Makeup Artist Kevin Aucoin Was a Champion for Women of All Ages – A New Film Explains Why
Kevyn Aucoin applies make-up to Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista backstage in 1995. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)
From almost the moment he arrived in New York in 1982 until his untimely death in 2002 at the age of 40 from complications of opioid toxicity, Kevyn Aucoin dominated the beauty industry and became a household name—all before he ever had a namesake brand. Aucoin was equal parts artistic genius, creative visionary and perhaps above all, vocal forerunner of inclusivity. The new feature documentary Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story directed by Tiffany Bartok chronicles the extraordinary life of the first celebrity makeup artist, a man who changed the face of modern beauty and in the process, became a superstar himself. He appeared in countless CNN , MTV and The Oprah Winfrey Show interviews, backstage at the Academy Awards and as himself in Zoolander and the infamous Sex & the City fashion runway episode. Cher, who says her life would be “so much richer if he was still alive,” remembers how on their frequent makeup shopping expeditions even at the height of her music comeback it was Aucoin, not her, who was catnip to gushing sales associates.
Larger Than Life, co-produced by Canadian bestselling author and journalist Bronwyn Cosgrave, is also a vivid time capsule of the era. Aucoin’s life story runs parallel to a seismic shift: the rise of the modern celebrity era in the 1990s, when fashion became mainstream culture and supermodels — Naomi Kate Christy Cindy Linda and Paulina — became cultural icons. But it’s also an era the face painter extraordinaire himself helped define and shape. Here are seven ways Kevyn Aucoin’s influence endures today.
He Helped Create the Supermodel
In many cases, Aucoin’s was the unseen hand – the unseen giant, bear-paw hand— who created iconic fashion moments: his debut Vogue cover in 1986, for example, was also Cindy Crawford’s first Vogue cover. Larger Than Life accomplishes that rare feat: it gets all the supes to talk about the era and about their friendship in and out of the makeup chair. Naomi Campbell, for example, says she wouldn’t sit in anyone’s chair but his because he understood black skin; Kate Moss wistfully longs for just one more night of dancing around Aucoin’s apartment with him. This was a time when the separate worlds of fashion and entertainment came together, and Paulina Porizkova likens their 1980s heyday to a wave gathering energy to become a typhoon that became the powerful 1990s.
He Promoted Beauty of All Ages
Along with his then five-year-old sister, his mother was his muse. Because more than an approach to makeup, Aucoin had a philosophy of beauty. “I have been working towards acceptance of diversity in this business,” the makeup artist confides in an on-camera interview with FashionTelevision’s Jeanne Beker, “Because I don’t believe that one person – Vogue or any other big magazine — should be able to say ‘This is the new look’ and everyone has to wear that.”
Breakout unconventional work with Liza Minelli proved his point, breaking down barriers about age and promoting different expressions of glamour. “By doing Liza it was challenging an assumption,” Allure magazine founder Linda Wells says, “about what the media considered beautiful. She was absolutely stunning but she was not in the typical assumption for age or beauty that you would think a big mass-market beauty magazine would do.” That also included working on photo series with Isabella Rossellini (this is, remember, shortly after Lancôme had fired the longtime spokesmodel for being ‘too old’ — at 43). From his earliest makeup moments, Aucoin challenged the norm. “There’s no set standard, I don’t think,” he told a local TV station. “Because I find beauty in everything.”
He Anticipated 24/7 Social Media
Interviews are peppered with the makeup artist’s own private hand-held footage, because Aucoin was also a forerunner of constant self-documentation: his daily video diaries began in his teens and ranged from staged skits and mockumentary news videos to behind the scenes takes. He recorded and kept everything, from answering machine cassettes to DV tapes and meticulous scrapbook collages assembled in his appointment book with notes, Polaroids and memories of working with Janet Jackson and Cher. “It’s like he needed evidence that this was really happening.”
It’s through these we’re privy to the unscripted and intimate moments on set — like with Minelli and Isaac Mizrahi, for example, at an ironing board bursting into song. Downtime in a Paris hotel room with Christy Turlington. Laughing while touching Whitney Houston up on the set of her “Where do Broken Hearts Go” video or Tina Turner on the set of “I Don’t Wanna Fight.” In one magical glimpse we see Celine Dion looking in the mirror mid-makeover and slowly smiling to herself, as though she’s seeing her beauty for the first time. Larger Than Life captures a candour that’s almost impossible to imagine today — the end of innocence on the eve of today’s 24/7 celebrity coverage, curated social feeds and heavily massaged ‘official’ behind the scenes glimpses that were born alongside the internet.
He was A Vocal LGBTQ Activist
Growing up in Louisiana in the 1960s he was the adopted son of loving parents, but anything that went outside the lines about who you were supposed to be didn’t fly with the community at large. For every Led Zeppelin poster on his brother’s side of their shared bedroom, he had one of Barbra Streisand. He enjoyed things that were considered girlish, like drawing, instead of sports like baseball.