"I grew up in a little town called Woodstock in Oxford which was very provincial. I was always into clothes but I was never into fashion… It’s funny, you can read interviews with people in the industry who remember the first time they bought a copy of Vogue and they talk about what an amazing experience that was, but I never had that. I was into music, art, and film and that’s where my interest in the fashion world stemmed from.
Both of my parents were jewelry designers and my dad collected vintage leather and denim. When I was very small, he would dress me in incredible clothes—I was wearing 1930's denim dungarees when I was five years old! For me, fashion wasn’t about trends—it was about creating an identity that could be subversive, and expressing yourself in a different way. Then, as I got a bit older, I started to love magazines like i-D and The Face, but there weren’t many places to buy them in Oxford! Reading those magazines made me realize there was a world outside of my little town and made me want to move to London where there were exciting people doing interesting things. So, I did.
I went to Central Saint Martins to study fashion history and theory. Part of the curriculum is going out and getting some work experience in the industry and I thought, 'Where do I want to work?' I knew about Sang Bleu already—the reason I loved it is because it was essentially a fashion magazine that didn’t look at fashion. It’s more about style and individuals and identity and sexuality…things that, in a way, are the essences of subculture. Extreme body modification, not conforming to certain kinds of gender, having unusual ideas of sexuality. So, I emailed the editor who was looking for an assistant at the time, and that’s how I started there.
I want to work on things at Sang Bleu with a bigger message, things that aren’t just one-dimensional but that can help people open their minds. I’m lucky—I only review shows at Fashion Week if I think that the designer has created an interesting body image that speaks to a subculture. So, if the person they're designing for isn’t a typical model and is maybe a curvy girl, or a gay man, or someone trans or a drag queen—or someone is doing something very performative on the catwalk—then I’m interested. But if not that...well, I don’t want to pay it any attention.
There are loads of women who look great, but I can never put my finger on one style influence. I'm inspired by strong women who are successful for being themselves and not compromising their ideals, and I think a lot of how I dress and do my makeup is informed by elements of that.
I think that Hood By Air is the most important thing happening in fashion at the moment. They create something that’s genuinely genderless—not just an androgynous model girl with her hair scraped back and bleached eyebrows. I feel like I’ve only just started to learn how to wear makeup, but I’m incredibly lucky because one of my best friends and neighbors is the makeup artist Daniel Sallstrom—he actually does all the makeup for Hood By Air. He has this amazing ability to make women look very strong and confident, which is really what it should be about. I feel that I want my life exactly how I have it—with plenty of men in it who wear makeup better than I do. I have a lot of male friends who know how to do themselves up for a night.
I went to an all-girls school where everyone would be wearing makeup only to impress boys, and I just didn’t understand it. If I wanted to impress a boy, I wanted to talk about things that I was interested in, and maybe we’d have mutual interests and that’d be attractive—and then I’d fall in love! So, I very quickly developed this relationship with makeup where I felt like it was something that repressed women. But now I wear it as something stylistic. My style icons are Man Ray portraits with elements of classical beauty pulled from Greek sculpture; Catherine Deneuve in films of the '60s; the cover of Aretha Franklin’s album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You. Strength of character—that’s something that links together everyone that I love.
I use a Liz Earle Tinted Moisturizer because it’s delicate on the skin and feels very natural and light. I don't like the feeling of having heavy layers of makeup on my skin, but I’ll use Bobbi Brown Foundation if I need extra coverage. I always wear the same MAC lipstick, Diva, because it fits perfectly between brown and red. It’s bold, but it isn’t too in-your-face because it's matte. It’s quite elegant. I use Illamasqua Eyebrow Cake in Thunder because I like creating a bit of definition to create a strong, classic shape, but I resent going through any pain for beauty so I don’t get them done as much as I maybe should.
That’s all I wear—I don’t like mascara because it makes my eyes tired and I really hate taking it off. Things like blusher and eyeshadow are too much hassle, and I never understood trying to emulate something artificial in that way.
At the end of the day, I use Liz Earle’s Hot Cloth Cleanser and a muslin cloth to clean my face—it makes my face feel cleaner than any other face wash known to mankind. Nothing takes makeup off better!
I wash my hair every other day using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Conditioner, which I find comfortably nostalgic, both in packaging and smell. Before I go to bed, I use almond oil in my hair. Because I’m a quarter Pakistani, I quite like Indian beauty routines—almond oil, rose water, and all that.
I wear Molecule01 perfume because it smells different on everyone, so it’s very personal. And people react very strongly to it—I’ve been chased off the bus and asked what I’m wearing, and I have friends who say they can smell me before they see me!
I always have a gel manicure, which I get done every two or three weeks down in Dalston at a salon right by where I live called Nails 4 U. I adore going to get my nails done because there are so many different women that you might not usually speak to all in the same place; women of all different ages and backgrounds coming together. I love being in that environment.
I’ve realized that you can use makeup and fashion to express something of yourself—it’s not just about conforming to an impossible idea of femininity. And it’s all about understanding the pressures that continue to confront women. That’s why I want to work in fashion—not because I’m interested in the glamour, but because I think that fashion is the most conceivable way to make a change in how women feel about themselves. You can read all the Simone de Beauvoir that you want, but at the end of the day more women look at Kim Kardashian than read The Second Sex, so it’s about finding a middle ground. Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world—people look at it more than they do art, more than they read books, so it’s about using that power with responsibility."
—as told to ITG
Reba Maybury photographed by Olivia Richardson. Interview by Olivia J. Singer.