make-up maverick aaron de mey merges surf and goth culture to create something beautiful
Aaron de Mey is the make-up maverick transforming girls into gothic wonders, boys into rock star studs and us into desperate wannabes, clambering over ourselves to be painted by one of fashion’s most talented.
In 1997, Aaron de Mey moved from a town on the east shore of New Zealand, where all the girls bleached their hair and all the dudes wore friendship bracelets, and surfing was a legitimate school sport, to the city that never sleeps, New York. Even though he studied fine art rather than make-up, he was immediately snapped up by the François Nars talent agency, where he landed his first job and made his name right here, on the pages of i-D. These days you'll find him decking out the Saint Laurent rock chicks with lashings of black eye shadow, kicking back on the pages of Purple in a pair of Nike Air Jordans, or making up Kimye, #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple, for the cover of Vogue.
With bleached blonde, shoulder-length locks, logo tees, and a soft Kiwi accent, Aaron is still the embodiment of surf culture, but he's brought the sun with him to the big city. "I like juxtapositions," he explains, "like the surf girls with beach hair, flawless make-up and not much clothing, and the goth kids with far too much make-up, hanging out beachside." Back home, it was a naturalistic and pretty organic lifestyle, he says, but he was also deeply inspired by British and American culture.
It was just two weeks after arriving in New York that Aaron secured the i-D job, working with none other than the queen of the supermodel era herself, Naomi Campbell, for the cover of The Active Issue, January 1998, styled by Edward Enninful and shot by Elfie Semotan. "It was daunting, but Naomi is courageous, funny and hugely charming," he remembers. "She appreciates your efforts and is a great collaborator. She made my job easy, because of her beauty and her ability to bring it to life." His first major show came two years later, for a punk-themed Comme des Garçons collection. Rather than playing it safe and demonstrating his skills to Rei Kawakubo through the careful and precise application of primer, concealer, eyeliner, etc, Aaron instead showed off his creativity, using the "wrong" hand to paint the models' faces, and he came out the other side smiling. Since then Aaron has worked with legends, like Nan Goldin, Bruce Weber and Corinne Day, painted the faces of superstars including Winona Ryder, Courtney Love and Chloë Sevigny, and created the cover looks of more magazines than you can shake a stick at. In 2008, he was named Creative Director of make-up for Lancôme, a post he held for five years and in a 2009 interview with i-D, Stéphane Marais named Aaron as the only make-up artist exciting him today. "I think Stéphane is a true gentleman and a huge talent, so I was really honoured," he says. Aaron has turned Kate Moss into a smouldering temptress, Karlie Kloss into a pink kabuki rose, and transformed skin into intricate golden armour for Givenchy, but his most outrageous creation to date was a collaboration with Mario Sorrenti: "Cutting out porn pictures and collaging them on the models' faces with clear shiny gel." Steamy! "Actually I often do outrageous, fun make-up with Mario. He encourages it and I like a challenge," Aaron elaborates.
In April of this year, Aaron helped create what was possibly one of the most controversial covers of all time - Kim Kardashian and Kanye West fronting the most sacred of fashion bibles, Anna Wintour's Vogue. Forget the dispute over the choice of models, the couple on the cover looked stunning, and Aaron had a big hand in it. "It was great fun, I always love going to Los Angeles, and working with Annie Leibovitz and Grace Coddington made it even better. Both Kim and Kanye were great models and the perfect hosts," he tells us. And did Yeezy have a say on Kimmy K's look? "Absolutely not. They both had complete trust in Anna and Grace's ideas, and they were honoured to be on the cover of Vogue and deeply appreciative. They both worked hard and knew that we were all striving to make the best pictures possible for them, so they had complete faith in us. It was impressive and endearing." So stop the squabbling, it's time to kiss and make-up!
For this issue, Aaron's teenage goths have black, spidery lashes, glittering, scarlet lips and silver nose rings. "I was inspired by Leni Riefenstahl's photographs of the Nuba Tribes in Sudan, St Marks Place in NYC, Theo Wenner, glam rock, tribes in general, and of course, the girls that we worked with - Josephine and Valery." When asked what beauty means to him, he says: "Something that you cannot always explain, but you know it when you see it. Substance, spirit and kindness are a huge part of it too." He equates beauty with cinema too, as he reels off his list of the most beautiful women in the world. "Meryl Streep in Manhattan or Plenty, Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour or Indochine, Nastassja Kinski in Tess or Paris,Texas, and Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet." And the one girl he still wants to make up? "I like this new model very much, Molly Bair, I haven't met her yet. She has the best graduation picture and she looks like a pixie. I would give her lots of glitter around her eyes and paint a rainbow on her forehead because she looks magical."
So what are his secrets? His tips and tricks? And just how does he create that lusted-after Hollywood stare his name has become so synonymous with? Like a make-up magician, Aaron whips up a few secret concoctions of his own. "I was inspired by Marlene Dietrich's technique of burning a cork and mixing [the soot] with Vaseline. I first referenced this idea at Prada's 2001 show by collecting soot from a burning match, and mixing it with Elizabeth Arden Eight-Hour cream, Aquaphor or my favourite clear lipgloss, and patting it on the eyelids for a dewy, smouldering smoky eye," he reveals. It might not sound as poetic as lizard's leg and blind-worm's sting, but Aaron's potions are guaranteed to turn you into something beautiful and sexy every time. His other secret ingredients include fresh blackberries for cheeks and lips and hairspray for the eyebrows.
"Maud Laceppe, Frankie Boyd and Alice Lane all have great talent and originality," says Aaron, name-checking the make-up artists he finds most exciting today. In the same way we asked Aaron how he felt about Stéphane Marais' praise, if his stars keep aligning the way they have for the last 16 years, we'll soon be asking Maud, Frankie and Alice how they feel about being hailed as ones to watch by make-up maverick Aaron de Mey.
Text Felicity Kinsella
Photography Theo Wenner
Make-up Aaron De May
Hair Akki at Art Partner using Kérastase
Nail technician Naomi Yasuda at Streeters using NARS
Set design Peter Klein for Frank Reps
Photography assistance Stowe Richards, Jesse Hawk
Digital operator Craig Ward Eisinger. Styling assistance Valentine Malone III
Hair assistance Yusuke Hori
Make-up assistance Tayler Treadwell, Mariko Hirano
Nail assistance Chiharu Natsume
Set assistance Kris Massey
Production Hillary Foxweldon
Models Josephine Le Tutour and Valery Kaufman at The Society
All make-up and nail polish Nars.