Isamaya Ffrench’s Weird Beauty
Isamaya Ffrench’s dazzling career as a makeup artist, beauty editor, and creative consultant had humble beginnings. She started out face painting at children’s parties, and though since then her skill set and aesthetic have been refined immeasurably, the makeup looks she produces still retain a childlike playfulness and sense of character from that first job.
Now a polymath of the beauty industry, Ffrench works as creative director for Dazed Beauty, (the very first physical issue of which is available to order here), as well as producing looks that have graced the cover of Vogue, campaigns for brands as diverse as Mac, Stussy and Tom Ford, and fashion week runways.
Isamaya is a real magpie of references and materials. Her looks often incorporate objects which transform the face, or the use of products to draw attention to or exaggerate unexpected features. She can do classic glamour as well as she does terrifying anthropomorphic prosthetics- and whatever the final look is, you can be sure it’s Ffrench’s handiwork by its sense of humor, attention to detail and knack for storytelling.
Below is a rundown of some of my favorite looks from Isamaya’s career so far- looks which appear to be plucked respectively from children’s coloring books and toy boxes, horror films and old Hollywood, and even the kitchen drawer.
Give Me Space
I wanted to start with this look, which I remember seeing in i-D (which I read religiously) as a teenager. It was this article which first made me aware of Isamaya’s work, and it seems fitting that it also reflects her first job, with the doodles of rockets and stars reminding me of a children’s drawing.
In this runway look for Aganovich SS17, Ffrench painstakingly transferred the brand’s signature plaid check onto the models’ faces, so that their skin itself appears to me made from fabric. I love how the pattern even reaches the model’s earlobes and lips, and the fact that the closer I look at this image the more unsure I am of how exactly this illusion was achieved.
In this strange runway look for Agi & Sam, the model wears a mask made entirely of Legos. The effect is almost nightmarish, as all facial features are completely obscured, but there is something funny about it too- as if a child had been let loose in a toy shop with a bottle of superglue.
Ffrench herself models in this promotional image for YSL Beauté, shot by Josh Wilks (I actually would recommend checking out this whole shoot as every image is gorgeous). Of course that perfect red lip takes center stage, helped along by the minimal color palette, but I also love the attention to texture- and how the fluffy ostrich feathers are mimicked by her fluffy brows.
This look for Stussy is one of my favorite of Isamaya’s. I love how clean, simple and literal it is, reading as a tongue in cheek nod to the cultism that has formed around skate brands, with teenagers effectively acting as walking billboards for these companies. It is as though a fan has asked their favorite celebrity to sign their face with a sharpie.
Horror Show Style
In this look, which appears to incorporate both prosthetics and airbrushed makeup, experimental musician Yves Tumor is transformed into something truly terrifying. The disturbing lack of eyes, nose, and ears reminds me of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, who had a taste for fairies and children and gave me nightmares for weeks.
Flower Girl RiRi
Everyone was talking about Rihanna’s makeup on this Vogue cover when it was first released, and rightly so. The star, who is constantly reinventing her style, is captured in a rare moment of looking unlike we have ever seen her before. The 1920’s pencil-thin brows and glossy berry pout are a welcome change from the ubiquitous ‘boy-brow’ and matte liquid lip of insta-beauty, and the pairing of the softest of eye looks with the most ostentatious of floral headpieces by Makoto Azuma lends the image a sense of balance.
The runway looks which Ffrench created for New York-based fashion house Eckhaus Latta were created with an airbrush and a variety of MAC pigments, the dappled color giving the effect of watercolor paint around the models’ eyes. Ever one for experimentation, she said in an interview with Vogue that she enjoyed the tool’s potential for variation- “You can’t guarantee what you’re going to get, so there’s a little bit of risk… everyone’s going to be totally individual.” I particularly like how in this look complementary colors are used, and how the blue of the pigment matches the model’s eyes.
It’s a Wrap
This final, genius look in our rundown, from the runway of Thom Browne’s AW19 collection, shows what appears to be saran-wrap clinging to the model’s skin. The visual effect on the first glance is of wetness, but on closer inspection, the layer of plastic looks tight across the face, and one starts to feel a sense of suffocation, noticing that it extends to -at least partially- cover the nose and mouth.