“Dare to be different” is the philosophy of the people behind the hottest new make-up on the beauty scene, Illamasqua. This innovative British company, the first cosmetics company to bill itself as being a “night-time brand”, has quickly established itself as a mecca for anyone who doesn’t want to blend in with the rest of the crowd – and is sick of being told that blonde, tanned and skinny is the best way to be. It has only been available for a year, but already Illamasqua can count Lily Allen, Sienna Miller and, especially, Courtney Love among its devoted fans.
Discussing the range in Glasgow, one of its creators, make-up artist extraordinaire Alex Box – a vision of out-there style in her tomato red jumpsuit, high heels, gold-tipped red nails and big, two-toned hair – explains how fed up she had become with bland cosmetics adverts which have no imagination and no story to tell. Illamasqua’s ads are dark, decadent and look like movie stills. Unusually, it’s the models’ dramatic looks that are to the fore, not the products.
Even more annoying to Alex, who works regularly with maverick fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, is the way that everybody is being pressurised to look the same, and continuously being told – by beauty companies and the media – which products will help them get the looks that will enable them to fit in. “At Illamasqua, we’re the opposite,” she says proudly. “We want people to find themselves within our vast range of colours and pigments.”
We’ve all come across hairdressers and make-up advisers who tell us which colours we should wear, based on whether our colouring is cool or warm – and not allowing for the fact that we may well love how we look with a contrasting colour or that we don’t actually believe in these old-fashioned rules. Well, that won’t happen at Illamasqua. Rather than forcing their tastes on customers, the Illamasqua make-up artists will help them achieve their desired look.
“There’s no formula to beauty and style,” explains Alex. “This is my pet hate. People are fed up with being told ‘what not to wear’. It’s a dumbing down of people’s personalities and self-expression. You might have lived in Mexico all your life and you might gravitate towards warmer colours in your clothes or accessories. That’s probably the first thing that people notice about you; it’s what makes you you. No-one should tell you that you can’t wear those colours. That’s what winds me up. And seeing that we could stand against that way of thinking was one of the main things that lit my fire about Illamasqua.”
Among the names that kept coming up in market research and focus groups into whose looks people liked and which celebrities they found inspirational were quirky model Agyness Deyn, burlesque queen Dita Von Teese, who has developed a distinctive 1940s look, and Beth Ditto, the plus-sized pop star who very much makes her own rules. “We got feedback from people not necessarily saying that they wanted to look like these women but that they envied their individuality. But what they also said was that they lacked the confidence when it comes to experimenting with make-up.”
A key part of the Illamasqua experience is having an at-counter lesson in how to apply this professional make-up, which was formulated by chemists who normally make theatrical make-up. While the customer is being taught how to create what Illamasqua calls his or her alter-ego, a tiny camera in the mirror films the lesson. So you can take home a DVD of how you were turned into a vampire, flapper, Twiggy-lookalike or whatever you want to be when you go out at night.
And you certainly have plenty of options. The range has no fewer than 650 different colours, including 100 powder eye shadows. So there is something for everybody – even those for whom experimentation is a scary prospect. As Alex says: “One person’s natural is another person’s outrageous – going crazy for one person might be just having a change of eye shadow. That said, we’re trying to do something different rather than trying to please everybody – we’re saying that you’re with us or you’re not with us.”
Nevertheless, there is something for everybody in the vast range which includes some fabulously long-wearing foundations, false eyelashes that would work on everyone from prom princess to drag queen, highly-pigmented eyeshadows and lipsticks, and unusual shades of nail varnish guaranteed to grab attention…
* Illamasqua is in Debenhams, Glasgow and Selfridges, London.