Isamaya Ffrench on Creating Casual, “Cozy” Makeup for Byredo’s New Collection

“This whole process made me and lots of other people I know suddenly aware of how crazy our lives were before lockdown,” says Isamaya Ffrench on a transatlantic call from London. We last spoke backstage at Thom Browne’s Paris show (where Browne described the makeup artist’s work as “genius”) in March of 2020, moments after France suggested avoiding la bise and a couple of weeks before the entire world changed. A year later, she’s able to see that pre-COVID life was moving at an “unsustainable” pace. “You know, putting your body through a lot: A lot of stress, a lot of traveling, time zones, no sleep,” she remembers. “It’s kind of recalibrated, which has been really nice and sets a precedent for moving forward.”

This recalibration is reflected in Byredo Makeup’s nine-piece spring collection, which Ffrench created in collaboration with founder Ben Gorham. Its new wave of eye launches rolls out today, and compared to the line’s prismatic debut in September, the additions are pretty in a taking-care-of-business kind of way. “It just seemed like people wanted something a bit more casual and relaxed,” Ffrench says. After seasons of Euphoria-esque cosmetic escapism, 2021 is becoming the year of chill solutions—like cry-friendly mascara. And one single eyeliner that smudges into whatever you need it to be. And 99.8% natural lip balm. “You could probably eat it and you’d be fine,” Ffrench jokes. “Don’t do it! It’s just good to know that anything you’re putting on your mouth doesn’t have any nasty chemicals or anything.” These are the staples that Ffrench (the multi-media artist who would politely ask a crowd to step out of the good light while glue-sticking crystals to eyebrows backstage) uses IRL.

One of her favorites is the eyeliner in “Practical Brown,” which shape-shifts from a liquid line to a shimmery smudge with the swipe of a fingertip. “I really wanted to make that transformative product that I actually wear,” she says. Along with the mascara, “that’s kind of what I wear every day, as well as the lip balms.” Three variations of blushy, neutral tinted lip balms arrive later this month, followed by three more universal Colour Stick shades of earthy tones in June. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to stick with browns forever, we just thought we’d make a nice, kind of cozy collection,” Ffrench explains. It’s all part of the Byredo Makeup vision, a sort of 4-D emotional experience.

The formulas are lightly scented with notes that vary from iris and apricot accords on lips to rose notes in mascara. The house is famous for fragrances, after all, like the “1996” scent created with photography duo Inez and Vinoodh that Ffrench credits as her first introduction to Byredo. She and Gorham now choose “tongue-in-cheek” product names together, something that’s important to the line’s 360-degree sensorial experience. “Tears In Rain” references Gorhams’s vision of Waterproof Mascara, and The Eyeshadow 5 Colours palette in “Dysco” (shades of “beautiful browns, mahoganies, and soft creamy golds”) nods at a particularly psychedelic period of 1970s Bollywood films. “I’m obsessed with Bollywood films,” Ffrench shares. “With the ‘Dysco’ palette, Ben’s of Indian heritage, and he always wanted to create makeup that represented the women that he grew up with, his family, the world that he understood, and obviously Bollywood was a big part of that.”

When Gorham approached Ffrench to create the original Byredo Makeup launch a few years ago, it took convincing for her to bring another cosmetic line into an overpopulated beauty world. “I was very hesitant,” Ffrench admits. “It seemed a bit ridiculous to do something at the peak of makeup production, but actually, it did help me see that there was definitely this niche for a brand that was clean and vegan, and that had a different philosophy.” She credits Gorham for much of the visual language and sentimentality of their collaboration. “Ben, he’s very passionate and he’s an artist, really,” she says. “There’s an emotional note to Byredo, something can be fantasy but it’s also quite real at the same time.”

Ffrench is well-versed in fantasy and reality in her own art. “People ask me what my aesthetic is or my style, and I don’t think I really have one!” she says with a laugh, referencing her projects from commercial images to more futuristic concepts. “It’s really nice to do just simple, beautiful makeup—I work in high-end luxury stuff as well, editorially, and then I do this weird stuff with musicians who want, you know, crazier things. Personally, I’m working on a documentary at the moment about global beauty aesthetics which is so interesting and really exciting,” she says. Tune in for more Ffrench on film.