The Beautiful Mind of Isamaya Ffrench


Many of the industry’s top makeup artists share one thing in common—their career happened when they were busy doing something else. So the story goes for one member of the beauty industry’s new guard. Young, up-and-coming makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench went from volunteering at a performance company to working with the likes of Carine Roitfeld and Yves Saint Laurent Beauty almost overnight. However impressive her resume is now, it wasn’t her grand plan to become a makeup artist. Ffrench had been originally been studying to become an industrial designer and had been working as a proper chef in London and Cambridge since the age of 15. Now her calendar is packed with fashion editorial shoots and she lends her unique eye to YSL as one of the house’s beauty ambassadors.

While she was still a chef, she was also working part-time at London’s Theo Adams performance company where she encountered photographers and other industry types for the first time. One such individual was fashion photographer Matthew Stone who hired Ffench because he needed someone “who could do body painting” on the set of his next shoot. It was Ffrench’s first time on set and she was tasked with painting famous African model Alex Wek, who she hadn’t yet heard of, for an editorial in i-D Magazine. “I didn’t even know what i-D [Magazine] was and I probably turned up late,” Ffrench recalls. “I was doing all of the messy stuff like washing big brushes up in the sink and I looked over at the makeup artist who had this neat counter. That was the moment when I thought, ‘I could learn to do what she does and do it all.’” Ffrench, a fast learner, did exactly that. Something clicked and says that it just “felt right.”

So right, in fact, that the jobs just kept coming. “I fast-talked my way into letting people shoot with me. I bought high street makeup, put a nice kit together, and carried on. To be fair, I was really into it. There was something that I found to be quite special about the whole process,” she says. “With all things, there’s an element of sacrifice. I had never assisted anyone, so I had no safety net. I just did it because I was enjoying it and getting asked to do it. When you’re somewhere like London or New York you just fall into stuff because it’s easy and life is really hard. It’s hard to find your way and compete with other people. Keep doing things that you like, if you get bored you can do something different.”

Though Ffrench will be the first to tell you that she was not a bad chef at all, she’s content to put her chef skills to rest for the time being. In addition to her work for Y.S.L. she’s an ongoing collaborator with Junya Wantanabe and designs window displays for luxury retailers like Suffrages and Colette.

What’s even more impressive is that on top of her other high-profile gigs, she spends time on a joint venture with Josh Wilks—a clothing line called English School—that is currently stocked at Colette. The collection was born out of the need to work on a project that didn’t cater to anyone else’s vision but theirs. As the artist rightly points out, living a life on set means always having to take several different ideas into consideration. Neither she nor her partner have a background in fashion, but lack of training hasn’t stopped Ffrench before—their concept is nothing short of genius. “It’s our way of having something that’s purely our aesthetic. We wanted to find a way to connect our brand to something—at least for the first leg of it. We thought, ‘what if we create this ficticious pharmaceutical line?’”

English School’s screen-printed clothing is a witty commentary on the fashion, beauty, and pharmaceutical industry, and the rather scary point at which they all intersect. Some of the greatest hits are a T-shirt screen printed with the words “Organic Love 500 mg,” trousers that boast an organic mascara to treat heartache, and anxiety reducing salts (that last one seems the most plausible).

Coming from someone who invented the concept of anxiety-reducing beauty products, it’s not surprising that Isamaya’s pro tip for outward beauty requires having the right mindset, not the right products. “Just de-stress. That’s the best policy for good skin. I’m of the philosophy that products won’t get you places—it’s your mindset that will. Do everything you can to get into a good place and it will show.” Several hundred dollars later, Ms. Ffrench has us rethinking that last chemical peel.


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