I have been a quiet observer and fan of makeup artist Alexandra French since long before anyone uttered the words “Euphoria” and “makeup” in the same sentence! So when she agreed to open up and share with me her passion for creativity and instinctive style of makeup (and of course, a word or two about that little show, Euphoria), I couldn’t help but share it with you. I’m thrilled about this one, so let’s get straight in.
Hey Alex – I’m super excited to indulge in a little chat about your meteoric career so far. When did you first discover makeup?
Growing up, I didn’t play with makeup much.
My sister was more adventurous with her fashion and makeup but she was already an adult as I was going through middle and high school.
I would do an occasional eyeliner during my brief “emo” phase.
In high school, I took a Literature and Film class where we watched Pans Labyrinth and Edward Scissorhands. I was shocked by how much it was just like a children’s book but with moving images.
I was immediately captivated. Originally, I wanted to become a children’s book illustrator, so when I saw the movie I was hooked. I somehow needed to be a part of this world. And for class assignments, I started making little films with my friends and it quickly became an obsession.
When I was 20, I moved to LA by accident with a friend who received a full scholarship to study film at USC. She started with production design and went on to be an incredible Production Designer.
I thought building the worlds I loved instead of drawing them would be fun, so I joined her on one project when I wasn’t working my other 2 jobs. I very quickly realized building the worlds wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be and so it was back to the drawing board for me.
I was working at Coffee Bean across the street from Cinema Makeup School and was able to meet students and teachers who encouraged me to come to check it out.
One of those students is Chloe Sens!! How crazy? Now we work together sometimes!
I’ve always been a painter and illustrator so I understood color and texture and decided to give it a shot. I got my kit the day before I began CMS and before that, I had a fear of foundation, because how do you even use it? At the time I only owned one black Covergirl mascara and a brown blue Mac eye shadow. Needless to say, I was pretty much CLUELESS when it came to makeup.
Oh that’s amazing. So how did that lead to your first professional work as a makeup artist?
I began with my production designer roommate, Michelle, and all of her USC film school friends. Through one of them, I met Bianca Appice and Heather Galipo who hired me on my first ever movie which was the James Franco film class project.
They brought me on as an additional and we’ve been friends ever since! I learned so much from both of them and I am forever grateful for that experience.
I then went on to department head the next Franco class project and from there it was back-to-back indie films.
I was feeling burnt out after a few years of department heading indie films and took a break with my now wife.
We did a much-needed 5-week cross-country road trip.
When we got back she got the news that she would be Katy Perry’s new personal chef and everything changed from there.
Katy had a small indie artist signed to her own record label, Unsub, named Cyn. Cyn was my first ever beauty client and with her, I did music videos, Chanel campaign, Coveteur shoot, glammed her in Mexico City as she opened for Katy on her Witness Tour and so much more.
I also have to ask you about Pen15. This show has become something of a cult hit in the time since it was released. Would you mind telling us about it?
I was just about to give up on the film world after having a little taste of the glam fashion world when Michelle Miller called me to invite me to be her Key Makeup Artist on Pen15.
Pen15 happened to *flip.
To this day I am still juggling the film and tv world and the fashion world, unable to make up my mind.
Michelle Miller invited me on to Season 1 of Pen15 after we worked with Maya Erskine on an indie film. Michelle really changed my life through Pen15 because this led to me getting into Local 706.
I love working in comedy because we always have so much fun – which is funny because I don’t typically find myself watching comedy!
We got to relive middle school with Maya and Anna. It was both traumatizing and exciting. Hearing everyone’s different experiences was the best part. Crying with laughter during takes was even better. And there was never a dull moment.
We knew we were making something special but I don’t think we realized how incredible it would be and how many people it would touch.
People still bring it up on set, even more so than Euphoria!
Comedy days are long because of all the improv, but nothing beats watching the monitor and laughing so hard they’re asking you to leave the room because of sound, hahaha!
One word. Euphoria.
We have to talk about it. The show is such an epic phenomenon – it really has become a cultural event as far as makeup goes.
Dare I say, iconic. Tell us why!
I was probably Euphoria’s number one fan throughout Season 1.
It reminded me so much of a show I loved in high school called Skins but times 10!
Euphoria was both of my loves combined: storytelling and fashion.
It sounds silly but I truly could not believe my eyes.
And the work I was doing at the time seemed so uncreative when it came to beauty makeup. I was having much more fun throwing colors on models during my editorial shoots than I was working on set for hours on end. Not to take away from anyone that works in film/tv – it’s a grind and I have the utmost respect for my tv/film crowd, and certainly don’t mean any disrespect. Everyone works so hard and long!
I always joke that I am the only non-spooky union makeup artist, although I do love my spooky goth girls!!
