The British makeup artist Val Garland may be a fashion-industry titan credited with creating some of the most iconic (and envelope-pushing) editorial and runway looks of the past 25 years, but today she’s not having it. “At the moment, and this is going to sound awful, the idea of a beauty story terrifies me,” she says. “I can’t stand the eye pictures, the lip pictures—it’s just very boring, and very overdone.” So when we asked Garland, who is the global makeup director for L’Oréal Paris, to come up with the concept for (gulp) a beauty story, she didn’t look to runway or red-carpet trends. “I wanted to approach beauty in a real way, with images that are like windows into someone’s world and soul—a sort of documentation of a beautiful moment.”
Garland pored through her vast collection of art and photography books, gravitating toward the work of Karlheinz Weinberger (a semi-amateur Swiss lensman known for his midcentury captures of rock 'n' roll youth and motorcycle gangs), and Sam Haskins, whose 1962 book, Five Girls, helped push nude photography in a new, looser direction. In the back of her mind: moody black and white portraits from the '70s by Irina Ionesco, and the artist Merry Alpern’s infamous 1995 series “Dirty Windows,” a collection of grainy, voyeuristic photos secretly snapped through the bathroom window of a lap-dance club near Wall Street.
Perhaps in reaction to her double life as a TV star (she’s a judge on the BBC hit series Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star), Garland didn’t want the shoot to look too polished or produced. “We wanted there to be a grittiness, like maybe the lens is a bit smeared, or you pulled the Polaroid too quick,” she says. “Something that gives it an edge, because, you know, the real world is gritty.” Casting was key. “We chose the models for their character, not their facial attributes,” says Garland. “It’s important to look at the idea of the woman as a whole, and not objectify a piece of the body.” Hair was important, too, with Garland’s friend and frequent co-conspirator Sam McKnight teasing up a modern-day ode to Dusty Springfield’s bouffant.
For the makeup, Garland kept skin bare and amplified lips and eyes with lip stain and liner, but not so much that the photos veer toward artifice. “I wanted it to feel like these women could be hanging out in someone’s bedsit,” she says. Admittedly a glamorous bedsit where everyone wears Gucci and Miu Miu. But that’s the kind of contradiction that keeps things interesting, says Garland, who adds, “Someone asked me if I enjoy always doing outrageous things, but a lot of the time I’m doing very simple makeup. Sometimes it’s quite glamorous. But if it was the same thing all the time, it would be boring and you’d run out of ideas. You’ve got to look in different directions if you want to stay relevant and keep thinking about what is now.”