Inside Isamaya Ffrench’s brand headquarters, barbell-pierced palettes, bottles and jars are strewn about on desks, creating a perfect patchwork of organised chaos. Like many offices, it is an open-plan space, rife with manila folders, printers and desktop computers, but to the back of a short foyer, past vanity tables and a kitchenette, are walls of moodboards, studio lighting fixtures and a stark, black paper backdrop. There, Ffrench poses, metamorphosing into a phantasmagoria of bewitching warrior women to grace the pages of this issue.
Incarnating an off-kilter, alien glamour, Ffrench’s imagination ran wild. “People always ask me where the inspiration comes from for the make-up looks I come up with in editorials, but I honestly don’t know. They can be reactions to props, the photographer’s work, what I ate for dinner; things often just happen in the moment and when it feels right,”she explains.“In this case, our stylist Rubina Vita Marchiori had beautiful styling suggestions and we decided to incorporate them into the looks.”
mask by SOFT SKIN LATEX
In one lurid tableau, Ffrench as ‘The Fighter’ hangs tough, her contours obscured by a hand-sculpted, wire-net Giacomo Bevanati mask. Her lips are veneered in chrome. Her eyes are subtly silver, lit from below rather than above to appear shrouded in mystery. “The inspiration really came from that piece,” she says, referring to the mask. ‘The Abyss Flower’ blossoms next with a futuristic latex mask that clings to shimmering golden skin. ‘The Hero’ has bloody eyes, sparkling metallic skin and a burnished pout, as if she were a femme fatale after the kill, while ‘The Impassioned’, lacquered and aqueous, is almost carnal. “There’s an element of glamour to it, but it’s turned on its head a bit.” Bandaged in marred black and navy rubber, ‘The Brazen Goddess’, like a siren, beguiles with a crimson lip and a smoky eye.
In her portraits, with a “vintage [Steven] Meisel/ [Mark] McKnight type vibe”, Isamaya Ffrench manifests a mood, as opposed to a narrative. “I’ve been so much about lipsticks, mascara, highlighter… so I really wanted to create a lot more of a mood with this shoot. I wanted to look at other ways to use the Isamaya Beauty make-up products because they’re so versatile and I don’t want them to be limited to the imagery we have done before,” she says. “Metallics were paired with latex to create a strange sci-fi world, which I wanted to bring back to reality with very wet skin textures, bloody eyes, drenched lashes.”
from left: gloves by TORTURE; mask by GIACOMO BEVANATI
As we chat, it’s a balmy day in early September; the afternoon sun slants through the heavy windows of her Shoreditch mecca. Having just returned from Prophesy, the avant-garde metal festival at the Balver Höhle in Germany, and a nearby nudist camp, she’s feeling revitalised. “It was just the complete opposite of what I do in my day to day [life]. You come back feeling so mentally refreshed that it gives you energy to then get back involved with the thing that you love doing. So I’ve come back and I’m doing the shoot now, and I’m in a much better headspace than just grinding, shoot after shoot,” she says. “I think people are so afraid of taking time out because the industry is so fast and demanding. But you’re doing yourself damage by doing that.” Ffrench is very candid when she speaks, musing over her prolific work with a humble smile and a laugh – she emanates an effervescent energy that’s contagious. “I genuinely feel like time off and doing things that are completely unrelated to work is where the magic happens in your brain. If you’re working back to back, it’s very hard for your brain to create space for new things, because it’s just consumed with processing what’s going on.”
Since dropping out of her industrial design degree at Central Saint Martins in 2009, on account of it not being “conceptual enough”, the 34-year-old has been caught up in a maelstrom of make-up bookings, reaping a steadfast reputation for disruption, wearable artforms and well… phallic products. In February, Ffrench released – there is no other way to put this – a lipstick that looked like a silver dick and balls. Dubbed Lips, the erotic range was an ode to alternative culture, borrowing from the fetish world and embracing the fantasy, experimentation and sexual liberation of all things aesthetically horny.
from left: bodysuit by MARIE MONIQUE, gloves by ATSUKO KUDO LATEX; mask by SOFT SKIN LATEX
The Cambridge-born creative launched her revolutionary label last year with a kink-infused medley of glow serums, brow laminators, lip glosses and mascaras, cased in matt black vessels with wearable metal piercings and rings puncturing the packaging, and a shimmering eyeshadow palette based on BDSM classic the vacbed (a bondage lilo of sorts where you lie down under a rubber sheet, then suck out any air with a hoover until it’s tight as can be to the skin, with an air hole for the mouth, of course). She called it Industrial. Wild Star debuted next, inviting lip liners, lipsticks, highlighters and a pressed pigment palette to the make-up table for cowgirls and boys who are wild at heart. Taking a sustainable approach, all of Ffrench’s products are vegan and cruelty-free.
