Makeup Artist Kevyn Aucoin’s Legacy Lives on in This New Film

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Courtesy of The Orchard
Friday, July 27, 2018

You may laugh, cry and maybe even get a case of goosebumps when watching Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story. The heart of the documentary’s plot encapsulates all the feels behind makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin’s life and his bona fide legacy.

Directed by Tiffany Bartok and produced by Jayce Bartok, Bronwyn Cosgrave and Troy Surratt, the film delves deep into Aucoin’s past—before he rose to fame, before he painted the faces of top models and celebrities, before he wrote best-selling books and before he became an activist for LGBTQ rights. It covers the pinnacle of his career in the ’80s and ‘90s to his battle with acromegaly (a rare disorder in which the pituitary gland produces an excess of growth hormone) and constant drug use to relieve the pain, which was said to be the cause of his death in 2002.

The 102-minute film opens up old wounds, starting with his childhood in the small conservative town in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he was bullied for his creative interests. At the age of six, Aucoin, who was adopted, knew he was gay and found solace in painting, drawing and making women feel beautiful using the power of makeup. His first muse was his sister Carla then his childhood best friend, Scottie.

“Part of our connection was that we were sort of odd ducks,” Scottie noted in the film. “We were able to comfort one another. He just thought I was so wonderful—when we were together, I wasn’t shy and introverted. I started to feel pretty and attractive.”

It was in 1983 that Aucoin moved to New York City with his then partner, Jed Root, to follow his dream of working as a makeup artist. Between candid, behind-the-scenes footage of him working on set, Larger Than Life shifts between interviews with those who were close to him: Naomi Campbell, Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Cher and Paulina Porizkova, to name a few.

“There was one time when the two of us were sitting in a booth at a diner talking about false eyelashes and how much we missed them and love them,” fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi recalls. “And the next thing I knew, Kevyn had [them] with him at the collection and he said, ‘Do we dare give the girls false eyelashes this season? Do we DARE?’ And I remember, like, we dared.” The show started later than the standard fashion show lateness, due to the application of these individual lashes, but the buzz it created was worth it. People were talking. That show epitomized Aucoin’s work philosophy—he was always game for pushing the envelope, and did in so many ways, from setting the trend of thinner than thin eyebrows to makeup contouring (and remember, these were the days pre-Instagram and YouTube).

In one scene, model Nadja Auermann presented the CFDA’s first-ever award for best makeup artist to Aucoin. “I know that for some people, winning an award for doing makeup may seem silly but you see in the context of my life, it means that I not only survived my past but that I somehow succeeded,” Aucoin said in his acceptance speech. “Thank you all very, very much for this honor.”

Now, here we are, 16 years after his death, and the world at large is still in awe of Kevyn Aucoin. Walk into any Sephora or Space NK and his spirit lives on in his namesake cosmetics stocked on the shelves. Read any of his books and you’ll unearth some of his best makeup techniques. Watch this documentary and get to know Aucoin—Kate Moss put it best, “…It shows a side of Kevyn I never knew about, it shows the whole man and makes me love him even more.”

Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story is screening in select theaters now and available digitally from The Orchard on July 31st, when it will also be showing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn.


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