Paris-born, Brooklyn-based French makeup artist Violette studied art and fashion before making a (first) name for herself as a beauty pioneer via her immensely successful YouTube tutorial series. In 2017 she was named Estée Lauder's Global Beauty Director.
In this very special conversation conducted by Inside/Out expert and contributor Caroline Wachsmuth, Violette candidly shares her story, challenges, dreams and more.
INSIDE/OUT: Introduce yourself.
Violette: I go by my first name. I put so much of my heart into my work, so going by my first name only almost feels like I am protecting a part of myself. I just turned 34, am French, grew up in Paris, then moved to NYC 3 years ago. I am the Global Beauty Director of Estée Lauder, a beauty consultant and makeup artist.
I/O: Tell us about your genesis story.
V: I have been very inspired by the women I grew up around in France - they were very independent and did not rely on men to build themselves up. That is the way I was raised. When I started in this business, I was surprised by how many of the makeup artists were male, and I felt that the female makeup artists that did exist were not openly embracing or celebrating their femininity. Among them, I was already looked at as an alien as I had not gone to makeup school or assisted anybody. All I knew I had learned on my own, and what I knew then was fashion design and art. Beauty had never been my focus.
Style had always been very important to me though, and I was surprised to find that for makeup artists, this open expression of style did not really seem welcome on sets. I guess maybe it had something to do with being ‘humble’ in front of talent. I took this on very much as a personal fight, because I think we should not only be inspired by others but also be a source of inspiration ourselves, without competing: that’s how we can collaborate with each other. I faced a lot of resistance in the beginning because of my different approach. But thanks to Carine Roitfeld, who discovered me and wrote a story about me in Vogue, suddenly everybody believed in me. Today, our generation celebrates young people who bring all kinds of creative ideas, objects and brands to the table, but it was not always like that. I see makeup artists the same way - we are now considered as artists and entrepreneurs, but I feel that this is a recent change.
While I consider myself a feminist, I also think it is important to celebrate the men who have supported me in my life. I was raised by strong feminist women and have had some wonderful men in my life as well. For example, my father who was sensitive, with a soul of an artist, and who taught me to believe in myself as a person, gender aside, and to celebrate my sensitivity, my differences. Through his eyes and the way he raised me, I felt that I existed. Then came my stepfather who raised me from the time I was 3 years old and has been a huge pillar in my education. He inspired me, and always respected women so much. So yes, men also helped me to become the woman I am today.
I/O: Tell us a bit about what you do and how you do it.
V: I studied art and fashion. I always hesitated between becoming a painter or a fashion designer, but neither excited me enough. And then all became so evident when one night, completely by accident, I had to do a friend’s make up for a costume party. I put sparkles all over her face and it came to me: she was my muse. I was ‘dressing’ and painting her face. Today, all women are my muses, not some sort of blank canvas. I am celebrating all women and their femininity. I do a lot of mood boards and I am my own art director. I invent personas, stories, and make models a part of these stories. I started doing makeup 13 years ago. It has been amazing and was always about expressing myself. That’s also why I created my YouTube channel - to connect with people. And the experience has been a revelation for me, because I realized the influence it had on women and how much it affected their lives. This medium allows me to speak directly to them, and I deeply cherish that connection. Makeup is actually not as superficial as some might assume. On the contrary, there is a very deep psychological connotation to it. It is a tool that impacts who and what we see of ourselves in the mirror. This is why my way of working is very active and creative.
Working with Estée Lauder has also enabled me to engage with women directly and create collections for them. I ask them what they want, I go to the lab, work through all the product development phases, always keeping in mind that I am the ‘house guest,’ so to speak. Estée Lauder as a woman was a true pioneer. I have so much respect and admiration for her and am honored to create products for this brand.
I/O: Current projects and future dreams?
V: I am working on my 4th collection for Estée Lauder, which launches in Spring 2019. Each collection has its own distinctive story. I’m very excited to share it.
I/O: How much of your entourage are girls or women?
V: A lot of them. I love to work with women. Also, I just realized the other day that all the art pieces I’ve been buying this year are by women artists! I am now surrounded by women’s art. My assistants are all female. My agents. My work partners. It’s a major women power team around me. But as I mentioned, there are a few men that have a very important role in my life as well. My partner provides the most amazing support. He pushes me to realise my dreams. I work hard and a lot, and he’s 100% with me. I have never felt so fulfilled as a woman. A big part is thanks to him.
I/O: What are your thoughts on feminism and female empowerment?
V: It’s very important. Even though I think I am privileged, I also have suffered from discrimination being a woman. Also, being a witness of what is going on drives me nuts. I am really relieved and thrilled that the abuse is now talked about, that speech is liberated. I am happy to see that efforts are being put towards offering equal pay, that women are becoming more prominent. I have a lot of respect for women who work and have children. Because it is so much work! When do they have ‘me time?’
There is a phrase that touches me so much, which is, ‘I do everything you do, but I do it bleeding.’ Yes!! Guess what, we don’t talk about it because we just think it’s 'normal' or taboo. Well, we should celebrate ourselves for that! And not be ashamed to talk about it. On the other hand, I think that there are things we should be careful of not doing. For example, starting to reject and ignore men completely, as they have done to us. Let’s keep unconditional love for each other. Also, I would not like to see this celebration of 'powerful' women start to intimidate other women who are not as privileged as others, or that those who choose not to work and want to be mums at home feel left out of the movement. This is freedom - to take whatever path we choose, and to accept and respect the path of others. I think we should celebrate all women, no matter the lifestyle they have chosen. As long as this choice is a personal choice, and not one made because we think it’s just what we deserve.
I/O: What does your community consist of? Do you feel part of a tribe? Or more of a leader?
V: I don’t see myself as a leader … I never really thought about it that way. I am part of a tribe and I just show a way. Whoever wants to be part of it is welcome.
I/O: What experts do you admire? Who are your teachers?
V: I don’t really have teachers; I love to learn on my own. This is the rebel in me. I love doing things on my own. I educate myself a lot. Someone who was an inspiration when I started and had no idea how to do makeup is Kevyn Aucoin and his incredible book, Making Faces. He is the first expert that I looked up to. There is also Val Garland, Pat McGrath, Tom Pecheux (he has so much talent and class). Otherwise, I am extremely inspired by Nature and by Art. I adore Yves Klein, Rothko, Cocteau, and Godard - these are my real teachers.
I/O: Who or what helped you get where you are today?
V: I think I was born without the fear chromosome. I always listen to my instincts, and I must say I am quite stubborn. Which at first, led me to end up with no agent at all, because he told me I should stop doing my creative makeup and focus on doing makeup in a classic and commercial way because I will never shoot for Vogue. So, I told him: ‘ok, bye then!.’ But I still made it and kept my creativity (and shot for Vogue, ha!). So my best ally is my fearlessness.
I also have principles of respect towards myself. I need to have my ethics respected. I refuse things when it does not correspond to my ideas or vision without caring about how much money is involved. I think I was blessed with a good fairy as a baby.
Also, loyalty is one of the most important things to me. I believe in always treating people well, whoever they are. It is very important to give dimension to your work. It’s not about you, but about others.
I/O: Overall, who takes care of you? Who or what makes you stronger?
V: Myself. But I also need a bit of help. So, I have an acupuncturist, a therapist and I also practice Transcendental Meditation. My house also makes me stronger. My stepfather told me once that all the seeds we plant in our work and in ourselves outside our house can actually grow within our home. And it’s true - a house where we feel safe and contained is critical. I also have awesome friends who take care of me thanks to their amazing friendship that I really cherish. And of course, my partner who is incredible, my sun.
My audience makes me strong. It is very motivating. I feel I have a tribe there, too. Otherwise, again Transcendental Meditation helps me a lot. It gave me a totally different perspective on life. It helps me to stay grounded and calm. Therapy as well, because it helps me not to be a victim of my circumstance and to grow in a healthy way.
I/O: What challenges have you faced and what obstacles might you be experiencing?
V: I’m working on my fear of death. On the fact that life is so fragile. In less than 5 years, I have lost a lot of family members and other people close to me. That clearly traumatized me. I am now realizing that this fear still needs to be addressed, even though I thought I was doing ok.
The other challenge that I went through was to not only use magazines to express my work, but also to use social media. This has been new to me until recently and I feel this is a pretty wonderful thing as it allows us can achieve so much.
Another thing, when I started working, I was so young and people were telling me I had so much time. I did not totally agree with that, but it sank in a little. Now, I am in a ‘wake up’ moment. I just realized ‘wait, maybe this period during which I thought I had so much time before seeing it coming, is actually now.’ It’s amazing how other people’s projections can affect us and it should not!
I/O: What particular challenges do you find women are facing? Is it more of a local or a global issue? How can this be improved?
V: Some cultures make it more difficult than others, that’s for sure. I feel extremely privileged. I have had my share of challenges as a woman in the past, especially as a young woman. But nothing compared to what women are going through in some other countries. I just think the key is awareness. Educate yourself, know about what’s happening in the world. How can you help?
On a more business side, one thing that I see that can help people that do not have access to big cities like New-York or Paris, to have better chance to get their business started is apps like Etsy, or Chairish. Or Instagram and YouTube. They can now share their talents, art, etc. with an audience that can buy their work and support what they do.