While the products are high grade, for Ffrench, it’s never really been about the make-up, but rather navigating fantasy and experimental concepts. Still, Ffrench is a make-up artist – and a seriously sought-after one at that – having been global beauty director for Burberry Beauty and creative director at Dazed Beauty and Byredo, as well as a creative consultant for Tom Ford Beauty, YSL Beauty, and Christian Louboutin. She now operates as beauty curator for Off-White and of course, heads up her own brand. Recently, she worked her magic at the SS24 fashion shows, decking out models with gothic lips, glass skin and black pupils at Junya Watanabe, brushing on black eyes and bruises to make models look like car-crash dummies at Mowalola, serving consensual lipstick-stain kisses at Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood and fresh faces at Balmain and Ottolinger. “I think I love collaborating with people to push new ways of making beauty images because that’s what I’m really interested in,” she says.
The Isamaya Ffrench brand is just as top-shelf as it is philanthropic; with every collection, it partners with a different charity. Ffrench worked with The Worldwide Tribe,“an organisation that helps create awareness of the refugee crisis, people that have had to flee their countries and have stories”. Her Wild Star collection raised awareness for the American Wild Horse Campaign, while Lips supports Planned Parenthood, advancing its mission to provide sexual and reproductive health care and sex education across the US.
This issue, of course, is about ‘wonder women’ – women who are driving change and guiding the way forward – but behind every leading lady is a coven of hellbent heroines. “Everybody who is a woman in this industry is inspiring,” she says. “Speaking to different charities or non-profits with every collection that we do, I feel like I’m not the wonder woman, but that everybody I work with is.” One ‘shero’ in particular has impassioned her: Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie, a long-time friend. “We used to be in a performance company together before she got her big acting break in her thirties, which some might say is a late age to break into things in modern society, but she was one person who was so committed and it just completely paid off. I’ve always looked up to her because she’s always fought for what she is really passionate about,” says Ffrench. “And you know, she’s like six foot five, she’s very dominant physically. I can understand why it might have been hard for her to secure roles in such a commercial space. But she just fucking carried on fighting and now she’s one of the most successful actresses out there. I’ll never forget watching that journey and being like: wow, she’s so committed.”
dress by GENEVIEVE DEVINE, earcuff by MUTTER, earrings by REBEKAH KOSONEN BIDE;
Ffrench demonstrates that what is often considered ugly or grotesque can also be beautiful, or already is. She pushes the boundaries of palatability within the worlds of make-up and aesthetics. “Beauty, as a word, can be defined in the dictionary, but it’s very subjective and personal. Watching your partner give birth is beautiful, there’s beauty in nature, etc. I believe it is something that moves you. I read a quote: ‘beautiful things have limits’, but I believe there are no limits. When you look at the opposite of beauty – ugliness or creepiness, whatever – there’s just so much more to explore. That’s why I’m always quite drawn to things that are darker or have more of an unusual position in the world of beauty, because there’s just way more to explore and to feel.”
Ffrench has the Midas touch, attributable to her commitment to challenging perceptions of beauty. Inside her magnetic mind, fantasy flourishes. Behind her brush, the body becomes a blank canvas, her siren-esque creations the visual masterpiece. Isamaya Ffrench is the future of beauty.
Taken from 10+ Issue 6 – VISIONARY, WOMEN, REVOLUTION – out now. Order your copy here.
mouthpiece by KARINA AKOPYAN and SOPHIA SHMIGOL
ISAMAYA FFRENCH: THINK KINK
Photographer JOSIE HALL
Creative Director and Talent ISAMAYA FFRENCH
Fashion Editor RUBINA VITA MARCHIORI
Text EMILY PHILLIPS
Hair CLAIRE MOORE
Make-up TASH SULTANA
Photographer’s assistant TOMMY FRANCIS
Fashion assistants FRANCESCA RUSSO, ERICA WELHENAGE and ELLA BIAGIONI
Creative assistant and producer FRANCOIS BRESMAL
Creative assistant GEORGIA HAMBURY
Digital assistant LAURA HECKFORD
Retouching JON HEMPSTEAD
Make-up throughout by ISAMAYA BEAUTY