The function of criticism is to be as intelligent as possible.” It’s a line I heard in the documentary film The 50 Year Argument and it resurfaces in my mind as I leave my interview with makeup artist Ellis Faas. Her form of criticism isn’t there to be negative or condescending but to be enlightening, a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “I see you”, and mocking lies peddled as truth.
Her talent lies in her ability to have fun, creating images that celebrate imagination without missing the opportunity to inject her opinion – wickedly ironic – about the industry she’s made her career in. Faas didn’t set out to work in fashion, let alone become one of the most sought after and celebrated makeup artists in the industry. Having discovered makeup at the age of 14, she describes her early interest as “a passion. It was something I really liked doing but I had no idea it was a job. I knew about makeup artists in theatre and that sort of thing but I didn’t know there was such a thing as an editorial makeup artist”.
She credits Mario Testino as the one who pushed her into the world of fashion, a world she otherwise might have shied away from. “He taught me, because I was afraid of the fashion world, that people at the top of the fashion world aren’t mean at all. They are very passionate about what they do and they want to make something beautiful,” Faas explains. “It is the people that are around them that start kicking, you know.”
We are here to discuss her eponymous makeup range, available in Australia through Mecca Cosmetica. Silver, bullet-shaped applicator pens for lips, cheeks and eyes, all made to be loaded into a canister resembling the barrel of a gun. A screw cap for the foundation, and everything you could need is in one easy, industrialised holder. Sleek in design and practical to use, they're beautiful, and functional above all else.
After our interview, what sticks with me more than the highly desirable product range is her wish to champion the unique beauty of the individual. She isn’t here to give an inspirational pitch, the ‘real body’ kind that is used in excess and borders on twee. Instead she speaks from the sharp, irony-drenched and subtly sarcastic point of view that her body of work showcases. She’s chasing something that’s true. Exaggerated and surrealistic, sure, but always genuine. A desire to challenge the undercurrent of rules, conformity and uniformity ever-present within the world of beauty.
Faas’s catalogue of images highlights her humour, her willingness to push boundaries. Flicking through her book, On the Edge of Beauty, she stops at an image where the model’s lashes extend to wrap around the head, explaining, “I always want to exaggerate, it is a bit of a piss-take on the beauty industry in that sense – if you see a mascara and they say your lashes are going to be 55 per cent longer ... you’re like, ‘What is 55 per cent?’ and then you see these really long false lashes. So I just wanted to make them look really false so people know it’s a joke.”
Often her inspiration stems from frustration, a desire to disturb the oft-repeated rules of the game. “I think people should not be lied to and they should be told that you can be creative with [makeup] but it will not change you into someone else. You know it is just accentuating the things that you have,” she tells me.
“I don’t like the whole face-shaping thing [contouring], because you are really trying to structure your face in a way that tries to make you a different person. ‘Oh I want a straight nose’, well you should see the beauty in a nose that is slightly off, you know. I want people to become more confident with who they are and not let themselves be told by the so-called experts what to do, and that is frustrating because people do want to hear it. I am not going to tell them what to do even though there are people that are asking and asking.”
Faas’s exaggerated style is somehow always heartening – sometimes ironic, mostly playful and innovative but always seeking to challenge the status quo. She sees her role as simple: “I think a makeup artist is there to inspire, not to put down laws. To inspire people! I mean the things I make are not for daily use but it is supposed to show a world of beauty that might inspire you.” And herein lies the charm of Faas’s work. A life spent colouring outside the lines.