PARIS — He may not be a household name in the U.S., but Olivier Echaudemaison was probably the first makeup artist in France to become a society-page figure in his own right.
Since his apprenticeship to hair maestro Alexandre de Paris at the age of 16, he has been primping — and befriending — women in the public eye, from the young Jackie Kennedy and Wallis Simpson to Marella Agnelli, Josephine Baker and royals of all ages. He’s collected snapshots and juicy anecdotes along the way.
Now, Echaudemaison has penned his life story, “Les Couleurs de Ma Vie” (“The Colors of My Life” — an English-language edition has yet to be finalized), that traces his path from an unhappy childhood in the Perigord region of France to his triumph in Paris as style consultant to the most glamorous women of the 20th century.
The first half of the book reads like a high-society Who’s Who, from the elegant patrons of Alexandre to the halls of British Vogue and fashion shoots for Diana Vreeland in the company of legendary talents such as Avedon, Newton, Bailey and Parkinson. That was before Echaudemaison landed at Givenchy, where he was artistic director for 10 years. Then, six years ago, he boldly requested an audience with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief executive Bernard Arnault.
“I asked him to give me sleeping beauty,” he laughs, referring to the house of Guerlain. “He wasn’t sure what I was talking about.” Echaudemaison walked out of the meeting as the artistic director of makeup for Guerlain.
“To me, Guerlain is like Tiffany — it’s a national icon.” It was Echaudemaison’s dream come true. He has since introduced more modern colors and textures into the house mix, expanding the Terracotta line of bronzing products and introducing ‘bubble blush,’ which is applied using the fingers. “It needed to be more fun,” he says. “Makeup is about fun and freedom — about reconnecting, if only for a few minutes — with the delight of a little girl playing with her mom’s makeup.”
The practical half of his book is for those who have lost touch with that joy. “I wanted to produce something accessible, using real people of all ages.” His models range from 10 years old to well beyond 60. Men get a page, too. “I’ve done plenty of catwalk looks and I know about the fantasy. Now, I am like a designer who does trunk shows — I am more connected with reality.”
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His approach is to help reveal individual allure, he explains. “These days, women think they have to have the eyes of X, the nose of Y and and breasts of Z. But when you look at the icons of chic absolu such as Jackie or Audrey — both were flat-chested and they did with what they had. That’s what makes them so inspirational.”
So who among the young generation inspires him that way? He considers the question for a long time. “Vanessa Paradis comes close. Betty Catroux for her eternal style and Ines de la Fressange in her Chanel days.”
— Tina Isaac