There’s a translucent mulberry gloss in Isamaya Ffrench’s makeup line that clouds the lips in shape-enhancing shadows. “It looks great on guys and girls,” she says, summing up a genderless approach to beauty instinctive to her generation. Launching at the end of June, the 33-year-old makeup artist’s first cosmetics collection embodies a nonconformist understanding of “glam”—as Hollywood calls it—which couldn’t be further from the traditions tied to that term. “This isn’t another off-the-shelf competitive red lip,” as Ffrench puts it. “There are people out there who don’t just want ‘glamorous and pretty’, but something more edgy and exciting. I want my brand to talk to those people. Something honest and uninhibited—that’s how I see it.”
As global beauty director of Burberry Beauty and recognized as one of the most directional makeup artists of her peers, Ffrench ranks among the chief influential voices in fashion. Over the past 10 years—while still in her twenties—she has co-developed cosmetics lines for Tom Ford and Byredo, and created some of the most arresting looks of the decade, epitomized by Rihanna’s pencil-browed cover of British Vogue for September 2018. “She is a real visionary,” says editor-in-chief and European editorial director Edward Enninful. As part of a generation devoted to diversity and self-expression, Ffrench’s graphic, subversive and even menacing face art has challenged the conventions of beauty. “Makeup was always meant to make you transform temporarily before you washed it off. I want this makeup to be weapons for truth. I want people to feel like they can be themselves or they can join something or try something,” she says.
From the inside out, this first drop from her eponymous Isamaya line is the physical embodiment of those values. An eyeshadow palette of “industrial” colors in putty textures—moody, inky shades interrupted by hazardous bright green and orange—is encased in a black compact with a ghostly torso pressed through its lid. It evokes the grammar of bondage similarly conveyed in the cap of the Rubberlash mascara—which has an instant stretch effect—impaled by a hard metal piercing. Ffrench has developed a pomade that completely laminates the eyebrow for a naked effect, over which foundation can be applied and new eyebrows pencilled in. A capsule collection for now, subsequent drops are expected to follow, with the brand focusing on working towards sustainability as a key goal. The transformative aspects of the collection are core to Ffrench’s attraction to cosmetics.
She spent her teenage years in Cambridge obsessing over the late makeup pioneer Kevyn Aucoin’s radical book Making Faces from 1994. “When I work with Cher, she always tells me about how big his hands were, and how he could just put these fake lashes on using his fingers,” she says, referring to one in a celebrity clientele that also includes Madonna. “It’s often a little bit of a lesson for me working with them. Cher and Madonna, they probably know more than you do, about everything.” New-gen regulars include models Bella Hadid (“She’s perfection, isn’t she?”) and Aweng Ade-Chuol (“She’s so incredibly beautiful”), but no one has impacted Ffrench’s career more than her creative collaborators.