by James Vincent
by James Vincent
When it comes to bold choices, dramatic shapes, brilliant colors, flawless complexions, and daring, outside-the-box looks, few makeup artists are as reliable or recognized as Ellis Faas. Full of humility and possessing an innate understanding of what people want to wear, Ellis, who is based in Amsterdam, is just the type of artist who should create her own brand—and she did. Her understanding of fashion and beauty is the stuff of legend among makeup insiders, and has influenced and inspired countless artists to pick up a brush.
Vogue Paris has called Ellis one of the most influential MUAs of her generation, and rightly so. She’s taking over the industry with her eponymous product line (which launched in 2009) and sharing her artistry experience with both professionals and everyday makeup fans. I had the honor and pleasure of being asked by Beautylish to interview the one and only Ellis and had an amazing time.
With both of us wearing sunglasses in brightly lit rooms we connected screen-to-screen across the continents to discuss passion, inspiration, her pet fish, the agency-or-no-agency debate, and everything makeup. Enjoy!
James Vincent: Hello Ellis. Thank you for making time to talk to me today. I’m in New York City this week. Where do you live now?
Ellis Faas: Amsterdam. I’m based here, the brand is based here, and I’m full circle and in my next phase with photography popping back into my life, just as it was in the start.
I know you were based in London at the start of your career and travelled extensively. What brought you back to Amsterdam?
Eventually I returned to Amsterdam to raise my daughter, who is now 26.
What does your family look like now?
Just the one daughter, a fish, and a husband-to-be.
Congratulations. Do you follow astrology? What’s your sign?
I’m very much a Pisces.
Pisces are adaptable and imaginative. When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First, fashion designer…and I made the most horrendous things. Bathing suits made out of sheets and things like that. Sewing was not my forte. But still I wanted to be a designer, or photographer.
I’ve read that you grew up in the Netherlands in a very artistic family. Was that an influence on your pursuing makeup?
Yes. I think the special something they gave me was the understanding and ability to choose a profession first and think about money later. To find passion and then later think—is it a job? Can I find money doing this? Can I make it a career? I remember that when I first wanted to do makeup, I didn’t know it was a job. I didn’t know it was a career. I knew there were makeup artists in movies, but really assumed that models did their own makeup for photos in magazines and ads and such.
“I loved the feeling and the smell of makeup. The touch and the transformation captured me.”
You pursued photography, and then decided you wanted to be on the other side of the camera. What was so intriguing about makeup?
I remember I did a course in photo and the subject was narcissism. I kept transforming myself into different characters using makeup and fell in love with the instant gratification and immediate transformation. It was not digital then, but old fashioned analog photography. Low technology. I had to wait as I was working with real film, and waiting was difficult. But the makeup. The makeup was versatile and immediate. I loved the feeling and the smell of makeup. The touch and the transformation captured me.
Your work has led you to be called upon by top photographers like Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Karl Lagerfeld, Terry Richardson, and Jean-Baptiste Mondino to name a few. What are some of your most memorable moments on set?
My first show. I’d never done a show as an assistant and Lagerfeld asked me to do his Fendi show. I phoned my agent and asked if it was a good thing to do, very unaffected as I didn’t know—I didn’t know how impressive or important this was. I was at the show backstage and the journalists started asking questions. And I was taken aback. I fled to the toilet to get away from them. They kept asking about the look and I was like…”gold, gold leaf!” I had no team there and no experience and I was so naive. It was good because if I wasn’t naive, I would have been afraid.
Many makeup artists ask the question: agency or no agency?
I’m independent. I have no agency now. Agencies are only for certain types of work. I used to be with a French agency and then on to Management+Artists in Paris, Milan, and NYC. My brother has always acted as an agent or manager. Many times agencies push you to take work you wouldn’t want and produce work that’s just like everyone else’s, so they can sell you better. And it doesn’t allow you to create your own style or trust your own instinct.
