The Ariane Poole Interview
In a career spanning 40+ years in the make-up and beauty industry, Ariane Poole remains a force to be reckoned with. Having originally left her native Canada for the UK in 1979, she quickly rose to become one of the country's top freelance make-up artists, and she went on to create editorial looks for a host of A-list faces and brands. Throughout her career, Ariane has worked alongside world-class photographers such as Mario Testino, David Bailey, John Swannell, and Brian Aris, and it is her brilliant work, as part of Aris' elite team, that we focus on here. Ariane still recalls the make-up looks she created for Mel & Kim, and the tricks she employed to ensure they were at their stunning best. However, it appears to be the girls’ warmth, their zest for life and the rare bond they shared as sisters, that has left the strongest impression.
Ariane, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
It’s lovely to speak with you!
You relocated to the UK after being headhunted by Biba. Was a move to the UK always in your plans?
(Laughs) no. When I completed my degree in Cosmetology in Canada, I had no idea where my career would take me! I had been busy forging a name for myself in Vancouver, when I was head hunted by Biba, to be their resident make-up artist, and so I moved to London in 1979, where the fashion and beauty scene were at the height of change. It was a really exciting time.
Reaching your level of success in such a competitive and ever-changing industry is incredible, and it does appear that, today more than ever, the skills of a good make-up artist are really being recognised and celebrated.
Oh absolutely! It's wonderful. When I got arrived in the UK, there were probably about 10 freelance make-up artists working professionally, and I was one of them, but obviously I was not number 1 or 2 - I was probably 9 or 10 (laughs). Now, there are so many make-up artists and it's still challenging for the young people who are coming through, but it's a different type of challenge. Back then, you had to convince people that they needed a make-up artist, so it was very tough, but it was also exciting and the thing was, I didn’t know any different. We were all just forging our way in this industry which I still absolutely love.
Throughout your career, you have worked with so many famous people. Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta Jones, Rachel Weiss, Uma Thurman... the list is expansive.
I think I've had a blessed working career, to be honest with you. I've had the honour of working with so many well-known names, and what I like is that all of them are, pretty much, genuinely nice people.
With Mel & Kim, do you recall the first time you worked with the girls?
Yes. I was booked by Brian Aris, who I worked with many times, to do their make-up for a shoot in Cosmopolitan Magazine. It was when they were releasing the single [Respectable] and the album, and I remember it was Kathleen Bray [hair stylist] and myself, and actually, I think there was another make-up artist - Jane Goddard - as well, as we were up against it. Anyway, that was the first time I met the girls, and they were just lovely to work with. They really were wonderful!
Ariane, on her first shoot with the girls, for Cosmopolitan magazine: "It's the clothes and accessories that date this, but you can see the eyebrows have structure in the way they have now. The smokey eye, the blending - everything would work today".
The post-punk 80s saw some strong make-up looks. Was there talk of pushing boundaries with the girls' make-up, and lots of planning beforehand?
No, we were just briefed when we got in in there on how the girls wanted to look and it grew organically. With the make-up, it was always the classic thing. You’re evening out the skin, you’re getting rid of dark circles, you’re creating a sexy, smokey eye - that kind of thing. The make-up wasn't crazy, even though, at that time, it was crazier make-up. Mel & Kim wanted something much more classic and they wanted to look beautiful rather than 'different'. The only place where they had something a little quirky and fun, and a little bit different, was with the brilliant job Kathleen did with the hair, and it was beautiful. Nowadays, even when I do London Fashion Week to do the catwalk shows, we have meetings to put the looks together beforehand, but in the 80s and 90s, we never did that. We just arrived (laughs).
Mel & Kim were very new to professional session work. How did they adapt to that environment and what was the atmosphere like whilst getting 'camera ready'?
They handled it all so well and they definitely weren’t divas! (laughs). I’ve done some shoots where you have new singers coming in and they think that they are already 'the top thing', and they act diva-ish. Those two young ladies - they were just amazing! They were professional, they were fun, and they were so open and chatty - we had such a laugh. The big fun though was when Kathleen was doing the hair. I know you spoke with Kathleen, and I'm sure she will have said the same thing. That was when we were having a real giggle and a laugh. To be honest with you, they were quiet when we were doing the make-up because, if they were moving around too much, I didn't wanna poke them in the eye with my mascara brush, or anything (laughs). That wouldn’t be a good thing. The shoots we did together were always upbeat and positive and the atmosphere on the days that we shot was really, really wonderful.
What about in front of the camera?
