MILAN — It’s not easy working with a renowned perfectionist, but for four years and counting, British cosmetics guru Linda Cantello has been Giorgio Armani’s international makeup artist, establishing a tangible link between the designer’s runway creations and the Armani beauty products L’Oréal Luxe offers each season.
“The difference between Armani and other people I’ve worked with — he doesn’t communicate verbally. You know, he communicates on a much more telepathic level,” said Cantello following the Giorgio Armani runway show. “I think we have the same taste in physical beauty, because I always like the girls who are a little bit off. I don’t like kind of mundane pretty, and he doesn’t either.…He hates heavy-handedness, like drag queen makeup. He wants to be able to see the woman.”
Armani’s collaboration with L’Oréal Luxe stretches back to the Eighties: The first fragrance, Eau Pour Homme, came out in 1984 and was relaunched this year with updated packaging. The brand’s makeup line was introduced in 2000, while the skin-care line made its debut in 2007. Earlier this year, Armani unveiled women’s eau de parfum Sì, promoted by actress Cate Blanchett in a major advertising campaign, and in September the Italian fashion powerhouse introduced Rouge Ecstasy, a 36-stockkeeping unit lipstick line.
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What is unusual about the partnership, said Véronique Gautier, international general manager of Giorgio Armani Parfums & Beauté, is how closely the makeup mirrors the designer’s creations. The translucent green eye shadow — a mix of two tones, called green viper and scarab — that elongated models’ gazes during the designer’s most recent show doesn’t just echo the collection’s colors, it will also reach counters in May, right when the flowing strapless dresses in gemlike blues and purples hit stores.
Color, material and texture are essential to a fashion collection, and Armani wants the makeup applied in delicate layers “as though on a canvas,” said Gautier. “He really applies a designer’s philosophy [to the process.]”
“My collections have always reflected and complemented my fashion philosophy,” agreed Armani. “Essentially composed of transparencies and pure, delicate colors, they achieve a naturally sensual effect. Just as my clothes are made with precious, flowing fabrics, similarly the incredibly soft textures of my makeup are produced using innovative ultra-light pigments, blending lightly on the skin for a beautifully radiant complexion.”
For two haute couture shows, two Giorgio Armani shows and two Emporio Armani shows each year, Cantello is responsible for creating the looks that complement the designer’s fashion. There is an ongoing discussion between the two, with additional input from the product development team and lab director. Some items are developed over 18 months of experimentation with formulae, while others have to be improvised before a show and later produced in the Giorgio Armani labs in Chevilly-Larue, outside Paris.
“We’ve found that there’s lots of products that are born backstage, kind of to solve a problem,” noted Cantello. “It’s crazy because so many times you see cases and cases of makeup, and then you go to the lab and it’s like, OK, we’ve got everything except that color. So now we have the portable lab.”
Backstage at any Armani show, tucked beneath tables covered in lipsticks and foundation bottles, only a trained eye would notice the black suitcases that function as the mobile makeup lab. If existing colors or textures do not satisfy the designer’s vision, Cantello can whip out a whole range of pigments and nude bases and produce a new look on the spot. Later, she shares the combination with the lab, so the precise color can be replicated and sold in stores.
“Increasingly, we really give [Armani] more and more freedom to create on D-Day, on the spot, a specific color — and then we’re able to develop it for the collection and put it on the market,” said Gautier.
One product now in the works is an eyebrow filler. “A pencil always looks fake. A powder always looks fake,” said Cantello, noting the new product is: “perfectly matched for hair.…You can use it on eyebrows, you can do it on roots, everyone was using it in the office and they all had highlights, even beards.…This is like a mix between a powder and a cream — it’s a gel, and it dries more like a powder, but it applies more like a cream.”
There are regional differences in the way customers respond to makeup shown on the runway, with Asian women more interested in exactly matching the catwalk looks and European or American customers more inclined to use them as loose inspiration, Gautier said. She added that what drives Armani cosmetics sales is the notion that luxury products need not intimidate.
“Makeup is really fun. It’s almost like a gourmandise,” she said, adding: “We are always working on new developments in the background, but we have a philosophy that extends beyond any single collection.”