In the Kit
isamaya ffrench

Makeup Artist Isamaya Ffrench Proves Blue Eyeshadow Is Spring’s Best New Trend

She also helped design the cult-favorite Tom Ford Extrême Collection.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Jake Rosenberg

While there’s no shortage of beauty, hair, and skin-care inspiration on Instagram these days, there’s one makeup artist who has elevated it to a near artform—Isamaya Ffrench. In case you’re not familiar with the former beauty editor-slash-special effects guru, just open up the pages of your nearest Vogue Italia or Dazed magazine, and you’ll spot her vivid, otherworldly creations, or on some of fashion’s biggest names (think Rihanna, Bella Hadid, and Taylor Swift).

Now the 28-year-old Brit is lending her artful eye to Tom Ford Beauty as creative artist consultant, resulting in the new Tom Ford Extrême collection. With 20 shadow shades that quite literally span the rainbow, as well as a lash and brow tint, this release is not your typical neutral color palette. But Ffrench attests that anyone can rock a magenta or turquoise eye with just a little practice—in fact she whipped up her gorgeous makeup look for our shoot in about 15 minutes. “I think people are just experimenting with being individual,” she explains as we explore what other products she keeps in her kit (an industry-favorite Burton suitcase, FYI). “For the last ten years, there’s [been] such a huge commercialization of beauty, homogenizing a kind of face or aesthetic. I think this generation is now pushing back against that, to reclaim their individuality. Of course that goes in hand with [things] like sexuality and gender fluidity. It’s all one big picture, I think.”

Over the course of our afternoon, we learned a lot from Ffrench about why she considers new makeup technology “radical,” her go-to sources for beauty inspiration, and why she only follows one (!!) account on Instagram. Plus, we discovered how she designed and applied her electric blue eye look with only a handful of products. 

“We started working for Mr. Ford about a year and a half ago. He wanted to create a new line that was graphic and editorial and bold. Less about skin and beauty and more about extreme, editorial runway looks, so we can have fun with color. That was my introduction to the Extrême line—trying to find a new way of using color.”

“I only follow one [Instagram] account—@LADbible. It’s English humor, for guys. [laughs]. But I’m so exposed to the industry and creative stuff anyway. I think I prefer to choose when I look at it, rather than just being like, inundated with images. I think it’s important to filter what you look at.”

“I feel like [Instagram] has given a much bigger voice to a generation to explore their own identity a bit more and be creative with it. I think it’s very inspiring to see so many people use it in that way. You can kind of create an alter ego, can’t you? Which is awesome.”

“You can be on set [for an editorial shoot] for 24 hours sometimes. You have early call times, late finishes. We have to carry like, 30 kilograms in each bag around with us. There’s a lot less glamour. The image is the glamorous part. The rest is hard work and passion.”

“[In your kit] you have to cover all bases, because you never know how things end up [with] what the photographer wants. So that’s why we have so much. [laughs].”

“[Traveling with my kit] is terrifying. This is your life, really. This is how you make your living. So it’s really scary if it ever goes missing. You can’t really insure this stuff. I mean, a friend of mine, Sam McKnight, the hairstylist, I think he mentioned they lost his kit 12 times.”

“I think people are doing things like bleaching their brows a lot more casually, and that creates a very different facial structure. It’s easier to add a lot of color if you have light hair. I think metallic pigments, high light-reflective pigments, iridescent—a lot of iridescent stuff at the moment—I think that’s really cool. I think it’s just part of innovation as well. The more innovative the technology behind the product, the more edgy it’s going to be. Because ‘edgy’ is just something you haven’t seen before. It’s more radical. It goes hand in hand with makeup—labs and the tech aspect.”

“I have a really good mix of editorial versus commercial versus music video. But I think a lot of times I’m asked to help build a character now, which I love doing. So it’s less just about a makeup look, it’s more about—whether you’re a music artist or someone—to create a character or a narrative-led piece.”

“[Inspiration] really depends [on] what it’s for. Travel is really helpful, because to create something new, you can’t just keep having the same references [or] the same photo on Instagram. So being surprised by other cultures or art or whatever I think is really important. It all somehow influences and infuses your own thought process. Go outside, basically. [laughs] Get off your phone!”

“I love the Tom Ford Extrême eyeshadows. I love the Sisley Illuminating base. It’s very lightweight. I love using MAC—[it] has great pigments. The Kryolan range for all the prosthetic work I do. A lot of their stuff is for TV, so the lip products are very film makeup-y. The Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate—that was one of the first Tom Ford products I really fell in love with. The Bobbi Brown foundation palette is another indispensable item.”

“I think Fenty has changed the game, in terms of inclusivity, skin color inclusivity within the beauty market. I think that’s very empowering for a lot of people, especially being spearheaded by Rihanna, somebody who people really admire and look up to. So I feel strongly that they’re a really important brand at the moment, for giving a voice to this generation of people. It’s cool.”

“[Today’s look] was just a fun way to use extreme color. I only used two colors on my eyes, and they were in the pressed foil and the sparkle pigment. And the blue mascara as well. Just bold. We use brushes, but you really can use your fingers. Because it blends very nicely, and you can get a good, strong pigment that blends out. The sparkle is what lifts [the eye], and you get a really nice gradient with a lot of product. I don’t prime my eyes. Then blue Tom Ford eyeliner. I didn’t really go up with the flick. I prefer straight. You can take it as far as you want, until you look like a maniac. [laughs].”

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