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Ellis Faas has been called “one of the most influential make-up artists of her generation” by Vogue Paris. In an interview with Culture Trip, she offers make-up tips for novices, shares advice from her famous friends and talks about the fundamentals of Amsterdam style.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Faas trained as a photographer before moving to Paris to study make-up. In 1999, her work caught the eye of renowned photographer Mario Testino, who changed the course of Faas’ career. She has since collaborated with fashion’s most celebrated houses, including Chanel, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent and Junya Watanabe. Her eponymous line of luxury cosmetics is available at Dermstore, Neiman Marcus, Net-a-Porter and Ellis Faas.
Culture Trip (CT): How did training in Paris prepare you for a career as a make-up artist?
Ellis Faas (EF): It didn’t. The education was never about preparing for a career; it was just a group of teachers and students sharing a passion. The biggest thing they taught me was that doing make-up—special effects to be more specific—was like faire la cuisine, cooking. In order to get to a specific end result, you can choose whatever ingredients—not just cosmetic products, but anything that adds color and/or texture—and trust your instinct to mix, blend and stir until you’re happy with the result. This has given me flexibility, freedom and [has] broken down walls of conventional beauty, and that is something I’ve used during my career, and also to create the [Ellis Faas] brand.
CT: As an international make-up artist, you’ve traveled the world. What is your favorite city?
EF: Paris. Whichever season, time of day, or weather, there is always so much poetry in the aesthetics of Paris.
CT: How would you characterize Dutch style, particularly in Amsterdam? What looks work best there?
EF: Amsterdam is—or was—a very liberal, open city. On the one hand, [there is an] absence of keeping up appearances, resulting in no-nonsense or even nondescript looks. On the other hand, the freedom is such that if you want to go all the way and pull [out] all the visual stops, nobody will judge and disapprove, or even look twice.
CT: What’s the difference between creating a make-up look for a show as opposed to a photoshoot?
EF: If you know the visuals I create for the brand, then you know that I don’t shy away from the “big gesture.” But usually the difference is that for a show you need to exaggerate whatever you want to show, simply because the audience is sitting far away, and a show only lasts for about 20 minutes, so the audience needs to understand quickly what you want to say. With photography, the eyes watching are much closer to the subject, able to see more detail, and the page will not go away until you turn it, so the pace of absorption is different.
CT: What distinguishes an Ellis Faas look? How do you define your style?
EF: Difficult to say about myself, but I know for sure it’s not too precise. I like to work fast—my nickname in the business was Ellis Fast! [I don’t like to] fiddle around because I’d rather take [make-up] off and start over again as opposed to trying to improve something I’m not happy with.
CT: What are the most important things people doing their make-up at home should do to achieve a professional look?
EF: I have no idea, to be honest. Whatever someone at home should definitely do is lose all inhibitions to experiment, at least if she or he wants to. Most people have been made afraid by rules dictated by famous or not-so-famous people wanting to impose dos and don’ts of make-up. Please throw all of that in the rubbish bin, and just try. If you don’t like the result, just take it off, because for crying out loud, it’s only make-up.
There is one [tip to follow]: pick the shade of foundation that is closest to your skin tone, or otherwise the foundation will look like a mask. For me, a big don’t-go-there is shaping. Yes, doing make-up [requires] playing with light and shadow so, indeed, keep that in mind. But please stay away from heavy shaping. From most angles that will surely not look like what you had in mind.
CT: Talk about your line. What distinguishes Ellis Faas as a luxury cosmetics line?
EF: Firstly, [I designed the packaging to make it] easy to carry around and travel with. Secondly, most products are liquid, because [liquid] becomes one with the skin easier, so the make-up is not like a mask. Thirdly, our Human Colours [collection] have been inspired by colors that by nature are part of the human body, so there is a natural relation between the make-up and the face underneath. That concept makes the colors suitable for any skin tone, age or style. Our products are 100 percent cruelty free.
CT: Tell me about your ambassadors. How do you select make-up artists to join the team?
EF: It’s not that someone’s style needs to be in line with mine, but we do like artists who have the same sense of freedom. Plus they need to be active so their work can be seen and shared, and we also look at where they are based.
CT: You’ve worked with so many influential people. What were some of the most important lessons you learned from Mario Testino?
EF: Without joy there is no success. His shoots are always a party, and I believe that shows in the end result.
CT: What did Karl Lagerfeld teach you about style?
EF: Nothing is impossible, and you should never restrict yourself by preconceptions.
CT: What is a style lesson from editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris Emmanuelle Alt?
EF: A smile and skinny jeans is all you need.