Tom Pecheux Talks Upending Beauty Standards and Foundation Faux Pas

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tom pecheux interview
Photo: Courtesy of YSL

As a Beauty Editor, there are several figures in the industry I respect and admire, but one that tops the list is Tom Pecheux. One of the original big makeup artists, he has been a leader in the business for decades and worked with pretty much every major brand and celebrity out there. He’s also responsible for making barely there skin and smudged smoky eyes the go-to look for every supermodel he has worked with – which is basically everyone. It’s hardly surprising that YSL just snapped him up as its Global Beauty Director.

Sitting alongside Pecheux on a huge leather sofa in the VIP section of YSL’s new beauty boutique in The Dubai Mall – the largest in the world, of course – it’s hard to believe that this is the man who counts Kate Moss, Mario Testino, and Carine Roitfield as “family”. He’s warm, kind, and incredibly patient – pretty impressive seeing as he’d just conducted three makeup masterclasses for Dubai’s media and influencer crowd. He also immediately offered me one of his beloved chocolate truffles, which made me love him even more, but more on that later. Refreshingly honest and wonderfully open, Pecheux delves into the struggles he faced cracking the industry, how he has maintained his position at the top, and why he just can’t deal with cakey makeup. Here, he reveals all exclusively to Savoir Flair.

Tom Pecheux
Photo: Courtesy of YSL

You were training as a pastry chef when you met a makeup artist in a Parisian club, and everything changed. If it wasn’t for that chance encounter, how do you think your life would be different today?
Well, I met many people other than that makeup artist [laughs]. But I honestly don’t know. I hope I would be as happy as I am today, but I have no clue. I definitely would’ve still changed – maybe not from being a pastry chef, but more the way I was doing pastry back then. I still love cooking. But that meeting really did change everything.

What was the process of moving into the world of makeup like?
I had no clue what makeup was when I started. It just clicked into my head and I was like, “Okay, that’s what I want to do.” It was fascinating to me, but I had no idea what I was doing! When I started, a lot people said that the way I was applying makeup was wrong. I’d seen my mother putting on lipstick before adding two dots of it to her cheeks, and that was it. We were five kids, she had no time. People were also complaining that I didn’t have “the look”. But what does that mean? Sure, I wasn’t trendy – I came from the countryside, I was a pastry chef. I wasn’t wearing designer brands.

A lot of things could have made me stop. I never suffered, but I did have a hard time starting. I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t “connected” in the business. So I did everything possible – from wedding dress catalogues to theater to movies. Once, I even did this job where I had no idea what it was or where I was going. I did the makeup on a very voluptuous girl, and the photographer turned to me and said, “Okay, can you do her body now?” I asked to see the clothes first and he told me there weren’t any, so I ended up doing makeup on her entire body! I mean, the amount of hours I have worked for free. Well, free isn’t the right word as the payoff was what I was looking for. It was never torture because it’s what I wanted to do. And here I am! I never dreamt of being in Dubai, talking about makeup. I’m so pleased it all came true.

And it’s been over 30 years now! What do you think has changed the most in the industry since you started?
The technology, the marketing, and the amount of cosmetics. If you’re not a makeup artist, you’re definitely a makeup maker. It’s so bankable – everyone wants to be involved in makeup!

Tom pecheux makeup YSL
Photo: Courtesy of @YSLBeauty

You’ve worked with countless top beauty brands. What’s different about working with YSL?
YSL is different because it’s the first company I’ve worked with that is attached to a fashion brand. We have a tremendous, enormous archive. Mr. Saint Laurent wasn’t just a master and a genius; he also had such an incredible open mind and got inspired by the rest of the world. People always say, “He’s so French.” Yes, he was, but he had such an open mind. Even if you gave me ten percent of his open mind, I’d be in heaven!

And now you’re involved in developing the new products for YSL. What’s in the pipeline?
I am, and with a great team – luckily not by myself! Look, I’m not the kind of person who is always trying to impress the world, and I’m not the type who wants to sell bull. There’s a lot of that. So don’t expect me to change the world. We are trying to make it move forward, and that in itself is a lot to do. We are coming out with a new type of brush, but they aren’t going to weird shapes or made of the weirdest things. The will be synthetic as you have to choose – either you make something synthetic, which means plastic, or you make brushes that mean animals are suffering and dying. So I decided to do plastic. I know it’s not very green, but at least we are saving some lives!

Look, I’m not the kind of person who is always trying to impress the world, and I’m not the type who wants to sell bull. There’s a lot of that. So don’t expect me to change the world.