I just remember there being a real sense of fun in front of the camera. Brian shoots such beautiful pictures of celebrities. He’s got this wonderful way of lighting them and he was great at putting people at ease. The girls followed his direction fantastically and got the job done, but it wasn’t all serious or anything like that. They were having a fun time and you could see that they really enjoyed each other’s company. I've noticed, when I am doing actors and actresses and singers... they’re very comfortable when they are in their own environment i.e., on stage in front of an audience, or on film, but when they have to have a photo shoot done, a lot of them tense up and they get very stiff. There was no stiffness or any awkward moments with the girls though. In fact, I think there are probably some pictures that you didn’t see, where they were acting a little bit goofy and silly, and just being sisterly in a very lovely way. It was just really, really fun.
Brian went on to shoot the cover for the F.L.M. album. Did you also do the girls’ make-up on that shoot?
Yes. I definitely did that album session and I absolutely love that album cover. Again, it was Kathleen and myself, the girls, Brian and his assistant - that's all. Very unlike today! The girls brought their own clothes, there wasn't a stylist, or anything like that, but the way Brian shot the girls, and his conceptual vision for that shoot, meant that we got such a brilliant result. It is beautiful. I remember I was so thrilled when I saw the album in the shops that I went out and bought it – and I still have it (laughs!) I was so proud.
"I used a warm, ivory-ish colour to highlight the inner eye - nothing too shimmery. I always do that as I think it opens the eye up"
Brian’s photographs marked a clear shift in Mel & Kim's image, both with the use of hair and with a noticeably more natural approach to make-up - something which also fits your personal philosophy that ‘You should notice the woman, not the make-up’.
Yes definitely. I’m known in the industry for my very natural make-up and my ‘smokey eye’, so when I was doing Mel & Kim’s make-up for the cover, I was doing those looks. I just wanted to make them look beautiful and stunning and gorgeous! In some of the pictures. you will see that the girls’ make-up is quite natural but Brian wanted us to go a little bit stronger. He is not one of these men who is afraid of looking at make-up. He sees that it can be something that enhances the person’s beauty, rather than take away from it and he likes women to look glamorous and sexy, but not sexual - there is a difference. Brian wanted the girls to look gorgeous, so he was always saying to me, ‘add a little more, Ariane’. ‘You can go a little stronger’ (laughs).
(Laughs) and what about the girls themselves – were they open to your suggestions on what make-up would suit them, or did they have their own idea of what they wanted?
What I found that was so lovely about Mel & Kim was that they really embraced my ideas. They hadn’t really done a smokey eye before, and when I showed them that look, they could see that it wasn't looking like they had been punched in the eye or anything (laughs) and they were so open to doing it. I thought that was fantastic because we were trying to reflect their personalities and not put our stamp on it
Were there any challenges with Mel & Kim's make-up?
Well, they were concerned that I couldn’t do darker skin, but as soon as I did the base - I'm really well known for evening up people's complexions - once I showed them that I could keep it to their own skin tone and make sure that their skin was radiant, rather than ashy, they were fine. With the smokey eye too, I know this sounds strange but black has a lot of white in it, and so it looks very ashy on darker skin tones, but if you mix navy blue into it, you get a really rich kind of shade that works really well.
Oh, interesting. We hadn’t noticed the blue...
Yes, nobody would know there was any navy blue in there, but navy gives that richness to the black or brown, or whatever colour that you are using it with. It works really well, and you get a really rich shade and a great colour. That's what I used on the girls for the F.L.M. album cover.
"You know when you can see that two people really love and respect each other, and they’re looking out for each other? That is what they were like".
Post-Kardashian, we often hear people refer to ‘contouring’, like it is something new, yet it has been around for years, hasn’t it?
I know. That’s what makes me laugh! I mentor a lot of up-and-coming make-up artists, and they are all going on about the ‘contouring’ thing, but it has been around forever. It just goes in and out of fashion. In the 90s, it was all those pale, no make-up - almost grungey - kinds of looks. However, with Mel & Kim, I wanted them to look beautiful, and that little bit of contouring giving more structure to the face shape, is absolutely stunning - and like you said, it hasn't changed. It's been around for years (laughs).
The make-up looks you created for Mel & Kim have a classic timeless quality which would work as well today as it did 30+ years ago.
Yes absolutely! What I love about that Mel & Kim cover is that it actually stands the test of time. It doesn't look dated! Whereas, I was looking back on some of the stuff I did for Vogue - it definitely dated (laughs) - but you could take that look from the album and put it out now, and nobody would think it was out of place. Even if you look at the Cosmopolitan Magazine shots, where Mel wears the vibrant pink dress. It is the clothes and the accessories that really date the pictures but you can see the eyebrows have structure in the way that eyebrows have now - the smokey eye, the blending and everything - you could take that make-up and put it out now. Looking back at some of the pictures you sent me, and some of the clothes - oh my gosh, I had to laugh! The clothes weren’t always that great! I remember that era very well (laughs). The clothes are definitely dating (laughs) but the make-up would work just as well today.
