Electrified, very young, by the discovery of MAC in Henri Bendel's corner in New York - anomalous compared to the counter of other cosmetic brands, something "never seen before, where, instead of fake posh sales people, there were tattooed guys, with mohawks» - Terry Barber began working for the Canadian brand when he opened at Harvey Nichols, in London, in '93 . "It was like staying at Studio 54: the clubbing scene met with us, to experiment with the most extravagant looks". With a philosophy of “All ages, all races, all genders”, the brand, founded in 1984 by Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo, introduces into cosmetics those that have only recently become acclaimed values of fashion: no gender and inclusiveness. In a provocative and irreverent path, making the most of the idea of beauty of imperfection and makeup as a creative expression of individuality, with clear-cut positions, such as the Viva Glam campaign to raise funds to help vulnerable communities most affected by 'AIDS, when the stigma of right-thinking people still weighed on the disease.
«MAC did not aim to shock, but to propose a new idea of normality, staging the determination of the members of the subcultures to be free. Not for nothing was it the first brand to take a drag queen like RuPaul as a testimonial. And the first to immeasurably expand the color palette: the other brands sold luxury, MAC sold the street fashion and pop culture».
Without forgetting the innovative formulations of the products, designed for the needs of professional makeup artists and photo shoots, such as Barber's favorite, Face and Body Foundation. Today the director of makeup artistry for the UK and Europe, Barber bases his aesthetic on the adolescent fascination for the 1970s David Bowie and the 90s ideal of emotional beauty.
"I liked makeup artists like Pat McGrath and Mickey Mouse, and especially Dick Page: his work for Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein was incredibly essential and stylish." Among the most exciting moments of his career he cites the cover for V with Grace Jones shot by Jean-Paul Goude and the first cover for iD, but also the backstage work with Val Garland for the Alexander McQueen fashion shows, "everything I love concentrated in a show, the idea of aristocracy in a sinking ship (the reference is to the introductory film of the Irere collection SS2003). If a makeup looks too structured it leaves me indifferent, I find it cold. I still prefer an intentional smudge to the perfect line».
Barber “despairs” that there’s a monolithic ideal of beauty today, shaped by celebrities that promote a singular groomed and perfected image. “Makeup dealt with identity rather than a template of perception,” the artist reflects. “Now, it’s been decided for you, and you have to abide by it or don’t bother. There’s a lack of experimentation, a lack of deconstructing things, pulling things apart, creating accidents, making your share of mistakes.”
It’s these imperfections and alternative views of beauty that Barber likes to highlight in his own work. On Instagram, Barber juxtaposes his high fashion makeup looks with everyday objects, from chocolate bars to toilet paper rolls. With these uncanny references, the artist remarks on how makeup can be seedy, moody, or just downright filthy. One choice caption on a post picturing a composite of smudged, kohl-rimmed eyes and a burnt match simply says, “ANGST. This is not anti-beauty, it’s just life.”
Predictions for the future? "It's an interesting moment, the pandemic will create a revolution, enough consumerism, perfection and unreachability, enough obsessive attention to one's own image: in the last decade the boring perfection of social networks has dominated, now I hope the youth subcultures propose a more emotional vision".