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Nearly every turn in Isamaya Ffrench’s career was unexpected. Ffrench grew up in a family of engineers and didn’t ascribe to the glamorous rituals her mother and grandmother practiced when she was a child. Her introduction to beauty came by way of discovering Kevyn Aucoin’s iconic beauty book “Making Faces.”
But even after studying that book cover to cover, Ffrench still didn’t have dreams of becoming a makeup artist, content creator or founder of her namesake beauty brand — all of which she is now. In fact, Ffrench danced professionally for 15 years. But a colleague at the contemporary theatrical performance group Theo Adams Company put her up for a body painting job at i-D magazine, knowing Ffrench painted faces at children’s parties. While unplanned, that gig planted the seeds for Ffrench’s future career.
“I was hired to do a very specific thing,” said Ffrench on the most recent episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast. “I was using clay and mixed media and turning these models into Demigods. It was all very creative, but there was another makeup artist on set who had been booked to do the beauty because I guess I was a wildcard. I just remember there was this moment when I was washing up my really dirty, grubby brushes in the sink with washing liquid. I had big paintbrushes and sponges and all this grimy stuff. I looked over at this makeup artist who sat there with her beautiful kit laid out looking very clean. I was like, ‘Hold on a sec, why am I not doing that job? I should be doing that job, as well.'”
Ffrench continued to book editorial jobs, all while refining her subverted beauty aesthetic. Her work landed her ambassador and creative director posts at YSL Beauté, Tom Ford Beauty, Burberry and Byredo, which proved to be fortuitous primers to launching her own brand, Isamaya, in June.
“I don’t ever think I planned to do my own brand, or not until very, very recently, probably because I was very happy doing it for other people. … And then I sort of thought, ‘Well, maybe there are some things I would like to do for myself that brands wouldn’t let me do because they have their own language,'” she said.
Since debuting Isamaya this summer, Ffrench has leaned into the drop model, first launching the Industrial collection, a BDSM-inspired offering. Wild Star, a rhinestone cowgirl-esque drop, debuted Thursday with L.A. pop-ups supporting the collection.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Becoming the boss
“My last big creative job was for Byredo cosmetics, which I launched a few years ago. … I literally did everything from working on packaging, textures and materials all the way up to [coming up with] digital strategies and marketing campaigns and retouching video editing. It was a vast, vast amount of work. It was an amazing education, and I think that was the penultimate thing for me in that capacity. … I have my own personal taste and style. Byredo is a gorgeous brand and Burberry is also gorgeous, but it was always a collaboration. When I’m working for them, when I’m thinking about creative content, it should always fit within the brand, package and brand language — that’s why I’m hired to do that. And with my brand, I can just do whatever the hell I want. It’s really nice because I am the client. I have to remind myself of that. I’ll ask one of the people on my social media team, like, ‘Can we post this?’ And they’re like, ‘It’s your brand.'”
Creating visual identities
“When I think of a concept, I do tend to think of a face of a character. So when I was looking at references for the Industrial collection, I had to think to myself, ‘What are the core components of creating that hard look — that punk, maybe BDSM-level look? Somebody in a club corner crying — what would they wear? And so the Industrial palette was a no-brainer, because all of those colors tell a wonderful story and help to animate the project and the theme. … I love to create worlds. And I love for them to be highly stylized — to have everything from the font to the color scheme to the way it’s presented on the platforms be coherent — so that people can literally step into a world and feel inspired.”