Robyn Fitzsimons is an extremely creative young individual bursting with unique personality and defined ideas. She does not only blow our minds with her work as a makeup artist, but also for her approach to makeup as a concept and her interesting thoughts and words on this field.
After finishing school in Corby, she decided to change the industrial landscape of her beloved English hometown for another more amusing one—London, of course—to purchase a career in the sector she felt more intrigued by. She knew she would make it there, and she did. Robyn, who’s only 21, has already worked with several magazines, photographers and fashion designers and will only continue awing us with her take on the limitless power of makeup. For her, it is art on a completely different canvas. This is Robyn, not a conventional makeup artist, and that is what makes her so special. We talked with her about her work, her inspirations, her opinion on gender in fashion, and her passion for red.
Let’s start from the beginning. You are originally from Corby, a small town in England. In which ways do you think being raised there has influenced you and your work? Were you able to find a creative environment during your childhood and adolescence there?
Yes, Corby is a small working class town in England and initially the majority of people that inhabit this town are very closed-minded and judgmental, which is always a real delight while growing up and trying to find yourself. Funnily enough I take so much pride in my hometown, I wouldn’t have wished to be born anywhere else. There is an overwhelming sense of community here which I have only just began to really feel and identify with after living away from there. The juxtaposition between the large forest areas against the industrial landscape which surrounded me has always been a huge influence in so many ways. There’s a real lack of colour apart from green and grey but the textures and shapes once you look beyond what is in front of you are incredible. Also I am lucky enough to have a large family, which has been the driving force throughout my life. I suppose like anywhere you have to find your own place within your environment that’s yours and where you can express yourself, make mistakes and toy around with your identity, but this place for me was in the comfort and safety of my own home. My dad in his Lambretta parka accompanied by his Vespa and my mum with her huge mass of witchy Auburn hair listening to the Cocteau Twins while I’d be dressing up as Joan of Arc, chainmail and sword in hand for World Book Day at school while every other girl dressed as their favourite Disney princess. I honestly cannot think of a place more inspiring and influential to me than the very house I grew up in which is the same house I still go back to 21 years later. Surrounded by so much love and not one ounce of judgment.
Well said, I couldn’t agree more with you. Was it hard for you to find your own path and build your career in the fashion and beauty industry?
It certainly wasn't or it didn’t feel hard, just very hard working. I feel if you put the work in you will reap the rewards, this may not be sudden but it all pays off eventually. Like most people I would get days or even months feeling so monotonous and uninspired, but the fashion industry moves at such a rapid pace I had to be so on top of what I wanted for myself and think ahead to the future of where I want to be. I found socialising the key to building my career. I’m thankful to the amazing encounters that have come my way through friends or people I’ve met at an event or even on the street. I began creating a small bubble of contacts when I was just 16 coming down to London and partying or being cast in shoots which really gave me the taste and ability to see what I would experience later on in my career. Social media is another huge deal breaker for myself, which again is heavily reliant on socialising. Through Instagram and having a website where people can access your work at any given moment in this technology driven society has been surprisingly incredibly helpful. Of course bettering myself through practicing, I’ve found assisting artists like Thomas De Klyuver on shoots as well as fashion weeks—one of the greatest opportunities I’ve been given to learn so much, much more of a genuine and valuable lesson than any I had been taught in university. And being humble worked for me—don’t be a cunt, no one likes a cunt.
What’s the thing you like the most in a photo shooting? If you find yourself inspired or driven by something specific during the shooting, do you feel free to add or change some things?
I love the first moment I meet a model, I have such a sensitivity to faces and faces of those I've never met. I could have a look planned for the shoot and as soon as I see the face it can completely change in an instant, it’s like that last piece of the puzzle you need. You can never truly know someone's face until they're right in front of you. And this excitement never dies. On set of a shoot it’s all about communication—with the photographer, stylist, hair stylist, etc. You all have to work together to create and to communicate everyone's vision the best you can. This is really exciting and it always drives me on, gets the juices flowing as they say. So yes I always feel free to add and change things on a shoot, in a sense it’s my job to and I feel I have the right too as freely as I wish.
I think it would be pointless to ask you about your style, because that would mean setting limits to your work. I wanted to know about how does the use of colour take part in your work, if it has any special meaning or power for you, and also if there are any topics or themes you tend to come back to every now and then.
I have a strong everlasting relationship with red. It creeps up in the majority of my work. Red is such a powerful colour with many connotations… My connotations with the colour may be so different to those viewing my work, which is something I am quite open to expecting–I like the idea of that. My mother's hair is naturally deep red—the colour is ingrained into me. I have Spanish heritage from my mother’s side and I always associate the colour red with Spain, a colour as rich as the culture. My last name Fitzsimons has its own tartan with the predominant colour red as well as the Fitzsimons family crest. Red is so deeply rooted within my history I can’t deny its presence [laughs]. As for topics or themes, the 1920s/1930s is a recurring crush of mine: the makeup and the hair along with the movie stars and the art melts me, I have such an appreciation and passion for the era that I cannot seem to shake. I find myself using this era as a default whenever I’m researching or creating a new look.
