As one of the most powerful names in beauty, Tom Pecheux is the man behind many of history’s most memorable makeup moments. Princess Diana beaming on the cover of Vanity Fair, the inky black lips of Stefano Pilati’s finest Yves Saint Laurent show, the enigmatic glow on the models of Tom Ford’s Gucci campaigns – just a few of the dynamic images Pecheux had a hand in crafting. While his influence is certainly felt within the pages of glossy magazines and on the runways of New York, Milan and Paris, Pecheux’s most far-reaching role may be that of creative makeup director of iconic cosmetics brand, Estée Lauder. As the force behind color collections and products for the beauty giant, Pecheux quietly shapes the look of millions of women globally – no small feat, but a role Pecheux takes on with modesty and grace. Talking to the makeup artist is like a guided tour through the last few decades of fashion history and a welcome glimpse behind the curtain and into those now legendary moments.
It started when I was 19. I had just moved to Paris from the countryside where I was born and grew up. I was a pastry chef discovering Paris by night and it was a certain time. I went out quite a lot to different parties and clubs. I met this girl and she told me she was going to makeup school and I was like, “What?? Make up school? People do that for a living??” Fashion and makeup was all around, but I didn’t know anything about it. Two months later the idea was still stuck in my head and I ran into the same girl again and asked her all of my questions. I went to see the school and fell in love with it. I talked to my parents about it and they were shocked, but they were amazing parents and said if you need support we are here. I think they could feel that I had a passion. I still love pastry and cooking too; I love the connection it gives to people and friends.
I went to the school and learned a lot. They gave us a list of products to buy- I didn’t know what they were. I was asked to do a demonstration and I dabbed a bit of lipstick on the cheeks with my fingers- I basically did all of the things my mother does when she puts on her makeup! Then the teacher screamed at me and said ‘you can’t do that!’ but it is still one of my favorite tricks for healthy cheeks. It’s a creamy blush! Even though I loved the school I quit after 6 months, because the last three months of the course didn’t interest me – it was mainly on theatrical and special effects makeup and I knew that wasn’t my interest.
How do you think the industry has changed since you’ve started? The beauty industry specifically.
When I started I was at the bottom of the pyramid. When I started there were fewer magazines and I think on my side, it was a passion that became a job. Back then there was no international… every country stayed within itself. There was a connection with the top people, but at the bottom the borders were very intense. It took me a while to grow. I was trying to get appointments to get some work by testing girls with modeling agencies. Sometimes models are not that beautiful but with hair and makeup they are amazing. At the time testing was very little money- just enough to buy makeup products. I climbed a little bit and was able to work. People started asking me to do editorials.
My dad was a wine maker and I had never met anyone from fashion. I was far too shy- but then you meet one person and they introduce you to a young photographer, or model and you can connect with another person and that’s how you build relationships. I started working with a little French magazine and this and that.
The big change was the one day I worked with Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld together. Between those two (and I won’t say which) one of them didn’t want to work with me, and the other convinced him or her. The day was amazing. From that day on, and for 18 years, we worked pretty much every day together. It was incredible. Mario and Carine have become very dear friends of mine over the years. I also met Orlando Pita. It was basically the four of us working together, with Mario and Carine and Orlando. I then left Paris and flew over in the cheapest jet and slept on couches in NYC with friends not in the business. That’s how I started in America. In Paris everything was so bourgeois then and that is not a compliment. In NYC everything was ON, and London was heroin chic.
We came up with this girl that was healthy and a little bit more sweet in spirit. Mario was shooting them with a glow- curious but not free. Carine was doing her magic with the fashion and we started a new trend. Nobody had done anything like it: A girl that was cool and easygoing, having fun with her body and enjoying life. Not stiff in front of the camera. That look went on to become all of the Gucci campaigns; Hermes and Burberry campaigns as well. Amber Valletta, Kristen McMenamy, Shalom Harlow, Kate Moss and Stella Tennant and that generation… it was just a big,big bang, but that’s what everybody wanted and we were shooting pretty much every campaign. That’s when I first started consulting for L’Oréal in France.
We were working every single day and we were had huge fights sometimes, but we had a connection and there was no ego with each other. We were working as a team; we were sharing things and saying yes and no to each other. If one of the people on the team didn’t like the idea we would tell that to each other and work at it until we found out something that everybody liked.
That’s awesome that everybody has input and feels open enough to share with each other.