And, of course, it was the pre-digital age where mistakes couldn’t be fixed in post-production. That must have required much more attention to detail, on shoots.
Oh my gosh, yes (laughs). Kathleen and I used to stand right in beside Brian, almost like we were glued to him. We were there waiting, looking at the Polaroids, making sure everything was OK, and if either of the girls were shiny or the hair was out of place, we would ask Brian to stop shooting and run in there and fix it. That means that the lighting, and everything you see on the 'F.L.M.' album cover, was down to Brian’s brilliant lighting and the make-up skills, and the hair skills on set. That's not blowing my own horn or anything like that, it’s just that we didn’t have that luxury of saying ‘oh well, they can Photoshop it out later’. You’d have one chance and one opportunity to get it right, and if it wasn’t good then you would not be working with that photographer again - or anybody for that matter. If it had been the modern day, then those shots would have been airbrushed all over the place but, back then, it had to be perfect.
There does appear to be a heavy reliance on Photoshop and the re-toucher by some of the make-up artists and hairdressers of today, doesn’t there?
Yes, and it’s such a shame. For me, it’s always about getting it right in the first place, rather than relying on re-touching in post-production. If you know your craft, you take a pride in what you do. When I’m mentoring or teaching, I always say to my students that, if they are thinking of doing any red-carpet events or film work then they need to be able to get it spot on because they won’t be able to fix it later. It's funny, I did a shoot recently and the photographer actually said to me, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have to retouch’. He was genuinely shocked (laughs). I was telling Kathleen about it, and she said, ‘Yeah, I get that all the time too’, so it’s obvious that we ‘older ones’, when we are working, we save on retouching. Great! (laughs)
"They really embraced my ideas. The girls hadn’t really done a smokey eye before, and when I showed them that look, they were so open to doing it."
That must have created a high level of pressure to deliver a ‘look’ perfectly?
Yes (laughs). There was a lot of pressure to get it right. I remember that I used to have this Bourgeois Blush, which smelt like Parma violets and when I would get stressed, I used to just stand there and sniff it (laughs), because it was very calming and relaxing. There was nothing else that you could do so, if I felt stressed, I would just sniff my blush! (laughs). It sounds very strange, but it worked. It was a lot of pressure. Sometimes you would look at a Polaroid and see that, because of where you had been standing, you had created a shadow, so you needed to make the make-up a little bit stronger or a little bit softer, or something. You had to be really aware and on the ball, you couldn’t just let it pass. That said, on the Mel & Kim shoots, I just remember there being a great atmosphere, and I put that down to the girls’ interaction with each other and their relationship as sisters. You know, I’ve done so many shoots, but I count those shoots with the girls as some of the best and nicest I’ve done. They were so lovely to work with, just wonderful.
How would you describe Mel & Kim?
I would describe them as bubbly, outgoing, fun loving, great sense of humour. They were the kind of girls you could sit down and have lunch with, or go for coffee with, and just have a really nice chat, and they were really... I don’t know how to put this into words... really looking out for each other. You could see there was a genuine bond between them and a loving sisterly relationship. It wasn't being put on for the camera or anything like that. When they were just sitting, talking to each other, they were laughing and touching each other, and hugging each other, and things like that. It wasn't put on for anyone else and it was just lovely. There was a genuine warmth that you felt between the girls. You knew that they wanted the other one to be good and to do well. It wasn’t like, ‘this is my show, step out of the way. I’m in the limelight’. They had so much love and respect for each other and it was just lovely. They were really wonderful, as sisters, together.
That certainly came across clearly in interview footage with the sisters.
Yes, it really did. I remember watching them on a talk show when Respectable came out, and they were brilliant on there. That talk show was exactly how they were on the photo shoots. Lively, bubbly and literally embracing and enjoying life. At that time, I don’t know if anybody knew that Mel was ill or anything like that, because she didn’t appear unwell, so when that came out later on... oh my gosh, it was such a shock and really very, very sad. I felt it was so sad, because their career was cut really short, too soon. It was just too soon, you know?
And that depth of relationship and bond between siblings is not common, especially within the pressures of the entertainment industry, is it?
No, not at all. I’ve been around the music industry since 1979 and I’ve very very rarely come across that sort of relationship. I know that working with your brother or your sister can be hard, and I know it’s not necessarily the norm to have that type of lovely relationship with a sibling, but it was definitely genuine between those girls. It was just refreshing and nice. They loved each other and they put the other one first, and that’s a really wonderful thing.
Ariane, thank you so much.
Thank you, it's been lovely.
For more information on Ariane, and her make-up brand Ariane Poole Cosmetics, please go to: