The risk taker, the rule breaker: Falling for James Kaliardos

James Kaliardos is possibly the coolest man in makeup. And no, we’re not saying this because we’re in love with his new range for M.A.C (although we are), but more so because of his incredibly laid back approach to what can only be described as a phenomenal career.

From career beginnings with fashion photographer Steven Meisel, who encouraged him to get into makeup, to working for Steven Klein – who got him featured in both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue in the same month, James did not have your average start into the makeup world.

And things just seemed to keep falling into place – with James soon working with such greats as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton (who fed him oysters out of his hand in Monaco). Then there are the shows. One of the first he ever did was doing the backstage makeup for Iman, Naomi [Campbell], Cindy Crawford, and Christy [Turlington]. Not a bad line-up for a first timer.

Meeting up with James to discuss the launch of the James Kaliardos x M.A.C Cosmetics collection, we may have got a little side-tracked with stories of doing yoga with Madonna, placing nipples in Daria Werbowy’s swimsuit, and watching Gigi Hadid multitask. Plus there are the stories from the Visionaire magazine he founded… Here, we bring you it all.

Can you talk me through how you got into makeup?
I never even really want to be a makeup artist, it just sort of fell in my lap. Because I was working with Steven Meisel, I met Richard Avedon. And then because I was working with Richard Avedon, he introduced me to Donatella [Versace], and then I got introduced to Madonna… it just all snowballed. I just have all these funny things that have happened to me. I learned how to do yoga with Madonna on tour, I met Miley [Cyrus] when she came to visit V magazine and we just hit it off.. I also used to live in Paris so I worked with Karl [Lagerfeld] and did the Chanel show, and I’ve done Hermes, Jean Paul Gaultier… I’ve just done all sorts of things with great talented people and I feel really lucky about that.

And you can call them all your friends…
I guess so, some of them I can call my friends. Some of them we are friendly, but there’s something about the fashion world which is a bit backstabbing and tricky. But I’m in it for the fun of it – I never meant to be in this industry. A lot of people are in it to make money or to get somewhere, but because I’ve always had Visionaire as my creative outlet, everything wasn’t hinging on my makeup career to fulfil me; I think that has helped me keep a healthy distance.

What made you start Visionaire?
Visionaire started in 1991 as an art and fashion publication. We wanted to just do something on our own. Bill Cunningham, a New York Times photographer, was like our fairy godfather who we met on the street in New York and encouraged us to start our own thing. Stephen Gan, our partner, had $7000 and we just started a magazine – we had no idea what would happen with it. Because we didn’t have money, we would use things like remnant papers or we Xeroxed things. You’d have a Steven Meisel next to a young illustrator; we just mixed everything up and it became really popular immediately when it launched.

We really didn’t have a game plan. We were very naive about the whole thing and we still are. I continue to do it to this day and we just do what we want and we do things for fun. We work with a lot of different artists and different formats, we’ve done a metal issue, an issue called Solar that sees images appear out of nowhere when exposed to direct sunlight. We’ve been able to work with everyone and it’s purely for creativity – no one gets paid. It’s just this creative endeavour and it’s great that we’ve been able to exist independently all these years.

How did the makeup collaboration with M.A.C come about?
I came to James Gager [M.A.C creative director] with a Visionaire cosmetic idea for M.A.C, and he was like: “well that doesn’t really make sense, but you do. We’ve never done a makeup artist collection, why don’t we do one with you and two other makeup artists?”. This collection was really just born out of that room. He’s so spontaneous and creative, it just came up like that.

What inspired you to create the products in the collection?
I’m surrounded by all these people, like celebrities and wealthy women, and they can’t even put on mascara – so I thought “Okay, I’m going to try and make it easy for them”. Through my 10,000+ hours of doing this job, I do go to certain products – even though I carry around like hundreds of pounds of makeup! I go to these same products every day. I sculpt the face and do a highlighted healthy cheek – so I did cheek palettes. I either use a nude lip, peachy lip, a red lip or a dark lip, so I made those four lip colours; Any shoot or red carpet has been done with literally one of those four. Then there are a couple of fun things like these two stacked lip glosses which have three different colours and textures in them. I just wanted to take the guessing out of makeup; I know these colours work and I know they are easy to apply.

What have been some of your most interesting makeup jobs?
I did that famous Irving Penn image with the dried fruit all over the face. I had to figure out how to glue candied dates that are all sticky onto a face! Once I was working with Helmut Newton, who was not happy with this shoot we were doing with Daria [Werbowy] for Vogue. He called me over and pulled two nipples out of his raincoat and was like “go put these in her bathing suit”. And I was like, “Why me??!!” I had to run up this cliff and stick her nipples in while Daria was holding this big huge fake boulder. I came back and said “Is that okay now?” And he was like “Yes. Perfect. Now I can take the picture…”

How has social media affected how you work?
I’ve worked with a lot of people that are like “you can’t do social media on this shoot”. But if you’re working with Gigi [Hadid] or someone, she’ll take a picture. Once they do it, you can do it. But you can’t really release into the world a look you’re doing which is quite unique before it comes out in Vogue or whatever. It is fun to me though being able to share what I do to a lot of people as opposed to being like “hey, did you buy that magazine?” I think the communication is a lot easier, but we should use it in an intelligent way and not only communicate how cool our butt looks but also look at what’s going on in the world. People need to think about taking that communicative power and using it to help people in need.

What’s it really like to work with Gigi?
I think she’s a strong independent young woman and she’s smart in the way she’s handled her career. She has that kind of intelligence and awareness which is really great, but she’s also a lot of fun. She’s very easy to do makeup on – I’ve done a lot of looks where we’ve hardly used any makeup and then some where there’s more. And that girl can multitask! She can be kickboxing and snapchatting – she’s just doing it all. It’s like Karlie [Kloss]. She’s self-filming with her long arms and I’m like, “you don’t need a cameraman!” They have a very natural social media integration where they don’t make you stop – they just fit it into the whole process.

Click here to check out the James Kaliardos x M.A.C makeup collection.

Images of James taken by Husskie Editor Yelena Fairfax. Other images: @JamesKaliardos

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