Make-up artist Aaron De Mey is arguably the most successful name in fashion and beauty to emerge from New Zealand. Born in the North Island and now a big name in New York, De Mey was recently appointed artistic make-up director for beauty brand Lancôme Paris – a testament to his glittering presence on the global fashion stage.
Looking back, De Mey’s journey from Tauranga, on the North Island, to New York Fashion Week and beyond has been punctuated with many notable milestones and names.
Past clients and colleagues include photographers Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Sorrenti, Craig McDean, Arthur Elgort, Steven Klein and Peter Lindbergh; models Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen and Naomi Campbell; designers Miuccia Prada and Hedi Slimane; stylist Edward Enninful; and editor-in-chief of the French edition of Vogue, Carine Roitfeld.
De Mey’s creative journey began when he was a student at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Auckland. He embraced a love of painting, and this passion became integral to his work as a make-up artist. In the mid-90s, De Mey began working within the embryonic New Zealand fashion industry.
“All the good stylists and make-up artists in New Zealand tended to work in film or on television shows,” De Mey says.
However, he credits the diversity of that fledgling local industry as an ideal foundation for the years he spent overseas: “Working on music videos, editorial shoots with people such as Prime Minister Helen Clark for the cover of NZ Style, and fashion editorials for magazines such as Pavement was invaluable. Those diverse experiences in make-up prepared me for the competitive fashion industries in New York and Paris.”
Having achieved as much as he felt he could in New Zealand, in 1997 De Mey left for New York, aiming to specialise in high fashion. Friend and model Trish Goff soon introduced De Mey to make-up magnate François Nars, which led to his appointment on Nars’ make-up team for the New York Fashion Week shows.
It was De Mey’s launch onto the international stage.
Nars, who had just released his eponymous make-up brand and was at the top of his game, introduced De Mey to award-winning stylist Patti Wilson, who, in turn, brought him to the attention of Edward Enninful, fashion director of i-D magazine.
That fateful meeting resulted in De Mey’s big break as make-up artist for the December 1997 cover of i-D, which featured Naomi Campbell.
Within two years of arriving in the US, De Mey had become a highly regarded fashion editorial make-up artist and had garnered considerable runway experience as part of the Nars team.
Fashion label Comme des Garçons soon came knocking, intrigued by De Mey’s original ideas and obvious skill. The Comme des Garçons Fall 2000 Ready To Wear Collection show became another career landmark for the young New Zealander.
De Mey’s ability to reference, conceptualise and design a look is perhaps his greatest strength and it has led to nearly a decade of outstanding symbiotic collaborations.
His latest, with Lancôme Paris, could be his greatest yet. De Mey sees his role as building upon the existing class and strength of the already formidable brand.
“I want to push the teams [and] implement new techniques and ways to apply make-up,” he says. “I hope to excite everybody at Lancôme and everybody who loves the brand.”