Vogue Paris has called you one of the most influential makeup artists working today. Who are some of the people that influence you?
For makeup artists, Serge Lutens and Shiseido. I remember I was trying at 14 to imitate their looks from magazines. There was one Shiseido image with a horn in the hair, and I would practice it on myself, finding pieces I could attach and apply to my head. Artists like Leigh Bowery because he was different and daring. Francis Bacon because of his use of color. I’ve never been into art except when it was makeup-related. When I was 16 I asked for a French Vogue as the issues were expensive. I was very proud I could point out the different photographers. Immediately recognizing someone like Guy Bourdin. The model Veruschka [a German countess] was an influence. Of today’s artists, I would say Pat McGrath.
Your work backstage and behind the scenes at fashion week includes some of the most celebrated designers including Armani, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, and Yves St. Laurent. What do you love about fashion week, and what are some of the things you look forward to when being brought onto a show?
I always look forward to the stories they have to tell. They’ve been busy with it and I get to step into that world. It’s really inspirational to hear the story and see the results. I enjoy the pace and I enjoy working with the designers’ teams. On shoots, you’re so lonely. Here, you get to play with people.
What about your work makes it the most interesting to you?
I think the part of living the fashion life. The act of working together. The collaboration. Inspiring each other. It’s funny that you meet the same people in different places all the time all over the world. Like a travelling circus. Like being in Milan and hearing English and wondering, where am I? Am I in Italy or London or the U.S.? I love that the only thing you have to be concerned with is beauty, and that is a nice way to live. Now I do my administration work for the brand and I cannot wait to get back to creating beauty. It’s a privilege.
What challenges do you face as a working artist?
People find me…I get a lot of comments…that I’m shocking. With social media, there are a lot of opinions. I read on social media that my work is shocking, or even just what people like or dislike. Having my work commented on by consumers can be difficult. The way you get slagged up. It can be quite jarring. I don’t recognize myself in their comments. To them I’m a creep or a freak because they don’t agree with a color choice. I’m shocked when they critique my beauty work. It’s challenging. I’m a big girl. I get over it. As soon as I’m on a set with a brush in my hand, everything is okay.
“Makeup lives. It’s alive. It moves and has energy.”
How would you describe your signature style?
Fluid. Not very precise. I’ll do a big streak of color and energy and not focus on the small detail. Ellis Faas. They call me Ellis Fast. I do quick makeup. I don’t keep fooling around. It can become flat with too much time. Makeup lives. It’s alive. It moves and has energy. I love it to be instant.
What should someone looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
It’s very important that those getting into makeup know that they have to be very true to their own style. I think that is the most difficult thing. Agents and everyone will try to push you in another direction. They try to push you to be like everyone, but that’s not the way to get noticed. You have to stand out. If you sell out because you need money, you will not make it. You will not be happy. Always be true to yourself. If you’re different, be different. If you have a certain taste and you’re convinced your taste is good, keep with it. I was very strong in my opinion. Eventually someone might notice you because you’re different. Try to find a way to do your own thing in your own way. Make your own art. Take your own photos. Create your own pictures. Be an independent artist. Make this business your business.
“Always be true to yourself. If you’re different, be different.”
What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?
Sensitivity. You have to be very open and look around and listen and feel what your clients and collaborators mean in terms of beauty. Get into their world. Feel them. That requires sensitivity. You can’t close off the people you’re working for or with, so that you can start thinking out of your own box. You think, how would this designer do the makeup if he was able to do it himself? You get more creative, you adapt. You’re sensitive and you make your own thing. You do your own thing.
What makes you a good makeup artist?
That. I’m extremely sensitive. Too sensitive. But it’s good because when you look around, you don’t fall for fake. You feel people and you know who to trust and surround yourself with—that’s a good thing.
What project did you have the most fun working on?
