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Photography Travis Matthews, make-up Mimi Quiquine

Mimi Quiquine is the make-up artist refusing to conform to beauty standards

TextAlex Peters

We caught up with Mimi to talk punk roots, panic attacks and the future of beauty

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.

“I'm a melange of my punk Camden roots, my stepfather's German rock influence, my mother's never-ending chic and my father's unwillingness to let go of the streets,” says make-up artist Mimi Quiquine. “And, somewhere in there, I drizzled Mimi.”

Growing up in London to French-Carribean, German and Bajan parents, Mimi’s multi-cultural upbringing, where TV was banned and operas and ballets were encouraged, ingrained in her early on a sense of individuality and non-conformity. “I always go against the grain; that's been me since forever,” she says.

After spending some time in Paris where she got her start as a make-up artist – a dream since she was little and would accompany her mother on trips to Covent Garden’s MAC store where they would pick out classic red lipsticks and lime green eyeshadows  – Mimi is now based in New York where she is part of a rising wave of hot new talent. As well as heading up runway make-up for impossibly cool new brands on the block Reconstruct and No Sesso, Mimi works closely with photographer Nadine Ijewere and models and musicians including Kelsey Lu, Adesuwa and Aweng.

With her signature use of colour, Mimi captures the unique, one-of-a-kind beauty of all her subjects. We caught up with Mimi to find out more.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up.
Mimi Quiquine: I was born and raised in Camden Town, London. My mother is from Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean and lived for many years in Paris before she moved to London in her twenties. My stepfather is German; like my mother, he moved to London in his twenties. My father was born in South London; his parents are from Barbados. I think that it was inevitable that I was going to be a "hard-to-place" person, having such interesting people as my parents in combination with growing up in Camden. I naturally followed in my parents' paths of wanting to explore, so I moved to Paris when I was 18. That's where I began doing make-up. Seven years later, my art has developed immensely, and I now reside in New York City.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Mimi Quiquine: Prior to going through puberty, I lived with my mother, stepfather, and brother. My family members were very encouraging of letting me be myself and also very open about who they were. I never felt uncomfortable. I found myself from a young age travelling to parts of the world where there were often people who did not look like me, but that never made me feel uncomfortable. If anything, I enjoyed it when people were curious, and I wanted to share and learn about others. I've always liked to put on plays with my brother and dress up and do performances. When I became an adolescent, I moved in with my father. My father isn't someone who is free with his body as my mother and stepfather were. So, having grown up never feeling aware of what I looked like or the shape of my body, it was a bit of a shock and maybe somewhat traumatic when I moved in with a father who found it difficult to accept that his daughter was turning into a young woman. I think that vital period in a young person's life was somewhat constrained for me. I became very aware of what I looked like and almost ashamed that I was taking on a womanly figure; in turn, I buried myself under baggy clothes.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Mimi Quiquine: I didn't really watch TV when I was growing up. My parents didn't allow me and my brother to. Looking back on it, I think it was such a great decision. Instead, they took us to see films, plays, ballets, operas—basically anything that would invoke some reaction from us. I was often annoyed and wanted to be home watching the shows that all my friends were talking about at school instead of watching films that half the time were in different languages. I definitely think subconsciously it really had a massive influence on me. I can see how my family's bringing us up differently almost set me up not to conform. I always go against the grain; that's been me since forever. I approach everything I do with a “this is me” attitude.

Why are you a make-up artist? What made you want to become one?
Mimi Quiquine: It's crazy to me, but I've always wanted to be a make-up artist. I love colours. I love painting. I love creating new characters. I have a vivid memory of being about four years old and going with my mother to the MAC store in Covent Garden, where she always got her classic red lipstick and lime green eyeshadow. I was not even tall enough to see the counter, but I would reach up and grab all different colours of eyeshadow and cover my arms in these wonderful colours. I believe deeply that those visits to MAC with my mother had a lasting effect on me.

How did you actually get into it?
Mimi Quiquine: When I moved to Paris, I ended up getting a part-time job at MAC and that is where my make-up artist journey began. However, I didn't stay there more than six months. I am very grateful for that opportunity, but I realized very quickly that I wanted to be the one deciding what "look" I was creating. So, I decided to leave and pursue my ultimate dream of becoming the artist I really wanted to be.

Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Mimi Quiquine: It's hard to describe the process because it varies from project to project. I will say that I get a lot of inspiration from films. It's where I spend a lot of my time and I really love to see how I'm taken to another world. I am always striving to replicate that feeling for other people through my work. I have a couple of people that I shoot with a lot; because of our strong creative bond, the process flows much easier when it comes to creating. We can literally sit down and have an idea of the mood that we are trying to convey and —BAM—it clicks for all of us in our own separate ways. With other people, I need more time to gather ideas and really plan what I want to do. On the whole, my creative process usually involves a bunch of weed, an afternoon in a museum, and then an evening watching movies. That combination seems to work for me.

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Mimi Quiquine: I guess it depends what we define as beauty. If it's this sad trend of trying to achieve a crazy, almost demoralizing idea of perfect beauty, then I reject that completely. We all possess beauty, that element that makes us who we are, this one-of-a-kind beautiful person who was put here to shine in his or her own way —irrelevant to the latest "beauty trend." Let's capture that.

What is your relationship to “beauty” (whatever that word means to you)?
Mimi Quiquine: Beauty is a weird one. I'm so baffled by it that I have "beauty is a short-lived tyranny" tattooed across my chest. Beauty for me comes in all forms and can be presented as anything you define beauty as. I strive to have the person naturally shine through when I do make-up or run the complete opposite way and transform the person into a whole different character.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Mimi Quiquine: I've learnt that we all do it in our time in our own way. Look straight forward; don't watch what everyone else is doing. Live for you! You only have this life, so why spend it focusing on others?

What was the moment that “made” you?
Mimi Quiquine: When I lived in London, I wasn't really aware of my potential as a make-up artist. Once I moved to New York City, I was finding myself in situations that I hadn't truly prepared myself for. I think it was then that I realized anything was truly possible. To be honest, my first year of freelancing in NYC was crazy stressful. I had panic attacks all the time. Physically, my body was moving at the rate it needed to be moving and producing work that I only dreamed of doing; but, my mind was losing it and didn't want to accept that I was actually starting to live my dream. I think the moment that made me was when I was booked for a shoot in London to model and do make-up; they paid me, but also flew me out. I was on my way to the airport and started to panic in the cab; I truly had a moment where I was like, "I can't do this. Who am I kidding? Just give up before your embarrass yourself." I was freaking out so badly that I was convinced I would step foot in the airport and security would not check me in because I seemed crazy. Long story short, I called my husband freaking out, and he basically said he wouldn't let me come home and that I needed to get on the flight. He reminded me how much I actually wanted this and that I was in control of what happened next. Obviously, everything ended up fine, and I smashed the shoot.

How do you use make-up to tell a story or convey emotion?
Mimi Quiquine: I think this comes back to the importance of colour in my work. I express myself on shoots and in my personal life through colour. I do love to create a narrative for the characters I'm working on; it helps me bring the full story alive in my head and, from there, I can come up with my ideas and pick out colours to play with.

What elevates a make-up look from good to great?
Mimi Quiquine: Being original. Provoking some kind of emotion, bad or good. As long I'm left feeling some way, I feel the artist has done a great job. What's the point of doing something that doesn't make people feel something?

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Mimi Quiquine: I think artists talk more than they used to. There is a movement brewing of artists who want to be respected equally and want to put each other on. We are understanding that there is room for all of us at the table, and it's important to inspire one another, but also to respect one another.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Mimi Quiquine: It's gone in two ways. It's been detrimental to some people and created a false idea of perfect beauty, with so many striving to achieve that fake ideal. With others, technology has given us the space to talk openly and show that there are many forms of beauty; we, in fact, are all beautiful.

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Mimi Quiquine: You can do it. You are in control of your life. You were put onto this wonderful planet to share your power. It's up to you to unlock the unlimited power and potential you possess and start killing it.

What is the future of beauty?
Mimi Quiquine: The future of beauty is never ending. Beauty can be found in the darkest of places; it's just up to us whether we want to see it.

What are you currently working on?
Mimi Quiquine: I'm finally working on my first short film. It's been a long time coming, but I'm excited that I'm at this point. It's so exciting, finally, to bring all the wonderful characters that I've designed along the way and let them speak for themselves.

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Mimi Quiquine: A fellow artist, best friend, and true inspiration to me—Alexandra Joseph.

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