A French Makeup Artist Explains the Elusive Concept of "French Girl" Beauty

Brandon Maxwell Beauty - P 2016
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Spoiler: It’s not really about the makeup.

NYC's Monkey Bar in Midtown on Tuesday night served as the swanky backdrop for Brandon Maxwell's second-ever show, which saw client/BFF Lady Gaga sitting front row. Wood paneling and plush red booths added to the lounge-like atmosphere where structured, party-ready pieces were paraded. However, backstage — a teensy tiny bar — was another story.

Models were strewn everywhere and anywhere they could find an open space: booths, bar stools and even a perch of Manolo Blahnik shoe boxes. Somehow, both hairstylist James Pecis (working with Oribe) and makeup legend Tom Pecheux (working with MAC) made it work.

Pecheux explained the unfussy look: “She has that little bit naughty, late-night finish where the eyeliner is a little bit damaged, the mascara is a bit clumped together; a little bit of eye makeup will have run under the eyes." He added that the "French Audrey Hepburn" served as his inspiration. 

“We want to feel the night club, the lounge, the bar; you want to feel the joy of living and the joy of being beautiful,” he said. The artist, who also worked on several shows throughout the week including Derek Lam and Ralph Lauren, executed that elusive “French girl” look with a nude lip and intentionally askew eyeliner — a “leftover” makeup look as he called it.

“I do [liner] with the mascara — it’s very sticky, so it does create not a perfect eyeliner. It’s a little bit broken, and that’s exactly what I want because I want everything to be just a little off," said Pecheux. "You know what we say, 'Perfection is boring.'”


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But what is exactly is that French je ne sai quois that Americans constantly tried to imitate? According to Pecheux, a native of Burgundy, France, it’s not just a specific makeup look, but rather an age and an attitude that define that mysterious French quality.

“It represents a type of girl and an age where you still have this kind of innocence, where you’re not too sure of what is going to happen,” he said. “I put that time between — let’s say 18, to be politically correct — until the 30s. Those are the girls.”

Pecheux added, however, that we’re not just talking about the Parisian club scene: “Not like party girl, like bad girl, just kind of cool girl … I always call it a French girl because I spent my teens in France. So those girls remind me of my friends back when we were crazy kids, fun kids.”

Pecis too, pointed to a French Vogue inspiration for the hair. “The look is supposed to be super chic, super cool — it’s a French Vogue-type woman,” he said, remarking that each girl’s hair was treated based on her natural texture as opposed to giving the models a uniform hairstyle. “It’s like very Kate Moss hair, or Natasha Poly. She’s really cool and she’s very effortless, but still super chic.”

As for how they survived in such cramped quarters? “It’s super stupid ridiculous,” said Pecis. But apparently, he's been through worse. "I’m being serious, [this is] twice as much space as last time,” he said, comparing the tight set-up at Monkey Bar to Maxwell’s debut show last season at Mr. Chow’s.

"Last year, we were doing everything on the stairs, in hallways, in bathrooms — wherever you can do it," he said. "No one cares if you can’t do it, they want to know that you can. So you make it happen.”