Which shooting or project do you feel more proud of so far?
It’s hard to say because each shoot has unique elements which I’m so proud of individually, however it has to be when I worked with photographer Jamie Morgan for Hero Magazine. To me he is such an icon for the likes of the Buffalo collective and of course the Buffalo book from the 80’s, and when I read the email I was speechless. The casting was so beautiful, such a variety of races and incredible faces—it was such a pleasure. And to finally see the photos in print was overwhelming, they are incredible. But the two seasons of Palomo Spain I was the key makeup artist on will be an experience I will never forget. I wasn’t even confident in my own ability but Alejandro had so much faith and confidence in me to run wild with the looks I think the first ever show was a real turning point for me with makeup. It was only myself and one of my closest friends (who had never applied makeup before) who helped me. I still feel anxious when I remember the intensity of backstage trying to pull off these insane punk eye looks with painted ears. I think I cried when the show was over and when I first saw the footage back I’ve never been so proud.
Let’s talk about another great episode in your career, but this time with you being the model. Tell us about the experience of being on the cover of Re-Edition Magazine’s fifth issue and how did it feel like being in front of David Sims’ lens.
I still don’t believe this happened to me, it’s surreal. I was contacted by Lotta over Instagram to come and shoot for a Balenciaga special and of course how could I say no to that! But I think it was only the day before the shoot I realised it was with David and I started to freak. When I showed up my hair was brushed, I was put in a blouse and I had minimal makeup put on. I was in hair and makeup for about 3 minutes. David was incredible, a real gentleman—so, so sweet and gentle, and he knew exactly what he wanted, which was so inspiring to see. I think we shot for about 10 minutes, he kept shooting until he essentially found what he was looking for and then I was allowed to go home. The shot where I’m laughing is a genuine candid moment. I think he was joking around with the lighting operator and as soon as I started laughing he carried on shooting. The whole experience was so quick and didn’t feel real. I wasn’t even aware it was going to be on the cover until later when suddenly one night my phone was blowing up with messages texts and phone calls of people like “Have you seen this??" I didn’t understand what was happening until I saw it on the Instagram of Re-Edition, not one but two covers. I screamed and couldn’t stop smiling for weeks after, I was even recognised in a few shops and a few models in fashion week asked me about it, which was hilarious.
Where are you based right now? Can you tell us which are your three favourite cities and why?
I’m based in London right now. Only this year I've been able to have the opportunity to travel without my parents thanks to Fashion Week and multiple jobs. London is my number one favorite city, it's now my home—I can't imagine being anywhere else. I’ve learnt to be fully independent here and I've grown so much this place has shaped and changed me in many ways and the people I have met or encountered here are those I will never forget. The city is what you make it and those who you surround yourself with make a huge difference. I feel free here and able to express myself fully. I love Malaga because, let's be honest, what's not to love about Spain. I feel like that’s such a British view though but truly I love it! And the birthplace of Picasso, an artist who I take great inspiration from and the beach cats [laughs]. Finally Berlin—I’ve only visited this city for the first time in November, I can't put my finger on what I love so much, maybe the architecture or the freedom I feel when I'm there but I hope to visit Berlin frequently as I feel a magnetic pull to this city.
When did you realize you wanted to become a makeup artist? How and when did you discover this was your passion and how did you make it happen?
I never wanted to be a makeup artist, I only discovered that this was something I was truly in love with and surprisingly skilled in probably by the end of my first ever shoot as key makeup artist. I left college with an art diploma and knew I didn’t want to stop studying, I wanted to expand my knowledge and creativity. I couldn’t help myself, it was like a bad itch, and I felt like I had outgrown Corby, so I decided to apply for university. Nothing took my fancy apart from a Hair and Makeup course at LCF. I have always been intrigued by the way in which we transform and manipulate ourselves through any means to create new identities and/or characters, something my work previously had been heavily based upon.
We could say makeup is a form of expression, and of course transformation. But according to the dictionary, its definition is narrowed down to ‘cosmetics used to colour and beautify the face.’ What do makeup and beauty mean to you, in a broad sense? Why do you think society always associates makeup just to a ‘beautifying’ tool?
