I love a beautiful face, but what really captivates me is a story,” says Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele. This sentiment fits perfectly with his eclectic, electric vision of clothing for genderbending romantics who live in plissé lamés and beaded cardigans with stories embedded into their very fabric. But we’re not talking about fashion today; we’re discussing the debut of Michele’s Gucci cosmetics line. Beauty is a multi-billion dollar industry all about faces, which makes his statement a little unusual. Yet, just as the designer has reinvented I“ everything Gucci, from the Italian luxury brand’s ad campaigns to its store design over the past four years since he ascended to the top job, he has now reimagined makeup in his own extraordinarily creative image.
Michele’s Gucci Makeup is beginning with a precise focus: Three lipsticks—satin, sheer and balm—styled in chased gold, a floral print and a delicate turquoise, respectively. “A rugged preciousness” is the evocative turn of phrase Chloë Sevigny, one of the five faces photographed by artist Tina Barney for this shoot, uses to describe the packaging. Barney projected Old Master paintings by the likes of El Greco and Delacroix over Sevigny and fellow actors Gideon Adlon, Asia Kate Dillon, Pom Klementieff and model Beverly Johnson to illustrate both his fascination with history and his idea of 21 st -century beauty.
Michele’s personal history inspired this focus on lips: Lipsticks were a passion of his mother, Eralda. “My mum was obsessed with lipstick. I remember always finding tubes everywhere as a kid—in her bag, in my dad’s car,” he says. “I thought that was the most powerful piece of makeup. Lipstick is a little bit erotic. You can change very quickly just with a swipe.”
The collection also drew inspiration from Hollywood. The lipsticks are named after divas—a pink called Coral Mae (as in West), a red called Rosewood Mildred (as in Pierce, Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning role). Michele name-checks two others specifically: la dolce vita icon Sophia Loren, whom his mother, an assistant to a film executive, emulated; and the tragic ’30s film star Jean Harlow, with whom the designer is infatuated and whose avatar populates the Gucci Makeup Instagram. That said, Michele’s idea of beauty isn’t a cold, artificial glamour; the campaign includes unexpected smiles with engaging imperfections. “We didn’t retouch anything, and I think that is beautiful,” he says emphatically. “I don’t want any more filters. We have too many.” As Johnson says after the shoot, “Beauty is power.”
Michele’s vision is empowering in its inclusivity—his models are diverse, and his ideas consistently shatter moulds. The latter translates to his makeup in unusual ways: The lipsticks are designed to be worn on the eyes as well as the mouth, breaking fundamental beauty rules. “I love to play with makeup, so I was thinking, ‘Why not use the lipstick on other parts of the face?’” he explains. And just as Michele’s Gucci runways are peopled by male and female models, he sees no reason that his makeup cannot be worn by all.
“Why not?” he asks, his fingernails painted the same turquoise shade as his lip balm casing. A future product in the works? Maybe.
Like those lacquered nails, Michele’s conversation about beauty is expectedly unexpected. When I ask about his favourite painting, he cites The Postman, Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 portrait of a richly bearded man—who looks not unlike Michele—wreathed with a halo of flowers. “Every morning he came to van Gogh’s house,” he says of Joseph Roulin, a postal worker who cared for the artist during his onset of mental illness. “He was the only person who went there and was his only contact with humanity.”
Beyond the physical resemblance, Michele’s idiosyncratic choice conveys his very essence, a love of the unconventionally beautiful. When speaking of his new line, he avoids the usual cosmetic hard sell about longevity, or coverage or the moisturising effect of the product (although they do, in fact, offer all three). Indeed he doesn’t talk “product” at all. For Michele, Gucci Makeup is about emotion. “I love a lot of things, but makeup, it’s such a magical object,” he muses.
“Beauty is like a spell. It’s like when you are a witch. You don’t use just one spell. There are a million spells. I think beauty is something that makes you feel really free in a way. Free and open to being bewitched.”
Rouge à Lèvres Voile Lipstick in 25 Goldie Red, Gucci
Chloë Sevigny wears Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Satin in Louisa Red
All clothing, accessories and jewellery worn throughout the shoot are by Gucci
Pom Klementieff wears Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Satin in Tacey Hazel and Lorna Dune OPPOSITE: Gideon Adlon wears Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Voile in Eadie Scarlet and Rouge à Lèvres Satin in Ivy Dark Red
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Fashion Editor: Joanna Hillman Makeup: Marla Belt Hair: Franco Gobbi using Milk Shake Manicure: Ami Vega using Essie Production: Joy Hart/JN Production
By Alexander Fury
BACKGROUND ARTWORK (DETAILS): EL GRECO, ST LOUIS, KING OF FRANCE, WITH A PAGE (CIRCA 1585-90), LOUVRE MUSEUM.
EUGÈNE DELACROIX, GREECE ON THE RUINS OF MISSOLONGHI (1826), MUSÉE DES BEAUX-ARTS DE BORDEAUX. JACQUES-LOUIS
DAVID, PORTRAIT OF MADAME DE VERNINAC (1798-99), LOUVRE MUSEUM. ALL IMAGES: BRIDGEMAN IMAGES