David Bowie; A Makeup Artist’s Tribute

david-bowie-makeupHonestly it’s hard to know where to begin this post. In the week since his death, so much has been said already, and what can I say that’s poignant or heartfelt enough to do him justice? I’m still here, eight days later, devouring old YouTube clips, playing his back catalogue, feeling like I’ve lost an old dear friend that I regretfully hadn’t spoken to in a while, whose mortality like so many of us I perhaps took for granted until he was gone, and the likes of whom we had never seen before and most likely never will again.

Bowie’s influence on so many facets of art and pop culture has been mused over since his passing, and as makeup artists his influence is unquestionable. A man in makeup who both men and women wanted to be or be with, from the brow-less, burnt red tones of his Ziggy Stardust looks to the the subtle contouring and eyeliner of his Thin White Duke era and beyond, even to the glam rock inspired look of the Goblin King Jareth of Labyrinth (the true love of many an 80s kid), Bowie was an artist who truly understood the power of makeup in his constant, seemingly effortless reinventions.

david-bowie-makeup-lightning-flash-aladdin-saneWithout the theatrical footsteps of Bowie to follow in, we would likely have no Marilyn Manson, no Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, St Vincent, no Tilda Swinton, no Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Annie Lennox, Gary Numan, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, Robert Smith, Morissey, Madonna… I could go on. Gaga, one of his most devoted disciples right back to the lightning bolt makeup looks of her first album, said “He still runs my universe…every morning I wake up and think, ‘What would Bowie do?’

Such iconic looks, springing from a desire for his music “to look how it sounds” have been referenced repeatedly by the world’s greatest makeup artists; Alex Box, Kabuki, Val Garland, Pat McGrath, Lucia Pieroni… the list goes on and on and on. “Bowie really used beauty to help embody each of his characters,” says makeup artist Pati Dubroff. “He was just such david-bowie-makeup-ziggy-stardusta testament to the power of creativity and the transformation that can happen with beauty.”

Fiona Stiles, an artist lucky enough to work with the man himself for seven whole years said “I doubt there’s any person working in makeup who wouldn’t cite him as a huge influence. For me, it’s like a psychic visual library that is always present… This call to experiment unabashedly with color, to embrace glitter whenever humanly possible, to see beauty and style as an opportunity to play with a capital P, and to embody whatever character springs from your wildest dreams, this is the Bowie effect.”

Bowie worked with a number of high profile makeup artists throughout his career. Pierre LaRoche, the man behind equally legendary looks for Mick Jagger and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, created his beyond-iconic lipstick painted lightning bolt for the cover of Aladdin Sane (inspired variously by Elvis’s david-bowie-makeup-ashes-pierrot-richard-sharahwell-known lightning bolt signet ring, Bowie’s own stage clothes and as urban legend has it, the logo of a Panasonic rice cooker in the studio that day). He also went on to create Ziggy’s gold “astral sphere” look, as well as the flawless makeups of the Pin-Ups cover with Bowie and Twiggy’s porcelain like mask designs, and Life on Mars‘s painted, graphic bright blue eyes.  “He has a perfect face for makeup,” La Roche once said. “He has even features, high cheekbones and a very good mouth.” You can say that again – sorry, Bowie crush in full swing.


And then there was his time in the early 80s with the legendary makeup artist Richard Sharah, creating the hauntingly beautiful Pierrot inspired looks for the Ashes To Ashes video and Scary Monsters album artwork. But while LaRoche or Sharah may have been the makeup artist on the call sheet, the look was creatively Bowie’s, and often, so was the application.

david-bowie-makeup-facechartNot only did he always apply his own lip shape, including that on the Aladdin Sane cover (mad lipliner skills), but Bowie mostly did his own makeup for stage. His lifelong love of painting and early training as a mime had him doing so for years before worldwide fame hit. Just take a look at the awesome makeup notes he made on a self sketched face chart for his Halloween Jack persona on the Diamond Dogs tour. By the early 70s he was using a special Noh Theatre palette which he had brought back from his time touring Japan, where famed Onnagata (the Japanese male actors, who impersonate women in Kabuki theatre) Tamasaburo Bando taught him how to apply traditional kabuki make-up. Its bold features set against a base backdrop of white  are evident in the lightning bolt across the Ziggy face, and its gender-bending androgyny was truly inspiring to Bowie as an artist who, ground-breakingly at the time, simply didn’t care about gender norms. This was long before the movement towards gender fluidity we’re seeing today.

“I used to enjoy doing the make-up,” he said. ” It felt relaxing and put me in a kind of serene state before the show.” The slew of photos taken of him backstage applying his own face from various plastic cups of pigment are fascinating.  At its most intense, Bowie’s look took two hours to achieve, and the concentration seen in those images bear witness to his absolute focus in the moment.


And while his more dramatic makeup looks may be the ones seared into the collective conscious, what of the ghostly complexion, subtle contours and smokey cabaret eyes of david-bowie-makeup-thin-white-dukethe Thin White Duke? What of his early 80s golden suntan with that soft contour still creeping in, or his wicked 90s punk-tinged eyeliner? And sorry Instagram makeup fans but David Bowie was rocking pop art face paint in his “Blue Jean” video way back in 1984. What of the well-worn guyliner still evident in his swan song videos for Blackstar and Lazarus? Makeup was part of Bowie’s inimitable vision until the end.

I’d love to pretend I have something in common with the man himself, if only. But we as fellow makeup artists can claim him as ours in that one sense, or rather look up to him, as someone who understood the complexities of beauty, how to go against the grain of what society tells us is beautiful, or feminine, or sexy. Bowie’s sense of style and love of makeup was wild, free, and unapologetic, and as the galleries below can attest, a makeup artist’s inspiration beyond measure.

Vogue Australia “Fame” May 2003 ; Richard Bailey

Makeup by Kellie Stratton


Elle Mexico “Just For One Day” May 2013 ; Takahiro Ogawa

Makeup by Asami Taguchi


Vogue Russia “Bowie Girl” March 2013 : Emma Tempest

Makeup by Mel Arter


British Vogue – Kate Moss In Vintage Bowie – May 2003 ; Nick Knight

Makeup By Val Garland


Vogue Italia “Tilda Swinton as David Bowie” February 2003 ; Craig McDean


Miu Miu Campaign – AW12 ft. Chloe Sevigny ; Mert & Marcus

Makeup by Lucia Pieroni


Grazia France “Belle Oui Comme Bowie” January 2013 ; Christophe Meimoon

Makeup by Topolino


Vogue Paris “Androgyne” October 2010 ; David Sims

Makeup by Lucia Pieroni


W Magazine “Oh You Pretty Things” March 2012 ; Craig McDean

Makeup by Peter Philips


And how could I leave out these two beauties, from Jean Paul Gaultier’s SS13 collection, and Kate Moss’s December 2011 cover of Vogue Paris?!


Thanks for everything Mr Bowie, we’ll miss you!

David Bowie 1947 – 2016

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