"I've had a lot of jobs. When I was studying art at Goldsmith's in London, I worked on the sales floor at Dover Street Market. My section was the Comme des Garçons range, which was supposed to be Rei Kawakubo's wardrobe. Then I worked as a photo assistant, then in a bar...later on I got this job working for this photographer's agent who represented Helmut Newton and Corinne Day. It was one of those jobs where it was good to be an assistant, because it meant that I got to work in the archives. It was the most amazing thing.
Helmut Newton's photo of Charlotte Rampling, where she's on the table, is just, like...to be able to sit naked and have such authority, even when a man is taking the picture, is amazing. Beauty is definitely an attitude thing. I love that power, and swagger, and strength. I’ve seen so many other people's beauty just dissolve in front of me because they’re so spiteful or unkind. And I don't think beauty is just the sum of parts. You never think, does Charlotte Rampling have great tits? Does Anjelica Huston have a great butt? You think about them as whole women. So much beauty imagery today is about accentuating parts, when it's really about the whole. Even if bits of you are a little bit awkward, or unflattering, it makes the whole much stronger.
I like my routines to have integrity to them. It's OK to have things in your life that are slightly frivolous—they may not be so serious, but they're still important. It's wonderful when people can say, 'This is the only product I use and love,' or, 'I have ten million products and I use them all.' People want to feel like they’ve just done a little something, do you know what I mean? For my own skin, I wash my face every morning with Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. I have quite dry skin, and other face washes really dry me out, but the calendula helps. I recently got this Hydro-Plumping Concentrate gel stuff that I'm using, too, though I'm only a few days in. But I always try to put oil on, like the Kiehl's Daily Reviving Concentrate. My product philosophy is to just try to get the best stuff you can afford. The Kiehl's oil I like, but when I can't afford it, I'll get some vitamin E oil which is like $10.
Often, I get hairs on my chin and the sides [of my jaw]. Not peach-colored, I'm telling you—like, long brown hairs that one day weren't here and now are here. One of the things I've learned is to treat them after I've just come out of the bath, when the pores are still open. I just press down on the hair that I'm about to pluck with my tweezers and then pop it out. No bleaching or anything like that. I think tweezing after a shower while your body's soft is the best way. Or don't pluck anything and own it—that's good too.
One of my earliest jobs was working in a local hairdresser's when I was 14, as the hairwasher girl. I got quite obsessed with dying my hair. I just wanted it to be blond, because I'm a Leo, I wanted to have a mane. So I had all of these bad dye jobs, and I really only recently started doing it properly. The last time I dyed it, I went to Tina Outen at Revolver. My biggest priority is keeping it happy, which means not too much bleach, not too much heat. If I blowdry it, I try to stick to just the roots. Using a really good shampoo and conditioner helps, too. I've been using the Kiehl's Amino Acid ones. Sometimes, I just wash my hair at the roots—they tend to get oily. I put the tiniest amount in along my roots to keep it fresh, because the rest of it doesn't need to be washed that often.
When I style it, I like to kind of tong it out so it looks weighty, kind of '70s, and finger-pulled out. I'm trying to wear my hair curly more because I noticed that a few young girls were commenting on pictures of mine, saying, 'This is why I'm wearing my hair curly now.' I felt like I wanted to take responsibility for that, so I'm wearing it bigger and curlier, and I'm proud of having it.
If it's sunny and I have a tan, I don't really do anything. If not, I'll throw a little tinted moisturizer on. The Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint in Dark is perfect for when I don't need a lot of coverage. I might put a bit of blush or bronzer on. I like Lancôme bronzer...I was on a photoshoot and the person who did my makeup was an artist for Lancôme, and mentioned that they have the best range of colors for black skin, and so I tried it. Otherwise, I really wouldn't wear much! Maybe YSL Mascara. That one’s really good. It’s very black and thick and you don’t have to put too many layers on.
I love glitter. I think shimmer is really fun. Bourjois is drugstore, but they always have good shimmery stuff. Rimmel is good for colors. Drugstore makeup is really good. With Nars or something, the colors are much more vibrant, but I think you can get so much good stuff in the drugstore. Just have fun with it.
In Miami, I showed these big black oil canvases. I painted them with my feet—a kind of semi-performance, where my feet were covered with black oil paint, and I'd run until I couldn't run anymore, and the canvas becomes saturated so you can't see the footprints anymore. But my feet were completely destroyed, all inky and black. So I've been making sure to get regular pedicures, especially in the summer. I go to this place in the East Village, Lulu’s Nails, which is very lowkey. And I get waxed there too. Body hair is so political—I go through phases of being completely hairy, but then I'll get a wax because it feels like a cathartic experience.
On my body, I like coconut oil. Sometimes I'll use a little Crème de Corps Soy Milk and Honey Whipped Body Butter. I love this sunscreen, Hawaiian Tropic Shimmer Effect Sun Lotion, because it shimmers. You look shimmery all over and it smells good. It smells like summer, especially coming from London. To be in the sun means I’m usually on holiday! That feels like holiday to me.
Chanel Mademoiselle is my favorite—I love it, and I wear a lot of it. I think it’s quite sweet, which I like. I have a terribly sweet tooth. I’ve been getting lots of comments on it with cab drivers! Twice it’s happened. They’ve liked the smell, and I tell them the name, and they go buy it for their wives. One of them was like, ‘You’re not the first person… I’ve smelled it before and I wondered what it was.’ That was really sweet."
—as told to ITG
Phoebe Collings-James photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on November 23, 2015.