My friend Maxine and I are huge make-up fans. Between us we own enough to start a shop, and our thirteen-year friendship has been built – at least in part – on a mutual love of slap. She lives in the arse end of beyond (Swindon), so as soon as she booked her train ticket to visit I was all over the booking page of Illamasqua’s make-up workshops like a tramp on chips.
Illamasqua is an independent British beauty brand, and one of my favourites. While other cosmetic companies spend their millions on identikit branding with Stepford models, Illamasqua has been dicking on the industry playbook with a series of provocative campaigns and a kooky, lacquered image that makes the big boys look like tottering grandmothers. (Enormous, multi-million pound tottering grandmothers, but you get my drift.)
Illamasqua’s workshops are all held in their flagship store on Beak Street, which is a far cry from your bog-standard beauty hall (and I know this for sure, because I used to work in one myself). Walk into House of Fraser and you’ll find a depressingly sterile environment complete with identically made-up women, sometimes in lab coats (I am looking at you, Clinique, you nutters). When Max and I went into Illamasqua at 2pm on Sunday for our Dragstar Superstar (!) class (£50.00), though, we were greeted by an incredible blue-haired six-footer with immaculately drawn eyebrows and at least six bits of metal sunk into various bits of her face. She was rocking it too, we felt depressingly vanilla by comparison as we were led into a studio – brightly lit in in the most spectacularly unflattering light – and introduced to our tutor, Nilly.
Now, Illamasqua do offer more ‘conventional’ workshops; there are two other short classes for non-professionals, Night Time Diva and Timeless Beauty, but considering that we’ve been practising our smokey eyes for the last decade and the latter class is for slightly older people, we thought we’d go for the most theatrical one. I’m fucking glad we did, but we did leave looking absolutely mental. In a good way.
Although ultimately we were looking to pick up some new skills, our objective that day was to leave looking like a dude looking like a chick. Our most problematic features were our eyebrows; in our quest for androgyny we were essentially cockblocked by our pissy little girl ‘brows. We learned how to mask these out with soap and concealer, and then went absolutely berserk with some of Illamasqua’s beautiful, mega-pigmented eyeshadows.
After applying eyeliner, lashings of mascara and a monster pair of falsies, Nilly came round and glued some man brows on us. Obviously not your average drag queen’s usual style, but apparently drawing perfect brows is a tricky business and we only had a couple of hours in total. We then learned to contour the nose and cheeks, attempting to sculpt our faces into something more rugged, and topped it off with the vividest lipsticks we could find.
Awesome. We caught the tube home and got eyeballed the fuck out of, probably because we were
hopefully definitely women wearing drag make-up. Of course we had to wash it off before we went to bed (and it took bloody ages) and it’s certainly not a daytime look, but we did learn skills that can be translated into everyday make-up. And – bonus! – we got to take our eyelashes home with us.
If nothing else, though, it really make us appreciate how much effort real drag queens put into their looks. Proper graft, it is.
Illamasqua, 20 Beak St, London W1F 9RE.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.