Dopamine beauty at its best
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
Rhinestones, colour, drama – we’re going all out with our make-up at the moment, embracing maximalist beauty and full-throttle glamour. If you are looking for inspiration, then there’s no one better than Leo Chaparro: a make-up artist who has never shied away from a bold splash of colour or statement look.
Merging fantasy and beauty, Chaparro’s work is full of show-stopping eyes, neon shades and pink blush Grace Jones would be proud of. It’s make-up that pays tribute to the decadent disco looks of the 70s and 80s, while remaining fresh and relevant to our modern sensibilities. “I am often captivated by the eyes and how graphic and playful it can be when creating. I sometimes visualise a mask, like Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in Batman,” Chaparro says. “Some days I express something bold and loud and at other times it’s soft and delicate.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chaparro was influenced by his culture and surroundings while growing up. “Spending many years at my grandparents’ farms in Mexico allowed me to see the beauty in the natural world around me and value connection with all living things,” he says. It’s nature that often provides the inspiration for his larger-than-life looks today, still mesmerised as he is by the colours and transformative aspects of the natural world. “I look at rocks, insects, butterflies, monkeys, flowers and foods to create something fun and vibrant.”
Chaparro brings this spirit of vibrancy and transformation to all his projects, whether working on Savage x Fenty campaigns, with Alessandro Michele for the Met Gala 2022, or with stars like Alexa Demie, Gabbriette and Caroline Polachek. A recent favourite was collaborating with Violet Chachki for the music video for Visage’s “Fade to Grey”. “We created bold and visually striking looks,” he says. “There was trust and synergy amongst all the artists present. We had so much fun.”
We caught up with Chaparro to learn more about his inspirations, creative process and working with Alessandro Michele.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Leo Chaparro: Sometime in elementary school. Being surrounded by different faces and personalities led me to discover my own appearance. My journey towards self-acceptance empowered me to embrace myself and focus on what comes from within. That led me to recognise people for who they are internally; how they love, how they feel, etc.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and the way you presented yourself visually?
Leo Chaparro: Fantasy. Films like Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Hiyao Miyazaki, and shows like Sailor Moon. Also characters like The Diva from The Fifth Element. It’s a dive into an alternate universe and dimension. I was drawn to the fashion, hair, make-up and accessories. These are all different forms of inspiration that I aim to emulate in every aspect of my life.
Why are you a make-up artist? What made you want to become one?
Leo Chaparro: Make-up is one of the various mediums I use to create. I connect to my inner child that way. I have a drive to express and shape different characters I’ve envisioned. I aim to honour my whole self throughout the creative process.
Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learned or is it more instinctual?
Leo Chaparro: I first worked with make-up when I was studying theatre and film. I learned how to work with lighting and make-up, and how to do my own for the stage. When I decided to focus on beauty, I created various looks for myself: playing around with colour, shapes, and technique. This evolved into what I create today.
How did you break into the industry?
Leo Chaparro: It’s been a gradual progression. Sharing my work has provided an opportunity to connect, create and collaborate with many artists. Each moment is as important as the next, it’s all a part of my journey in this industry.
What is your creative process? How do you translate someone’s initial creative vision into a final look?
Leo Chaparro: Taking in all elements of each project as a whole allows me to translate where I’d like to take the direction. I look at colours, textures, the unique features of talent, etc. I’ll make an image board with my inspiration and where I’m taking the vision. All of these pieces work as a puzzle I take in to create a final look.
Is “beauty” (whatever that word means to you) something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Leo Chaparro: I love to capture the complete essence of beauty beyond the physical form.
You recently worked with Alessandro Michele for the Met Gala – how was that experience?
Leo Chaparro: Beautiful and exciting. Alessandro created a warm experience. I admire his work and distinct vision. It’s always a pleasure to collaborate with other artists for events, like the Met Gala. I intend to have a similar experience in the future.
What should make-up bring to a shoot or runway show?
Leo Chaparro: Make-up brings completion to the story, the fantasy, the world, the character, and the vision.
What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Leo Chaparro: To express my authentic vision, I’ve learned to trust myself. Be present and aim to have joy in every moment because at the end of the day we are all creating, which is all meant to be playful and fun!
What is your dream project to work on?
Leo Chaparro: The obvious: a beauty and fashion campaign. It would also be a dream to merge two passions of mine, acting and make-up. I’m very inspired by Debi Mazar who was a make-up artist at the beginning of her career, amongst many other things, and later moved into the world of acting.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Leo Chaparro: You are unique and have a special story to tell. Trust your heart and believe in yourself.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Leo Chaparro: Intersectional Environmentalist, here to “empower + instil joy in people of colour and historically excluded communities by amplifying the incredible legacies of diverse people in the environmental space.” Done for the “protection of both people + the planet.”
Million Dollar Vegan, they are a “global nonprofit dedicated to educating people about the environmental, ethical, personal, and public health benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.” They provide free nutritional guidance and free vegan meals for communities in need.