of what the other teams are doing, and also to figure out how to zero in on where exactly you need to be behind the scenes of this industry…
I say the difference between hair stylists and makeup artists is like a sculpturs brain versus a painters brain. And I cannot sculpt to save my life. If I had stuck to hair, i would have probably been a colorist. I enjoy color and the chemistry of it, it’s like baking really. You can deviate a little bit but if you take it too far you’re gonna melt someone’s hair off or fuck up the color. Styling and cutting is a bit more like cooking, you can add a little salt and make your own spin on it. I assisted a hair stylist who was bonkers, he didn’t use any clips when cutting hair and it was really fun to learn from someone like him, he was a total one man show, no formal training and I learned a lot of confidence and time management skills from him. But yeah, hair… mad respect – cannot do.
What did you want to be growing up – were you always going to pursue this path?
I think makeup became the *aha* thing when I was like 15. I was back to school shopping with my mom at Macy’s and saw the MAC counter for the first time. They had cool music, great ad campaigns, and I loved the way their makeup looked colorful. Back then, everyone had really matte and bronzed skin, nude lips with tons of gloss and no eyebrows. My sister was the one who steered me away from that, she always looked great so I listened to her. She told me to never let anyone fuck with my eyebrows and thank god she did.
Right, you’re one of the 1% in your age bracket who actually has eyebrows left…
Yeah, I did not fuck with my eyebrows. I didn’t even really wear makeup. People who knew me growing up thought I was kidding when I told them I am a makeup artist now. It definitely took them a few years of seeing my work on social media to really believe that I was telling the truth. But, going to back to when I was a child… I loved creative things when I was a child, and I especially loved advertisements. You and I grew up in a time of really fun silly advertisements and I would tear them out of magazines and save them in huge binders or use them to collage all my school books. As I got a little older I spent a summer doing photography and got really into it, but for some reason when makeup came into my life it became a singular obsession. It was just a game changer.
Perhaps you found a way to direct your own ad campaigns on a small scale – the makeup can be such a dramatic point in an ad…
Yeah for sure. I think we were also just so lucky to grow up in a time that was so image-rich and had such amazing production value. Music videos had huge budgets and made such an impact on culture. Growing up we were bombarded with these very expensive and well-produced images that were done by a select few – it wasn’t like everyone were creating images like now – so it was still a revolutionary time. You had to go through the establishment, there was no social media, so they really had to fight to get something cool out there. And it was fun to see what people did with that, it was so different.
Tell me more about how and where you grew up?
I grew up in Albany which is like a shittier version of Philly. No disrespect to Philly, but Albany is a little sus. I think of Albany as a bit of a whatever place, it’s very suburban, super American. Even though it’s New York state, it’s certainly not New York City. My experience was very mall-culture, regular-degular, like anything out of an early 2000s teenage movie. Looking back, I was lucky to be relatively close to the city though, AmTrak from Albany to New York City was only 2.5 hours or so and when I was pretty young my parents would let me take the train down to the city for a day, and I am really grateful for that. Back then I wasn’t getting into stuff – I got into trouble a little bit later – but coming into the city I would go to the MoMa, The Met, Guggenheim and Sephora and walk around Bleecker Street for hours and get inspired. Even just seeing nightlife flyers around, the DIY with fun graphics for nights at clubs was cool to see. Albany is a collegetown and had a bit of a hardcore punk scene, but it was not New York.
Is there a specific early memory of beauty that stands out to you?
Honestly, my sister. She’s 2.5 years older than me and she always had such good taste and style. Her closet is still one of my favorite places to shop today. She had such a great look when she was tween, with super shiny flat-ironed hair, Hard Candy nailpolish… I remember walking into the Sephora in Times Square, which was the first time I had ever set foot in one of those. I was looking for her frosty nail polishes, but funny enough what got me even more was all the packaging, the ads, the smells of everything. I think to answer your question, a good frosty metallic blue nailpolish is probably my first memory of beaut
You mentioned going to school in London before, how did you support yourself there?
