Isamaya Ffrench is one of the brightest talents of her generation. The Cambridge born, London based make-up artist has been wowing i-D for the past three years, transforming models’ faces into kaleidoscopic dreamworlds, and mixing her interests in art and mycology to stunning effect. Here she reinterprets spring/summer 14’s hottest trends in subtle and fresh cosmetics on Codie Young.
Isamaya Ffrench is more than just a make-up artist, she’s one of a new breed of hugely talented young creatives coming out of London right now. Originally from Cambridge, Isamaya has danced for the Theo Adams Company and designed window displays for Galeries Lafayette and Liberty. Now she’s dreaming up game shows, painting masks and writing fantastical films, all at the age of 24! Meet the girl with the beauty world at her finger tips.
Hi Isamaya, how did you start your career?
I studied Art at Chelsea and Product Design at Saint Martins, and I face-painted on the side to make a bit of cash. John Colver [stylist] caught wind of what I was doing, and he told Christopher Shannon about it, who invited me to do the make-up at his spring/summer 11 menswear show. This was my first instance of face-painting in a fashion environment and I found it really fun. It encouraged me to pursue make-up professionally. Around that time I also worked with Matthew Stone for i-D [The Hedonist Issue, No. 313, Summer 2011]. We shot a story with Alek Wek, so we decided to turn all the guys into clay sculptures. Athough I was using heavy materials like clay and paint at the time, the shoot started my progression from art into make-up.
That Christopher Shannon show make-up is already so iconic...
Chris’ clothes are pretty sporty, so outdoor landscapes came to mind. It was quite an outside-the-box idea, but we decided it would be cool to paint landscapes onto all the male model’s faces. We looked at images of night skies, tropical scenes, waterfalls... I love working with nature and organic things, it’s what I love the most.
“I love things that are a bit off, a bit rough around the edges. I don’t like retouching. Mistakes make things human. We live in this weird age where everything is virtually manipulated to make it perfect, I’m happy to challenge that.”
Someone told me you like cutting down trees for fun?
Noooo! I like coppicing, which is really important for the regeneration of woodlands. Basically, we’ve evolved with the forests into a symbiotic relationship, coexisting together. Woods are really dense, therefore to introduce life and invigorate the natural environment you have to clear areas. You’ve got to chop out big areas of woodland so that the sunlight can reach the floor, and butterflies can fly through and pollinate, otherwise it would just rot and die. Over hundreds of years this has come to be the way we work as humans with the environment. Also, if you cut specific trees down they actually branch out and regrow with two trunks; it’s all for their benefit, I’m not into cutting down trees in the name of lols!
Where do you go coppicing?
In Kent. I don’t do it regularly, but it’s a pretty nice thing to do. Again, it’s that idea of reconnecting and understanding where your influences and colours really come from. It’s so inspiring: green and blue, yellow and red. It’s best to copy what works naturally. My sister’s built a yurt in the middle of this wood and we stay there. Maybe you should come?
Yes, I’d love to. When I was younger I used to go out into the countryside a lot, on my own, looking for mushrooms. I’d take trains out into the middle of nowhere.
Did I show you my fungi blog?! I think if I wasn’t doing make-up I’d probably be a mycologist, which is studying fungi. Fungi are going to save the world. Fungi are the major decomposers of the world, of this mass build-up of carbon and all this shit and decay, they’re the in-between state of life and death. At Fukushima, scientists were trying to uncover a way of dealing with the nuclear waste that had spread out into the ground, and they found a specific fungus that metabolises or breaks down radioactive elements. So the fungi are like networks of tiny threads beneath the soil, and the mushrooms are like their fruit - like your genitals, basically - and what happens is these spores suck up all of this radioactive waste and you’re left with a very radioactive mushroom, and the soil around has been neutralised, which is amazing! Maybe you cut the mushroom up and you burn it, but the point is that you preserve the soil, and that’s the beginning stages of life. I think fungi are particular organisms that we can learn a lot from. They’re constantly working out how to thrive in catastrophic scenarios, and we are the most catastrophic thing on this planet.
“Imperfections evoke an emotional response. That’s what I’m after. That’s what art is all about.”
Cool. What was the idea behind you i-D story?
It’s a collaboration between Harley Weir, Julia Sarr-Jamois and myself. Harley’s got a strong aesthetic. I like that she shoots real people, all her portraits are very believable. So I wanted it to look a bit off, a bit rough around the edges. I like things not too retouched, I like mistakes because it makes it look more human. We live in this weird age where everything we create is virtually manipulated to become aesthetically perfect, and I’m happy to challenge that. Mistakes and imperfections evoke an emotional response, whether it’s good or bad, that’s what I’m after, that’s what art should be about! I was having a conversation with Josh [Isamaya’s assistant] the other day about how people will look back upon this age, and he said something very interesting. He said, “We’re living in the last springs of life. We don’t have anything to worry about, it’s the last years of carefreeness, of this dream-like state that we’re all in. These are the years we all indulge. We can’t buy houses, our jobs are up in the air, everyone’s just floating in this soup, then it’s all going to go poof! And we’re going to have to learn how to clean up our messes”.
Sort of, yes!