When the August issue of British Vogue is a big celebration of Pride, representation, individuality and activism, how does one approach the make-up? For Isamaya Ffrench – a make-up artist who is always pushing the boundaries of what it means to transform via colour, texture and prosthetics – it was about honouring the unique character and beauty of each LGBTQ+ cover star. “We wanted everyone to look and feel amazing, to celebrate individuality and beauty, so that each person’s make-up complemented their personality,” she tells Vogue.
From Cara Delevingne and Ariana DeBose to Cynthia Erivo, Munroe Bergdorf and Jordan Barrett – just five of the 12 change-makers depicted in the story – there were an array of luminous faces for Ffrench to paint. “We had conversations with each cover star about how they liked to make themselves up and the message they wanted to convey and took it from there,” she says.
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They landed on fresh-faced make-up looks, which enhanced each individual’s unique features, whether DeBose’s arresting brown eyes (subtly defined with liner) or Aweng Chuol’s vinyl lips, which were captured smiling widely.
Glossy skin, with varying degrees of shine, was a common thread throughout the shoot: “We celebrated glowing skin and took time to perfect everyone’s skin using a mix of skincare and make-up products,” explains Ffrench, who used products from Jones Road, Johnson & Johnson, and the SkinLacq Glow Serum from her newly launched beauty line, Isamaya. Glass skin in a bottle, the serum is infused with hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump, while emollients create a healthy sheen across skin – it will be available to buy soon.
What was it like working on a shoot celebrating these LGBTQ+ stars? “It was such great energy!” she asserts. “There’s nothing better than celebrating each other.”
Isamaya Ffrench is sitting at an outside table at London’s The Maine, a stone throw’s from Vogue’s HQ. It’s a particularly sunny Spring day and everyone is full of cheer, which makes what she’s about to unveil that much more subversive. Taking its cues from the visual lexicon of BDSM culture – the lids of two serums and a mascara come skewered with wearable hard metal piercings, while a bound rubbery figure emerges from a 14 pan eyeshadow palette – Isamaya’s first make-up collection (the Industrial collection), for her brand new beauty brand, Isamaya, and its accompanying Steven Klein-lensed campaign, is as much a statement about the beauty industry as it is about beauty. Because Isamaya isn’t your typical beauty brand: it’s not selling you some repackaged notion of beauty in the traditional sense, nor is it relying on tired millennial tropes to appeal to a younger audience. It’s simply about providing the tools for people to express themselves in a way that’s incredibly freeing. “Everyone’s always banging on about make-up to transform yourself,” says Ffrench. “I’ve done the transformation thing, and I get it. But actually, I think make-up is a tool to return to who you are. And I think this collection could speak to people that can be more of their authentic self with this style of make-up, as opposed to like, a pretty girly blusher or something else.”
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But to focus on the visuals and underlying message alone would be to undermine what she’s managed to do in terms of the products. Because this is where the true ingenuity lies. A five-piece drop comprising a mascara, eyeshadow palette, glow serum, lip lacquer and brow laminator, Isamaya has worked tirelessly with her lab to create innovative textures and boundary-pushing formulas; a mascara that doesn’t just give you the effect of fuller lashes, but actually nourishes them to promote growth; an eyeshadow putty that melts with your body temperature to make it more blendable; a glow serum that doesn’t just contain pearlescent particles for a superficial dewiness, but also active ingredients that stimulate collagen production, creating a much deeper, more intense radiance. After years of lending her prowess to brands including Tom Ford, Christian Louboutin, Burberry – where she remains global beauty director – and Byredo, Isamaya is executing her unique vision of beauty on her own terms, and without any commercial shackles. The result is a lesson in unrestrained creativity that feels truly Isamaya. “I look at these products and I think, ‘That’s just so much more me than any other products I’ve ever seen in my life,’” she muses. “Maybe other people will be able to connect to it as well.”
Below, Vogue takes a closer look at the collection.
Industrial Skinlacq Triple Hyaluronic Glow Serum
A pearlescent lacquer for the face, but without any added sparkle, the Industrial Skinlacq Triple Hyaluronic Glow Serum is ideal for creating that glass skin look. Using a triple hyaluronic acid complex, along with cell-energising peptides, it also works to nourish and reinvigorate the skin, which was key for Isamaya. “I didn’t just want a glowy serum that doesn’t do anything else,” she says. “If I’m going to use this on my face every day, as the perfect base for my make-up, I wanted that first point of contact to be moisturising and moisture-locking.” Bottled up beautifully in a glass orb, replete with a pipette and hard metal piercing, it will bring an edge to any bathroom cabinet.
Industrial Rubberlash Latex Lift Mascara
A true example of make-up artistry and invention, the Industrial Rubberlash Latex Lift Mascara doesn’t just make your lashes look fuller and longer, it actually curls them too. “The lab created this mesh-like texture to encapsulate the lash,” Ffrench says. “It has this kind of elastic property that pulls the lashes back so you don’t need to curl your lashes.” Using three separate pigments, two black and one blue, to create an ultra black lash, it gives that coveted false lash impression, while conditioning oils nourish to encourage growth.
Industrial Liplacq Maximising Lip Serum
Described as a veil for the lips, the Industrial Liplacq Maximising Lip Serum uses a blend of coffee and ginger root oil to create a plumping effect, while its deep berry hue and almost inky texture add a sense of depth. This isn’t your average lip offering. “I wanted to create something that makes your lips a couple of shades darker because I think it’s quite sexy, quite goth,” she says. “I don’t want it to look like you’re wearing any product, though, it just deepens your natural tone with a kind of greyish, veiny tint.”
Industrial Browlacq Brow Laminator
A multi-use brow lacquer, apply one lick of this hard-wearing, hard-working gel to your brows and it will hold them in place from day to night and right through to the morning after. Perfect for styling or giving that laminating effect, it contains glycerin and humectants to nourish the hairs as well. “For all the drag queens out there, you can use this to stick your brows down and then cover with foundation, and then you have no brows,” she adds. It’s also good for kiss curls.
Industrial Colour Pigments Eyeshadow Palette
Taking inspiration from industrial hues – oil slick greys and chrome silvers – but with the odd flash of acidic colour, the 14 pan palette is a mix of special effect pearls, mattes, and press putties – demi-wet textures that activate at body temperature so they blend more easily. They look just as exquisite together as they do individually. There’s a particularly arresting violet that looks almost holographic on the skin. Isamaya recommends it for cooling down your highlights, while a silver pressed metallic gives a foil-like effect. “It’s all about the textures,” she says. “They look really interesting in different lights, and photograph really beautifully.”