I wasn’t very interested in special fx but I absolutely lived for beauty and character makeup. So for me, Euphoria had it all. I have never seen anything TV-related go as viral. People want to connect with characters they love and see themselves as. They want to BE them.
And how can teens become the characters they love so much? Hair? Kinda but that’s only part of the character and less recognizable. Wardrobe? Designer clothes are too expensive and not accessible. Makeup? YES! I think that’s why the show went so viral and changed TV history. The kids have access to so much makeup these days and when they connected to a character and wanted to BE them they used makeup to do so.
When Donni emailed me a week after my interview and invited me to join her team I truly could not believe it.
I’d love to hear about the pace of the schedule. How you would film – one episode at a time, or if you would ever block shoot?
Euphoria was the hardest thing I have ever done and also the most rewarding.
I feel like everyone knows it’s such a hard show to shoot. Yes, we would block shoot. Many Mondays would start at 5 am and Saturdays we would wrap at 6 am, hardly leaving you a weekend.
We shot for 9 months which is also insane.
Nothing like that comes easy. We had such a great team. Donni Davy as the Makeup Designer and Department Head. Tara Lang Shah as the Assistant DH and then lil ol gay me.
Wow – just the three of you. Incredible! How did the shooting schedule challenge you in terms of the makeup?
For beauty makeup in tv/film, I feel like most makeup artists take about 45 min to an hour for a natural look.
We were doing 2-2.5 hour beauty makeups multiple times a day. Towards the end when we were filming the play, Donni was 3 months pregnant and we were on our feet banging out look after look for the play girls to the main cast from 7 am to sometimes 8 pm without stopping.
Tara was on set with her character, Maude Apatow aka Lexi since she was running the play so it was up to Donni and me to get the rest through.
We had some incredible day players to help us through and I am forever grateful because at times it truly seemed impossible.
I maybe had one mental breakdown but that’s a secret I’ll never tell. Ha! Just joking! xoxo
Ha! Oh boy. 2 – 2.5hr beauty makeups!
I can only relate that to prosthetic makeup application times. And I’m happy to hear they gave you that amount of time for the looks. I suspect a lot of shows wouldn’t.
Yeah, and before the play, the biggest challenge I had was doing any changeovers on my character, Alexa Demie aka Maddy, since her makeup took the longest.
I remember one day I was on set with her from 11:30 am until 6:30 am the next day and we had 4 makeup changes that day.
I almost collapsed LOL. Luckily I had Donni to help me tag-team her changeovers.
Other than that, night shoots didn’t bother me too much. We actually had a lot of fun together.
Okay, so you took care of Maddy/Alexa on the show, who else would take care of?
When I first interviewed with Euphoria Makeup Department Head Donni Davy she told me I would be doing Alexa Demie aka Maddy and Barbie Ferreira aka Kat.
I tried to keep it professional but on the inside, I was freaking out! Those were my favorite two characters! Barbie is also my twin!!
I was also in charge of another season favorite, Chloe Cherry aka Faye. Everyone was so incredible and sweet and brought so much to the table.
As cheesy as it sounds, It was a dream come true.
How are the character makeup looks designed? Do you basically come up with the characters that you make up – or does Donni come up with everyone’s looks and then you have to recreate them?
When S2 began, we loaded into the trailer on my birthday (how crazy!!) and had a week off between the makeup test day and the actual first day of filming.
During that week I would spend 12 hours, sometimes longer, in the trailer by myself testing looks and sending them to Donni.
I really wanted to get a feel for my characters before starting the show because I knew all eyes would be on the makeup and I didn’t want to disappoint Donni.
During this week we found some cool ideas and color combos for some characters and Donni also put together look books and mood boards for each character which inspired me so much.
As soon as filming began, I quickly realized my girls would come in with incredible ideas for their characters, and Donni and I LOVED them!
For example, Alexa would come in the trailer and be like, “I feel like this should be a purple lavender eye but I can’t really explain it.”
I would then proceed to swatch every single purple eyeshadow in our Sephoria makeup trailer and suggest different textures or lip combos that would go well with the look.
Donni and I would also test so many looks on each other during our downtime for certain moments in the script and then show Alexa.
It was truly an endless collaboration between us and the actors all season.
I was so impressed that Alexa and Barbie had such a vision for their characters, it made everything much more fun and also challenging.
We had to be prepared for anything and everything. Personally, thats when I am able to create my best work.
I learned quickly that less is more. And that every little detail even down to the tiniest glitter has a meaning and a purpose. I would swoon over Donni’s Instagram character breakdowns from Season 1. They were so interesting and the way she designs makeup looks is so incredible.
She doesn’t do anything because it’s “pretty” or “looks cool”. Everything has a purpose.
I also learned how sharp eyeliner could be by watching her add finishing touches on Alexa before sending her to set.
I truly became a much better artist during this 9 month makeup boot camp.
What was the most challenging look to come up with on the show? Why?
