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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Mary Cleary is the Beauty & Grooming Editor of Wallpaper*. Having been with the brand since 2017, she became an editor in February 2020 with the launch of the brand’s new beauty & grooming channel. Her work seeks to offer a new perspective on beauty, focusing on the pioneering personalities, product designs, and transformative trends within the industry.
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