I haven’t ever been very starstruck and I wasn’t longing to meet photographers or celebrities. Mario Testino just kind of happened for me and I enjoyed that. I think projects that have been favorites are with photographers Paolo Roversi and Peter Lindbergh. I kept asking my agent to put me up for jobs with Paolo, and five or six times I didn’t get hired on. Finally I emailed Paolo and it came through, and it was amazing and we worked together many times after that. Peter is one of the nicest photographers and nicest men. Days with them would be memorable. I have a really bad memory. Sometimes I ask my brother, who was it that I liked?
What project was the most challenging?
A long time ago, I came back from holiday and there was a question from my agent and they wanted me to do a raw egg on someone’s face. I said I could do it…but I wasn’t certain how. I practiced all night with mirrors and glycerin and gelatin, into the early morning. I always said yes. I always know I can do it. I might think, oh shit, I’ve never done that—but first I always say yes. If you can work really hard, you can achieve it. I once did this commercial that was a remake of The Wizard of Oz. It involved prosthetics, which I’d never done but I was bluffing my way through, looking at books and learning a lot. No giving up. It turned out amazing.
Is there someone you’ve always wanted to work on, who you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
No. A few people I admire but I don’t think I’d want to work with because of their personalities. I would love to meet Serge Lutens, but he’s reclusive now.
What type of work do you find most satisfying?
I think today, it’s what I do now. I ask a girl into my studio to create my own designs. I do the makeup and photo and post-production. It’s autonomous. You miss the inspiration of working with others sometimes, but I can decide the light, and I choose the direction. I choose the shot and shape, and it’s very satisfying.
I love makeup and beauty products. What are your top five must-haves?
I’m not certain. My line. I developed it the way I wear makeup and the way I see makeup. Skin is important. One should always wear foundation, concealer, and powder. Complexion is important to completing a look. I also think mascara and lips are a necessity. You can complete any type of look with those items.
There’s a sensual element and exciting use of color in your work. Do you think you look at photographs or the face differently than other artists do?
I’m not sure if I look differently. I do know that however extreme the makeup is, it always fits the girl. It should always look like it fits. That gives more personality than makeup you slap on. It becomes more human. It feels more alive.
The Ellis Faas brand is beloved by makeup artists and consumers, too. What led you to develop your own line?
The portability. I used to develop another line, but I wanted a way that the makeup could be carried in a sexy and easy way. It didn’t exist, so I made it for myself. Even the holder. I just calculated how many products I used every day, and developed it thinking, this is what everyone should use every day.
“I can create anything. With makeup anything is possible.”
What should we expect to see for the next few seasons? What’s coming next in makeup?
I think—I hope, that it will all be about ease of use. Not the latest glimmer and then three months later a flimsy product. I hope it’s more classical and not so trend-related. What you can teach people is technique, but I find it very hard to see how people advise others on style. Your style should be your own. The way you get your style or makeup to work is to make it easy. Not making people afraid and giving rules to follow. Makeup should be much less rigid.
What’s next for Ellis Faas, the beauty line?
Highlighters. Three really beautiful highlighting powders that are really fine. They look like porcelain. Another…I cannot tell you about it yet. But I will say I look to bend things, and see a lot of different products on the table.
What’s next for Ellis Faas, the woman and artist?
My first exhibition as a photographer. I just had a gallery show in Amsterdam and we want to take it worldwide. I want to take more photographs. And there’s always makeup. It makes your head even freer. I don’t have to show a certain product. I can create anything. With makeup anything is possible.
Ellis thank you so much for your time and for being such a true artist and inspiration to me and so many others. We cannot wait to see what you come up with next.
As Director of Artistry for The Makeup Show, The Powder Group and On Makeup Magazine, makeup artist James Vincent has touched every facet of the industry with his talent. With specialties in film and theatre, television and celebrity work, editorial and runway work, James is foremast a passionate educator, training for brands such as MAC, Stila, CNN and Lancome. He continues to inspire the next wave of artists with his beauty expertise. Follow James on Twitter @JVincentmakeup.