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Courtesy of ISAMAYA

Inside Isamaya Ffrench’s highly anticipated new beauty brand, ISAMAYA

The make-up artist and creative director talks us through her new make-up and skincare brand, sharing everything you need to know about its BDSM-themed products

“For me, make-up is an extension of your authentic self,” says Isamaya Ffrench. “It’s a means to help express that intrinsic, internal feeling in a more obvious way.” It’s this spirit of self-expression and individuality that is at the heart of her debut make-up and skincare brand ISAMAYA.

As a make-up artist Ffrench has built her reputation on her wild, unrestrained creativity and imaginative transformations – it was Ffrench who was responsible for Rihanna’s divisive razor-thin brows and turning Vivienne Westwood models into Pinocchio. One of the most important creatives and image-makers in the industry right now, her work is subversive, gorgeous, terrifying, and awe-inspiring. But it wasn’t the metamorphosis she has become synonymous with that she was aiming for when she embarked on creating ISAMAYA, her most personal project yet.  

Describing her make-up as “weapons for truth”, Ffrench sees her brand as providing tools for people to express themselves and find their authenticity, offering a non-conformist alternative to the message often fed to us by the industry. “This brand is about make-up that you wear for yourself, it’s a personal journey,” she says. “That, for me, is the right message – make-up is a weapon for truth, it is a way to help you become more of who you are.”   

Weapons of truth also incidentally describes the beauty products themselves quite well. Rather than launch with a permanent range of products, ISAMAYA will be made up of limited edition collections, each centring around a different concept and visual aesthetic, that will drop roughly four times a year. The first collection is a five-piece range, comprising a mascara, eyeshadow palette, lip lacquer, brow laminator and glow serum, that takes its visual and spiritual cues from the lexicon of BDSM culture. Named the Industrial collection, the drop is all about the extreme and the hardcore, concepts that stretch across both the products and their packaging – the lids of the two serums and mascara come pierced with wearable metal rings and a bound, rubbery figure protrudes from the 14 pan eyeshadow palette. 

“[Industrial] was probably the most relevant statement for me to launch with, it was something that felt a bit anti-industry,” Ffrench says. “BDSM has connotations of self-possession and empowerment which tied in naturally, and it just felt really important to hit hard with this first launch.” Acknowledging that the “S&M thing” might not be for everyone, Ffrench says maybe the next collection will have a more universal appeal (or, also, it might not). “My approach hasn’t been to cater for an audience, particularly,” she says, “it’s more about offering a space for people to perceive ideas of beauty in different ways.” 

Until now, Ffrench says, most commercial beauty brands haven’t represented or appealed to her community of creatives who use make-up to express and explore their identities. This is something she is hoping to change with ISAMAYA. “I think by having a brand that’s able to constantly evolve and change, and have every collection touch on something different, it will offer more to people who have not found their thing yet,” she says. “It’s important to create a space and create products that are more far-reaching than just the commercial ones that we know.”     

The beauty of having a collection-based brand that will offer something different every time (and Ffrench promises to surprise us with each new drop) is that it also keeps it interesting for her. With eclectic inspirations that range from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Heston Blumenthal to Yung Lean, having to stick with one aesthetic didn’t appeal and conceptualising collections months in advance posed a new challenge. “I don’t want to have to think about what a product might look like on a shelf in 10 years; to do the same product for five years,” she says. “It’s too restrictive, it doesn’t feel modern, it doesn’t feel progressive.”   

These limited, small-batch drops also ensure that at the end of the day, there won’t be lots of unused stock sitting in warehouses wasting away. After years of lending her talents to developing products for brands including Tom Ford, Byredo, Christian Louboutin and Burberry, ISAMAYA is the first time Ffrench has had total control to execute her vision on her own terms, to make the choices on everything from products to packaging that she wants to make without any commercial shackles. And, for her, this meant making sure the brand was actively engaging with environmental responsibility.

“I work with Vivienne Westwood, and have done for a long time, and her philosophy of doing more with less just makes sense to me,” she says. From the beginning of conception, the brand hired a sustainability consultant who has advised on everything from carbon footprinting to material choices for packaging. The process, Ffrench says, was a learning curve. “It’s opened my eyes, it’s much harder than you think, much, much, much harder,” she says. “So that’s been a real education for me.” 

As the brand grows and we see the different drops, she hopes that each collection will live on after we finish with them – whether that’s the repurposable jewellery in the Industrial packaging, or the palettes which turn into jewellery boxes that the next collection will offer. For each collection, ISAMAYA will also be partnering with a charity, another detail that was important to Ffrench (she is still finalising who that will be for the first release).    

“Part of this project is really to be able to express who I am as a person, and to be able to show people that there are other ways of engaging with beauty,” she says. Because, for Ffrench, it’s not just how you wear a product, it’s about what a brand represents – from the way they do packaging and advertising, to the people they collaborate with. “It’s a bigger conversation to open up cosmetics in a much more creative way, and an inspiring way, I hope.” 

So what is in the future for ISAMAYA? Alongside the upcoming collections, Ffrench is really looking forward to responding to feedback directly from her audience and finding out what they want. “I’m not a big multi-person-in-suits brand. I’m a person that can respond to what my audience likes, and I’m excited by that,” she says. Ultimately, what she is looking to do is create things that are timeless. “I try not to worry too much about what might be popular in 2024. I think it’s important to just be guided by your creative instinct and always look at the bigger picture rather than lipstick. You know what I mean? That’s how I’m doing it for now.”

ISAMAYA Industrial collection launches later this month. Below Ffrench talks us through each product in the drop.