Beauty Boss: Makeup Legend Ellis Faas Reveals How She Built Her Brand
In our series, Beauty Boss, we’re highlighting individuals who are owning the beauty space and turning it upside down in new, innovative ways. You’ll be able to get an exclusive look at their very personal journeys to success, as well as hear their advice to anyone wanting to follow in their footsteps.
In the age of celebrity Glam Squads, where makeup artists are often as Insta-famous as their celebrity clients, Ellis Faas is an anomaly. The avant-garde Dutch makeup artist has never courted fame, yet fans of both her work and eponymous makeup brand can’t get enough. In the flesh, Faas is captivating. For a woman of such accomplishment (Vogue Paris famously referred to her as "one of the most influential makeup artists of her time"), she’s especially down-to-earth. She’s also open, honest and forthcoming about everything from working on her first runway show ("I hid in the toilet because I didn’t know what else to say"), to her dislike of seasonal trends ("I don't do trends").
A lover of both the uncomplicated and of innovation, Faas’ range of cosmetics reflects the same paradox. The bullet-encased packaging is practical yet visually arresting, and the collection of universally flattering shades (inspired by those found in the human body, think: bruise-like khaki and freckle-beige) is just plain brilliant. We sat down with Faas to talk about her journey to success and came away inspired and even more in awe of this living legend. From painting faces at five years old to why she created a lipstick the same hue as blood, keep scrolling to learn all of Ellis Faas' unconventional secrets to success.
Byrdie Australia: What is your first ever memory of using makeup?
EF: Doing makeup on my brother. In the Netherlands we have St. Nicholas, which is not Father Christmas, but a holiday on the 6th of December. It is very controversial now but he has black helpers, so we always made people up as black to be the helpers of St. Nicholas. That was my first makeup memory, I was 5.
B: How did you progress from there into a makeup career?
EF: I did makeup on my brother again for a play (which we still have the photos of), and even then I was obsessed with it. I would get my girlfriends in and do their makeup and take pictures. I would even get my boyfriends in to do their makeup. They were crazy! I think it really started when I decided I wanted to be a photographer. I did a photography course and the subject was narcissism, so I took self-portraits. This was a long time ago—it wasn’t digital—and I kept changing myself with makeup for the photos. That sort of took over; the photography became the sideline and makeup became the main passion.
The first makeup course I did was my last year of school, I was 17 or 18. There was a course in Amsterdam for the first year ever, [makeup artists] didn’t really exist there yet as a profession. My parents saw the ad first in the newspaper and thought this would be something for me to do because they always saw me play around with makeup. So I did it, and became even more obsessed. Then I went to Paris for special effects makeup schooling, and it just continued and continued. I lived in Paris with a friend who was also in the same school. We had school doing makeup all day, and in the evenings I would sit on my bed and do more makeup on myself. I couldn’t stop.
I was a makeup artist for 15 years before I became international. I always made money for doing makeup, but the real break was when Mario Testino came to Holland and sort of dragged me along. Then people started asking for me and that’s the way it went.
B: What was the inspiration behind creating your own brand?
EF: I was a makeup designer for Biotherm. I was always in the lab and I loved it. I loved finding the textures and I used to mix my own colours. I then got the idea that it was feasible to make something myself and put it on the market. The colours were all natural to me—I had already done them—but the textures I had to find, so I started going to lots of factories. The core idea of the brand was that I wanted something compact, portable and organised for the consumer. It’s not a makeup artist brand, it really is a consumer brand, for someone who wants to get organised and use something simple. My own makeup bag was always a mess and my professional makeup kit was always immaculate. My bag was such a mess I’d have to tip it over to find anything, and everything would break and brushes were dirty so I wanted something easy for me and that was the start of it.
B: How long did it take to take Ellis Faas to market?
EF: I think around 2 years, which is not a lot because we had to re-invent all the packaging and find all the textures.
B: What kind of women wears your line? Who is it for?
