Let’s go to the beginning, for you personally. Can you tell us about some of your first experiences with cosmetics?
Well to be honest, there wasn’t much makeup around when I was growing up! I never really thought of it. But I was always painting. Let me see...Did I paint myself? I tried to make myself look Japanese...I had a Japanese nanny, and I love the Japanese aesthetic, so I remember trying to achieve that look. But instead of makeup I would use watercolours or acrylics or anything I could get my hands on. Sometimes I would paint pictures on my face, on my eyelids or whatnot. Now if I want to do something like that I go over to the M·A·C Pro Shop in Canada and get these pigments that make your skin really white and pearly. You can use them on your body as well.
I was always fascinated by makeup. My mother didn’t wear any at all and I always thought that was such a great loss because it seems to me that the only point of being a human being is being able to transform the way you look!
So what did you think when M·A·C approached you for this collaboration?
I’ve always loved M·A·C. I’m obsessed with the Lipglass and the Mascaras. I’d often go into the M·A·C shops to play with the brushes and such, but for this, to be able actually to have some kind of input on a project? I felt it was a great opportunity. And of course M·A·C and I have mutual friends. My dear friend Issy did a Lipstick – she was terribly excited about that – and another great friend, David LaChapelle, always had a good time shooting for M·A·C. And I always just thought it was such a cool company. I even remember when it first came on the scene, I thought, ‘great, finally something new for a change.’
Tell us a bit about your creative process as it pertains to this collection.
I was in the Beverly Hills Hotel – and let me tell you there’s always some mad project going on in my bedroom when I’m there, ha! I had parchment papers spread all over the floor and all sorts of different powders and watercolours that I was mixing together and my finished pieces were drying on the balcony. I was painting for so long on that floor. When I’m given a task, I take it really seriously. I start with the raw materials and mix them and all the while I imagine art references and try to consider the Old Masters and try to figure out how they mixed this colour or that colour. Then, when the pieces were done, I packed them all in my suitcase to show M·A·C. Maybe it all sounds strange, but I’m always playing with colours and pencils and paints. I do it all the time! For me a recurring theme in my work is history and the universe – the smallest things and the largest things and I explore that through colour. The process that I’m always in.
Where do you think your instinct for colour comes from?
I think it all has to do with light and the places I grew up. Of course the light is different in Ireland from that in London, and it’s really extraordinary in Cadaqués in the north of Spain. When you have a storm the clouds come out from behind the mountains and make these extraordinary shapes and when the sun hits them from a certain angle it makes a beautiful light. When you look at Dali’s paintings, that’s not him being surreal, that’s him painting from life because that’s what it looks like! I’m very sensitive to light change – I’ll start jumping up and down when the sun begins to set because of the way it goes an orange colour when it comes through my windows because it’s so beautiful. And I hate bad light. When I go in some place and the overhead light is neon it gives me a headache. I’m obsessed with light because without it, you can’t have colour.
Speaking of colour, can we please discuss your hair? Everyone is obsessed!
They are!? Oh gosh. Well what happened was that it’s all an accident. First I dyed the underneath red. At that point it was less baby blonde on the top – it was very white when I was a child and then it went darker as it does. Anyway I dyed it red, then darker red, then plum, then I went to purple, then darkish blue; so at this point it’s not quite black. And the kind of whitest shade of blonde on the top happened by mistake gradually in different salons. Anyway this is what I ended up with! I’m not sure what will be next. I like to experiment. And I do like my hair to be done, it is civilized!
Are there any specific historical or fashion references that directly influenced this collection?
The thing is I don’t like to copy anything and I really try to come up with something completely new. Of course, you have to work with things that are in your frame of reference, but I really aim to create a new colour or at least a new configuration of colours together. As Degas said, “You have to copy and recopy the masters,” but you can only do that for so long and then you have to do your own thing. Otherwise you’re only going backwards and not forward. So I try to take my references from the past and bring them into the present and make them relevant again. I tend to like classic things that you can use many times instead of fads; trends annoy me actually. There’s one thing in loving beautiful things and admiring people’s creations, but a trend? I quite prefer things to move forward, but to exist as a pinnacle of quality.
As for more specific references I would reiterate my love for the Old Masters: Titian, Zurbarán Michelangelo. And I might say that I’m absolutely fascinated by butterflies and outer space. Blimey, I have pictures from the Hubble space telescope and some of those are just extraordinary, and if you look very closely at a butterfly’s wings or even perhaps a jellyfish, you’ll see there are similarities. I mean, I’m not being mad, just have a look! It just absolutely blows my mind.
What are some of your favorite pieces from the collection?
Well for instance, I’m quite proud of the Hyperion Nail Lacquer. It resembles this almost grey, steely light that is pure Whistler from the 1890s when he still had fog in the paintings. The shade is so beautiful and it also reminds me of a celadon-coloured antique Chinese porcelain vase. Porcelain in that colour is rather compelling. There’s something about these sorts of shades that I find quite lovely, and you’ll see that this collection is all about cool tones. I’m not a real primary colour person, and warm colours do not become me. Anyway we can’t all be bouncing along the beach looking sunkissed. I’m never gonna be that girl. I wish, but it ain’t gonna happen! I’m just not great with browns or terracottas and perhaps aside from daffodils, I think yellow is bad luck. I hate canary diamonds with a passion!
You’re known as a patron of couture when it comes to fashion. Would you call this a couture cosmetics collection?
Oh certainly. Couture means handmade, and I mixed the colours by hand and really, really, really put a lot of thought into them! It’s been one very happy experience and I’ve had such a nice time. The only thing I missed is I wanted to be right there in the factory. I would love that. The process is just everything to me. You see, before I was speaking to you I was literally in my bathroom mixing up products and smashing them about! I’ve learned so much and I’m having so much fun with makeup.