Celebrity makeup artiste Ellis Faas on the importance of telling stories and why runways are more fun than photo shoots

Tell Ellis Faas that when it comes to ramp makeup, we, in India, tend to play it safe, and she remarks, “It’s a beautiful way, I think. Who knows, maybe the smoky eye originated in India. Surely. Indians have been using kohl for a long time. But, yes, maybe it’s time to find a new classic.”

Amsterdam-based Ellis is a bit of a makeup legend. Besides working with companies like Clinique, MAC, Lancome and L’Oreal, she’s painted faces for the biggest names in fashion business — Chanel, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Diesel, Diane von Fürstenberg, Armani, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Lanvin…It’s a very long list.

In New Delhi to work on the ‘Dutch Fashion Here & Now – India’ show being put up at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week this evening, Ellis will be working on the show that sees two pairs of Dutch and Indian labels collaborating — Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna with DIED, and Suneet Varma with Jan Taminiau.

Ramp makeup in recent times has been pushing boundaries — from sequined eyebrows (Chanel) to neon lips (Dior) to green or whitened faces (Vivienne Westwood) to dip-dyed hair (Prada). How does Ellis see this palette evolution and developing trends in makeup?

“I think it’s become freer. I never set a trend. Or maybe you set a trend but that’s not the idea. You talk to the designer, and you normally have a story about what sort of girl it is — where she lives, where she eats, what she does during the day. Then I sort of imagine what she would look like. And every designer has a different story. So every makeup is different,” says Ellis. “Afterwards journalists see the common things in all the shows, they pick out things that they see and call it a trend. That’s the way it works. We work the other way round.”

It’s useful when the designer has a clear narrative. “It’s very inspiring when they have a story. It’s very difficult to create when someone says, ‘Do something’; where do you start then?”

On the art of storytelling through makeup, Ellis recalls one narrated by Italian designer Giambattista Valli once. “His was about Little Red Riding Hood eating the wolf. During the show the volume came out of the clothes, and that was the wolf coming out, which, if you think about it, is really weird. That is a really nice way to start makeup. You might not see it when you see the show, but for us it’s nice storytelling.”

While Ellis has worked on thousands of magazine photo shoots, it is ramp makeup that gets preference. “The older I get, the better I like shows, because it’s instant — you work really hard for four hours and then the show is over and you leave. For photo shoots, you work for maybe two hours and then sit there for 16. I’m too old and I’m too bored, and I can’t handle that anymore,” she grins.

In 2009, Ellis used her experience in makeup application and product development to launch her own brand of cosmetics, Ellis Faas. Which gap in the market did she see that needed filling? “The portability,” Ellis replies. “That was my first aim. When I was designing makeup for Biotherm I suggested that there had to be something uniform, something very portable; makeup usually comes in all these different shapes and sizes. I wanted something uniform, easy, where you don’t need to carry a whole kit with you, as a consumer. My makeup line is really meant for the consumer, not for the makeup artiste. It’s very confusing for a makeup artiste because it all looks the same!”

The colours too, she says, are about those that might naturally exist on the human body. “For instance, red is the colour of blood, purple is the colour of a bruise. They’re all colours that become one with your skin, they’re not clashing with your skin.”