Remembering Kevyn Aucoin

Pin It
Courtney Love and Kevyn Aucoin
Courtney Love and Kevyn Aucoin

We remember the legendary style and enduring charm of cosmetic mogul Kevin Aucoin

Kevyn Aucoin is considered the world’s first celebrity make-up artist. He counted Naomi Campbell, Cher, Julia Roberts and Cindy Crawford amongst his roster of celebrity clients, and while make-up was his trade, it was his affable charm and charisma that secured his fame. “The best thing about him doing your make-up," Gwyneth Paltrow once said, "is that it allows you to spend time with him."

Adored for his personality, Aucoin also had an unparalleled influence on the beauty industry, being largely responsible for the beauty stylings of the 1990s such as Brooke Shield’s matte lips, Christy Turlington's arched brow and Cindy Crawford’s lipliner. He wrote three bestselling books, The Art of Makeup, Making Faces and Face Forward, expressing his unique aesthetic. He wrote tutorials to create his trademark looks, from how to contour your face like Gwyneth Paltrow to achieving Courtney Love’s smeared lips and smoky-eyed grunge look. He also launched a groundbreaking makeup line with Revlon titled The New Naked, which catered for all skin-tones, before introducing a cosmetic range under his own name in 2001. He was awarded a CFDA Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1994, and remains the only makeup artist to have received the honour.

“He would lay me down on the floor like a canvas, the way Jackson Pollock would, and begin,” writes Gwyneth Paltrow in the retrospective book that followed his death. “We would talk about childhood and lovers or the let-downs of life. He would tell me obscene jokes and scream in his loud, throaty laugh.” He championed creativity and character, driven by an exuberant all-American optimism and the grassroots philosophy that every woman is beautiful. “You can put on all the makeup you want, but it won’t make your soul pretty,” he wrote.

“He would lay me down on the floor like a canvas, the way Jackson Pollock would, and begin" — Gwyneth Paltrow

However despite Aucoin’s positive rhetoric, his own story was riven by sadness. His unconventional upbringing left him vulnerable — adopted into a strict Catholic family and bullied throughout school for his effeminate leanings, his fear of inadequacy never quite left him. He suffered from a rare condition called acromegaly — a tumor on the pituitary grand that causes an overproduction of the growth hormone. As his reputation flourished, he was also growing physically and this relentless pain led to a long-term prescription drug addiction. He began to collapse onset, and his closest friends urged him to seek help. When Aucoin passed away in 2002, due to complications arising from his condition, his loss shook the fashion world, who united in mourning to pay tribute to his outstanding legacy. "He was one of the loveliest people I have ever met,” said Kirsty Hume. "He always made me feel like like my best self."

Kevyn Aucoin: A Retrospective is on at Space.NK, Knightsbridge.

Words by Mhairi Graham