Event Space: Alex Box and Illamasqua Freak Monday 05 March, 2012

Makeup artist and Illamasqua creative director Alex Box talks retouching, inspiration, Karlie Kloss and the story behind the snail on the bottle of the new perfume, Freak Eau de Parfum.

Part of my day job is to come up with ideas for photo shoots. I’d like to say that every single idea originates in my (sizeable) head, always, but sometimes you need a little inspiration. And that inspiration is commonly found in the form of what is called a “swipe.” A swipe is essentially any image out there in the world created by somebody else that you use to illustrate a creative direction you want to take with a project. It’s common; it happens. (Truthfully, I always have my own ideas, but in order to relay them to others because they cannot peek inside of my brain, I need to find “like-minded” images that can visually show people just what I’m thinking.) So from the type of lighting you may want to use to the lipstick color and finish you imagine, these images can be a huge help in translating what you want to create. Think of it as a “mood board.”

One person who’s imagery I’m often inspired by is the photographer Rankin. His lighting is amazing; his composition minimal (for beauty imagery, at least), but so absolutely major. And, through pouring over his images several years ago, I discovered a makeup artist who’s work literally leaves me breathless. Her name: Alex Box.

You’ve seen Alex’s mark on Gareth Pugh’s runway, season after season. Or in the pages of Italian Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. And, recently in Sephora, you’ve likely come face-to-image with her mastery of not only makeup, but creative direction; she’s the creative director for cult-beauty brand Illamasqua, now carried in Sephora. Her ability to paint dark, unconventional makeup designs, and yet make them whimsical, is a testament to her immense creativity. I got a chance to speak to her about everything beauty at an intimate launch party for the new Illamasqua perfume, Freak Eau de Parfum, and I left with goosebumps. She’s that awesome.

 Illamasqua Freak Eau de Parfum

Retouching: “It’s funny: With makeup artistry, I’m finding that people in real life (read: non-makeup artists) are getting better because of the retouching they see in images; they’re trying to replicate that ideal. Yet people in the industry (read: makeup artists) are getting lazier because they rely on retouching. I don’t believe in that. Even though people accuse us (Illamasqua) of faking our images. No one believes I made the line that straight or the backdrop that beautiful. But we started taking behind-the-scenes video to prove them wrong. And once we prove them wrong, they have a greater appreciation of the brand.”

The New Illamasqua Perfume, Freak: “I think the name ‘Freak’ will make people feel empowered. We developed a new technology that actually allowed us to use poisonous plants in the perfume that would have hurt the skin! The bottle has an art deco feel; we sliced off the bottom at an angle to make it unusual. The snail on the bottle leaves this little trail behind it, like it’s leaving a trail of scent behind. I think snails are like a freak of nature, really, yet they’re quite beautiful.”

Her Signature Red Lip, Illamasqua’s Box Lipstick: “I wanted something I could wear. I’ve been wearing red lipstick since I was 12 years old! I used to mix MAC Cosmetics’ Ruby Roo with Russian Red. So, I told Illamasqua I wanted a wearable blue red, and this is what we came up with. And you just have to have a product named after you; it’s bad juju if you don’t.”

When She Knew She Wanted to Be a Makeup Artist: “Growing up, I looked at Shiseido in the department store windows a lot. The images he did! When I was six years old, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ Or even be it! I want to be a part of that life.”

 Illamasqua Freak Eau de Parfum Top Notes

The Photographer, Rankin, and the Book Alex Box: “I get excited by the creative process of creating an image. The styling, everything. When I shot the images for Alex Box with Rankin, we worked on it for a year and a half, one day every two weeks. I just showed up and riffed it. It was not premeditated. For me, that book is like a diary. You can see when I was in darker mood; the images are darker. The order of the images in the book is very close to how it was shot. The whole idea was about the drawn line and brush stroke.”

Backstage Beauty at Fashion Week: “The makeup backstage at fashion week can look like a stamp. It disregards the soul of the model. I tell my assistants: Respect the face….If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. I’d rather do something that works in harmony with the person’s features.”

On Models: “Raquel Zimmerman and Karlie Kloss: They’re amazing. Karlie comes to set and she’s in it to win it. She wants to know where the look comes from. They both want to be integrated into the look, idea, concept. They do the job, they look great, and they have great energy. At the end of a shoot, they’re still bouncing around and smiling, while we’re all tired.”

Where She Finds Her Inspiration: “I like the re-appropriation of normal things. And I’m fascinated with culturally what people do. There’s this amazing woman at the supermarket who does her eyeliner in this very off way. I love looking at her! I’m inspired by her.”

What’s Next in Beauty: “It’s going to be about innovation in new formulas for new textures. Like 3-D appliqué. Not sure how, but it will happen.”

Freak Eau de Parfum—a heady blend of top notes Black Davana, Opium Flower and Belladonna; heart notes Poison Hemlock, Datura and Queen of the Night; and base notes Aromas of Frankincense, Oud and Myrrh—is available at Sephora and SpaceNK.

What does fearless beauty mean to you? “It means being yourself even when all others around you might point out your differences. Being bold about your decision, whatever that individual form of expression takes, and being empowered by that personal step. Being safe in the knowledge that by your being fearless and believing in yourself, your defiant act will empower others to be more daring with their own looks. Freedom of expression is the greatest form of freedom—power of the self in its purist state. —Alex Box, Illamasqua creative director

Karie L. Frost Signature

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