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                                                                                              —Yves Saint Laurent

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· The Makeup Artist: Laura Mercier

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The Makeup Artist: Laura Mercier
by Dain

There is this great moment in The Women, when Mrs. Moorehead comforts her daughter, who's just found out about her unfaithful husband: "He's not tired of you, he's tired of himself. When we get tired of ourselves, we go shopping. We redecorate the house. Men never think of something so simple. They want to see themselves differently in the mirror of another woman's eyes." Whether this is true of cheaters in general, I don't know, but this is certainly the reason why women (and men) go shopping: the promise that you will see yourself differently in the mirror, trying on and discarding personalities, all at the swipe of a credit card.

There is one style, however, that the beauty enthusiast always has in her arsenal: the natural look. It may seem like nothing at all, the safe option that millions fall back on for work and school every day, those dreary bland bestsellers In Style hawks year after year. No matter. Naturalism is still the most fundamental form of makeup, the purest treatment of the face as a canvas. Good makeup is about the face. Even the most extreme editorial look is conscious of the face and which 'rules' can be broken. Indeed, makeup artists are evaluated by the seamless perfection of their 'zero face', as it is known in the industry, and perhaps none is more famous for hers than Laura Mercier.

Mercier was born a shy child, the "ugliest of ducklings", whose dream was to paint. She trained at the venerable, highly disciplined Carita school in Paris, the protegée of Thibault Vabre, then moving to New York in 1985 to help launch American Elle, landing all the major contracts, before becoming the favored makeup artist of Steven Meisel. Meisel's shoots were grueling, but subsuming herself to his vision cultivated an extreme professionalism in Mercier: "a make-up artist... [has] no ego, it's not about me" ("About Face", 2009). This is closer to the reality of the makeup artist, by nature a backstage profession, than we realize: it's about the person in the chair.

The iconic cover inaugarating the great Liz Tilberis as editor-in-chief of Bazaar, September 1992.

It is no wonder that Mercier is so closely identified with naturalism. When she launched her eponymous brand 1996, she explained, "this is not an aggressive line... Everything is subtle. It's like a fine screen for the face that puts your features into soft focus." ("Cover Girl", Vogue April 1996). Though Mercier has drama in her repertoire, her makeup never outshines the face. Instead, it contributes to impact of the image as a whole. "To me, beauty is not perfection—beauty is personality" (Glamour, December 2006). There is a keen sensitivity to the demands of the face, the photographer, the light, the textures and tones of the pigments—never her ego as a makeup artist—so that every stroke of the brush becomes part of a conscious strategy. Attention to technique separates the professional from the amateurs. Whether the look is bold or soft is not so much the issue: good makeup is about the face.

Subtlety is not to everyone's taste. Nevertheless, naturalism is a necessary skill for everyone to master, because it informs all other styles of makeup, and due credit should be given to the challenge it presents. It is surprisingly easy to make a misstep. Though many brands offer smooth textures and cleverly arranged palettes to ease the process, there are no true shortcuts. The deft execution of naturalism requires an experienced eye, a series of thoughtful, minute adjustments that bring out the features unique to each face. The more meticulous you are, the better the outcome.

For those who requested it, a more permanent link to "Well Groomed", an interview with Laura Mercier from Allure May 1998. Thank you for your patience while I wrote the rest, even if it did take a whole month.

Click to enlarge.

Even with a beautiful model, Mercier microscopic inspection of Braitman's face is very calculated. There is absolutely no theatre, and the skin is natural rather than perfect, with Braitman's pores and wrinkles left intact. In Mercier's deft hands, which developed their technique before aggressive digital retouching became commonplace, the illusion of a makeup-free face isn't broken until she does so deliberately, in the third, most finished look. It struck me so strongly at the time, this idea that editing is the most important—not product—that sometimes makeup can be as much about restraint as expression. I still believe it.

Most of these scans were shamelessly pilfered from ellastica, whose now defunct blog is much missed.

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6/30/2012 [10]

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