Pin It
dazed beauty queen Amber Pinkerton
Styling Nell Kalonji, hair Louis Ghewy, make-up Ammy DrammehPhotography Amber Pinkerton. Dazed Spring/ Summer 2020

Ammy Drammeh is the make-up artist with the Midas touch

The recently appointed global make-up creative partner at Chanel shares the late nights, early mornings and beauty pioneers of her youth that inspire her work

Taken from the winter 2022 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here

When Ammy Drammeh met Michaela Coel on set for her Garage cover shoot, a distant reference came to mind. It was an image of 60s actress Shirley Eaton in the James Bond film Goldfinger, painted from head to toe in shimmering gold. She took in the actor’s cutting cheekbones, fixed poise and deep skin in opting to paint her the same colour, as if foreshadowing the golden statues that would grace her palm the following year.

“I don’t know if it’s correct, but I read the story that the make-up they used was really high in this poisonous substance because it’s a metal,” Drammeh remembers. “I thought, ‘Is that based on what they saw in Egypt, maybe?’ I thought it looked so beautiful, but at the same time, it would look amazing on a Black woman. I saw Michaela and thought she literally looked like a goddess. Why don’t we paint her in gold?”

Such is typical of Drammeh’s work as a make-up artist. It’s a testament to the appeal of her aesthetic, which she describes as “real, more than natural”. “When I moved to London, the trend was natural – ‘no make-up’ make-up, ‘no hair’ hair, nothing,” she recalls. “And then you had the other side, which was the opposite; super-glam, almost unrealistic skin with no pores, totally airbrushed. Sometimes [natural] can be beautiful; I like the rawness of seeing the skin and real complexion. But also, let’s have fun. Let’s use colours, a bold lip, a crazy lash: let’s express something. You don’t have to be natural to be real.”

The faces, personalities and essences of her subjects spring to life under her hand. A preference for sheened, raw skin and a focus on colour make her work consistently playful, much like her own warming energy that seeps through the call when we speak one evening over Zoom. A longtime Dazed collaborator, Drammeh’s talent has seen her reach the faces of Adwoa Aboah, Debra Shaw and Harry Styles, alongside brands such as Gucci, Loewe and Bottega Veneta.

Drammeh, 37, was born and raised in Barcelona and has mixed Gambian and Spanish heritage. Coming of age in the early 00s, it was the R&B and hip-hop videos she’d watched in her youth that would formulate her aesthetic identity. She’d spend time watching Maxwell, En Vogue and Aaliyah on MTV, poring over their glistening skin, glossed hair and juicy imagery that defined the visual era. “It was so beautiful,” she gushes, “so chic, so elegant. That has certainly played a role in how I see beauty and use colours and textures.”

She made her start in make-up at around 12 years old. A classmate brought a surprisingly highbrow gift into school, a Kevyn Aucoin book that Drammeh became captured by. “She was like, ‘You want to borrow it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I took it home for a week or so, my friends would come around and I’d recreate the make-up looks that were in the book. I was doing that with my mom’s make-up bag, which had, like, five products. I don’t know how! But I was doing it.”

She continued her practice before nights out with friends, end-of-year parties and performances. Encouraged by teachers who had noticed her interest, she studied cosmetology and moved to London in 2010 to launch her career. What came next was years of hustling, working retail and other jobs to afford shared apartments in her area of north London, where she is still based now.

As a Black artist in the make-up industry, Drammeh got used to being the only artist of colour in the room. “It did feel quite lonely at times, you know?” she says. “It’s sad but in a way you kind of prepare for that. I remember doing this job many years ago in London, and I had this palette with concealers and foundation. When I opened it I saw all the colours, and only two were almost empty – the two fairest tones. I think that was telling with regards to a lot of the industry as in what [jobs] we are being offered. If you don’t have enough range of anything, how will I cater to people?”

Drammeh is further concerned with how fellow Black artists, specifically the influential predecessors from her youth, have been excluded from the narrative of artistry techniques despite pioneering many of the circulating looks we see today. “Fashion took a lot from [them], but without giving them recognition,” she says of creators like Eric Ferrell, artist to Aaliyah, TLC and more. “You see all the leather fits, metallic make-up – to me, it just says R&B music video. They came up with that, and we don’t know anything about these people; they are unsung heroes.”

This year, Drammeh was appointed as a global make-up creative partner at Chanel. In her role, she hopes to use her position to “broaden the conversation around diversity and inclusivity”. “I don’t want it to be gimmicky or because of profit,” she says. “I’m doing it because I want to offer consumers what they want. I feel like things are changing dramatically; you know, I have no issue finding different shades of foundation and concealer. But there’s still a lot to do. People focus a lot on complexion, but you also need a blush that goes with that, an eyeshadow, an eyebrow pencil that doesn’t look grey. I hope I can make it easier for everyone.”

In her artistry, Drammeh has a multitude of stimuli: her commitment to diversity, inspirations sparked by the quotidian – buildings, paintings, the aunties she sees in her area of Tottenham – and the futuristic Black music imagery she saw in her youth. But all of that serves as the springboard for how she uses her skills for much more than mere aesthetics. “I’ve always been a carer,” she says, smiling. “Back in Spain, I used to work in a care home, in a hospital. Sometimes the brief is the brief, but I want to feel a sense of who they are, so they can be comfortable and confident that I’m gonna do the best I can to make them look the way they want to look. I think this is how I can get the best of everyone as well.”

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.