Ever wondered where contoured cheeks, overdrawn lips, and highlighter got their start? Well, you can thank the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin for bringing these techniques to the forefront. In fact, you can probably credit him for the vast majority of viral trends seen on social media and the red carpet today.
If you’re unfamiliar with his work, know this: Aucoin changed the face of beauty. He worked with some of the biggest names in fashion — from Cindy Crawford to Kate Moss — and was known for his unrivaled makeup magic and soft touch. But, unlike the exclusive makeup artist set that ruled the industry in the ’90s, he wanted everyone to be in on the secret.
“Kevyn was one of the first makeup artists to pull the curtain back and allow people to see inside this fantasy world of beauty pop culture,” says Troy Surratt, a makeup artist in New York City who got his start as Aucoin’s assistant. And though he passed away in 2002, his work lives on — both through his eponymous makeup line, many tutorial-based books, and the upcoming documentary centered around his influence, titled Larger Than Life, The Kevyn Aucoin Story. Below, Surratt takes us through the trends Aucoin pioneered decades ago, that will remain industry-defining for years to come.
Dusting a light, shimmery shadow onto the inner corners of your eyes is a common practice among makeup artists today, but it was Aucoin who first inspired the trend after spending time with his infant niece: “When she was a baby, he noticed how the light reflected in her eyes and thought it looked so beautiful,” says Surratt. “From then on, he always used shimmer around the tear ducts to give that starry-eyed effect.”
The quickest way to create the illusion of a fuller pout, sans injections, is with lip liner. But before Aucoin, the trend lacked the naturalness that we strive for today. “He paid great attention to the balance and symmetry of the lips and was one of the first to use a flesh-toned lip liner to enhance them,” says Surratt. Now, over-lining is as much the norm as the lipstick itself — and can look natural, as long as you opt for the right hue.
These days, you may look to Kim K.’s makeup artist, Mario Dedivanovic, for contouring inspo. But it was Aucoin who was the OG sculptor. “Before YouTube videos and how-to’s spilled the beauty industry’s secrets, Kevyn was known for his facial transformations,” says Surratt. “He truly understood the power of lighting and shading, and used that to his advantage to accentuate cheekbones, the jawline, and the nose.” Makes sense: His simple sculpting powder set the tone for contour because of, well, the tone — it’s a taupe-y hue that mimics a shadow.
Chloë-Grace-Moretz-level arches weren’t always a sought-after look. “Kevyn was obsessed with eyebrows and appreciated how they framed your face,” says Surratt. “The way he embraced the shape — by lifting the arches and brushing the hairs outward toward the tail — really put brows on the map. I can still recognize his work to this day by that feature alone.”
If you know anything about Aucoin, and you’ll know the eyelash curler from his eponymous line is a long-standing best-seller. “That was Kevyn’s number one thing,” says Surratt. “He always told people, ‘It’s the easiest thing you can do, yet it has the most impact.'” And it’s true: Flipping your lashes upward allows more light onto the eye itself, so they look bigger and brighter. “Leaving them uncurled can leave them looking two to three times shorter,” he says.
While he made a name for himself as the ultimate makeup master, Aucoin’s legacy goes beyond the beauty industry — instead, his real message was one of love and acceptance. And for Surratt, that’s what has left a lasting impression: “As a gay man from a small town in Kansas, I wasn’t comfortable with myself. Kevyn was the first person to give me a home where I could feel loved and good enough, just as I am.”
Surratt pauses, then adds: “He used makeup to spread love and happiness to other people, and that means so much more than a contoured cheekbone or perfectly curled lashes. Getting to stand by him as he changed lives with his talent and heart, I knew, in those moments, that I was the luckiest boy in the world.”
Larger Than Life, The Kevyn Aucoin Story is currently in post-production and will be presented to potential buyers at the Toronto International Film Festival.