New di­men­sions

Fash­ion’s favourite beauty edi­tor Isamaya Ffrench has been rais­ing eye­brows with her out­landish looks, which owe as much to her back­ground in 3D design as to con­ven­tional ideas of glam­our.

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Fashion - - CONTENTS - By Vic­to­ria Moss. Pho­to­graphs by Felic­ity In­gram

When beauty goes avant-garde

Twenty-six-year-old Isamaya Ffrench isn’t your usual make-up artist. In­deed, she is more likely to be found shop­ping for pros­thet­ics than for cos­met­ics. Hav­ing grown up in Cam­bridge, Ffrench moved to Lon­don at 18 to study 3D design at Chelsea Col­lege of Art and Design be­fore do­ing a BA in prod­uct design at Cen­tral St Martins, with a view to de­sign­ing shoes. She took up make-up af­ter help­ing out at her sis­ter’s chil­dren’s school fete. ‘Af­ter a cou­ple of years of self-teach­ing I got re­ally into it,’ she says. ‘I used to cy­cle around Lon­don do­ing par­ties.’ Thanks to friends at St Martins, who knew of her side line, she ended up on a shoot with i-d mag­a­zine (which last year ap­pointed her as its beauty edi­tor). Through word of mouth she grad­u­ally built up more work on shoots, where she used her de­gree knowl­edge to in­form her work. ‘It was all ma­te­rial-led,’ she says. ‘I would ex­per­i­ment with paints, clay and glue.’

Her bold, dis­rup­tive work is es­pe­cially re­fresh­ing in a world be­sieged by con­tourper­fect self­ies, and it was quickly adopted by the style cognoscenti. She de­scribes what she does as ‘ba­si­cally pop art’. ‘It’s very cre­ative but ac­ces­si­ble to main­stream cul­ture,’ she says. ‘My aim is al­ways a style-less ap­proach. I like to be ver­sa­tile, so it changes de­pend­ing on what I’m in­ter­ested in. At first it was the whole “paint” thing, but I like to progress and not keep re­peat­ing.’

Her in­spi­ra­tion comes from ty­pog­ra­phy, Ja­panese graph­ics and il­lus­tra­tions from the 1970s. ‘I try to not look at other make-up artists,’ she says. ‘It sti­fles me cre­atively. You just get into a down­ward spi­ral of think­ing, “Oh, noth­ing is new, it’s all been done be­fore!” It’s good to re-cre­ate things from a tech­ni­cal point of view but not ideas. I do love the make-up artist Topolino, though. He’s no­to­ri­ous for turn­ing up to shoots with four lip glosses and noth­ing else.’

Her anti-estab­lish­ment at­ti­tude has led to col­lab­o­ra­tions with the Ja­panese con­cep­tual de­signer Junya Watan­abe (of the Comme des Garçons sta­ble). ‘You don’t see the clothes till the day be­fore the show,’ she says. ‘You get a month to pre­pare, but he ba­si­cally just sends you rid­dles. The first time I worked with him he sent me buzz­words like “in­dus­trial” or “syn­thetic”. We would spend days do­ing tri­als and then email him a make-up look and he would say, “No, no – yes, that’s more like it.” It’s a very for­mal process, but he speaks only Ja­panese so luck­ily doesn’t un­der­stand me when I’m swear­ing back­stage!’

She was re­cently picked up by YSL as its new UK make-up am­bas­sador. ‘They’re re­ally for­ward-think­ing – they love the weird work I’m do­ing,’ she says. ‘The anx­i­ety when you join a com­mer­cial brand is that you might lose some of your in­tegrity, but they’re re­ally sup­port­ive of me.’ As well as shoot­ing for YSL she will do make-up videos and ‘how to’s.

Along­side all this, she has gone back to her orig­i­nal plan, and is work­ing on shoe de­signs with Camper; and ear­lier this year she launched her own la­bel, English School, with her friend the pho­tog­ra­pher Josh Wilks. ‘We wanted to have a project for us, where we don’t have to say yes to any­one apart from our­selves,’ she says. She de­scribes it as ‘a ba­sic print la­bel’ but says, ‘The idea is for it to be a plat­form to work with other cre­atives, whether that’s one-off cloth­ing pieces, or work­ing with a gallery – and we’d like to do ce­ram­ics.’ Cur­rently on sale are white T-shirts, shirts and jeans em­bla­zoned with clas­sic ad­ver­tis­ing imagery with a twist (such as medicine pack­ag­ing read­ing or­ganic love, 500mg). ‘I don’t just want to do make up,’ she says hap­pily.

Beauty di­rec­tion Katy Young Styling Aure­lia Don­ald­son

This page ‘This look is half-trop­i­cal, half-cold. I like tak­ing el­e­ments of nor­mal­ity and just twist­ing them a bit. There has been a craze re­cently for freck­les – I wanted to do some­thing that took it to another level’

Op­po­site ‘For this I just used kids’ face paint, which I dripped in my eyes. That’s the one good thing about do­ing it on your­self – I could never do that with a model’

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