Kevyn Aucoin, famed makeup artist to the stars who touched the faces and hearts of celebrities and fans, died Tuesday in New York from complications relating to a pituitary brain tumor in New York. He was 40.
Aucoin, author of the bestselling “Face Forward,” was the top choice for many key industry faces ranging from Britney Spears and Julia Roberts to Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. Celebrities such as Cher, Oprah Winfrey and Janet Jackson insisted on Aucoins services.
A prolific and successful artist, Aucoin perfected faces for more magazine covers than any other professional in his field; publication covers and spreads including Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Glamour and Rolling Stone.
Adopted at 1 month old (the first of four adoptees in the family) and a teenager during the 1970s in Lafayette, La., he started off photographing and said that he realized his pics weren’t as good as magazines’ because of makeup, and thus his inspiration for pursuing that.
But he had an independent streak all along. He was fired from a local department store’s cosmetics counter following his interpretation of the company’s rigid dress code to mean a red plastic coat and leopard-print tie.
Inspired by Barbra Streisand’s individuality and aware of his own challenge as gay, he faced down threats and violence, pursued makeup training and moved to Baton Rouge with Jed Root, later his agent. Eventually he moved to New York in the early 1980s and worked for a big break as a makeup artist.
It came from Vogue when he accompanied a model friend to an interview and showed off some of his photos. His career took off from there. He worled with editor Polly Mellen, photogs Richard Avedon (his first Vogue shoot, with Meg Tilly) and Herb Ritts among others, a new model named Cindy Crawford, and many more.
“He had such a rapid rise because he was so extraordinarily talented,” said Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine, where Aucoin had a column until February this year.
He started off doing the makeup for at least 18 Vogue covers including nine in a row in the late 1980s, as well as seven for Cosmopolitan. But it was his commercial work, products line and book that became most lucrative.
Besides “Face Forward,” he penned “Making Faces” and “The Art of Makeup.” In “Face Forward,” Aucoin showed how just about any face can be turned into screen icons, even making his 66-year-old mother into Marlene Dietrich and Martha Stewart into Veronica Lake.
In the meantime, he had found his birthparents, two half-brothers and half-sisters. Other survivors include members of his adoptive family and his partner, Jeremy Antunes.
Services were pending.