In the new documentary Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story, which opens theatrically in Los Angeles on Friday, director Tiffany Bartok hones in on the many facets of the late great makeup legend, chronicling his journey from an openly gay, oft-bullied child in Louisiana, to an aspiring, pavement-pounding young artist in New York City (at 21-years-old, he walked into the Vogue magazine offices campaigning for work) to a globally-recognized powerhouse in the '90s. "We went into like Make Up For Ever, and it was like, I don't know, Brad Pitt walked in," recalls Cher, a friend and longtime client, of his celebrity. Devastatingly, the film also touches on Aucoin's tragic death at age 40 in 2002, spurred by the diagnosis of a rare pituitary adenoma, complications associated with the disease, and an addiction to the prescription medications he took to cope with his chronic pain.
Despite the inevitable sense of loss left by his passing, Aucoin's spirit prevails on screen, revived by intimate home videos and archival footage—and thanks in no small part to his highly famous clientele, which runs the gamut from Hollywood heavyweights like Cher and Isabella Rossellini to a supermodel tribe that includes Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista.
To those outside his tightly knit fashion circle—and even those who weren’t particularly interested in fashion at all—Aucoin was perhaps equally well known. If not by name, then by the iconic Beauty trends he singlehandedly spearheaded: Masterful facial contouring, supernatural skin, Technicolor eyes and lips—and perhaps, most memorably, the rise of the skinny 90s power brow.
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"There was a time that we decided together that everyone needed to look like Carol Lombard and have really skinny eyebrows," explains designer and collaborator Isaac Mizrahi. "And the next thing I knew, [Aucoin] was plucking everybody's eyebrows." It was a time that Moss remembers humorously, recounting when Aucoin had her sit back in a dentist's office-style chair, placed his unmistakably large hand on her face, and haphazardly tweezed her arches. "[He] pinned me down, and [plucked] out all my eyebrows," she laughs. "Then he was like 'Don't worry, don't worry. I'll dye them back.' And then he dyed them back, but [the dye] was left on for too long and my eyebrows were scabs. I had scabs for eyebrows!"
When Aucoin gave Crawford the same treatment, it was an equally unexpected surprise. "You know, you're getting your hair done and there's people coming in and out, so you’re not really paying attention," she says. "And I went home, washed my face, and [..] I had no eyebrows left." But her reaction paled in comparison to that of her management, who went into full panic mode. "She was freaked out because her agent saw her and was like “What have you done?" explains Mizrahi. "It was a real crisis for Cindy's career and then literally overnight, somehow, it just changed and she started getting more bookings because she had skinny eyebrows. And then everyone started tweezing their eyebrows." Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, and Gwen Stefani were just a few of the stars who sported the pencil-thin arches that would come to define the decade.
Like all things fashionable, the trend has come full circle. In 2018, a period when women are either embracing their prenaturally thick arches, or meticulously filling them in to extra-pronounced effect, it's hard to imagine embracing the barely there look. Aucoin turning the trend into a global phenomenon more than two decades ago wasn't just a testament to his star power, but his bold vision of beauty—transformative, stylized, and unapologetically glamorous—that catapulted his career into uncharted territory. And, perhaps, makes the skinny brow primed for a comeback. “Kevyn invented so many things that we look at today as stuff that just exists,” says Mizrahi of Aucoin's iconic techniques and unmistakable signatures, which continue to generate a magnetic appeal in photographs more than twenty years later . “He was a completely brilliant [and experimental] risk-taker. He’s what every makeup artist should be.”
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