“‘It’s quite random!”’ laughs Isamaya Ffrench. The star make-up artist is talking about her latest project, a capsule accessories collection created in collaboration with Finery and – instead of regurgitating a press release or straying off into highfalutin art speak – she’s saying it how it is. But then that’s her through and through. Despite catapulting up the fashion ranks in recent years, Isamaya remains resolutely grounded and disarmingly open.
It’s not just that she’s young, successful and beautiful that Isamaya’s charming normality might come as a surprise (let’s be honest, that triumvirate has a history of sending people a little to the diva side), it’s that here is the girl who’s made her name as the artist behind some of the most boundary-pushing beauty looks of recent years. Names as diverse as Vogue and AnOther Magazine, the Theo Adams Company and Junya Watanabe have been quick to snap up her bold, often surrealistic talents. She’s so busy that – despite moving to Paris almost a year ago – Cambridge raised Isamaya has spent only about four weeks there. She’s recently been appointed a creative artist consultant for Tom Ford (proof Isamaya can do high octane glam as well as she can outlandish theatre) and when we speak, is in New York doing the make-up for a Kenzo project. Phew.
Now Isamaya can add another name to her stellar CV: Finery. Following the success of last season’s Forever Pieces capsule, the brand has joined forces with the make-up artist to create a five-piece accessories collection. “‘We chose to partner with Isamaya because we admire her courageous creativity; she is one of the most exciting young talents in the industry of the moment,”’ explains Finery brand director Caren Downie. For Isamaya, who “‘way, waaaaay before I got into make-up”’ had wanted to study footwear design at university, the project appealed quite simply because “‘it just sounded fun!”’
A true collaborative endeavor, it’s the differences between Isamaya’s and Finery’s style that enrich the collection. “‘It’s quite cool because it’s not really a brand I would have imagined pairing myself as we’ve got quite different aesthetics. They’re more feminine and I’m more masculine. But it was really nice to have the designers there guiding me. I never would have created something like I did had I not had their influence,”’ Isamaya explains, admitting that the Finery design team helped her “‘reign in”’ some of her more out there ideas, ultimately creating something altogether sleeker, but still true to her. “‘We think Isamaya has brought the perfect amount of fearlessness to the collection while also complimenting Finery’s polished aesthetic,”’ echoes Caren.
“‘A weird mix of sporty and ultraluxe,”’ is how Isamaya sums up the collection. This translates into pieces that marry a refreshing pragmatism with an undeniable statement- making impact, simple silhouettes are enlivened with clashing fabrics and subversive details like oversized zips and buckles reinvigorate simple silhouettes. Take the skate shoes, for instance, the pared-back style is lined with blue fur and multi buckle detailing, elevating them from knock-abouts to knockouts. You can’t miss the urban, ‘90s thread woven throughout the collection – the sculptural ear cuff is all industrial elegance, while a bucket hat has more than a whiff of Gallagher about it (that’s a good thing by the way, trust us).
Practicality isn’t known for being the sexiest of concepts in fashion, but for Isamaya it was crucial the collection had the same effortless functionality as her own style. An active background in dance and high board diving, has given Isamaya her “‘massive taste for sportswear and technical stuff”’ is translated into the collection. So, a sleek pair of emerald green neoprene suede and embossed glossy leather sock boots come with a heel robust enough for running around all day in. Isamaya – who admits to being somewhat phobic of oversized, overstuffed handbags (“‘I can’t get my head around them”’) – says her collection highlight is the oversized, multi-zip bum bag designed to be slung over the shoulder.
A tomboy with a taste for a jolt of glam, and whose personal go-to make-up look is no make-up, Isamaya has the kind of innate confidence which means she can carry off the sleek Serge Lutens inspired look of her Finery campaign with the same ease that she inhabit the Call of Duty hoodie she’s wearing today. Ask her who her style icon is though and she draws a blank; inspiration is more likely to come from her friends or cinematic references than celebrities (for the record, Sarah Connor from Terminator 2 is “‘who I wish I was!”’ A kick ass heroine with a knack for looking damn cool in rough and ready garbs – we can see it).
For Isamaya, if there’s a parallel to be drawn between the her day job and the Finery collaboration, it’s about creativity: not just creating something, but creating a visual language with which you communicate with the world. “‘It’s about invigorating the character that you want to be in that moment which is different if you’re going to a meeting to if you’re going to a party if you’re going to walk your dog. We’re always playing with our characters, we do it on social media, or we’re at least a vision that has now become a real aspect of who we are. It’s about managing – projecting what you want to project – and makeup just helps you do that – just like a shoe or like a hairdo”’.
So, in this world of projection, does she mine Instagram for inspiration? “‘It’s important to be careful about what you look at because there’s so much information, if you’re constantly bombarding yourself with lots and lots of design and other images it will just totally blanket out any room for your personal growth. It’s so easy to get lost in other people’s images. You have to try and censor the world to maximise yourself, otherwise you just get a bit lost I think. I follow dentists on Instagram.”’ Said like the girl whose feet (clad in something sensibly subversive no doubt) are well and truly on the ground.