Lady Gaga for CR Fashion Book.
“The most intriguingly beautiful women aren’t pretty by textbook definition. As contributing beauty editor Tom Pecheux explains, its’ the character the counts.”
“I find it very difficult to speak about jolie laide,” admits star makeup artist Tom Pecheux. “Ugly beauty compared to who and what? Compared to my taste? Compared to yours?” Yet the maestro of maquillage acknowledges that the very concept of ugly beauty is a guiding force of contemporary fashion: the perpetual friction between attraction and revulsion, between apathy and desire, between the ordinary and peculiar.
Conversations about beauty remind Pecheux of his very early years on the job, when he worked for for a modeling school outside Paris and encountered plenty of gorgeous women, but most of whom lacked the strange twist that makes an iconic face or memorable photo. He says, “Those girls were there because someone told them they were ‘beautiful,’ but in high fashion, beautiful isn’t enough.”
Classic beauty can be a comfortable salve, but it’s a fashion turn-off. Instead, designers, photographers, stylists, and casting directors gravitate towards the awkward, the strange, and the extreme. As Pecheux explains, “Fashion people are afraid to look commercial. They are looking for ugliness, so they can turn it into beauty.” And individuality creates the compelling story. “Unusual beauty creates a much stronger desire, and ugliness is very photogenic. Ugly makes for a better picture.”
But jolie laide isn’t defined purely as an outsize schnoz like Anjelica Huston or a gap-toothed smile like Lauren Hutton’s. Many of the world’s most quote-unquote beautiful women retain some element of extreme beauty. “As a makeup artist, if I look at even Linda Evangelista and her proportions, she’s a bit jolie laide, even Gisele, though both are considered icons of beauty.” Still other girls grow into their looks with age. “I met Carolyn [Murphy] for the first time on a Gucci shoot with Chandra North,” Pecheux recalls. “Chandra was the classic beauty and Carolyn had a funny lip. At the time people referred to her as an ugly duckling, but today she’s a goddess.”
She’s also incredibly successful. Pecheux points out that longevity often belongs to the jolie laide girls. “Like we say in France, beauty fades and charm grows” he quips. Ugliness is the definition of charm. When a girl is beautiful, often age and time wear away at that beauty. Whereas when she is interesting or different, the charm grows, her looks evolve, and she wears her looks with confidence.”
As for Pecheux role as a makeup artist in shaping a woman’s looks, his aims are always sincere: he heightens character and sculpts personality. “I’m never doing makeup to make women look beautiful,” he says. “I do it to make them feel beautiful. I don’t hide the canvas.” Edginess, messiness, or just plain bad taste can leave a model feeling less than, which is never Pecheux’s modus operandi. “I grew up with Carine and Mario [Testino]. We like to share the joy. That was our secret weapon: everybody felt happy. When you make a girl feel ugly, I don’t think that brings happiness.”
Ugly or pretty, personal tastes determine the limits of the look. “It’s a very thin line and it’s different for everyone. In the end, fashion is about catching people’s attention, whether it’s via extreme beauty of extreme ugliness. It’s up to us to decide if it works.”