At home with Isamaya Ffrench

With Isamaya Ffrench’s make-up drop, Wild Star, launching today, the make-up artist invites us into her creative universe to discuss her upcoming documentary, ‘disgusting green smoothies’, and her ideal conditions for inspiration

Isamaya Ffrench in prosthetic monster makeup crawling out of bathtub
Isamaya Ffrench in prosthetic monster make-up
(Image credit: Isamaya Ffrench)

To describe Isamaya Ffrench as a revolutionary force within the beauty industry feels like an understatement. 

As we noted when she launched Isamaya, her eponymous beauty brand earlier this year, her work as global beauty director of Burberry, the original creative director of both Dazed Beauty and Byredo make-up, and collaborations with musicians, designers, and photographers alike have resulted in images that are strikingly visceral, sometimes disturbingly so. But beneath their arresting surface are always serious questions: how is our perception of beauty formed? How can we subvert those perceptions? Is there any such thing as beauty anyway? Can that which is ‘ugly’ or ‘grotesque’ not be beautiful too? 

With the latest, rodeo-themed drop from Isamaya’s Wild Star collection launching today, we asked Ffrench to tell us how she finds the drive and inspiration to keep exploring these questions with ever more ingenuity. 

At home with Isamaya Ffrench

Wallpaper*: Why did you become a make-up artist? 

Isamaya Ffrench: I never had a desire to become a make-up artist. I did an art foundation [course] at [London’s] Chelsea College of Art and then studied product design at Central Saint Martins – the make-up artistry came quite organically from an interest in prosthetics and body painting that I was doing as a side job to fund my studies. Eventually, I moved into the fashion world and make-up took over!

Isamaya Ffrench painting blue monster head for One Otrix Point Never album artwork

Ffrench working on prosthetics for Oneohtrix Point Never album artwork

(Image credit: Courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: How do you define beauty?

IF: It's something I'm continually asked. I used to say that beauty is something that moves you but context is everything. If a beauty journalist is asking what my definition is, they are probably expecting a response to my aesthetic ideals of beauty/make-up/identity, but in reality, beauty is much more vast and personal.

Watching your partner give birth is beauty, witnessing a grandparent take their last breath is beauty, so I suppose my definition still makes sense. There’s no way to explain what it is, because everyone has their own take on it.

W*: How do you get yourself out of a creative slump? 

IF: I've never had a creative slump! I don't know what it feels like! I know what decision fatigue is or burnout but the creativity never goes away.

Isamaya Ffrench getting laser treatment

Ffrench getting laser treatment 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: What project are you most proud of?

IF: There are lots of projects I loved to work on… more specifically, people I loved to work with. But my brand is probably the most obvious one because for the first time I'm in total control of everything from concepts, products, packaging, campaigns, events and media all at the same time. Having that total creative freedom.

Isamaya Ffrench Wild Star makeup line campaign shot by Steven Klein showing Isamaya Ffrench as cowgirl

Isamaya Beauty Wild Star campaign shot

(Image credit: Steven Klein, courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: What’s been your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

IF: I don’t over-analyse what I’ve done. I see what works and what doesn’t and just move on, both in my professional and personal lives. There’s no such thing as failure, only lessons. When you’re able to go on in life with this philosophy, things always feel progressive.

AI mouse devil creature with lots of piercings

Dazed Beauty commission by Pastelae

(Image credit: Pastelae, courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

 W*: Can you talk us through your creative process? What are your ideal conditions for creating?

IF: A long plane journey where I can't sleep? A lot gets whipped up above the clouds! Metaphorical perhaps! There’s nothing as stimulating as the initial talks with collaborators at the beginning of a project. The way everyone throws something in and it pushes the conversation further.

I don’t have a recipe for the creative process, it’s just the way you react to new ideas and suggestions. The only thing you have to remember is to do things with your gut. If something doesn’t feel true to your values, you will lose sincerity.

W*: What is your favourite beauty trend right now?

IF: The skinny brows! I’ve been doing it a lot for shows lately.

Skinny eyebrows by Isamaya Ffrench on Bella Hadid

Skinny brows for Vivienne Westwood S/S 2023

(Image credit: Alex Soroka, courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: How has your understanding of beauty changed over time?

IF: That’s a tricky one, because a lot of my work involves making a client happy. And clients all have their own understanding of it. I mean at the end of the day, it makes the job more interesting to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Let’s just see it as adding new lenses to my filing cabinet of perspectives on beauty.

Camper shoes advertisement with prosthetic makeup by Isamaya Ffrench

Camper advertisement with prosthetic make-up by Ffrench 

(Image credit: Daniel Sannwald, courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: What is your go-to beauty routine?

IF: An emollient cream, disgusting dark green smoothies and something that involves a centrifuge once in a while.

Wild Star makeup collection by Isamaya Ffrench

Wild Star by Isamaya

(Image credit: Tais Sirote, courtesy of Isamaya Ffrench)

W*: Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects?

IF: I'm working on a documentary about global beauty aesthetics and a very hot drop is coming for Valentine’s Day…

Writer and Wallpaper* Contributing Editor

Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.