Yes. That dynamic is something that I miss. Sometimes you arrive on set now and everything has been plotted out in meetings and there is no room for change. There is not always room for trying something outside of the box, no time to take a little road only you know; everybody is on this big highway. (laughs)
That’s the truth. Things are very decided by committee nowadays.
But you know, I have no regrets. I’m very lucky. My friends from the beginning, we don’t work EVERY day together anymore, but we still do work together and otherwise speak and have dinner when we are not.
It’s always good to have a rapport with someone to sort of be able to know that they trust your input as well.
Yes and you know I don’t mind when people say ‘Well you know what, maybe the purple eye shadow… no it’s not a good idea’ and I’m like “yes, sure” but I’m going to show you the purple anyway and we can move to another color or to no color, that works best. That is how it happened you know a couple of years ago when I did the black lipstick for the Yves Saint Laurent show. Stefano (Pilati) said ‘Well, we have to do something around our lip color but I don’t know which one’. And straight away I voted for the black. He liked it but was worried at the same time and right before the show called me and was like ‘What do you think? Should we try any other color?’ Red is going to look too abstract. Blue’s are whatever… pink is going to look tacky and so… black. And he goes ‘Yes, okay you’re right, let’s do that tomorrow’. These are the kind of conversations that happen. Sometimes we are insecure when we’re creating images, we have to put all of this on the table. That’s why it’s important to know the people you’re interacting with. You can take your insecurity and become secure and that way you do the best job.
And it’s wonderful to hear the story behind that show because I always remember the hair and makeup and that was such a striking look on the runway.
It’s definitely a process but it’s the most exciting process. As much as I love to do fashion shoots and things like that, my favorite thing to do are still shows. I love that energy of putting something together, something where somebody has been working on it for months. So it’s amazing for us to arrive, discover the connection, find the glamour or idea of whomever I’m working with. What makeup are we going to do, what hair are we going to do? It is a puzzle- the makeup has to fit with the hair, the hair has to fit with the makeup, and those work to fit with the clothing and with the choice of the models and the runway and we have to communicate. We look at all of those details and that’s how we create the image of the show, and it’s fun to be part of it.
You mentioned your first consultancy earlier, how does something like that work? Do you come to them with ideas, do you help them choose colors? How does that come together?
Well, usually when a company requests me to work with them, they want me to bring in, I believe, my knowledge. It’s been pretty much the same with every company that I worked with, so far. It’s becoming a little bit of a multi-function in a sense, where I look at the main line, the main product, the image and I look at the face of the company. I look at all that, and I will work on the beauty shoot for the campaign, I will look at all the products to see which product I like and which product I don’t like, what picture I like, what picture I don’t like. So, I do a little bit of a checking in… what is there and what is good and what is not good… since you need to be definitely the best you can be, I think the key to work is always to remember that I am not an artist, I’m not a painter, working by myself in my little studio where I paint whatever I want. I am always working with someone or for someone and to start it is with the face of the model, so, you need to have respect for those different kinds of people.
When I’m working with Estée Lauder or when I work with L’Oreal, it’s different. It’s a different mentality, a different market, a different face between Constance and Arizona, between Liu Wen and Joan Smalls; when we worked on Estée Lauder as you know Hilary Rhoda or Caroline Murphy. It’s beauty yet different personalities, and each one needs to be treated separately. It’s the same thing when we are creating and working on a show, we have those girls; 30 models are coming to do the show, inside the group of 30 girls there are brunettes, blondes, fair skin, dark skin, Asian skin; you have a girl with big eyes, a girl who has small eyes, big lips/small lips, and all of those girls need to fit the same makeup, and that’s what I learned through the years that’s what I’m trying to teach my assistants – you need to adapt each makeup look to each girl. That is really my main goal. Putting my ego on the side, or not to appear too much because at the end of the day, the show isn’t mine. I’m proud of the show but the show is the designers. The product I’m creating isn’t mine they are for a designer. So every time I need to create, I’m thinking of that, that it’s not for my ego, it’s for other people.
It’s very interesting to hear that side of things. When it comes to beauty advice, what do you consider the basis of good makeup?
For me the technique is very simple, you know, you have two types of products. You have the type of product that you want to use, you need to use, but you don’t want the product to be seen. You don’t want anyone to say to you ‘Oh my god I love your foundation’ you want people to say ‘Oh my gosh you have gorgeous skin, what are you doing?’ When people say ‘You look so good, you look so well rested, so healthy what are you doing? Are you just getting back from vacation? Are you in love? I think you look so good!’