EF: Women who have their own opinion and who like ease of use, who don’t want to spend hours and hours doing their makeup. It’s not technical. I want to make it easy and take the mystery out of makeup. It’s great on the bus, it’s great on a plane—if you are in a hurry, this is the best way to do it. The thing is you have to have a mind switch. If you’re used to using brushes and powders and you're taught that all this is necessary to do good makeup, it's not believable at first. You might think, "that’s not possible, it can’t be that easy", but once you know how to do it, you don’t want to live without it.
B: You’re known for your incredible visuals, where do you find your inspiration?
EF: I think, what I do is exaggerate beauty ideals. There are mascara ads where they say, "your lashes are going to be 97% longer or thicker", then they have this women with false eyelashes. So to me, they're obviously false eyelashes, but to a man and a lot of women it’s not so obvious. So what I do is over-exaggerate it, so everybody can see that it’s fake. I think that’s my inspiration, making it a bit ridiculous. I think cosmetics are wonderful, obviously, but they're not a miracle. It’s supposed to be joyful and added thing in your life, it’s not a matter of life or death. It’s a bonus.
B: You’ve worked with some incredible photographers and talent, are there any shoots that stand out for you as favourites?
EF: One of my first runway shows was a Fendi show, and I’d never had an assistant, never done or seen a show so I got there and realised I needed assistants. I phoned every agency in Holland to send assistants because that’s all I knew. Then backstage all these journalists came to speak with me and I didn’t know that was going to happen. They asked me what the makeup look was and I said, "it’s gold", and didn’t know what else to say because...it was gold. It was a gold eye with gold leaf dots, and I had no story, so I hid in the toilet because I didn’t know what else to say. I think that was a memorable one because I was so naive, and so fearless really. Then I did Chanel and even bigger shows and you sort of get the self-assurance that you can do it. If I had thought of [everything involved] beforehand I would’ve been afraid but it wasn’t like that, I was just sort of thrown in.
B: How about magazine covers?
EF: Just off the top of my head, Moschino with Mariacarla Boscono. It’s a perfume ad and she has a little moustache. I don’t know why I think of that image. I love working with Moschino, the atmosphere is funny and not so serious, so I can do lots of makeup that I love.
Mariacarla Boscono for Moschino.
B: What are you three best sellers?
B: Which is your personal hero product (if you had to choose one)?
EF: The eyeshadows ($49). They are so different to any other brand. As soon as people understand those, they get the entire brand.
B: Is there a shade in particular that you love or wear a lot?
EF: Me personally, I change around. I sometimes wear a bordeaux colour or a pink or a brown. I do use warm colours more because I just like them.
B: How did the idea for Ellis Red come about?
EF: I always thought blood was a beautiful colour and when I would mix my own red colours, it always looked like blood basically. I had the idea to bring it out in a lipstick, which was very difficult. It’s not easy to make; I had to keep adding pigment and adding pigment and I’d send factories a sample of my mix for them to imitate but hardly anyone could do it. So it was a bit of a fight. I think blood is the most universal colour because whatever shade you are, we all have the same colour blood. It only changes colour when it oxidizes. Pigmentation makes your skin colour not your blood. It’s the most global, universal colour to wear on your face.
B: Your products have been cruelty free since 1990, why is that important to you?
EF: I am a vegetarian; I don’t want to harm anybody for my fun. It’s just such a logical thing to me. It’s completely nonsense that you should test on animals anymore. In some countries you have to test on animals [to sell your products] so I tend not to go there.
B: What would you consider your career highlight to date?
EF: Making my brand. It has my name on it, which sounds very vain, but it wasn’t meant to be vain. If you start a brand, when you come to think of names, the big companies have patented them all. So anything to do with skin or texture or colour, it will be patented somewhere and you can’t use it. Your own name is something you can use. I do get sick of it sometimes!
B: What advice would you give to aspiring makeup artists?
EF: Find your own style and your own brand, whatever it is. If you like natural makeup, really get good at it and be exceptional at doing natural makeup for instance. Get a signature style and that will make you stand out.