Beauty school dropouts: Meet the creatives leading a revolution in hair and make-up

London’s status as the epicentre of creative fashion has been established for decades: boundary-breaking designers known for their do-it-youself entrepreneurial and artistic spirit flock to the capital.

But less well known outside the industry’s inner circle is the current generation of beauty technicians working tirelessly behind the scenes to create captivating catwalk moments and experimental editorial imagery. In the same manner as their trail-blazing designer contemporaries, they’re challenging accepted beauty ideals and the industry status quo. Rather than quietly assisting established names before going it alone, London’s new breed – of which Isamaya Ffrench, Thomas De  Kluyver and Alex Brownsell of the cult hair salon, Bleach, are leading lights – are more likely to be self-taught, drawing inspiration from outlandish make-up sported by club-goers, and staging guerilla shoots with nascent photographers. Their work – sometimes raw, always captivating – is a natural match for the pioneering fashion aesthetic that has marked London out on the international stage. They’re also, increasingly, gaining kudos and worldwide attention.

Here, then, are the new faces defining the new faces of London’s beautiful people…

Isamaya Ffrench 25, make-up artist


“My obsession is creative image-making and make-up is just one way of translating it,” says Isamaya Ffrench. You get that immediately when you look at the colourfully daubed faces and bodies that she’s made her name with – (the surname is English, dating from the 14th century, rather than a New Age pretension). Ffrench was studying product design at Central Saint Martins when she realised that she was more motivated by her part-time job – as a children’s face-painter. So, she took a year out from her studies, working as a body painter on fashion shoots. “[That’s] where I learned ‘proper make-up’ – from watching the artist,” she says. Ffrench describes herself as self-taught, but counts body painter Bibi Freeman as a mentor, while make-up artist Adam De Cruz taught her the importance of good skin and brushes. Ffrench puts her confidence down to reading Unlimited Power, a late-Eighties self-help book by Tony Robbins.

“It gave me belief in my ideas,” she says, “[and helped me recognise] that I had no reason to be intimidated.” She was right – appointed beauty editor of i-D in 2014, she also creates catwalk make-up for Junya Watanabe in Paris, and Christopher Shannon, Ashley Williams and House of Holland in London: “If I don’t have a specific brief, I visualise a character and use my imagination to build up the look. Junya is a dream to work for… Plus, he’s Japanese, so he doesn’t understand my swearing!”

Alex Brownsell 27, hairstylist and co-founder of Bleach salon


“It’s a girl being herself. It’s not all about colour. It’s an attitude. It’s not punk, it’s softer and more sophisticated,” says Alex Brownsell of her customers.

That’s a base that continues to grow, with plans for a third salon recently approved and a successful range available at Boots.

“People sometimes think I’m self-taught, but working with my hairdresser mum from age 12 was only the beginning. My mum said the only way to do it would be to train with the best.”

After completing her GCSEs, Brownsell left her home town in Northamptonshire for London to apply to top salons.

She started at Daniel Hersheson, where she mastered colouring, then cutting, before moving on to assist Lyndell Mansfield and Luke Hersheson on fashion editorial work.

Brownsell’s CV is varied, though, and even includes a spell working in the BBC wig department.

Today, her work can be seen in Dazed & Confused and i-D, as well as the catwalks of London designers Ashley Williams, Molly Goddard and Shrimps by Hannah Weiland – cutting-edge young women who share her colourful, “real girl” aesthetic.

But there’s more to Brownsell’s vision than just having fun with follicles: “My philosophy is that a master of their craft needs to know every aspect of it,” she says, revealing a desire to study trichology – the science behind hair and scalp health.

Thomas De Kluyver 29, make-up artist


“I like to play around with references,” explains Thomas De Kluyver. “Take, for example, a Sixties black line in the eye socket; instead of thick lashes, white inner liner and pale lips, I’d strip it back so you’re left with a graphic line on an almost bare face… I like the painterly approach, like creating freckles for Molly Goddard with  a toothbrush.”

Despite a name suited to an Austrian duke, De Kluyver is actually originally from Perth, Australia and his journey to his current home in east London follows a well-worn tradition of creative club kids. De Kluyver started out doing his friends’ make-up for nights out in his hometown, hanging out with an older crew of drag queens who fuelled his obsession with creative cosmetics. When he moved to east London at the age of 20, club night Boombox was at the peak of its popularity – and it was there, among students and industry insiders all dressed up with avant-garde wigs and  make-up to match, that he formed his fashion network.

But it wasn’t all fun and frolics – by day, he dutifully undertook test shoots and built up contacts, landing an assisting role with Japanese make-up artist Ayami. An early break came when he was commissioned for a Dazed Japan cover shoot, working with stylists Nicola Formichetti and Anna Trevelyan, and he’s also worked with womenswear wunderkind Thomas Tait for nine seasons.