Concealer is another product that you need to use very lightly, sometimes when people have heavy bags under their eyes they put too much concealer, and it’s kind of wrong because so many people are going to look at them like ‘oh my, look at this one- she’s wearing a lot of concealer… she must have very heavy bags under that concealer’. So use just enough concealer so that you may still see a little bit of bags but people will not see the concealer and people will think ‘oh, well maybe she’s a little bit tired, you know, somebody that may be working hard’. It works, it’s better than ‘oh my god look at those heavy bags under that heavy concealer’. It’s better to look not at 100% than looking all wrong.
After, you have all of the makeup products from eye shadow, to lipstick to everything else that just brings… what I like to call… an upgrade. That’s when you don’t really see the makeup but it looks like the makeup you use is all very gentle and that gives you a wonderful upgrade to your face. That’s when you need to be confident with yourself… you need to like yourself… you are not hiding anything. I think that’s what women should do every morning: bring an upgrade, and when you have brought that upgrade to your face, I think it depends on individuality, that’s where people should start with eventually playing with color.
Eyeshadow, lipstick, liner, these are for me, like the little black dress with accessory. If you put the little black dress with the flat shoes or the big high heel shoes, the attitude isn’t the same… if you don’t put any belt or if you put a shoe with a belt or big leather belt, it changes the meaning of the dress. I think that’s what lipstick and powerful makeup does for you. Sometimes it’s great to use a lipstick that matches your personality, or an eye shadow, to make yourself up, to bring fantasy or bring sexiness or all those things.
In a way that is why I say it’s very important to have respect for the people you are working on, because you know if you make those people look good, you also make them feel good. I think when you don’t feel good, you can’t look good.
Now what would you say are some of your personal favorite things that you’ve worked on or shows that you’ve done or looks that you created over the years… things you just look back on and you love?
I’ve been so lucky, there are so many things that I do love. Marni is one of my favorites, I’ve done every single show since they started except one, but I did work on every show! I love the entire team and working with them to create an image each season is amazing. The show is in Milan and the call time is 6 AM. People arrive exhausted, but guess what… nobody is complaining! Everybody has a big smile and that tells you everything. It’s working. People are coming back and with joy instead of ‘dammit I have to wake up at 5 to be there at 6′ and you know it’s a true, true pleasure. It’s all about healthiness and looking your best; the girls are totally into it. They love it… they love to look beautiful you know?
For me working with this many companies is amazing because I guess from my background of cooking, I always have mixed products and textures together to get the right texture of the right color… I can create my color, so that’s why I keep my makeup kit very small because I know that if I mix the blue and the yellow it creates a green and if I add a little bit of red with maroon lipstick I’ll create a deep red lipstick so if I add a little bit of pink it’ll be more fuchsia or violet… so you always have the right product, the right color you want, and working with a big company, that’s what they ask me to do…. to create color, to create texture…. I would never do something that I don’t like to do. I created, to my eyes, the perfect red lipstick.
That’s amazing. I think people search for years for that one, so to have the ability to create it…
Yeah. It’s amazing to work with such a huge company, like Estée Lauder…. It’s amazing to have such a huge company, that means so much to so many women, not only in America, but all around the world, give you the right and will trust you to do it. It feels very, very good.
It’s wonderful and what you’ve done there has been absolutely amazing, I mean some of the new products that have come out have been absolutely beautiful.
Why thank you! I do love perfect skin, healthy skin. When I work on the makeup for a fashion show I’m thinking of the blondest and fairest skin, to the darkest hair and darkest skin. When I create for Estée Lauder I like to think that we are in the same world, but people with different skin and different color and different character… there’s not one product to fit all of those women. Someone who would never wear red lipstick, well it’s fine, we have maroon color or pink color, or we have every other color you want, and my job is not to impose anything on anyone. It’s really to propose when I create at Estée Lauder; I like to create things that I love that are a proposal. If you don’t like this brand new lipstick then don’t buy it. Buy things you love.
That’s a good way to approach it because some people are so much about pushing the new, latest thing.
Well I think it’s also good to push you know; you see so many women who find “their” look when they are 20 or 25 and 25 years later they’re still wearing the same look.
That doesn’t look good. Times change, your face has changed, your clothes have changed, your weight may have changed, your hair color may have changed, you can’t be wearing the same makeup that you have been wearing for the last 25 years. That does not look good at all.
People definitely can get stuck in a rut and start to look too dated.
Yes. Especially today with the Internet and how fast everything changes. You look at models.com, you can learn very quickly that your look has become dated! As much as you need to get your computer updated every so often, you need to refresh your makeup.