I am so pleased to be posting a wonderful, albeit bittersweet story about the legendary Kevyn Aucoin today, as it commemorates the 21st anniversary of the date he filed for the trademark of his beauty line. A few months ago I received a very kind email from a makeup artist who actually had the opportunity to work with Kevyn and had an integral role in the launch of his brand. Amelia Durazzo-Cintron, an Emmy-nominated artist who currently works for PBS, generously agreed to allow me to share the impact Kevyn made on her career as well as her experience with helping to get his makeup line off the ground shortly before his untimely death. She also permitted me to use some her photos with the man himself and an incredibly special and Museum-worthy brush set that he bestowed upon her. Here is Amelia's story in her own words.
(image from @makeupbyamelia.c)
"I was obsessed with makeup for as long as I can remember. My mother was born in Italy. She went to school for fashion design. I was always in awe of the way she put herself together. I don’t even think she owns a pair of jeans. She’s always impeccably dressed. Her hair and makeup is always on point. When I was a little girl, I used to watch her put on this cream eye shadow that came in a tube like lipstick. Once, when she was almost down to the end, she gave it to me to use for when I played dress up...and the rest is history. I used to study her Italian Vogue. I think that is where I first may have seen Kevyn’s work. He had a 'style' or look that was hard to imitate but immediately recognizable. A lot of the makeup back then was pretty garish, blush that looked like stripes, colors that didn’t seem to go well together, nothing was blended. Then there was Kevyn. Everyone he touched looked absolutely radiant. Although he was amazing at editorial looks his ability to bring out the natural beauty in women was unsurpassed. It was around that time that he collaborated on a collection for Ultima 2 called the Nakeds. He literally changed the industry with that launch. I think I bought every palette. Then came the Making Faces book. There is no better makeup book than that! He appeared as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show to promote the book. They showed these amazing transformations he had done on several women.
"I became obsessed. I had to meet this guy. At that time, I had just started my career in the medical field. I wasn’t particularly happy but it was decent pay and good hours. Kevyn Aucoin changed my entire career path. I was always interested in makeup but I didn’t quite know how I would parlay that into a career. I decided to quit my job to work at Nordstrom as a part time beauty associate. I figured it was a good of a place as any to start a career in makeup artistry. My ex husband was not amused. But I knew I had to go with my gut. A few months later, Kevyn launched his second book Face Forward. The timeline is a little fuzzy but I believe it was also at this time that he started a soft launch of Kevyn Aucoin Beauty at none other than the beauty mecca at the time, Henri Bendel’s. The counter was placed front and center in the atrium, which was their prime real estate. His product line initially consisted of his mascara, lash curler and brush set.
"They also launched a new website. It had this amazing beauty chat room where fans, aspiring makeup artists, etc. could 'meet up' and discuss product faves, dupes, and anything Kevyn related. Every once in a while, Kevyn himself would pop in to interact with his fans. We would go nuts! We were actually chatting with Kevyn himself! I also met up with other fans from the beauty community (some of which I am still friends with). One day, Kevyn posted about a meet and greet at Bendel’s to coincide with the launch of his product line. [My friend] and I called one another and immediately made arrangements to meet up. As I recall there may have been a day’s notice. I remember having to change my schedule at work so that I could attend. There was no way I missing it! If the event was due to start at, let’s say 5PM, we arrived at 3. They hadn’t even started setting up yet. We were number one and two in line. You’ve probably heard of Troy Surratt of Surratt beauty. Well, Troy was Kevyn’s assistant at the time. He smiled at us as we watched him merchandise the products very carefully placed in a case at the front of the line. Everyone would have to pass through and have a look on their way to meet Kevyn. We fell into conversation (seeing as we were two hours early and staring at him) and he couldn’t have been kinder.
(image from racked.com)
"Meanwhile as we were waiting for Kevyn to arrive, some celebs were being escorted into a separate entrance for what I assume to be a launch party. Mary Tyler Moore walked right past me and said hello. Her smile lit up the entire room. Then Gwyneth Paltrow...she literally had just won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. She brushed past me on her way into a roped off area, she came in looking pissed off and like she had smelled something bad. Her demeanor completely changed when she caught a glimpse of Kevyn and I saw them hug. I guess he had that effect on everyone.
