Photography by Marcus Ohlsson
Photography by Marcus Ohlsson

Beauty is Strength

Make-up artist Benjamin Puckey is known for his painterly approach to his craft. Growing up in Amsterdam in the 80s, he was inspired by “punks with big hairdos and strong make-up”.

Having been fascinated with the transformative power of make-up from a young age, Benjamin decided to attend the House of Orange Make-up School in Amsterdam, and his path began taking shape when he assisted Peter Philips at the onset of his career. Nowadays Benjamin’s work is featured in publications such as Interview, Vogue, W and Dazed & Confused, and he has done runways for the likes of Just Cavalli and Maison Martin Margiela. For our Plastic Issue, Benjamin used recycled plastic as a make-up product. Here he talks to Beauty Papers about Fellini, retro beauty and what make-up can say about a person.

Beauty Papers: How would you define your make-up style?

Benjamin Puckey: I’m good at classic beauty make-up, but I am also drawn to expressive and free spirited make-up. I’d say my style of working is a combination of the two. In the end the model always has to look her most beautiful.

You assisted Peter Philips at the start of your career. How would you say this shaped your craft?

Peter taught me that creativity is boundless. He’s an incredibly artistic and visionary make-up artist and really took me under his wing. I’ll never forget my first shoot with him in New York, working with Inez and Vinoodh and seeing all the big supermodels like Stephanie Seymour and Amber Valletta in real life. I also worked on some fantastic shows with him such as the epic Alexander McQueen shows. He taught me to always be meticulously organised and to do lots of research.

Look at the punk movement from the late 70s, where make-up was meant to shock and differentiate from the middle class.

You grew up in Amsterdam and were brought up in an artistic family – your father is a sculptor. Would you say that you developed a structured approach to make-up as a result of this? Perhaps reflecting back things you appreciated in a sculpture on a woman’s face? How do you approach a face when you’re on a job?

Growing up in the art world with very supportive parents, I felt free to pursue my creative passions. My father would give me drawing assignments every morning, and I’d sit there happily drawing away. We didn’t have a television until I was 12 and I think this helped me develop a very active imagination. I wouldn’t say that my father being a sculptor made me approach make-up in a sculptural way, but I do make-up in a painterly way, building the look in thin layers – I’m often told this by models. After 16 years I trust my gut feeling and it flows on to the face. Also I love it when make-up looks as though it has become part of the wearer’s face.

Do you think make-up can be political? Or really say something about a person? Can it be a tool in forming a person’s identity?

Because I’m always working with faces I can read a lot about someone by analysing their face and how they’ve applied their make-up. I’m constantly walking into studios with a whole bunch of people I’ve never met so I’ve become good at judging a room full of people based on their faces and body language. What I find fascinating is that people with similar faces often have similar characters. Make-up can absolutely be political depending on how you choose to decorate your face. Look at the punk movement from the late 70s, where make-up was meant to shock and differentiate from the middle class.

I read that you’re an avid collector of retro beauty imagery and vintage magazines. Why do they fascinate you? And would you share with us the observations you made looking at that imagery – what do you think they say about those times?

I believe that essentially everything has been done before and better. People were already doing exceptional make-up in the golden era of Hollywood. Make-up formulations have become lighter and longer lasting, but the good old fashioned products work just as well. It’s all in the application technique. I love vintage magazines from the 60s and 70s because these were such exciting times when there was so much discovery. Pictures were barely retouched and to be good at make-up you had to be incredibly precise. This was also a time when teams had time to create images and were nurtured in the process. I’ll never forget reading a quote from Christiaan, where he said that back in the day the stylist would bring a bag of clothes, [there would be] a group of gorgeous models, hair, make-up and a photographer and they’d create something. Nowadays everything is so pre-produced and on the clock while we’re still using references from the era in which people had this incredible freedom to create.

Is there a film that is the ultimate style reference for you?

I love any Fellini film and Le Mepris by Jean-Luc Godard.

And what inspires visually you at the moment?

At the moment I’m in love with a bunch of vintage 70s Viva magazines that I recently bought. It’s amazing to see how much freedom that magazine had in the kind of pictures they published. Things have dumbed down so much since then that it almost feels as though we’re regressing culturally – scared to offend anyone who might take offence to anything such as a woman’s nipple!

What is your idea of beauty? 

Beauty is magic. It’s when someone is confident psychologically and looks radiant and happy. Beauty is not caring what anyone thinks about you. It’s not about perfect bone structure, but daring to be whatever you want to be. I find Lynn Yaeger incredibly beautiful because the way she looks completely expresses who she is. Beauty, to me, is strength.

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