To quote John Berger: «You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.» Makeup to me is art. It is art on a completely different canvas. I suppose most of us associate makeup to a “beautifying” tool down to the simple fact that we live in a patriarchal society. To use tools to make ourselves “more” beautiful or the most beautiful so we can compete with each other, the winner essential gets the man, survival of the fittest almost. Initially makeup or painting the face has so much history within many mankind dating back long before we can record. Marking or painting the face was practiced for a multitude of reasons: status, ritualistic, medicinal, entertainment, religious or even to strike fear into the enemy. It makes me so sad that makeup or the art of transforming yourself using the means of medium on the body or face is belittle down to the fact it is to “beautify” ourselves. It is so much more than that.
By taking a look at your Tumblr one can see that you are not a conventional makeup artist—which is definitely a compliment. Where do you find inspiration to create? What inspires you the most? Who are your favourite artists and lifelong inspirations?
That’s so warming to hear! I suppose like any creative, inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, from something you least expect. The ability to look upon anything with almost a naïve and alien manner, subtracting it away from its given purpose gives me the advantage to reimagine and create. Strangely what inspires me the most is architecture and the interiors of houses, garish patterned carpets, picture frames, the texture of an old arm chair or the shapes and shadows created when a curtain is draped back. But I cannot forget those crazy women who walk around town, going about their daily life, who have the most insane but incredible makeup on. Like pencil thin eyebrows, blue mascara and copious amounts of orange lipstick; they are my true inspirations and I’m sure there’s at least one in every town around the world. As for artists I would say Serge Lutens, I don’t need to explain why if you are familiar with his work and probably couldn’t explain why, I’m simply in awe. Cindy Sherman is a big inspiration from as long as I can remember for obvious reasons; her creativity, execution and skill are genius. And in turn Claude Cahun, I’m obsessed with and always will be.
What role does makeup play in your daily life?
It doesn’t! [Laughs]. I hardly ever wear makeup day-to-day, red lipstick or nude lip liner at an absolute push. But when I was younger discovering makeup I would cake myself and wear the most hideous eye makeup trying to fit in with the other girls at school—I would never dream of being seen without my Barry M glitter eyeliner, clear lip gloss or dream matte mousse foundation. Being that kid who everyone took the piss out of was never ideal so I did what I could to make school life that little bit easier. Now I'm incredibly comfortable in myself and it's not that I don’t like wearing makeup, I just prefer not too and also the fact that I’m actually incredibly lazy [laughs].
Tell us about your musical preferences. What were your musical references as a teenager?
I don’t entirely have any strong preferences, for as long as I can remember I've been surrounded by music all day everyday. Music is like the glue to my family, it's good for the soul. My dad, uncles and grandparents can all play a multitude of instruments and sing very well, I’d always follow like a shadow to wherever they’d be jamming whether it’d be in pubs or living rooms. Growing up my dad was obsessed with Prince and even had a cardboard cut out of him. Bowie, Björk, This Mortal Coil, The Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath, you name it, we listened to it in my house and even now I will never walk into a quiet house. But as for my own musical taste the more I grew up I found myself discovering riot grrrl bands and identifying with their music and lyrics—since then I've had an unforgiving obsession. However, at the same time I’m more inclined to listen to blues or soul. I’ve grown a strong appreciation and sensitivity to this genre over time.
You have recently worked with Palomo Spain in their latest SS17 campaign. Alejandro Palomo is one of the most interesting young Spanish designers right now, changing the scope and pushing the boundaries of men fashion. What are your thoughts about this new era in fashion? Should makeup and fashion be genderless once and for all?
Ah, my dear Palomo! What's interesting about his garments is that they are so beautiful and incredible to look at you can't help but admire them on whatever gender, you are left in awe at the pure craftsmanship and ethereal aura of this individual. I love genderless fashion, I’ve never been taught to dress this way “because you are a girl, Robyn”—only when society comes into play; that’s when things get tricky. There should be no conforming whatsoever for an individual. The way in which we chose to present and express ourselves as individuals through the means of clothing to one another and to ourselves should never be dictated by others or society in fact. The beauty of "fashion" is that it can be whatever it wants to be. It is in the hands of us creatives to further this non-binary identity. I believe we are slowly heading toward are much broader sense of acceptance when it comes to gender and the genderless, however I believe it will be a long while before society completely broadens its acceptance to a genderless world as long as performativity and cisgender is concerned.
And what does the future hold for you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I don’t know what the future holds for me. I take one day at a time, I’m a worrier and I feel if I set to many goals I’ll be sorely disappointed if I don’t reach them, so I tend not to stress myself over things we cannot foresee. Is it weird and so traditional of me to say I hope I have a baby? Or at least married? I feel this is the Corby girl in me speaking! I would love to get into casting, I feel I'd be a great casting director, who knows, but whatever happens I want to be doing exactly what I'm doing now, makeup. With the ability to travel round whenever necessary, I honestly can't imagine doing anything else.