(image from allure.com)
"When Kevyn arrived he came right to the front of the line and said hello. He thanked us for coming and told us he had heard we waited for him for two hours. He seemed shocked by this. I would have waited two days! I’m telling you that the guy had an indescribable energy. I’ve met many celebs throughout my career but no one impressed me as much as Kevyn. He was warm and genuine and was so incredibly humble. I had brought a copy of his book for him to sign. While I had his attention, I told him it was my dream to work for him someday. I gave him a brief synopsis of my career path and how he had inspired me to become a makeup artist. Tears welled up in his eyes. He was truly touched. He told me that his plan was for him to launch at other department stores. I believe he may have mentioned Bergdorf Goodman or Barney's as possible contenders. He would need motivated, knowledgeable and talented artists to work for his line. At that time, I was working for Prescriptives, a line owned by Estée Lauder. He said he loved Prescriptives artists because they were well trained in color theory. At the time, they were one of the most popular makeup brands. They were [one of] the first cosmetics line to offer custom blending for foundation and always offered exact foundation shade matching. I was elated hearing that Kevyn gave the brand his seal of approval! He then grabbed a piece of paper and handed me his personal email and told me to keep in touch. I nearly passed out. I was so ecstatic!! We began an email friendship that lasted until the week before he died. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip me by. I offered to help out in any way I could. At that time, Kevyn’s company consisted of just a handful of employees. Kevyn had sunk much of his life savings into the launch of his brand. A lot was riding on the success of the line. They couldn’t afford to hire additional staff so everyone he had on board at the time was a either a close friend or family member. Eric Sakas was the CEO and also Kevyn’s ex-boyfriend and best friend of many years. It was also at this time that the beauty board on his website took off. Just as YouTube is to the beauty influencer, the beauty board was for Kevyn Aucoin Beauty. It was an important marketing tool which they used to update fans about product launches and share tips and tricks from Kevyn himself, and other fun stuff like personal photos (as he was also an amazing photographer) and his must haves for his kit, etc. The beauty board took on a life of its own.
(image from archive.org)
"His office manager Sarah was having a tough time dealing with the product launch, behind the scenes stuff, etc. and having to moderate the beauty boards wasn't high on her list of priorities. We had gotten to know one another as Kevyn had her send me some mascaras to try. I also let her know of my interest in working for the company and sent her my resume for when they were ready to begin the hiring process. I wanted to be one of the first people to work as a makeup artist for Kevyn Aucoin Beauty! She was so kind. She promised to keep me in the loop...and she did, sending me freebies or as we say in the industry 'gratis' to try and sometimes giving me a sneak peek of things they were working on. She wasn’t a makeup artist so she appreciated the feedback. Back to the boards...they went from having a few hundred members to tens of thousands. Every once in a while, you would get your typical internet trolls trying to start shit and taunting some of the 'regulars'...trying to get them to engage. This one particular day one of them posted the most awful statement about Kevyn being a junkie and that we were 'worshipping a f*ggot drug addict'. I was horrified! I immediately called Sarah in a panic. She took the post down and thanked me profusely for helping them avert a potentially disastrous situation. Unbeknownst to me at the time, (it was only years later that I found out the truth) Kevyn had people in the industry trying to ruin his reputation. You may have watched his documentary. If you did then you’d know that he was dealing with an addiction issue related to the pain meds he took for his condition called acromegaly. As much as I love this industry, people can be very jealous and vicious. I suspect that there were rumblings at the time about Kevyn and his issues. Someone decided to go public, most likely to try to deter any potential investors. This only added to his stress and to that of his friends and family members.
(image from itunes.apple.com)
"That’s when Sarah asked me if I would be interested in becoming an administrator for the website. They would give me the ability to initiate posts to get engagement and to delete and or block any offensive posts or individuals. She explained that they couldn’t afford to pay me, but that could pay me in gratis. I jumped at the chance!!!!! A few days later, I received a package in the mail, a huge box filled with mascara’s, lip glosses and lipsticks that had just launched, both of his books...and the holy grail.. my prized possession...A full set of Kevyn’s brushes complete with a custom mahogany box with an insert that fit all of the brushes inside. They only made a limited number. If memory serves me correctly, the set sold for $1000!
