Where other people see faces, make-up artist Alex Box sees a blank canvas. She talks to Karen Leong.
NOT SINCE PAT McGRATH has the fashion world been this excited about a make-up artist. Alex Box, 34, with her white-blond hair, pale skin and red lipstick, is shaking up the fashion world with her unstoppable creativity. Beauty journalist Bethan Cole recently wrote in The Sunday Times, 'Watching her on a shoot, painting on an intricate metallic eye with swooping curves of gilt pigment and tiny gold flecks, I'm transfixed. It is part Sun Ra, part Doctor and the Medics psychedelic-gothic, part Edie Sedgwick, part Maori anthropologica.' It takes a deft stroke and a touch of genius to pull off a look such as this with such aplomb.
A career in fashion was never part of Box's original plan. 'I'd always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember and had been keen to draw and paint instead of read and write as a child,'
she says. She went to Chelsea College of Art and Design in London and studied fine art.
Then, while Box was working on an art installation using skin and prosthetics at the Milsch Gallery in London, she was spotted by designers Suture, who saw her work and, thinking it was make-up, asked her to do a fashion show.
'I had never thought that my art could be interpreted that way,' Box says. 'It gave it a completely different perception and reference. Now I approach my make-up exactly like my art, sketching, going to galleries for inspiration and so on.
'The crossover from art to make-up came quite organically as I think they are one and the same; only [with make-up you are] using the face as your canvas.'
Box travels constantly for her job, but it is still her home base, London, which excites her most. 'It always changes just when you think you know it; it surprises you.' She works with the city's brightest, brashest talent, including avant-garde designer Gareth Pugh, who used her for his autumn/winter 2007 show, and stylist and photographer William Baker.
Despite achieving greater fame, Box isn't resting on her laurels; she sets herself high standards. 'It was very hard at the start and I don't think it gets easier. When you're striving for perfection you always move the goalposts making [your aim] just out of reach.'
Box has worked with such renowned photographers as Miles Aldridge, Richard Burbridge and Paolo Roversi, but, she says, there are three projects that stand out. The first was a feature for i-D magazine, photographed by Manuel Vason. 'This attracted attention because of the avant-garde use of hair as make-up,' she says. 'It was very close to my art aesthetic - sculptural and sensitive.'
Another was a collaboration with photographer Rankin for Dazed & Confused. 'I started to paint the model until there was no skin left to paint. I wanted to create the most intricate pattern like a flesh textile and seven hours later, I managed to achieve it. It's both disturbing and beautiful and splits people's opinions, which I love.'
Her third unforgettable work, for Italian Vogue, was with Greg Kadel: 'a collection of portraits involving a lot of make-up yet looking quiet and serene. Again, juxtaposed aesthetics brought together.'
The effortless way Box switches between mediums is testament to her talent, and catwalk shows (Peter Jensen is another designer she's worked with) immediately introduce a different dynamic to her approach to make-up.
'In fashion shows, you get to work with the actual designers of the clothes so you're very close to their vision from the most organic stage. Sometimes they are merely fabrics on the floor, so you work with [the designers'] vision and bring your feelings to them.'
Future projects include working on a book with Rankin. 'This will be a forum for me to dream up my wildest imaginings and create lasting images that will hopefully provoke the reader,' she says.
And how does Box define beauty? 'You can't,' she says. 'Beauty defines you.'