Exclusive: Backstage with Isamaya Ffrench at Dion Lee Spring/Summer 2023

The makeup artist sits down with V to discuss using products from her line, ISAMAYA Beauty, to bring to life the collection’s nature-focused inspiration

There’s no other setting like backstage at New York Fashion Week: the bustling models, eager agents in waiting, and of course, the hair and makeup squads making the designer’s vision come to full-fledged fashion fruition. No one knows the spirit of the latter phenomena better than makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench—a force in the beauty world who has brought her dynamic vision to some of fashion’s buzziest labels and biggest stars.

Off the back of releasing her new line ISAMAYA Beauty, Ffrench was tapped by Dion Lee for the Australian designer’s razor-sharp Spring/Summer 2023 collection—presented in a no-frills warehouse in Midtown Manhattan.

Sivan Miller

Titled “Biomimicry,” Lee’s collection looked to patterns found in nature as reference—a motif that Ffrench aimed to replicate in the models’ airbrushed, metallic eyes and graphic liners. While the skin remained dewy, Ffrench framed the eyes as the focal point—with deep hues and pops of color that aimed to mirror the anatomy of insects while perfectly accenting Lee’s sleek ready-to-wear.

Utilizing a variety of techniques and a trio of shades from her recently unveiled eyeshadow palette, Ffrench crafted cutting-edge makeup looks that continued the collection’s themes of pattern, mimicry, and angularity.

Moments before the show, V caught up with Ffrench to discuss her creative exchange with Lee and her approach for the high-octane show. Read more, below!

V MAGAZINE: First, I wanted to ask about your relationship with Dion. Did he approach you to do the makeup for the collection?

ISAMAYA FFRENCH: Last year, I reached out to his team because I wanted to wear one of their amazing dresses for an event. We kept in touch ever since, I met Dion when I was in New York a few months ago and we immediately spoke about collaborating for his next show, which was Spring/Summer 2023.

V: And for the show, what were the initial conversations like creatively between the two of you?

IF: We had a Zoom prior to the show so he could talk me through the ideas behind the collection and show me his mood board. I threw in some ideas as we were going and we immediately agreed on the direction. He wanted makeup that would be an extension of the clothes which were in turn an extension of the body—as if the 3 merged into a sort of creature.

V: Have you worked with Dion in the past?

IF: I actually haven’t! It is my first season working on one of their shows.

Sivan Miller

V: I read that the looks were inspired by the collection’s title—Biomimicry. Can you expand on that point?

IF: In Dion’s mood board there were a lot of natural references; plant leaves, textures, insects, camouflage patterns, [and] symmetry. He told me he wanted the makeup to be very organic, with an almost animal aspect to it. We decided to go for a fishnet negative pattern in subtle metallics reminiscent of beetle wings.

V: And what was your goal makeup-wise in order to complement and expand Dion’s vision for the collection?

IF: I love when designers don’t show me makeup references but images of butterflies instead. There’s room to create something a bit more unexpected when you’re not too literal with cosmetics.

V: For the eyes, I know you used airbrushing techniques and hues that mirror patterns found in nature. Can you take us through the different techniques you used throughout and the premise behind them?

IF: Nothing beats an airbrush to achieve well blended, intense colors with a natural finish—like the beautiful pigments you see on butterfly wings for instance. I used pigments from ISAMAYA Beauty’s Industrial Color Pigments Palette that I crushed and mixed with a clear mixing medium to make the color liquid in order to use with the airbrush. Using those iridescent pigments made the look multi-dimensional because they react to light and movement so well, which is perfect for a fashion show.

V: And aside from the dramatic eyes, the skin was very natural and dewy. Can you explain why you made this choice; framing the eyes as the focal point?

IF: Even though I do love a full body transformation, the point here was not to transform the models into magical beasts. In order for the makeup to be seen, it’s great to have a beautiful natural glowy base as a canvas. This is something that happens a lot in nature actually; animals having a special color or shape or pattern around the eyes to draw the attention to them.

V: You used products from your new line, ISAMAYA Beauty. Can you walk us through which products you utilized for the show?

IF: We used our Industrial Color Pigments Palette for all looks. For the airbrushed one, we used the shades “Belt” and “Machine” and for the graphic liners, we used the black putty and the shade “Initiator” along with a mixing medium to be able to apply it with a wet brush.

V: What was it like using the products for one of the first times in a show?

IF: I’ve used them for months to create looks for editorials [and] tutorials, but it’s the first time I can see that it’s actually out in the world now and that other artists are using the products. I worked with sponsored products my whole life, [so] it feels so great to use my own [products] and find ways to incorporate them within a designer’s vision.

V: And lastly, I wanted to ask you about the general backstage ambiance when you are doing makeup for a fashion show. What does the pre-show energy feel like? How are you able to make everything come to life?

IF: Nothing would happen without a full team. I always have a great one, with talented people who are fun to work with too. We’re always there hours before the show and we’re fairly quick to work so there’s a good work flow. It’s quite rare when we really have to run everywhere to get things done, which I’m very grateful for. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get stressful though.

V: And for Dion Lee, take us through the moments just before the runway began. What were you feeling? And how did you feel during the finale?

IF: You’re in total autopilot mode; your whole sense of vision has to change. You essentially scan constantly, looking for mistakes, shine, [and] smudges. Sometimes it’s hard to take the full experience in until the show is over because it happens so fast in the lineup—model after model. At the same time [it’s] very exciting and a lot of pressure as it’s the final moment before the world sees the team’s creations.

Sivan Miller
Discover More