The Originals: Aaron de Mey

What does it take to be a true Original these days? A willingness to break the rules, of course; a strong sense of personal style doesn’t hurt; but most of all, you need to have a meaningful point of view.

Collage by Aaron de Mey.

In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn’t hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.

Aaron de Mey is a celebrated makeup artist from New Zealand, known for his work with ’90s-era Naomi Campbell and high profile designers such as Calvin Klein.

What does originality mean to you?

Substance, authenticity, even irreverence. Originality rises above the fray.

Who is an Original?

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand. She is a young, dynamic woman who is leading with integrity, grace, and kindness, raising the bar for political leadership worldwide.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a makeup artist?

I was at art school in New Zealand, doing painting and sculpture, and I had friends who were photographers and models and needed makeup for shoots. Painting someone’s face is not that different from traditional painting.

Who was the first person who made you realize you could break the rules?

I always felt that I could and should, though I always remember that not all rules are meant to be broken.

How would you describe your signature style?

I crave opposites. I like things to be very daring, with high definition and extreme color, or alternatively very normcore and noncosmetic-looking, realistic, and believable. I love the skin to be perfect, but I prefer to use concealer sparingly and very well blended to give the appearance of no makeup. I am attracted to all styles of beauty.

How did you dress as a teenager?

Same as now. Slightly subversive, as if you got dressed in the dark. I like wearing a tuxedo to the grocery store or ripped denim jeans and sneakers to a formal dinner.

What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever received?

It came from the visionary designer Rei Kawakubo when I did my first fashion show for her, for the Comme des Garçons punk collection in 2000, in Paris. We had already finished makeup and hair tests, the look had been established. The day before the show, I received a last-minute call to come to the showroom. Rei gently said to me, “Your makeup is too perfect. Which hand do you use to apply the products?” I said, “My right.” She replied, “Use your left!” This allowed me the freedom to create a look that was more freestyle, imperfect, unexpected.

Who is your beauty icon?

Serge Lutens. He is a pioneer for modern makeup artistry who switched from art director to photographer to makeup artist seamlessly. His makeup and photography are highly focused, dramatic, and elegant.

Who is your style icon?

Kurt Cobain. His music, attitude, and personal style are still as amazing and relevant today as they were in the ’90s. And Hedi Slimane is a maverick. What Hedi has done at Dior Homme, Saint Laurent, and now Celine is phenomenal.

What’s a good go-to makeup style for a night out?

A black smudged eyeliner or a graphic winged eye; a defined, dark blood red or burgundy lip, glossy or matte. Alternatively, a natural face with your favorite red or black nail polish, chipped or manicured.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

A vintage bottle green Sonic Youth T-shirt illustrated with the cover of their Dirty album, which has a photo by Mike Kelley of an orange stuffed animal with antenna ears. Also, a classic black dinner jacket with metallic pinstripes, from Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane.

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