O Death, Where Is Thy Eyeliner?

During my early teens – and at the same exact time when The Happy Scribe buried herself in sci-fi and fantasy books – I was too busy experimenting with alternate realities of my own. Unfortunately, for my parents and my fantasy-loving brother, that period of experimentation did not involve the piles of Asimov, Bradbury, and Tolkien paperbacks that had been intentionally given to me for my own study. Instead, my reading material of choice revolved around the unholy texts that I smuggled into my homework breaks after school – texts with the words Seventeen and Sassy brandished along the covers, with smiling faces and exhortations for self-improvement sandwiched between full-page spreads for Cover Girl and Maybelline.

Yes, I was a teenager. Yes, I was interested in fashion, and boys. But since it was such a challenging moment of my life – none of the “fashionable” clothes really fit me body-wise, and the boys in my particular school were not exactly interested in dating curvy, dark-skinned girls who wrote book reports on Jane Eyre and The Pelican Brief – I turned my attention towards the sections that really mattered to me: hair and makeup.

(You can read part of my makeup journey in this classic entry from Domesticity, which I devoted to the most important discovery I made as a teenager: Red lipstick changes everything.)

So imagine my joy one day when, as I waited at the airport for one of my older siblings to fly in for the holidays, I stumbled upon a copy of Allure. (I didn’t buy it then – remember, this was the time when the fashion spreads in Allure were more interested in featuring crinolines and bondage pants than “suggesting” fashion themes.) Imagine my delight when I found out that the great majority of the magazine’s content was devoted to makeup: how to put it on correctly, how to wear it without looking like a circus freak. And imagine how my eyes widened as I saw the name of the makeup artist who was responsible for transforming those faces: a young man (definitely gay, I thought) by the name of Kevyn Aucoin.

In those heady mid-to-late Nineties, there was nobody else I wanted to do my hair and makeup, if I had the money – and nobody else did it better. I loved reading his articles in Allure, and watching him do makeovers on Oprah. I remember purchasing my copy of Making Faces at a local bookstore in Honolulu – one of my first “grown-up” purchases – and poring over every page obsessively, trying to memorize his detailed descriptions of eyebrow shapes and lip-lining techniques before committing them to my own face. Let me tell you, I didn’t always succeed at replicating the master’s work, but his written encouragement buoyed me through those strange moments in college:

That’s why I began doing makeup in the first place: I was hoping that through helping people see the beauty in themselves, I could try and find it in me.
At one point, I mentioned Kevyn Aucoin’s books to The Happy Scribe, who was also going through a dark period that chipped away at her own self-esteem. Her eyes widened; up until then she’d only heard about him from magazine spreads and second-hand stories from her fashionista relatives about his amazing generosity and character. She borrowed Making Faces and Face Forward from the library, and immediately found solace – not in replicating the makeup per se (yeah, good luck to both of us recreating ourselves in the image of Linda Evangelista) but in reveling in the kind words and open-heartedness that became as much of an Aucoin signature as his magic touch with the makeup brushes.

Life is too short to spend hoping that the perfectly arched eyebrow or hottest new lip shade will mask an ugly heart.

Kevyn Aucoin is no longer with us, having succumbed to complications from a brain tumor before the launch of his now-successful makeup line. His death did come as a shock to me; what I thought were quirks in his personality – all the kind words, the lack of cattiness, and his boundless optimism for the future – suddenly became clear to me as the work of a genuine soul: one who saw himself not as a gran maestro but an active contributor to society, despite the indentured nature of his chosen livelihood. Imagine that – a fashion insider who believed in the truest, purest form of beauty as a beacon of hope.

Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.

Every single person who has ever been involved in the fashion and beauty industry – from the top makeup artists to the lowliest of beauty bloggers in the periphery – all of them owe their love of beauty to the fabulous Mr. Aucoin. It’s impossible now to read a blog entry or magazine story about a runway look without seeing somebody comment about how they’ve seen that particular technique in one of Kevyn’s books. How apt, then, that the recently released book celebrating his life and legacy would bear such a wonderfully apropos subtitle: A Beautiful Life.

One Response

  1. Yes, I remember that time! Kevyn, you gorgeous angel. I like what you said about Aucoin’s generosity of spirit. Beauty truly is from within – as a makeup artist, he was a genius because he saw the inner glow and enhanced it with his brush. And always, always, always – with LOVE. That’s how to innovate and inspire – from the heart. :)

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