Isamaya Ffrench's

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The work of féted make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench is a veritable cauldron of ideas and influences: horror movies, gender identity, beauty, dance, high-board diving and so much more can be plucked from her portfolio. Filtered through her deeply personal taste for the eclectic, her painted forms grace (and often subvert) the editorials of your favourite magazines, the campaigns of your favourite brands and the music videos of your favourite popstars. Isamaya has stumbled into a career arguably built on the concept of transformations - making her perhaps the perfect Semaine subject at this particularly spooky time of year…

‘Transformation’s fun! And also what makes [makeup] interesting - when there’s a proper narrative behind it. Otherwise you’d just be doing the same sort of bold eyeliner twenty times over…’ Upon meeting Isamaya you very quickly get the sense of someone who has found the perfect formula for expressing bonafide ideas without ever compromising on the natural-born desire to entertain that so evidently courses through her. In our post-shoot tête-à-tête she talks enthusiastically about ‘the symbolism and the signs and the signifiers…’ before breaking into a huge grin and rounding off with, ‘…and all that kind of shit.’ There’s also the small fact of the matter that here she sits, after 12 long hours of shooting, perfectly at ease in a fully realised witch’s costume. Blacked out teeth, a manic wig and - the pièce de résistance - a crooked, warty witch’s nose all come together just so. When it comes to realising her work, the i-D Beauty Editor and UK ambassador for YSL Beauté (amongst various other high profile roles that no doubt place a heavy emphasis on the ‘B’ word) does not shy away from the ‘uglier’ side of her tastes.

On the contrary, it has become a liberating point of difference, as any follower of her work will attest to. For Isamaya, it all boils down to ‘emotions,’ an inherently positive force to harness. ‘Why wouldn’t you want to make something emotional? ‘It makes people more involved in things and connect to it and in a way get excited by it, even if they don’t necessarily like something.’ She continues, ‘what often happens in the commercial [makeup] world is that there’s no emotion behind these images and it’s a bit like industrial design - just removing all the quirks [so that it appeals] to a mass audience. You have to strip off the interesting bits so that you have this very simple thing that everybody can understand very easily and I’ve got no desire to do that at all. So I’m very happy if there’s people that don’t like what I’m doing!’

The reference to industrial design is no accident. It is the subject that Isamaya studied at university when she first moved to London some eight years ago - an eighteen year old fresh out of Cambridge with A-levels in physics, maths - ‘that sort of thing’ - under her belt. ‘I wasn’t really gearing up to do anything creative until just before applying to uni, when I was like hang on a minute - I’m not going to be a dentist!’ After doing ‘an art thing’ as she puts it, Isamaya explored the worlds of product and industrial design through her studies, but found her true calling in the somewhat unconventional part time job she used to support herself… It was face painting at children’s birthday parties that gave Isamaya the transformative and performative elements she’d been craving in a fun-filled context. Exactly what was missing from the reductive, academic confines of her chosen degree. She threw herself into it with gleeful aplomb and dedication.

‘I mean, I did get to the point where parents would say, “okay, you’ve spent twenty minutes [painting] this kid now, I think you need to do someone else!”’. Things snowballed in - if you are to believe Isamaya’s self-depracating take on things - an incredibly organic and easy-going way. Making children into pint-sized Spidermen (or -women) soon transformed into shooting with the likes of Matthew Stone for i-D, co-founding her own clothing label (English School) and continuing to perform as part of a theatre company. And what further evolutions might the future hold? ‘I mean awesome if I am [still doing makeup] but I think only do what you enjoy and if I’m not doing makeup in five years then that’s for a reason.’

Transformations, as any horror movie aficionado will tell you, can seem scary. Isamaya Ffrench is testament to just how fun and exciting they can also be.

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Style

Style

Get the Look

It's Halloween, the time of the year where we're all allowed to turn ourselves into someone else. This get the look goes out to all the latex lovers and masked masterpieces... In the words of Isamaya, "Transformation is fun! And what makes makeup most interesting is the escapism it allows."

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Beauty

Beauty

My Beauty Kit

‘Beauty is something that moves you and is personal. It’s not something that I can tell anyone else and I can’t ever say: you should feel the way I feel about [the relative beauty of] an image or person.’ In an industry often maligned for imposing strict conventions of what’s hot and what’s not, we’d go so far as to say this is an inspiringly defiant statement. As well as being one that allows for some slightly less than glamorous additions to Isamaya’s essential beauty products!

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Interior

Interior

Bohemian Caravan
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Nomad's Nightstand

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Curiosities

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Music

Music

Music Playlist

If ever a playlist existed to soundtrack a transformative experience its this. Isamaya’s favourite tracks trigger the gamut of emotional reactions: moving without resorting to melodrama; upbeat and positive without ever tasting saccharine; cool without ever inviting accusations of pretension.

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Travel

Travel

Isamaya's London

‘I think London is just less influenced by the commercial world. New York: not really that bothered about working there and Paris is nice but…’ Isamaya shrugs. ‘I think you get really great creatives coming out of London because they’re all kind of stuck in at a young age together, trying to do these crazy creative things. And they all want to do it together.’ This sense of creative togetherness is reflected in Isamaya’s favourite London spots: almost all are situated in the vibrant east end of the city, where new millenial destinations such as Dalston house animated Turkish restaurants and trendy ‘small plate’ eateries alike.

Movie

Movie

Isamaya's Film Picks

When quizzed on what she might be doing in five years if not makeup, Isamaya is quick to respond: ‘more film I think.’ Her eclectic passion for striking moving image, and the narrative devices that anchor those images, can be traced through her own work. Isamaya’s world is one where the proto-blockbuster action of James Cameron’s second Terminator movie can comfortably sit alongside the almost unbearably dark suburban comedy of Todd Solondz’ Happiness. It is a world that emerges equal parts fascinating, garish, challenging and fun(ny). It is a world that makes perfect Ffrench sense.

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Happiness

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Until next time

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