Kevyn James Aucoin
February 14, 1962
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||May 7, 2002 (aged 40)|
Valhalla, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Kidney and liver failure due to acetaminophen toxicity|
|Resting place||Holy Mary Mother of God Cemetery|
|Occupation||Makeup artist, photographer, author|
|Partner(s)||Jeremy Antunes (1999-2002)|
Aucoin was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, with his parents Isidore Adrian Aucoin and Thelma Suzanne Melancon, who adopted him as an infant through Catholic Charities of Alexandria, Louisiana. He had three siblings, Carla, Kim, and Keith, all of whom were adopted as well.
Aucoin was interested in makeup from the time he was a child, and frequently did his sisters' makeup and photographed the results with a Polaroid camera—something he'd do throughout his career. Afraid to buy makeup, he would shoplift it. The guilt of stealing and fear of getting caught made him stop.
He realized he was gay at age six, and was frequently bullied at school. His parents were initially in denial of their son's emerging sexual orientation; his mother later said, "I didn't think Kevyn was a sissy; I just thought he was a gentle child." In one instance, a teacher spanked his bare buttocks in class, which Aucoin later regarded as sexual abuse. The bullying continued in high school, and he dropped out after being chased by several classmates in a truck. He enrolled in beauty school and had hoped to learn more about applying makeup, but ended up teaching the class instead.
At 18, Aucoin worked in a small corner of an exclusive women's store in Lafayette. But the women were uncomfortable with a man doing their makeup. Thelma Aucoin recalled, "It was $30 for a makeup lesson, and these were women who paid $3,000 for a dress, but they'd never let him."
In 1982, Aucoin moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hoping to start a career as a makeup artist. While in Baton Rouge, he was assaulted by a security guard at Godchaux's, a local department store. He was there with male friends to check out new makeup, when the guard approached them and said "upstairs or downtown," meaning they could be taken to the store's security office or be arrested. Aucoin and his friends opted for the security office, where they were beaten by security personnel. Fearing for his life, he decided to move to New York City with his then-boyfriend Jed Root (who sometimes posed as his manager) to begin his career.
When he first arrived in New York, Aucoin was putting makeup on test models for free to build up his portfolio before he was discovered by Vogue. For the next year and a half, he worked daily with Vogue photographer Steven Meisel. In the three years following his first Vogue shoot, he did a total of 18 more. In 1984, he collaborated on Revlon's Nakeds line, the first line based solely on skin tones. However, his Vogue cover shoot with supermodel Cindy Crawford in 1986 took his career in a new direction. During 1987-89, he did nine Vogue covers in a row, and an additional seven Cosmopolitan covers. At his peak, he would often be booked months in advance and could command as much as $6,000 for a makeup session.
— Kevyn Aucoin
His motto was that it was far more important to help a woman feel beautiful no matter what, and that makeup was simply his tool for helping her discover herself. A proponent of the philosophy that every woman is beautiful within, he was one of the best-paid celebrity make-up artists in history. He began writing a column for Allure. A comment he made in a 2000 column, calling members of the National Rifle Association "morons" drew a record amount of mail for the column and a few death threats. He would refuse to do the make-up of models he felt were too young.
In 1983, Revlon hired Kevyn Aucoin, at the age of 21, as Creative Director for their prestige Ultima II line of cosmetics. A year later, Aucoin would launch The New Nakeds (later renamed The Nakeds), a groundbreaking line that was a strong counterpoint to cosmetics available at the time. Says Linda Wells, editor of Allure magazine, of the line: "It may not seem like it, but it was a powerful moment. Before, there were makeup lines for white women and others for black women. But he worked to design makeup for all skin tones. The idea was to empower a woman by revealing her natural beauty, and not to cover her up with layers of product."
The New Nakeds embraced a radically different aesthetic than the norm of the time: foundations that featured a yellow undertone, instead of pink or peach; eyeshadows, lipstick and blushes were brown-based, neutral tones that were free of the pastel, vivid, or sparkly colors cosmetics companies knew sold better. Although Ultima II (and all of Revlon's beauty divisions) were in a decline at the time, the New Nakeds resuscitated interest in the brand and help re-establish Ultima II as a viable competitor in the prestige arena.
The colors, textures and finishes Aucoin created in the New Nakeds would serve as the most influential direction of the latter part of the century, and visible as brands MAC, Bobbi Brown, and Laura Mercier all launched with their version of the products Aucoin created years earlier.
Later, Aucoin would work with Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido on their Inoui line. He would later be approached by both Vincent Longo and Laura Mercier to endorse their eponymous lines, but decided to launch his own brand, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, in 2001 instead.
Aucoin worked with hundreds of celebrities including Madonna, Whitney Houston, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Janet Jackson Tina Turner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lisa Marie Presley, Courtney Love and Vanessa L. Williams. He began publishing his work in books: The Art of Makeup, Making Faces, and Face Forward, two of which became Time magazine best sellers; Making Faces debuted at number one. The books featured celebrities, as well as everyday men and women, including his mother, in makeup and costume (and sometimes prosthetics) designed to make them look like other celebrities or historical figures. He transformed Tori Amos into Mary, Queen of Scots, Celine Dion into Maria Callas, Lisa Marie Presley into Marilyn Monroe, Christina Ricci into Édith Piaf, Hilary Swank into Raquel Welch, Winona Ryder into Elizabeth Taylor, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins into Josephine Baker and Martha Stewart into Veronica Lake, among others.
Aucoin made appearances on Good Morning America and The Oprah Winfrey Show. He also appeared as himself in an episode of Sex and the City called "The Real Me" (Season 4, Episode 2), doing Carrie Bradshaw's makeup for a fashion show during New York Fashion Week. In addition, he appeared with Cher in "Gypsies, Tramps, and Weed" (Season 3, Episode 7) of Will & Grace [he's in the restaurant scene at the end when Jack mistakes Cher for a drag queen].
