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laurel charleston make-up drag artist new york
@laurelcharleston

Drag and make-up artist Laurel Charleston’s entire body is their canvas


TextFelicia Pennant

Often covering themselves in ombré clouds, iconic paintings, and animal prints, the queer artist and orchestra assistant director talks us through their dramatic transformations

The Dazed Beauty Community is our ever-expanding encyclopaedia of creatives and emerging talent from across the world who are redefining the way we think about beauty. From supermodels to digital artists to makeup prodigies transforming themselves in their bedrooms, these are the beauty influencers of tomorrow who embody everything Dazed Beauty is about. Discover them here.

How do you define drag make-up? For New York city-based artist Laurel Charleston, the possibilities are bold and the personas endless – their Instagram feed will blow your mind. Sure, the 23-year-old gives impressive (and more traditional) face, contoured and anchored by a fierce winged eye and perfectly overlined lip (with a fabulous wig on top of course), but they also wow with technicolour patterns and famous paintings that they painstakingly paint on. “I quickly realised that it was very hard to do stereotypical ‘feminine’ drag make-up on my huge hooded brow bones, so I decided to resort to something totally different and outside of the world of gender: big, bold shapes,” they explain.

Limiting make-up looks to just the face is comparatively basic as Charleston’s looks extend flawlessly down their neck to meet the clothing they make for themselves. “When I want to do a look for a specific pattern that encompasses the entire body, it’s a lot easier for me to sew a custom look that I know is going to fit my body perfectly,” they say. The artist won their first ever drag contest at Penn State University, where they were studying orchestra conducting, and they’ve just been appointed assistant director of the Queer Urban Orchestra

Here Charleston shares their drag journey, their ever-evolving approach to beauty and how they’re working to uplift their community.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Laurel Charleston: I grew up in the very small town of Bangor, Pennsylvania –  just cornfields, homophobia, and tobacco addictions. It was not the tea. I graduated from Penn State University this past May, where I spent the last five years getting degrees in orchestra conducting. I travelled to NYC at least once every two months with my drag sister Patent Pending. We would take the Megabus and go to parties to socialise, work gigs, meet other artists and be inspired. I always had my sights set on NYC, so living here in Bushwick these last five months has been an utter dream. I just found out that I’m a triple Virgo, so I’ve been coming to terms with that too.

What is it you do and why do you do it?

Laurel Charleston: I’m a queer artist who uses make-up and music to give visibility to issues in the queer community. 

How did you get into it and what’s your creative process?

Laurel Charleston: I had amazing friends who pushed me to compete in this yearly amateur drag competition at Penn State in my junior year. It was my first time ever doing drag, competing against 14 queens, and I won. My friends’ love and support motivated me to keep pursuing drag. I quickly realised that it was very hard to do stereotypical ‘feminine’ drag make-up on my huge hooded brow bones, so I decided to resort to something totally different and outside of the world of gender: big, bold shapes. I also loved playing around with the idea of using not just your eyes, but your entire face, neck and head as a canvas. I love seeing make-up not just as an accessory to fashion, but as an extension of the pattern itself. 

Talk us through your drag persona/aesthetic and how do you get ready.

Laurel Charleston: I love a good three-and-a-half-hour block to put a make-up work together, but for some of my more detailed works, I’ll set aside up to seven hours. My set up and play-by-play depends on the demands of the look itself, but what is always the same is my skincare regime. I take skincare extremely seriously because the quality of your make-up application depends on how well you prep and prime your face (aka your canvas). I always make sure I have one of my favourite Netflix series, like Great British Bake Off or Sabrina the Teenage Witch, on as well.

“I also loved playing around with the idea of using not just your eyes, but your entire face, neck and head as a canvas. I love seeing make-up not just as an accessory to fashion, but as an extension of the pattern itself” – Laurel Charleston

When did you start making your own outfits?

Laurel Charleston: Since January I’ve made everything I’ve worn on Instagram from scratch. I originally got into sewing my own garments out of necessity as clothes wouldn’t fit my tall, lanky body. I quickly realised that designing and creating your own clothing was incredibly cost-effective, and allowed you to curate every aspect of the look from head-to-toe. When I want to do a look for a specific pattern that encompasses the entire body, it’s a lot easier for me to sew a custom look that I know is going to fit my body perfectly.

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.

Laurel Charleston: Eclectic, geometric, and queer.

How do you assert your identity and experiences through your beauty and hair?

Laurel Charleston: Being non-binary means that I completely release myself from gender and the restrictions that come with attempting to adhere to it. My perspective constantly shifts which inspires my work through beauty and hair. 

What beauty, skin, and hair products are you using the most right now?

Laurel Charleston: La Mer Crème de la Mer, Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II Serum, Ben Nye Cosmetics Master Creme Color Palette and Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo.

What’s your favourite smell and why?

Laurel Charleston: Freshly fallen leaves. I’m going through my first fall away from an environment surrounded by trees so it’s nice.

Describe some of your favourite drag and beauty looks and how you created them? Why?

Laurel Charleston:  I still live for my take on the 2019 Met Gala theme Camp: Notes on Fashion. The look was inspired by this polka dot fabric I came across, and the idea of an individual being completely engulfed by it head-to-toe. I didn’t want to do it in a cartoonish way and thought the juxtaposition of a walk in the park against an obscene overdose of polka dots would be absolutely sickening and very camp. I was right.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Laurel Charleston: Collaborating with fashion designer Patrick Church recently was such a personal high for me. I did his make-up for an incredible event and the images ended up on Vogue and W magazine online. Afterwards, I did a shoot where my make-up was an extension of the look I did for Church, shot by one of my favourite photographers and queer artists Dylan Thomas – it’s one of my favourite works and shoots to date. 

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Laurel Charleston: Lucille Bluth. She’s an icon in every sense of the word.

What does beauty mean to you? 

Laurel Charleston: Authenticity.

When do you feel most beautiful? 

Laurel Charleston: I feel most beautiful when I am at the end of putting together a complicated look and it turns out exactly how I saw it in my head. 

What is the future of beauty?

Laurel Charleston: Beauty will be absent of gender.

What do you do in your spare time?

Laurel Charleston: More make-up? I never have enough hours in a day to do it as much as I want/need to. When I’m not working in some capacity, I’m home taking care of my kitty and myself, and spending time with my amazing roommates.

How do you want to change the world?

Laurel Charleston: I want to uplift as many trans and queer artists as possible. 

It’s the year 2121. Climate change has caused all humans to genetically mutate. Would you rather have two heads or four eyes?

Laurel Charleston: Four eyes! Two heads mean twice the foundation and twice the skincare.

If you had to choose one enhancing treatment, what would it be and why?

Laurel Charleston: I really want to have laser hair removal on my face and neck. I like to paint on a smooth canvas and I look like the bad guy from The Lovely Bones when I grow out my facial hair.

It's 30 years from now. You stumble home at 3 am and catch your reflection in the fridge door. What do you look like? 

Laurel Charleston: I look sickening. I’ve just arrived home from the Met Gala and was stumbling into my fridge to grab a cheese stick. I still have the Mona Lisa painted all entirely on my body from head to toe, it took me and a team of four artists around 10 hours to paint it all so I wasn’t gonna take it off right away. It was one of their better galas and the theme dealt with paintings coming to life.

If not your body then, is there anything you would want to leave behind? An artwork you haven't done yet, a book, a bloodline?

Laurel Charleston: I want to leave behind a legacy of authenticity and intense artistic expression. I want to inspire people to create with all of their heart and soul, and I hope I can do that while I’m still here as well.

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