For me personally, it was Alexa’s NYE look.
There was so much pressure since this was the first time in 2 years that we would be seeing a fan favorite on camera again. And the look had to be perfect and meaningful.
Alexa always wanted straight eyeliner. Donni suggested something silver and since it was NYE, I wanted it to be sparkly as hell.
I tested out a bunch of different eyeliner looks with a glittery silver eyeshadow and showed them to Alexa. She picked her fav one and from there we built the rest of the character together.
It was such a crazy moment for me because I was such a fan of the show Season 1 and here I was with an iconic makeup team with THE makeup girl of the show creating looks.
Watching Donni add her finishing touches to the look and make the eyeliner the sharpest liner in tv history really taught me so much.
I never knew eyeliner could be so sharp from every angle!
Speaking of eyeliner, I have to ask you about products. Was there the luxury of testing and trialing palettes, products, or new things before creating a look? I know I’ve discussed the Byredo Prismatic Palette (swoon) with you online before…
We had an entire 6 station makeup trailer entirely filled with mostly beauty products.
I think it was Tara Lang Shah who came in and was like, “This is SEPHORIA!” We screamed and never looked back. If only that trailer could talk.
Donni has the largest makeup kit I have ever seen.
It was every makeup artist’s dream come true. I had every brand I could have ever wanted to try. From simple everyday things to expensive high-end lux products.
It was overwhelming but I was nerding out so hard.
I have expanded my knowledge of products and brands from any color to any texture. It was an absolute dream. If we were curious about a product and we didn’t have it, I would email the brand and request 3 of whatever we wanted and every brand would send.
We were able to meet every actor’s needs who came through the trailer. If anyone came in with a very specific brand and color we most definitely had it.
That truly sounds like a dream. That being said, did you come to rely on any one specific product at all?
Every situation was different. Every look was different. We would even switch up the product if we didn’t feel it worked the last time.
Everything was constantly changing.
The one thing I loved was using my beloved Face Atelier Foundation, as well as Chantecaille Future Skin Foundation and Shiseido Synchro Skin Foundation. Talk about a GLOW!!
Great coverage but doesn’t feel or look like they’re wearing any foundation. And since our director wanted actual no foundation looks, we had to make it look like they weren’t wearing any.
Brilliant! Well, job well done. I’d love to hear about the entire makeup department and who did who.
Donni Davy – Makeup Designer/Department Head
Tara Lang Shah – Makeup Assistant Department Head
Alexandra French – Makeup Artist
Absolutely incredible. I hope you had a rest when you wrapped! And so what are you up to these days?
Because of the success of Euphoria S2, my life has completely changed.
I was able to sign with an agency, work with all of my dream clients, and best of all be hired for my style.
I am given the freedom to “do my thing” on makeup campaigns and it’s so refreshing.
Although I do love movie making and storytelling, I am taking a step back to work more in fashion with celebs and brands.
I think starting in film and understanding how to build a character has made me a much better, also more creative, beauty artist.
I always try to build the look based on a character or back story and not just because it “looks pretty”.
I learned how to refine those specific skills by watching Donni Davy build characters for Euphoria. I can’t stress enough how lucky I feel that she trusted me with such an incredible opportunity. She really gave me the chance to bring something to the table, be myself, and also grow tremendously as an artist in just 9 months.
Hopefully, the viral success of Euphoria will allow the film and tv world to be more adventurous with beauty makeup and encourage artists to want to take more risks. Because fuck it!! We are making art.
Love it. Well, I always knew you did exquisite makeup and can I say “I knew you before you did Euphoria?” (Ha!)
I have been a fan of your more avante garde editorial work and creative eye for many years now.
What’s in store for your future?
I am hoping to continue to juggle both worlds, fashion and tv/film.
I am hoping more department heads will take note of our work and want to have us on their team!
I feel like there is so much more I want to learn and discover with tv/film.
But honestly just taking it one day at a time and trying to have fun while doing it!
What’s your dream job (if it wasn’t Euphoria?)
After Season 1, all I talked about whenever anyone asked me this question was Euphoria.
On my film and tv bucket list, I would love to help design a cool marvel-like character, I feel like there’s lots of room for a cool fashion vibe.
I truly just want to have fun. As a kid, I always wanted to be a painter and I hope 10-year-old Alex would be proud of 30-year-old Alex today!
I’m sure she certainly would. Thank you so much for sharing your incredible stories and insight with us, Alex. And congratulations!
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the extraordinarily talented and lovely Alexandra French as much as I did. Check out her vibrant and exquisite work on her IG page right here.
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*To flip basically means that a non-union production gets signed onto an IATSE deal whilst in the middle of production. For all non-union-hired artists on said productions, it is essentially the “golden ticket” to begin the process of applying and getting into your Local, and for Alex, the highly sought after Local 706 for hairstylists and makeup artists.