From shaky foundation, makeup artist becomes as big a star as clients


His strong hands have touched the tender faces of more famous women than perhaps any man alive.

Whitney Houston, Cindy Crawford, Janet Jackson, Audrey Hepburn, Christie Brinkley, Raquel Welch, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Kate Moss, Diana Ross, Demi Moore and Roseanne are just a few.

He fusses over their features and transforms them into stunning beauties for the camera. He makes them look good; more importantly, he makes them feel good.

"I was born on Valentine's Day! What can I say?" makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin says. "When it comes to personalities, it's really more about making women feel good than stamping a trendy look on them.

"My whole life I've been drawn to people. That's why I'm a makeup artist rather than an artist. Painting on a canvas seemed so lonely to me. Painting people's faces is much more interesting."

Few artists can make any woman look prettier than Kevyn Aucoin, the 32-year-old master with a makeup brush who defends powder and eyelash curlers like they were close family members.

Mr. Aucoin, who began doing makeup for his younger sister when he was a child, is one of the most sought-after makeup artists in the world. His understated, perfect makeup, sometimes sexy, always eyebrow-dominant, is a hit within the beauty industry.

He has more magazine covers to his credit than any other working professional. His list of famous faces reads like a who's who of the most glamorous women in Hollywood and New York. He designs makeup for several designers' runway shows and serves as a consultant on technique and color for a handful of makeup companies. He also works regularly with top photographers like Steven Meisel, Francesco Scavullo and Richard Avedon.

His career is so noteworthy that it has become a book.

"The Art of Makeup" (HarperCollins Publishers/Callaway Editions, $60) contains 227 color photographs of Mr. Aucoin's famous faces, along with lively stories about his encounters with the women and how he enhanced their looks. The book is co-written by beauty editor Tina Gaudoin.

The book reveals Mr. Aucoin's philosophy about makeup: "Accent the positive . . . bring out the best, not hide the worst," he writes. "A makeover should help you understand that the best way to look good is to enhance what you already have, simply and easily."

He also gives common beauty mistakes made by women: not curling the lashes, not waxing facial hair, choosing the wrong tones and smoking cigarettes. He offers clear instructions on four styles of makeup application, as well as basic concepts on tools, foundation, eyebrows, eyelashes, eyeliner, eye shadow, lips, blush and powder.

Graphically, the book captivates the reader. "The Art of Makeup" brings together the gifted talents of top photographers and the radiant beauty of famous women. But it is Mr. Aucoin's frankness about his extraordinary life and personal anecdotes that gives the book real depth.

Mr. Aucoin talks openly about being gay and adopted. He discusses the difficulty of growing up in "homophobic" southern Louisiana during the 1960s and 1970s, and how his supportive parents, gay cousin and worship of Ms. Streisand kept him from going nuts.

He also tells about performing his first real makeover -- at age 11, when he made up his 5-year-old sister, Carla, using his mother's tube of orange lipstick.

"We were in my room. I had nailed this old fake fur rug up against the paneling. I snuck my father's Polaroid camera," he says. "She had no makeup on and I realized something was missing. I went to my mother's vanity and found a tube of orange lipstick. I put some on her lips and smudged a little on her cheeks. Oh my God, the color! From that point on I became fascinated with it."

Entirely self-taught, Mr. Aucoin read fashion magazines as a teen and studied the work of makeup artists, like the late Way Bandy. In his collection today remains Bandy's book, "Designing Your Face," which young Kevyn "checked out" from the Lafayette Public Library.

When he was a teen, his interest in makeup and fashion grew, but so did the teasing by classmates. Finally, he could no longer ignore it.

"At school, I would find death threats in my locker. I had rocks and bottles thrown at me," Mr. Aucoin writes in his book. "The teachers' attitude about it was, 'Well, you wouldn't get beat up if you didn't walk like that.' "

At 20, Mr. Aucoin retreated to the Big Apple, where he got his big break working for photographer Meisel on a shoot for Vogue magazine.

Twelve years later, Mr. Aucoin is wanted by more women than perhaps any man on Earth has a right to be. Four of his admirers (fashion editor Polly Mellen, designer Donna Karan, singer Liza Minnelli and Ms. Crawford) composed essays for his book.

But there are two women whose praises Mr. Aucoin would like to hear: first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Hollywood actor Gena Rowlands.

"I'm dying to do Hillary Clinton!" he said. "Because I would love the chance to work with her and affirm her beauty and attractiveness. I'm so sick of her being attacked by the media. Women find her intimidating. They are resentful of women who go out and get what they want out of life, and Hillary is one of those people."


Snippets from Kevyn Aucoin's book, "The Art of Makeup" (HarperCollins Publishers/Callaway Editions, $60):

* Of Janet Jackson, Mr. Aucoin writes: "I vividly remember meeting Janet because it was one of the few times I've actually been shocked by someone's beauty. Janet didn't seem very amused when I asked her to lie down on the floor in her trailer to do her makeup. This is something I often do if space is limited, and it's a great way of keeping someone completely still."

* Of his idol, Barbra Streisand: "I think I fell in love with her when I was about 12. ... My dream finally came true last year on this shoot for American Vogue. The makeup for the shoot was simple: Barbra's skin is flawless, so she didn't need any foundation."

* Of the audacious Roseanne: "To me, the inner strength and beauty Roseanne radiates is something we should all strive for. She's someone who is confident about who she is and the way she looks without caring about what other people think."

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