“I guess you could say it’s a bit Tron,” said make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench. We were discussing the disembodied head of model Slick Woods, glowing like a radioactive doll against a landscape that is very reminiscent of the pioneering sci-fi adventure movie. The image is one of ten designed for the launch of Dazed Beauty, a magazine and online platform with a radical agenda for which the engagingly witty Ffrench is the creative director. “Until now beauty has been very two dimensional,” she said, “I want to make the bridge to 3D. We have a unique opportunity here to work with CGI and digital artists to transform current ways of talking and looking at beauty.”
The result is a disconcerting ride through an infinitely malleable universe in which make-up artists, photographers, digital technicians and creatives collaborate to deliver a series of queasily eye-catching photo shoots and videos that wouldn’t look out of place in Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle.”
A scroll through the Dazed Beauty Instagram feed reveals Princess Gollum looking like an albino satyr, the ever-quotable Woods twitching a pair of quicksilver ears, a Leigh Boweryesque performance artist, and South-London DJ Larry B describing his beauty routine and his job (“I normally just shut my mouth and play some Mariah Carey.”)
A still of Slick Woods for a Dazed Beauty video, with creative direction by Isamaya Ffrench and Ben Freeman, and animated by Rick Farin Credit: Rick Farin
What is not clear is how this motley collection of fashion influencers will re-define the nature of beauty in a world intractably controlled by big brands.
But Ffrench, is undeterred. “Sure, (the brands) define what is beautiful, but what we are finding is that people in fact have very different concepts of what beauty is. It is personal and it moves you and it is important for us to create a space where those experimental ideas can be expressed.”
A still of a Dazed Beauty’s video tutorial featuring Larry B, directed by Ilona McIlwain and produced by Joel Spencer Credit: Ilona McIlwain
She thinks Dazed Beauty will have a more masculine edge than traditional beauty magazines. “It will be led by music or graphic design rather than lipsticks and foundations.”
Ffrench is uniquely placed to understand this alternative vision having arrived in the beauty industry via a somewhat unconventional route. “My background is in industrial design and face-painting” she explains, “and so when I started doing make-up I came to it from this very different perspective. And I think I brought a sense of humor to it.”
That humor has translated into some remarkable collaborations, often with the use of prosthetics and latex. She has transformed the actor Zendaya into an old lady, covered models in graffiti for a Junya Watanabe show, and painted hard boiled eggs on the face of model Guinevere Van Seenus. “Initially, I was happy to just produce content on aesthetics,” she says, “but that exhausted itself after a while and things needed more meaning.”
Guinevere Van Seenus for the ST Style with make-up by Isamaya Ffrench. Photograph by Yelena Yemchuck. Credit: Courtesy Streeters
She now looks for a narrative for each shoot she works on, whether it is for a big advertising campaign or something more experimental. “It’s finding that sweet spot where you’ve done something unconventional but it still appeals to a mass audience, it is so easy to go over the top.”
It is one of the reasons she is so excited about Dazed Beauty. “We don’t have a fashion incentive, there are no seasons and there’s no need to shoot a certain collection or appease a PR company. I’m lucky that I get to work with so many great photographers — people like Mert and Marcus, Stephen Klein and Daniel Sannwald, but in the past, it was always in a restricted way, there was always a third party we had to tick a box for, but now we can do what we want.”
Zendaya for CR Fashion Book with make-up by Isamaya Ffrench, photographed by Mario Sorrenti Credit: Mario Sorrenti
This doesn’t mean she’s not up for some big campaigns. “There will be branded content, but a lot of beauty brands are sometimes confused as to what is cool and relevant. Hopefully we can engage in that relationship.”
Most intriguingly will be the team’s re-invention of the “How-to,” taking a tired format and giving it an alternative reality, “we shall be working with techy people on facial algorithms and digital mapping. I’m really enjoying 3D make-up, that’s much more progressive and interesting for me.” And a lot less messy? Ffrench laughs “God glitter can be a nightmare, you can never get rid of it, and latex, you really have to make sure you prep the skin, it can be hell to get off.” Much easier then, to create it digitally. So, Dazed Beauty lands — an amorphous sprawling pleasure garden to the intriguing and bewildering world of beauty in the 21st century.
Dazed Beauty is a next generation community platform dedicated to redefining the language and communication of beauty.