"I don’t know what drew me to makeup. My mother never wore it, and my sisters were younger than I was, so I never saw them put it on. But one night while I was out in Paris in the early '80s, I met a girl who was studying to become a makeup artist. I had actually moved to Paris after school to become a pastry chef, but when I wasn’t working in the kitchen of a big hotel during the day, I was clubbing and being a very bad boy. Before meeting her, I'd always assumed that everyone did their own makeup—I didn’t know it was a job. [Laughs] But after that, it was caught in my mind. I ran into the same girl again two months later, and she gave me the name of her school, Christian Chauveau L'Ecole Technique Privée de Maquillage Artistique, which was the only makeup school in France at the time. I went home to Burgundy to tell my parents that I wanted to become a makeup artist, and to ask for their help. At first, my dad, who was a farmer, was like, ‘No. Not going to happen.’ I knew that telling them I was going to makeup school would light a fire, so I waited to tell him that I was gay—I had fallen in love with this DJ in Paris.
But I ended up going to the school and my parents even helped me pay for it—I had no money. The school gave us a list of products to buy, like eyeliner and blush, and I was like, ‘What’s that?’ I didn’t even know! On the first day, we had to apply makeup to another student and I'd never done it before, so I just did what I had seen my mother do—I put two dots of lipstick on her cheeks and blend it with my finger. I still remember my teacher screaming at me. After a few months, the school director said to me that I was never going to make it as a makeup artist because I didn’t have ‘the look.’ I remember paying attention to clothes, but I wasn’t the trendiest guy in the world—I’m still not. But I think when people say that kind of a thing to you, it makes you fight even more.
I struggled a lot for the first few years in the field, taking crazy jobs—catalogs for wedding dresses and those kinds of things. I made barely $20 a day, and I was calling myself a 'hair and makeup artist.' I couldn’t do hair—but I couldn’t do makeup either. [Laughs] But that’s how you learn. After a while, I got a few big breaks.
The first came from a fashion stylist at French Marie Claire who liked what I was doing. She put me on every job that she did for the magazine, so I got my first good tear sheet from her, and got to meet Peter Lindbergh, too. My second break came when I met Carine Roitfeld. I was assisting another makeup artist on a shoot with Mario Testino for this French Elle cover with a tennis player and two models. Mario shoots really fast, so the other makeup artist didn’t have enough time to do both girls—so she took a girl, and I took a girl. Mario told me at the end that he actually preferred the makeup that I had done. It was a matter of taste, because the woman I was assisting is, and was, an incredible makeup artist. So I worked with Mario more, and he introduced me to Carine. She did not want to work with me. [Laughs] I will never forget the first shoot we did together. It was Stella Tennant for German Marie Claire, and I was totally the guy from the country—my school director might have been right; I did not have the right look.
But, eventually, we became a team. It was basically me, Mario Testino, Carine Roitfeld, Marc Lopez on hair in Europe, and Orlando Pita on hair in America. We got more and more work—Gucci campaigns and shows, Prada shows. We were shooting everything. At that time—the late ‘80s, early ‘90s—there were amazing photographers, but for fashion it was only Steven Meisel shooting everything. But Mario and Carine came in and created a mess. It was about joy and fun and sex. So they started shooting certain things in this style, and that was how we became pretty hot.
We were all doing exactly what we loved to do, so the work was really honest. We all loved girls who were sexy and cool, but not untouchable. A little makeup and cool hair—the girls always looked like they just got fucked, like they’re enjoying life. And Carine was bringing her twisted fashion: bourgeois but adding something to make it cool. She is a twisted woman, for sure. I love her. She’s my best girlfriend.
It was the time that Gisele was just starting. I worked with Stella Tennant and Kate Moss, too. I grew up with those three girls. Working with Kate is my favorite—talk about somebody with manners and education. She says 'hello' to everyone, and 'thank you' to everyone. She comes late—we used to call her 'Late Moss'—but she apologizes. Is she perfect? No. But I could work with her every day.
Anyway, fashion at the time was not as international—America was America, Europe was Europe. And even within Europe, England was England, France was France, Italy was Italy. England was totally into grunge, punk, and heroin. France was totally into that Saint Laurent world. And America was totally sucked into that Hollywood blah blah blah, with this healthy look of foundation, the eyebrow, and the false lashes—it was static. But our makeup had a certain glow in the face; it had the mood of grunge, but was executed in a sophisticated way. The makeup was kind of falling a little bit, like after a shag, but the girl didn't look fucked up.
Tom Ford also brought naughty energy to the group. We did the Gucci ads together for nearly 10 years. Yes, I did the ad where the 'G' is shaved into the model's public hair [photo 2]. The girl was Louise Pedersen. Orlando shaved it and I fixed it up with eyeshadow to make it sharper. We were pretty much established by then and had a reputation. I think it was Carine’s idea. Looking at the picture now, I don’t think we’d be able to do it today. The world's become so much more prudish.
A lot of people didn’t like what we were doing either because they thought it was very commercial. A makeup artist once told me that I was commercial, too. At the time, that really hurt me, but today I’m like, 'Well, thank God. I don’t like to hide women under makeup.' Yes, I have done some crazy makeup, but I think you can still say, ‘Oh, it’s Stella Tennant,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s this girl.’ Certain makeup artists like to create a blank canvas and then create a new character, but I never liked that. I don't think it's bad, but for me, I’m too passionate about the person I’m working with. I never, ever want to make a woman feel ugly. I love to bring the creative side to makeup when it's right, but you also have to remember that a makeup artist is never working for himself—we’re always working for someone. Some people have ego issues with that, I don’t have any ego since I know that when I’m going to shoot with Testino or Mert and Marcus or Craig McDean, I’m going to work not for them but with them; that’s the only way to do it well.
I feel very lucky, because not many people in the world can say that they wake up every morning and love what they do. I’ve been doing makeup for 29 years, and I could never give up on it. It has changed a lot—the backstage is so different now. Fifty percent of my work is doing interviews with journalists. But it’s part of my job, and I’m part of the industry, so I need to be thankful for it. This world is not perfect, but I’m not perfect either. Some days are going to be harder than others. I don’t want to stop, I want to carry on doing the same job in a different way."
—as told to ITG
Tom Pecheux photographed by Emily Weiss in Paris, France on September 30, 2013. Read Part 1 of our interview (Tom's Top Shelf!) here.