(image from @makeupbyamelia.c)
"I cried…Kevyn was so appreciative for the help I was providing to him and Sarah. He emailed me and said that he would continue to supply me with anything I needed. All I had to do was ask. I remember thinking how lucky I was. Friends of mine in the industry were floored. They were so excited for me. A makeup artist friend of mine said 'you realize that your life is going to change'…and it did. But not the way I had hoped. Not long after I began my work with Kevyn (possibly less than two months later), I received a message from Sarah on my answering machine. Her tone seemed somber...not like her usual bubbly self. I immediately thought that perhaps they had another troll situation. I called her back as soon as I got the message. It was far worse than I'd imagined. Kevyn had passed away that morning. She didn’t want me to hear it on the news or read about it online as she was sure the news would eventually and inevitably end up on the message boards. I couldn’t even breathe from sobbing. I felt like my dreams were completely shattered. I was so despondent that I didn’t go to work for several days…and as predicted the beauty board was buzzing with incorrect information and downright cruel rumors from people who had no idea what they were talking about. Kevyn’s sister had to shut it down by telling people to please respect the privacy of the Aucoin family. I was deleting posts left and right. It got so out of hand that a particular troll threatened several of the members at which time I had to step in and block him. He proceeded to send me emails threatening to 'cut my throat'. It all seemed like a bad dream.
(image from theadvertiser.com)
"Then came the aftermath.. I don’t know a lot of what was going on but I do know that the investors they did have on board to help to expand the product line, head for the hills after Kevyn’s death. His entire estate was tied up in the line. Eric Sakas who I mentioned earlier was Kevyn’s former partner and closest friend. He made it his mission to ensure that Kevyn’s line would launch and align with Kevyn’s original vision. They were slated to launch Kevyn’s signature product which remains a cult classic to this day. The Sensual Skin Enhancer. It was already being sold at Bendels and now, they needed to put it up on the website. Eric and Sarah being the business minds of the company, neither of them knew how to properly describe the extensive shade range so that online customers would be able to determine which shade would match their skin tone. I was asked to help out. I sat there with Eric swatching prototypes (with Kevyn’s own handwriting on the boxes) coming up with proper descriptions of the shades ie warm, med, neutral, cool, etc. It took several hours, They were dealing with so much. I could see the stress and the sadness in their eyes. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help. After having been involved for two years after Kevyn’s death, the line was ultimately sold. Sarah had left the previous year. The message board was shut down due to lack of engagement (it was Kevyn’s presence there that encouraged people to hop on and interact). Things were moving fast in e-commerce and they had to update the site to give it a more streamlined look…they no longer had the need for a website administrator. Shortly after Kevyn’s death, his family decided to have a private memorial service. I was so touched when I had received in the mail a photograph of Kevyn that was handed out to the family and closest friends who attended the memorial service. His mother and father both took the time to write me a note thanking me for the work I did for his website, I was moved to tears.
"I didn’t give up pursuing my dream to become a makeup artist. I was hired as a trainer for the NYC Sephora market for Christian Dior. Kevyn was my motivation every step of the way. But the retail world was rapidly changing. The 2008 crash hit hard and my position with Dior, my dream job, was one of the first eliminated. I was back to square one, working freelance gigs on and off for several years, uninspired and unmotivated. Then a dear friend of mine called me one day asking if I would be interested in freelancing for a local TV station. He was the executive producer for a PBS News show. We had met at Nordstrom several years earlier when I was managing the Stila counter and he was going to school and working in loss prevention. I was intrigued but nervous, as I knew nothing about TV makeup. I had done makeup at Bryant Park, stage makeup for performances, magazine shoots, but never TV. I was scared shitless that first day I stepped into the studio. To add to my anxiety, the anchor of the news program I’d be working for was a well respected journalist with a career that spanned 40 years. She had been a network TV anchor, she was a guest (as herself) on the Murphy Brown show with Candace Bergen, she had been on the cover of People magazine..she was kind of a big deal. I did her makeup for the first time..my hands were shaking. All along I thought of Kevyn. As silly as it sounds I felt his presence that day. It calmed my nerves and I just did what I would normally do with anyone else. She loved it. I was so elated, relieved, and grateful for the opportunity. What started out as me covering for the studio’s full time artist, ended up with me landing a staff gig. Five years later...I'm still loving my job. This current situation has been especially hard on me. [But Kevyn] inspires me to continue honing my skills as an artist. I'm so proud to say that I was nominated for an Emmy in the NY market last year, I didn't win but seriously...I could not have imagined it as a possibility! I owe everything to Kevyn."
(image from @makeupbyamelia.c)
Thank you, Amelia, for taking the time to tell this amazing history! I am so honored that you chose the Makeup Museum to share it publicly. I also must thank Amelia for her generous (unrelated) donation to the Museum, which I'll be covering later - so many people want to help build the Museum's collection so I'm planning a rather large post on recent donations. Stay tuned...and in the meantime, if you want more on Kevyn, there are two documentaries available and a new book from Alcone showcasing his illustrations and face charts.