Sunday, 31 January 2010

Report: Alex Box Interview at IMATS

The compere comes to the front of the stage and says "There are a lot of people waiting outside. So please, if there is an empty seat beside you, or you have your bag on a seat, raise your hand."

A few hands go up, and a few more grateful latecomers are squeezed in to the packed auditorium, just in time for the show to begin.

By the side of the stage waits a slender, slightly stooped figure with bright blue trousers and a loud tweed jacket. Even in the darkness, unannounced and unassuming, she's impossible to mistake. "Why is her hair two different colours?" Gemma whispers to me. "Because she's Alex Box." I say "That's one of her things."

Alex takes to the stage after a blare of music and an introductory flash of lights. Her name is emblazoned on the huge monitor beside the stage area. She takes a seat at a table and crosses her legs, revealing a pair of astonishingly high red platforms.

She's rapturously announced by Michael Key of Makeup Artist Magazine, clearly an admirer of her work. Beside his easy American gloss, she seems slightly shy, almost reticent, but once she begins to talk about her artistry she becomes passionately expressive, raising her blue-nailed hands to accentuate her speech.

She's wearing a blue colour on her lips, which she explains is one of the Illamasqua pencils, applied as lipliner. "Did you match your lips to your trousers, or was it the other way around?" asks Michael. "It's an ongoing dialogue" she replies. Her wit is quick but she speaks almost humbly, careful of every word, as though she realises how closely everyone is listening and wants to make sure that what she says is what she really means.

We are shown a montage of lavish shots from her recent book, a collaboration with photographer Rankin. The variety is incredible. Michael remarks on the use of mixed media - makeup, drawing, Photoshop... but Alex reveals that actually no digital manipulation took place at all - she hand-drew the overlaid artwork, and as for the photomontage of arms and hands, "they were all cut out of Vogue and stuck down with Pritt Stick."

As a child, Alex was always drawing, always creating. She describes being given a Lego kit for Christmas and making a face massager with it. She was encouraged especially by her father, who introduced her to the music of David Bowie and exposed her to a range of alternative art and culture.

After school she attended art college, and was "on my way to becoming an artist" when she took to makeup, an area of work that grew naturally from the body-painting she was using in her college pieces. She is and has always been a multi-disciplinary person, drawing, painting, using makeup, and creating sculpture as different means of self-expression; "It's all legs on the same animal to me" she explains.

Alex feels that people have always been slightly uncomfortable with this multi-modality, looking to categorise her as one thing or another. Other artists were especially dubious when she began to work in makeup; "they thought I was entering some world of pink fluff... but of course it's not like that at all. I want to fly the flag for a different kind of makeup."

Her association with Illamasqua came about via an exchange on Myspace with the brand's founder, Julian Kynaston. He offered her the chance to help him create the line, and she jumped at it. As someone who had felt strong pressure to compromise herself and her work in order to fit in with other people's ideas, the brand's "think outside the box" ethos makes it a perfect place for Alex to thrive. The disregard for boundaries that is so central to her spirit is reflected in the way the line is organised - products are presented to the consumer just as they are, without any prescriptive instructions about how or where to apply them - blue lipliner being just one example of what's possible.

Indeed, anyone who has seen the work she's done both for the catwalk and in her book will appreciate that colouring inside the lines isn't where Alex's idea of beauty lies. Her looks are a riot of colour and shape, flowing from the face out over the body, into the hairline and even beyond the photoshoot itself - many are embellished afterwards by Alex working over the top in inks, paints and pencils.

But, asks Michael, what about the business aspect of running a beauty brand? Isn't that contrary to that organic, spontaneous way of working?

"Not at all. I love it." she replies firmly. "I'm a very disciplined person."

To achieve all that she has, there's no doubt that discipline and determination must have played a big role. Her commitment to her creativity is steadfast - even when sick and unable to work, she recalls finding herself drawing eye-shapes, as if compelled to keep creating things. "It's like a form of Tourettes" she says "it just comes out, I can't help it."

As for the future, Alex wants to share her experience and her views with other people - to get out, do workshops and give people a chance to work creatively. "I'm not interested in being in some ivory tower" she says. "Some people, they get so far, and then they kind of shut the door on people below them. That's not how I want to be."

Later on, Alex can be seen sitting at the Makeup Artist Magazine booth signing autographs for a long line of people. She's perched, not in an ivory tower, but on a stool, with those ridiculously tall red platform heels, tweed back bent and writing dedications in copies of her book.


  1. I agree about the way Alex came across at the beginning but at the time I kind of wondered if the interveiwer knew what he was talking about. At least twice he asked questions that she'd just given an answer to. After reading your review I'm thinking maybe he was overawed!

    I only booked for the IMATS when she was confirmed as speaker and was suitably inspired by what she said. Like her I think of makeup in an "It's all legs on the same animal to me" kind of way.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. Another fantastic post. Alex Box is just amazing and i love her blue lips, i used a blue Illamasqua pencil on my lips just the other day :)

  3. I don't think the two of them knew each other beforehand, and they're so different both culturally and in terms of the work they do - he's more film and SFX, she's more fashion and art. I think he didn't quite know what to make of her.

    Glad you enjoyed the interview, and hope the rest of the show was good for you.

  4. @Lillian - I was talking to Gemma and we have both found that blue lips give you quite yellow teeth unless you've got flawless pearly-whites - I don't think this is a look most people pull off easily - how did you like the results when you tried it?

    Glad you liked the post.

  5. You're right, it does make my teeth look more yellow, so does black lipstick. It's odd though, because you get all those sheer blue glosses made specifically to make teeth look whiter, i don't understand it!
    I personally think it looks nice on me, i think my pale pinky complexion has a lot to do with it. I can cope with the yellow teeth :)


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