I worked non-stop. Pubs, lots of retail, all of that stuff. I lived far out, so the overhead was low but I hustled. For me it was just work and going to school – and I basically lived off cheddar sandwiches.
Did you have any time to go out at all?
A little bit… I dropped out of high school halfway through and was kind of wild after doing that.. When I found makeup, I had to buckle down and throw everything at it. I only had a GED and no college education, which makes upward mobility in the US quite a struggle, so I really just went all in with makeup school and had to hustle. I definitely had my share of fun, but I did get quite serious, shooting with kids from London College of Fashion after classes. I was more focused on the grind in London.
Sounds like you found a strong work ethic early on and like to work a lot
I’m not sure I’m so much more busy than my peers, but I do love working and I enjoy the business side of the industry as much as I love the creative side. It’s a constantly changing industry and you have to keep yourself well-informed, inspired and keep the momentum going. I really like this, I really can’t imagine myself doing well in a different work environment.
The industry kicks your butt a bit, even when you are expecting it…
That and also, I think because I started my career when the recession hit here in the US, I watched some people I was assisting not adapting well to that. The scarcity mentality was very real at the time, the budgets were slashed to the bone, ecomm was putting a lot of catalogue people out of work. The glory days were over, I came into this career when the party was ending, the lights were being switched on and someone was mopping the floor. Because of that, I think I learned that there are no guarantees in this industry and while I am not so worried about saying no to jobs as I used to be, there is still this feeling that you have to ride the wave while the swell is still surfable…
You mentioned earlier how you brought yourself to a lot of different projects early on, working with other students, film work etc, saying YES and figuring out what you do and do not like. Nowadays, what do you look for – how do you find your collaborators, your people?
For me, the most important person on set is the photographer, that’s always been the draw for me. I’m actively seeking out photographers. Everything after that feels somewhat secondary to me, because at the end of the day we can do the most insane face, but if the photo is wrong – the makeup is wrong. I’m always really attracted to photographers that have a very clear idea of what they are doing. Something that you can grab onto, that’s their thing, that’s what they do. I think I was lucky that when I was building my book initially, I was working with photographers who were actively doing that as well, so we were building something together. Mostly, I hung out with photographers too and I learned so much from that. My eye is always going to go the makeup because that is my side of the street, but it’s really interesting to see how another team member, and especially someone who is so responsible for the final image, looks at the same thing. So this informed my choices a lot. I like many different things about many different people, but I tend to like a photographer whose images have a real presence to them.
You have somewhat of a family of frequent collaborators. When you are looking to do something new, when your established collaborators don’t feel right for something, where do you look?
I love a lot of fine art photographers and love looking at magazines like Pin-Up and Wallpaper for collaborations that don’t necessarily come from a fashion perspective. I like someone who explores spacial relations, architechture. I love looking at students’ work, which is something I try to do a lot for with my work at Nicotine. When you’re at school, you typically have resources available to you, like a studio, and most students haven’t yet been told NO by the world – and there is something magical about that. You have a ton of ideas and find yourself in an incubation phase. I really like working with young people and students who are still figuring things out, it’s great to be a part of that process. Everyone loves to hate on social media, but I love it. You have a global network at your feet. Even when I’m traveling, I try to link up with people I have met online and through them you find another inspiring person and so on..
Why do you think people like working with you?
When I am working with close collaborators, I come to set with ideas and I am not scared to say when something is not working. I think we all as creatives have a pressure on ourselves to have to serve cunt 100% of the time, and that’s just not realistic. When a musician steps into the studio, they don’t record a #1 single or even something amazing every time. We can’t expect everything we work on to be THE thing that people throw on moodboards or attach to you. Not everything is a heavy hitter in your creative body of work. What I bring to set is a level of honesty that not everyone has, and I try to work fast. I appreciate a makeup that takes time, but I tend to lose steam fast if it’s not something I intended to take a long time. I think taking forever means you are not being a team player. If you’re doing a natural face and it takes you an hour – I think you’re kind of doing it wrong. It ruins the momentum and takes away from everyone else on set. 99% of the time the makeup is not the hero of the shoot and I think it’s important to know where you fall in line. Are you gonna be Michelle or are you Beyoncé?