And we have to impose it upon all brands that they think ‘diversity.’ This is extremely important! We are all different. For example, there must be as many foundations as there are skin colors. That is so obvious to me and many of us but it is still not the case. But, I am happy to see it starts to change. Let’s keep fighting. Beauty is everywhere, it’s not about gender or ethnicity.
I/O: An inspirational quote?
V: 'She never looked nice: she looked like art and art wasn’t supposed to look nice: it was supposed to make you feel something.' - Rainbow Rowell.
I/O: Three words.
V: Acceptance, disruption, love.
I/O: Tell us about your rituals.
V: I am a bad example, but I would love to be more regular. I am inspired by people who have routines, but I just cannot have one. I at least care about the quality of what I drink and eat. I love having a high-quality glass of red wine every now and then. Everything I eat is organic. Even when I go to the restaurant, I focus on farm to table (that’s the privilege of living in Brooklyn!). I eat a bit of chocolate every day. I was doing Thai boxing in the past and I was also running a bit. But now, I love Pilates. I just wish I was more regular. It’s just hard with my crazy schedule. I am very good at keeping a very precise skincare regimen though. I have my rituals and I never skip them. I don’t drink black tea. I drink rosemary tea and a bit of lemon water. And matcha! I avoid acidic food. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I cannot resist good cheese and bread.
Overall, I am trying to get balanced. I am not so good at saying no to myself. Fortunately, I love healthy stuff and I am not an extremist.
My reading list includes Kafka on the Shore by Murakami, Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein, Walk through Walls by Marina Abramovic and Wuthering Heights by Emilie Brontë.
I love classical music, I am a huge fan of Beethoven as well as Max Richter, Jimi Hendrix, Philip Glass, Beyoncé (the album Lemonade especially), Kendrick Lamar (for DNA) - I think he is a modern poet.
I/O: What would you recommend for people without the means or geographical access to prestigious materials, products and practitioners?
V: Well, we can create beautiful looks with very 'simple' supermarket or Instagram makeup brands. For example, I like NYX and their Jumbo Pencils, Kiko and Colour Pop. Don’t buy copycats of brands, though. I think it is very important to remain curious and luckily the internet provides an incredible source of information and education that anybody, anywhere, can have access to.
Finding the most talented practitioners is hard, but if we remain curious, read material online and in books, we can teach ourselves a lot. (For example, in the book The Universe Has Your Back Gabrielle Bernstein provides a lot of self-help tools that we can instate instead of going to see just anybody for healing or advice).
About makeup, so many channels on YouTube teach you how to create an amazing makeup look, you can become a real pro thanks to that, ha!
I/O: What role does travel play in your life?
V: I have traveled a tremendous amount in my life, but now I want to slow it down a bit. I do think that traveling is extremely important. Cultural differences need to be seen and felt, in order for us to evolve and open our hearts. I am going to Japan for a personal trip soon, which I know will be an infinite source of inspiration for me.
Recently, I was in Argentina and LA. Upcoming trips include Shanghai, Paris, London, Los Angeles, China, Korea, and Japan.
I/O: What role does music play in your life? Do you have a ‘power’ song?
V: Music is very important to me. I am very sensitive to it. And yes, I have power songs. I have 3 of them, since I was 13 years old, that I love: ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’ by Carl Douglas, ‘Faith’ by George Michael, and ‘The Red Shoes’ by Kate Bush. I am laughing thinking that I am actually sharing that with you all!
I/O: What makes you happy? What do you do when something makes you unhappy?
V: A friend of mine really helped me to believe in myself when I was 21, when it was really tough for me. He was always telling me that when I was angry, I should let it sit a little and it would pass, that time would give me a new perspective, and that eventually I’d be able to act. So, when I am not doing well, instead of reacting right away, I let it sink in first. Then I act. The best remedy is meditation. Always remind yourself that you are in control of your actions, and that you’re not always the victim of your circumstance. We need to have faith in life. On a totally separate note, I love gardening. I love being at home. I love going to bed after a long trip. I love having crazy laughs with my partner. Open a nice bottle of wine with a friend and talk about our lives!
I/O: What inspires you more than anything else?
V: Nature. People. Art. Fabrics.
I/O: A desire, a wish, or manifestation?
V: To raise a healthy family with my partner. I pray for a world that will finally reach equality and peace, with inspiring leaders transmitting respectful messages. I hope we can all evolve to that one day.
About the author: Beauty alchemist, skincare and fragrance designer Caroline Wachsmuth divides her time between San Francisco and New York. She is the author of Seasons, a compilation of year-round beauty recipes and health rituals. As a creative, Caroline works with select brands and private clients to create skincare, body care, fragrance and beauty products, from concept to manufacturing. Caroline’s background, studies and cultural exposure combined with the healing art of her Ashtanga yoga practice result in a singular, holistic vision in regard to beauty and self-care.
Read Caroline's Expert interview online here.