Valerie Wickes & Maxine Leonard, Beauty Papers


It's British Week right now on ITG. Why? Well, why not! But also to celebrate the UK launch of Glossier. Consider this a warm, editorial welcome to all our new friends over in Blighty. Starting with Victoria Beckham, we'll be sharing stories from our favorite Brits—plus a few discoveries we've made ourselves. Stay tuned... Cheerio!

Valerie Wickes, Creative Director, Beauty Papers: The towns we grew up in are quite different from each other.

Maxine Leonard, Editor in Chief, Beauty Papers: I grew up in Harrow—it’s northwest London. About 45 minutes from Central London. So, the suburbs.

Valerie: I grew up in Birmingham, England. It's a big industrial city 110 miles away from London that's the birthplace of heavy metal rock. A world away.

Maxine: When I was little, I wanted to be a makeup artist. I would tear sheets out of my mom’s magazines and tape them all over our shed and invite people in to do their hair and paint their faces. I didn't know what it was—I just knew it was what I wanted to do. Eventually I went to London to study hair and makeup at fashion college.

Valerie: There was this great art teacher in my senior school who told me to go to college. I had no idea what it was at that point. But I was already really good at drawing, so I went to Central St. Martins for graphic design. It was that time where everybody was there—it was kind of phenomenal. Everything was all about dressing up. You were no one unless you looked good and were going to the right bars and clubs. It was amazing. Anything could happen.

Maxine: I didn’t stay long at college. It was a little too technical and safe for me. And I was bored. I just knew I could learn a lot more assisting. So I got a job at the Shu Uemura counter at Liberty's and would chase Dick Page around to get on his Fashion Week team. Shu was still building a creative team at the time, so I went to Japan with the brand to train. By the time I got back, I was regularly assisting for Dick and Lisa Butler. I assisted for about four years and then an agency asked me to come in and see them because they’d seen some of my work.

Valerie: Maxine and I met while working on an advertising job in Paris. We’d worked together before on a couple things, and then this came up and we did it together. Was it for two or three days? It seemed like a long time.
Maxine: Two days.
Valerie: And then coming back on the train, it was really good to catch up and talk.

Maxine: By then, I had the name and a rough idea about what I wanted to do for the magazine, but it was once I met Valerie that the brand developed and became Beauty Papers. The way we created it was a very organic journey, and there still aren't any rules in place. We know what we’d like to do in general, but the work we commission is also very organic. Each artist in the industry brings something very different and we let them do that. Sometimes the makeup artist will choose their theme, sometimes the photographer or the stylist—that breaks the rules a bit.

Valerie: Something that we found exciting when we talked about starting Beauty Papers was the fact that we didn’t want it to only be generated from the products. There’s nothing wrong with products, but at the same time, it’s only a little part of the culture and the world of beauty. Talking to people that you don’t necessarily get access to and getting a bigger view on beauty was something really important. We’re more interested, I suppose, in the artistry of it. The artistry is much harder to find.

Maxine: At the same time, I think the obsession with celebrity is incredibly unhealthy. There are certain brands that have become a global phenomenon, and I think the idea that you look should like a cartoon is really sad and very negative, for society in general. I think it’s had a terrible effect on all of us. You can look on Instagram and see heads of industry where they’ve retouched themselves on the FaceTune app. Having to look and be a certain way—there’s not a lot of freedom in that.

Valerie: So to actually be able to go up to a makeup artist and say, "I just adore what you do. Would you work for Beauty Papers?" There’s something brilliant about that. We always talked about building a community, and making space for creativity and play and supporting our artists. And the design of the magazine helps to have that balance—even though it's a little more avant garde.
Maxine: And of course the artists write for us.
Valerie: That’s been great fun.

Maxine: When you think about the artists we interview, you rarely hear their voice in everyday life. But that's what makes the interviews really interesting. Not talking about the product is the comic relief in the background.

Valerie: Beauty is about people and character. And when we do photograph products, it was for the love of the product itself. The sort of sensual, tactile nature of it. You don’t always get that from many brands in their advertising.

Maxine: We have ambitions to go into subjects more deeply, and maybe publish papers every so often, like a big in-depth look at something. Our first few issues were very traumatic in a way because we were going into the unknown. It took a moment to get off the ground, and we didn’t really know each other. We didn’t really know what it was going to be but the reception was really great. We almost miss that naïve period a bit.

Valerie: Right now, I'm actually very optimistic because there are lots of really great boutique magazines around. It’s heaven for graphic designers and for people to tell their stories. One thing that has happened in the last few years is this entrepreneurial spirit that’s moving into areas like beauty. Because of all the other things going on in the world, there’s a kind of rising up and a bit of [people saying], "We don’t like that. That’s not great for everybody." There’s a big sense of change happening. Things need to be done in a different way. Hopefully, we’re a part of that and enabling that and having new conversations and new ideas from it, which will better for the world and the men and women in it.

—as told to ITG

Maxine Leonard and Valerie Wickes photographed by Tom Newton in London on September 21, 2017.