- Words Notion Staff
Drawing inspiration from everything from pop icons to niche 90s fashion references, Byron London's work is all about beauty with a point of view.
We first met Byron London in 2021 at a cover shoot for Drag Race‘s brightest and baddest breakout star of the decade, Bimini. Shortly before then, having been made redundant during the pandemic, life and circumstance had pushed Byron to follow the dream of working as a full-time creative makeup artist. Two years on, they’re balancing a back-to-back schedule spanning fashion and editorial, music, film and TV.
Drawing inspiration from everything from the icons of pop to niche 90s fashion references, Byron’s work combines careful skill with a clear vision, executed with boldness and an innate, unique flair. Catching up in the middle of a booked and busy summer, we took 10 minutes to reflect on the journey so far.
Let’s start at the beginning with how it all began. What got you hooked on makeup originally?
My first encounter with a makeup product was a freebie clear lipgloss that came with a smash hits magazine I bought with my pocket money when I was nine years old. Christina Aguilera was on the cover. I sat in front of the mirror and bit my lips until they looked as pink as hers before applying the gloss and I was hooked. When I was a bit older I had typical teen acne and started borrowing makeup from my mother. She was really into minimal makeup and mineral powders, she taught me the basics of colour-correcting blemishes and making myself look fresher for the day. I didn’t discover creative makeup until I moved to London at 18. I lived with a big group of friends including a couple of drag queens and we would go to themed parties like Sink The Pink, we would all sit around a big table and put the five crusty items of makeup we each had in the middle of the table and transform ourselves for the night.
And at what point did it start to look like a career?
When I first went freelance it felt like every job would be my last! I was used to a five-day workweek and knowing exactly where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing for the foreseeable future. At the beginning, my diary would only extend to the week ahead and days off felt so uncomfortable. It only began to feel like a career when I gained regular clients and my calendar started to stretch further.
We’d love to know some of your core inspirations, are there any artists, subcultures, genres etc you go to for influence?
I watch a lot of movies for inspiration. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar’s makeup as Sugar and Spice in Batman Forever live in my head forever. Angelina Jolie in Gia is another favourite, the scene where she’s walking the runway in a wedding gown and the petals start to fall, the most beautiful smokey eye cinema has ever seen. I also love looking at fashion photography because it gets my eye used to seeing a full image and not just my part in the job. I love really cinematic photographers like Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, and David LaChapelle.
What eras inspire you the most?
I love the 90s, even when things were more glamorous there was still a bit of grit. Kevyn Aucoin was sculpting all the OG supermodels, his contouring and highlighting techniques are still reworded, repackaged and resold today. Music video makeup was really at its peak too. Mathu Andersen’s makeup on Janet Jackson for the “What’s It Gonna Be” video will always be iconic.
Over the past couple of years, you’ve worked most closely with Bimini. What’s it been like for you to see their career grow over the years?
It’s been an incredible ride! I’m so grateful and proud to have been a part of their journey. We have been friends for a long time, we used to live together in a pretty grotty warehouse when I first started to learn makeup artistry and they first began performing so this journey has meant a lot. Watching them take up space in rooms not typically designed for queer people has been a real joy, and their passion for what they do as well as how hard they work has been really inspiring.
What are the benefits of working with an independent artist like Bimini, as opposed to working for a brand?
I love working with artists because it’s about building an authentic image personal to them. I think the reason me and Bimini work so well together is that I can really get into their references, get their point of view, know what they have to say and what makes them feel powerful. Bimini isn’t really an extension of Tommy or an alter ego that they put on. Bimini is who they are, it’s how they feel so the makeup needs to reflect that. It’s not about just being pretty, it’s about the energy that they carry.
They recently released a brand new EP, what was your reaction to the news of ‘When The party Ends’?
I am super proud of Bimini’s EP. ‘When the Party Ends’ is something they have been working on for a long time. The videos for “Rodeo” and “When the Party Ends” were so much fun to work on. They are in their sad banger era and we worked on the artwork for the album recently. We wanted a post-party glow, smudged mascara from the night before type of vibe but made a little more surreal and beautiful with some crystal tears.
Could you talk us through the collaboration between you on deciding the looks for the videos and artistry? And how you decided upon the key inspirations?
For videos, we always start with the story. For “When the Party Ends” Bimini wakes up at a never-ending party they can’t escape from, trying to find the way out while being pulled back by party stragglers. We love a juxtaposition so Bimini decided to wear a very soft, pink ruffled and embellished look with a tiara while in this very gritty party environment. So we looked at pictures of Courtney Love on stage, wearing a pink babydoll nightgown and a black graphic smudged liner. We also looked at photos of Pamela Anderson leaving nightclubs in the 90s, Pam is always on the mood board. Once we’ve chatted through reference points and ideas sometimes I will sketch something out but most of the time we just go for it and see where the look takes us.
Was there a particular look you had most fun with?
Myself, Bimini and hair stylist Lauren Bell had wanted to do this balding beauty concept. It was a look with a bald cap and a wig placed very far back on the head to create this gorgeous alienesque larger-than-life forehead. We planned to do it at some point during this past fashion week in London but we didn’t know what show it would be for until we saw the looks. When we finally saw all the looks we could plan what hair and makeup would be right for each show. The only look that would have been able to carry the balding beauty concept was this beautiful denim gown by Dilara Findikoglu. Because of show timings, this meant we would have an hour and a half for the changeover but because of a late show start and bad traffic that got cut down to 40 minutes. A good bald cap can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to apply but for whatever reason that day it didn’t stress me out, I think I went into a sort of delirious state and giggled my way through the whole process.
What’s exciting you right now? Whether that be beauty-related, music or anything you find is driving you creatively.
I’ve recently started studying art history in my own time. The education system never appealed to me when I was younger, I hated learning about things I wasn’t passionate about or I would only realise I was passionate about things when it was too late. So now I’m doing it at my own pace, there are so many free courses online and I’m lucky to be in London where there are some really good libraries and galleries. I’ve also been looking up a lot of beauty and makeup history. Thanks to makeup artist Erin Parsons’ TikTok I’m now obsessed with finding out about different beauty products’ origins.
Is there anyone you’d love to work with in the future?
I would love to continue to work with queer artists. I love every job but when I’m working with a queer artist there’s a certain electricity I feel coming home from work and it’s a very addictive feeling. I would love to work with Kim Petras, I think she’s so beautiful and I know she would be down to get creative. I once saw her backstage in a kitchen getting sewn into her dress before accepting an award, it was one of the most glamorously camp things I’ve ever seen.
And, finally, what are you looking forward to for the rest of this year? Anything exciting in the works?