Laurel Charleston Is Doing Whatever the Eff They Want With Makeup

“Once we step away from these beauty standards, we begin to see the entire universe of possibilities that await us.”

Laurel Charleston Is Doing Whatever the Eff They Want With Makeup
Photo:

Instagram @laurelcharleston

What happens when a woman decides “pretty” isn’t her goal with makeup? What if she wants to look cool as hell?

She links up with a cool-as-hell makeup artist who gets her vision. In Doja Cat’s case, that’s Laurel Charleston, the New York City-based visual artist responsible for all that makeup the rapper wore during Fashion Month this year. The makeup that made us think that even though the scene is more experimental than ever (thanks, Euphoria), we are simply not going hard enough.

Laurel is a multidisciplinary artist, but the face is their favorite canvas — and there is certainly more space to paint when that canvas has a shaved head and a blank(ish) spot where eyebrows are supposed to be. That extra real estate presents an opportunity for exploration that goes beyond the norm. One day you might find yourself painting a trippy Swiss cheese-like pattern in white all over your client’s head for a Vogue event at New York Fashion Week. A few weeks later, you’re in Paris, reimagining Grace Jones’s iconic Vamp makeup with blue contour, painting black trompe l’oeil opera gloves onto her hands and arms.

Charleston tells InStyle  that the looks you saw, double-tapped, and shared in group chats were a team effort. “​​The process for each look was extremely collaborative and was always inspired by the styling for that particular event or show,” they explain. 

Charleson’s a big believer in the transformative power of makeup. They experienced it themselves as they were first blossoming into their trans identity. “Makeup allowed me to have these beautiful and intimate moments of discovery — I could play around and experiment in the safety and privacy of my room,” they share. “These moments of experimentation, expression, and reflection fueled a deep passion and connection to the art. Makeup has always allowed me to express parts of myself I simply could not anywhere else.”

Laurel’s been able to help others express themselves, too. They’ve painted drag artists like Detox, La Ganja Estranja, Willam Belli, worked with Tati Gabrielle for Fashion Week, and, impressively, somehow managed to make Teyana Taylor look even more beautiful than she already does for Numéro.

InStyle spoke to Charleston about the intersection of makeup and art, their work, and allowing women to divest from “pretty” makeup.

InStyle: How does your work as a visual artist inform your makeup choices?

Laurel Charleston: I see visual art and makeup art as quite literally the same thing. I use the face as a canvas just as an oil painter uses a flat white surface. I always try to approach the face from a perspective of art and expression.

Who are some makeup artists you admire?

There are so many brilliant and incredible artists out there. A few of my faves on social media are @brianvu, @topkuhnt, @veli.jpg, @naezrahlooks, @meicrosoft, @sterlingtullnyc, and @1800andrewdahling.

What’s your favorite makeup look you've created?

I recreated a blue Basquiat Skull back in 2020 — that still is my favorite work of mine. 

If you could swap makeup bags with any celebrity, who would it be?

Hmm… probably Grimes? I have a lot of weird makeup and she pulls some really cool looks. 

Makeup has gotten more experimental these days, which is very cool but folks still kind of have a strong reaction to makeup that's not traditionally "pretty." Why do you think that is?

I am tired of watching people attack women that choose to experiment with their makeup looks. For hundreds of years, our beauty standards have been shaped and molded by the male gaze — our current beauty standards are no exception. When there is a strong, confident woman who goes out and chooses to defy that, she always gets attacked for it — it's just flat out misogynistic. "You must conform to the beauty that we see fit." Babe, are you tired?

The reality is that our world is not used to bold makeup because every form of media we consume shows us how women "should" look. It's so boring, always the same, and leaves little to no room for actual expression. Once we step away from these standards we begin to see the entire universe of possibilities that await us in terms of makeup and experimenting with our looks. Can standard beauty be beautiful and expressive? Yes, but there is so much more you can do beyond a smoky eye and a cut crease. Makeup, to me, is meant to be about expression and experimentation. So much of our media, magazines, runways, and movies are filled with people who desperately try to look like one another. I would much rather stand out and take a risk. 

If you could work with anyone right now, who would it be? 

Christopher John Rodgers, Rick Owens, [or the house of] Mugler.

Okay, we gotta know — which four beauty products are you always carrying in your purse?

Clarins lip oil, Make Up for Ever HD concealer, Danessa Myricks Colorfix, and MAC Macstack Mascara.

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