industry insi-Der: stéphane marais
Want to know how your idols got their foot in the door and made it to the top? Make-up artist Stéphane Marais shares his memories of 35 years in the industry.
Stephane Marais and Linda Evangelista, Photography Laspata/ De Caro, 1995
His incredible career cannot be condensed into one paragraph, but here are just a few of make-up maverick Stéphane Marais' achievements to date; a 34-year-collaboration with Peter Lindbergh; a 15-year-collaboration with Comme des Garçons and even longer with Jean Paul Gaultier; hundreds of magazine covers including 12 for i-D's The Best of British Issue in 2009; and campaigns for Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Dior. Fresh from beautifying Rihanna for her Dior campaign, Secret Garden, filmed by Steven Klein in Versailles, and just before he jets off to Cuba with RiRi and Annie Leibovitz, we got the French make-up superstar to spill his secrets to success…
When and how did you start your career in fashion?
I was born and raised in Saint Malo, Brittany (North West of France). At the age of 18, a counsellor advised me to study economics. I wanted so badly to move to Paris so I searched for marketing courses in the capital. It lasted a month and a half. Then I discovered discos and spent all my nights out, where I met creative people from art and fashion schools. They told me I should try something in make-up. I didn't even know that make up schools existed. Finding the course somehow old fashioned, compared to the images I liked, I left after three months. I went to magazines asking for a job but no one hired me. Lucky enough, one of my close friends was scouted in a café. I met her agent, Marilyn Gauthier, and asked to do the make-up for her and get some test photographs for free. That's how I got my book in 1981.
What was your big break?
My first photoshoot with Peter Lindbergh. Make-up artist Jacques Clément could not finish a shoot for Marie Claire and then fashion editor, Betty Bertrand, was looking for someone to replace him. I was very nervous but I did it. A month later, Peter told me he was preparing a big story around Marlene Dietrich with a girl from Austria for Vogue Germany. "Can you do it?" he asked. Although I was petrified, I accepted the challenge. It was a huge success. Afterwards, I met Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons. Motivating challenges make me go on.
What fashion photograph, show or magazine has inspired you most over the years?
Lillian Bassman. She was amazing and I am honoured to have worked with her twice. I do like Nick Knight's work but I haven't had the chance to work with him. Yet…
What's the best thing about working in fashion?
Meeting creative people who have crazy ideas and projects.
What's the worst?
Waiting for the consultants to give information and direction according to what they saw in Milan the week before. I am more into working with the designer. Besides, sometimes people are not honest and I can be very disappointed.
What's your proudest achievement to date?
There are many of them. First, it was working with Irving Penn. I remember being very impressed by this old man as I walked into his studio. He used to say: "I don't like cute, come on, shock me." Even if he was a master of photography, there was always a sort of dialogue. My latest one was huge: Rihanna for Dior. The clue was to be adopted by her entourage. On the first day, the manager asked me to do her make-up while she was sleeping. I refused but then I decided I could try. And it worked. The manager understood that I was able to cope and everything went smoothly after that. On the second day, when chatting to Rihanna I discovered that she knew everything about me. I was impressed. She's very professional on set although the ambiance is a bit rock'n'roll.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the industry, past or present, who would you collaborate with and what would you collaborate on?
I was very attracted to Alexander McQueen's world. His shows were remarkable, they had a dark side with a great phantasmagoria. I did his shows at Givenchy. I really like Iris Van Herpen's work. Her poetry is very touching. Maybe one day.
What is the biggest change you've witnessed in the industry since you started?
Big luxury groups changed many things. Young designers have more opportunities.
What three rules do you live by?
Never yield to panic. If something goes wrong, I just take two minutes and change the whole direction. Always be honest. I always work with my team on the shows. They are family. I am confident and can delegate.
If you weren't working in fashion, what would you be doing?
Cashier in a supermarket. Oh I don't know… What I'd like the most is to retire in my parents' house by the sea in Brittany and work in the garden.
What advice would you give young fashion fans hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I am still here… Technique is very important but one should forget one's own problems on set. Stay polite and positive. Be daring but never cross the boundaries.
Finish the sentence, fashion makes…
…the world go round.
Text Oscar Heliani