In Depth

Fulvia Farolfi: meet Chanel's make-up maestro

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In 1981, American photographer Irving Penn trained his lens on a blue-eyed model putting in a contact lens. It was Penn's stylised snapshot that first led Fulvia Farolfi to set her sights on working with photographers. "It was this picture that started it all", says Farolfi by phone from New York's Southhampton, recalling the model's pearlescent green-gold eyeshadow. "I knew this was what I was going to do".

Farolfi was born and raised in Bologna, a city in Italy's north noted for its historic architecture. At high school, Farolfi specialised in science subjects including chemistry and physics; she also harboured ambitions of training to become a professional athlete, with 100-meter hurdles her speciality. All the while, make-up and its beauty-enhancing qualities left a lasting impression on Farolfi. "My earliest memory is of a gym teacher at middle school", she says. "She was a brunette with green eyes and she wore nothing but [a flick of] eyeliner, which had a shiny finish. I was mesmerised by this eyeliner".

Casting aside academia and professional sports, Farolfi enrolled in a local beauty school, where a two-years long course followed an ambitious curriculum that included the applications of facial massage, make-up and manicures. Farolfi supplemented this with a job working afternoons in a nearby salon, while entering make-up competitions on weekends. Says Farolfi, "We would do butterflies and lots of different things. I don’t know how we did it, the products at our disposal were not like now".

After spotting Penn's eye-catching shot while studying the pages of Vogue Italia's quarterly beauty supplement, Farolfi upped and left for Milan to attend the make-up school the magazine had recommended, and to collaborate with fashion photographers to build up a portfolio of her work. In 1989, Farolfi moved for a second time, this time crossing the Atlantic, Manhattan her destination. "I moved alone, with my portfolio. I slept in a corridor on Avenue A, which at that time was pretty dangerous", the make-up artist explains many years later. "I moved to New York because my dream was to work with Mr Penn".

One day, while in uptown Manhattan, Farolfi plucked up the courage to ring Penn's New York studio. Answering the call, the photographer's Italian assistant advised Farolfi to send her card – which displayed two samples of her work and contact details – and then to wait for two weeks before calling again. She followed the advice and spoke to Penn's studio manager two weeks later. "After five long minutes of begging, she said, 'OK, come in tonight with your book'. So, I dropped the book and she said to come back in the morning. In the morning, she opened the door and said, 'Mr Penn loved your work'". Farolfi's dream of working with Penn was not granted instantly. "It took me [another] four years to work with Mr. Penn. Thank god, because if I had worked with him right away, I would have been dead", she says detailing the photographer's exacting nature. There was also the special dynamic and lingo of American fashion photography sets to consider.

Farolfi has since shared credits with many genre-defining photographers, including Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, George Condo and Collier Schorr. Farolfi's work is striking for its versatility: in recent black and white photographs by Peter Lindbergh, her make-up on original supermodels Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Nadia Auermann and Tatjana Patitz is au naturel, for Inez & Vinoodh's lens, she developed a '60s Pop Art look donned by Kylie Jenner. To Farolfi, a shoot's lighting is prime concern, and lengthy discussions before the first click of the camera are paramount. "Some photographers like Meisel are versatile, they can go from natural to artificial light and shoot flawlessly, and use the make-up as a tool. Others distrust make-up. This needs to be respected – a talk is necessary before. I can go from zero to a lot of make-up. It's important that the photographer loves what he sees in front of the camera".

For more than ten years, Farolfi has been working with Chanel as one of the Parisian house's founding make-up artists. "At Chanel, the make-up is never the first thing you notice", she says. "It is supposed to enhance the beauty of the woman. It's very loyal to natural beauty and made to enhance it with new techniques. The eyeliner is never so pearly that you see it three miles away, it's delicate. The eye shadow is pigmented but not heavy".  Some of Farolfi favourite double-C products include the brand's Soleil Tan de Chanel bronzer and Joues Contraste blusher. Says Farolfi, " I love the foundations, the concealer, the eye shadows, the blushes, the mascara – I love them all!"

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