Aucoin also appeared as an interview subject (along with dancer Bill T. Jones and explorer Ann Bancroft) in Oliver Button is a Star!, a video reinterpretation of Tomie dePaola's children's book "Oliver Button Is a Sissy."
Aucoin lived with his partner, Jeremy Antunes, whom he began dating in 1999, married in an unofficial ceremony in Hawaii in 2000 and thereafter referred to as his husband. He had also previously been romantically involved with Eric Sakas, who remained a close friend after their breakup and became president and creative director of Kevyn Aucoin Beauty.
Aucoin also obtained legal guardianship of his niece Samantha, then 15, who was living with Aucoin and Antunes.
In September 2001, after having increasing amounts of back pain and headaches, Aucoin was diagnosed with a rare pituitary tumor. He had been suffering from acromegaly resulting from the tumor for much of his life, but it had gone undiagnosed. He underwent a successful surgery and had the tumor removed, but continued to experience pain.
Aucoin began taking increasing amounts of prescription and non-prescription painkillers to ease his physical and mental suffering. Antunes implored Aucoin to get help, and while Aucoin tried to recover, he could not stop the drug use entirely. Antunes went to Paris for a week to be alone, and in that time, Aucoin became ill and was hospitalized. Antunes' leaving Aucoin for what became the last week of his life created animosity between Aucoin's family and Antunes, resulting in Antunes being locked out of the home he shared with Aucoin.
Aucoin died on May 7, 2002 at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York of kidney and liver failure due to acetaminophen toxicity, caused by prescription painkillers. Despite his instructions that his ashes be scattered in Hawaii where he was married, Aucoin's remains are buried with his mother in Louisiana.
Kevyn Aucoin: A Beautiful Life—The Success, Struggles, and Beauty Secrets of a Legendary Makeup Artist was published in 2003 by Atria Books and Simon and Schuster. The book was edited by Kerry Diamond and reviewed Aucoin's career through celebrity interviews, his beauty tips and techniques, and over 250 photographs. The Kevyn Aucoin Beauty brand continues his legacy to this day and is available at Barneys New York, Beauty.com, Bergdorf Goodman, Beautylish.com, Nigel Beauty Emporium, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sephora, Space.NK, b-glowing.com and other retailers.
In popular culture
The Tori Amos song "Taxi Ride" from her 2002 album Scarlet's Walk is a partial homage to Aucoin. He made a cameo appearance in a fourth season episode (Episode 2: "The Real Me") of the long-running HBO series Sex and the City.
Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast In Me, a documentary film directed by Lori Kaye & produced by Putti Media that features Aucoin's own personal videos to tell his life story, premiered as the documentary centerpiece at Outfest in July 2017 and had its U.S. TV debut on Logo TV on September 14, 2017. The film was featured in the 125th anniversary (September 2017) issue of Vogue Magazine.
Director Tiffany Bartok's feature-length documentary Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story portrays Aucoin's rich, beautiful and complicated life through the story of his groundbreaking career and the inspiring legacy he left behind. The film depicts Aucoin as the pivotal individual who made beauty a cutthroat, high-stakes profession set amidst the 1990s supermodel era as well as the rise of Hollywood's red carpet phenomenon at the turn of the new millennium and explosion of the global beauty business. Bartok also reveals Aucoin's role as an early LGBTQ activist struggling to live openly as a young gay man in his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana and then, near the end of his life, forming a same-sex partnership and a family of his own. It also uncovers the mystery surrounding Aucoin's untimely death in 2002. Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story held its world premiere at the 25th Hamptons Film Festival in October 2017 and its New York City premiere at DOC NYC in November 2017. The film was produced in association with Vinyl Foote Productions and Matador Content. Producers were Jayce Bartok, Bronwyn Cosgrave and Troy Surratt; executive producers were Todd Lubin, Jay Peterson, Bobby Kondrat, and Jack Turner.
- The Art of Makeup, Harper-Collins Publishers. 1994. 176p. illus. (ISBN 0-060-17186-3)
- The Art of Makeup, Perennial Currents. 1996. 176p. illus. (ISBN 0-062-73042-8)
- Making Faces, Little, Brown. 1999. 160p. illus. (ISBN 0-316-28686-9, ISBN 0-316-28685-0)
- Face Forward, Little, Brown. 2000. 175p. illus. (ISBN 0-316-28644-3, ISBN 0-316-28705-9)
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- "Kevyn Aucoin Passes Away at 40". thedent.com. 2002-07-24. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
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- "Brand Kevyn Aucoin Beauty: Bring out the celebrity in you". Beauty & Glamour. 2008. Archived from the original on 2016-10-21. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
- Galvin, Peter (November 15, 1994). "Super Makeup Man". The Advocate: 96. ISSN 0001-8996. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
- Broverman, Neal (2017-09-14). "Remembering the Flawed Beauty of Makeup God Kevyn Aucoin". The Advocate. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
- Aucoin, Kevyn; Cruz, Clarissa (May 24, 2002), "LEGACY". Entertainment Weekly (655):21
- Abel, Olivia (May 20, 2002), "Passages". People. 57 (19):81
- (2003-12-23), "Kevyn Aucoin: A Beautiful Life (Book)". Advocate (905):50
- "DOC NYC 2017 Women Directors: Meet Tiffany Bartok — "Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story"". Women and Hollywood. 2017-11-15. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
- "Alan Cumming, Tori Amos, and More Attend the 2017 Emery Awards Honoring Kevyn Aucoin". Vogue. Retrieved 2017-11-22.