I try to keep a good attitude most of the time, because what we do is amazing. We get to play professional dressup for a living, we are fed meals at work, I get to work with really cool people who are great at their job, from all over the world.. I’m not in the line of fire, I don’t deal with children – very often – I dont risk drowning when I am at work. It’s a really lucky job.
On a hard day, I try to bear that in mind. My sister is a school teacher and does really meaningful work And while I don’t mean to say our work is void of meaning – it’s just a different social currency maybe?
What would you like people to experience when they see your work?
That’s a really intelligent question. I hope people enjoy it and that it’s pleasing to their eye. Maybe there’s something funny, silly or not so serious about it. Hopefully there’s an element that inspires people to do things their way a little bit, to not be afraid to be human and not feel obligation to do the most perfect and just enjoy being themselves in whatever way that feels good to them. I love what I do and feel so grateful that I figured out that this is where I belong. I have such an amazing group of people around me and I love meeting other people that do the same as me and nerd out. What we get to do is amazing, makeup is so transformative. We’re building a sandcastle on the face, it can be as opulent as you want before it’s washed away. It’s really fun to make something that is temporary and tactile. Makeup can make a person carry themselves differently and there is something really powerful in that
I wanted to ask you about the visual side of this interview that you collaborated with Jason Thomas Geering and Levi Monarch. What were the thoughts behind the images ?
I wanted to showcase some of the glitters because I think what Zenia and Submission is doing is such an important voice in the conversation. In beauty, it’s so hard to reinvent the wheel because everything exists to some capacity. Seeing a brand being built from the ground up, so well executed, chic and creative while still being sustainable – that’s a really big ask. You usually have to sacrifice some of the creative to make it sustainable. Everything about Submission, from the bottom up feels so fleshed out and real and it’s nice to see that for a change. The climate crisis is real. We as people, as part of the consumption machine have a responsibility to do better. We know better, so we have to do better. We can’t take turn back time and change the pollution that has already been created, so to minimize our impact and change our habits that is nice precedent to start. So to see that in the beauty space – a very neglected part – was the starting point for me to have a moment to celebrate these products and how beautiful they are. On a polaroid, it looks almost like a wet lid, while on the eye it became this very textural moment with little pieces trailing out. So fun.
You’ve spoken about inspiration a little already. Is there somewhere unexpected you look for this, something that keeps drawing you back in?
Porn and cartoons. I love the old Terry Gilliam and Monty Python animation. It’s so unique, cut-out and I love anything that feels human and handmade. I love Cindy Sherman’s makeup for that reason, it feels like a person did that and it’s not retouched. I have a real appreciation of and love that kind of work. Overall, to me there is something about seeing the human hand and how far one can push shit or how absurd shit can be. Cartoons are limitless. Old Soviet propaganda is interesting to me and I love the architecture and typography. I love how rigid it is and that visual language is something that always grabs my attention and sometimes informs my work.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I love my assistants and I have a really solid crew that have been with me for a long time. I didn’t assist for very long and it wasn’t traumatic. I am very lucky that was my experience and I try to pass that along to the people who work with me. Whenever I start working with someone, I will ask them where they want to go – red carpet / beauty / fashion etc. If I bring in people to work on something they’re passionate about, they show up harder for me. It’s fun to work in a team and I have learned so much from the people I am lucky enough to have worked with me over the years. I’m eternally grateful, because assistants are the backbone of this industry. I have a tremendous respect for every person who pays their dues. My legacy though? I hope that I can bring a lightness to all of this. You can have whatever look or feeling you want. If you want to haphazardly throw something on, then do it and do it with flair and pride. Anything goes. I think that’s nice about the beauty space now, literally anything goes. Paint your face to the gods, and completely repaint your face? – totally cool, there are plenty of people and brands to support that. You want to do super-techy and precise futuristic elegance, go for it, there’s room for everyone. I just hope what I bring to it is the fun, this is just an extension of dressing up and expressing yourself. You can do whatever the fuck you feel like. If you want to put lipstick on your eye – go do that. And have fun with it.