What is the craziest place you’ve done someone’s makeup?
Craziest place? It ranges from the toilets of a club to a palace in Saudi Arabia, where I was surrounded by gold fountains and gold Rolls-Royces. I mean, everything was gold! Fashion shows spent in the toilet are pretty good, and it’s so much fun! Whatever you do, what’s important is the result. The designer decided that their show had to be in that specific place, which was perfect for the show, but there was no space for backstage. You need space for the hair, the makeup, the models, the manicurists, the clothes – and there isn’t any. So you go to the toilet! And it’s fine.

Your mascot Pascal has quite the following himself. Of all the stars he has posed with, who’s his favorite and why?
The nice ones [chuckles]. And why? Because they’re nice! People Like Kate [Moss], Kaia [Gerber] – there are so many. I’m very spoiled thanks to the people who forgive my temper, which can be very sharp sometimes, but I’d like to believe that I’m a nice person deep inside. And because of that, I’m surrounded by nice people. I’ve been able to choose my family after 30 years, and I only choose nice people. Pascal travels with me all the time, so he only meets nice people too.

tom pecheux pascal
Photo: Courtesy of @PascalPascale

You’ve worked with all the biggest names in the industry, but is there anyone you haven’t worked with who you’d love to make over?
[Thinks long and hard] I mean, I’d love to change the way 90 percent of the girls on the red carpet do their makeup! [laughs] It has gotten better in the last couple of years, but it’s tough. People need to be educated. I’m sure I did pretty disgusting makeup when I was young without knowing, before I really learned and had access to people. So I’d say: all the young actresses who don’t have access to the top people and are working with young makeup artists with very little experience.

Most people are talented, but it’s like piano – you need to practice. You can be talented, but don’t have the experience. It’s like when people get married. They want to look beautiful, so they call and pay a makeup artist. And most of the time, it’s a disaster! If you’re a makeup artist and think that the bride doesn’t need much makeup, you do just a little bit. But then the bride thinks, “I paid all that money for just that?” On the other hand, the makeup artist often thinks, “Okay, I’ve been paid a lot, so I have to do a lot of makeup.” And then the bride looks awful – or worse, she doesn’t look like herself!

Most of the time, they make you look like somebody else. So you’ll look at your wedding photo and think, “That’s not me!” It’s about trust, experience, and finding the right balance between you and the person you are working with. One of my best teachers was Linda Evangelista. She was a master of makeup because she worked with all the best makeup artists around the world. I was working with her once and she grabbed my makeup brush and said, “Look baby, I’m going to show you!” And then she did.

Tom Pecheux bella hadid
Photo: Courtesy of @TomPecheux

Who is your ultimate beauty icon, and why?
Kate Moss. She’s alive, she’s human. She’s full of imperfections, but that’s what makes her perfect. And she’s such, such a sweet person – you want to cover her with kisses.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The sharing. The last masterclass today was so different from the first two, and I’m going to speak very honestly. I was giving during the first two, which is great. I have no problem with that. But I felt I received much more than I gave in the last one. They were spoilt women, I mean you saw the size of their jewelry and everything. They have much more than you and I have put together, but you can see it in their eyes – every word you say makes them sparkle. They are excited and want more and, suddenly, you create this energy of giving and receiving, which is very magical. That’s what I love.

It can be anything – a moment with a model on a chair or with the people who are there every day in the office. They can work so hard on a project and then someone at the top just says, “No.” You get so angry and think all sorts of words [laughs]. But that really creates a connection. It’s those difficult moments, like doing makeup in the toilets, that seal people with each other.

And what would be the worst part of your job?
Jet lag!

What’s your secret? How do you overcome it?
No secret! I was in bed at 9 p.m. last night with a little sleeping pill.

Ah, that’s the secret!
[laughs] Maybe! I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I eat healthily – maybe too healthily.

But you like your chocolates, so that’s good. (a box of Lindt chocolates has been rapidly emptying throughout the interview)
Oh, I will never give that up. I’ll be eating chocolate when I’m dead. Let’s have another one?

Tom Pecheux makeup
Photo: Courtesy of @YSLBeauty

What’s your favorite beauty trend at the moment?
One that means my client leaves the chair and says thank you.

I hope they always say thank you!
Well, they should, but certain ones ‘forget’ sometimes, let’s say. Bad manners are everywhere!

What do you think will be big in the world of makeup next year?
I truly don’t know because fashion is moving extremely fast, but cosmetics are moving quite slowly. Creating a trend in makeup is much harder than creating a trend in fashion. I’m not saying that beauty follows fashion, but I do think they’re connected to each other – and fashion is all over the place right now. I don’t know what word to use for that. Some people say it’s ‘confused’, but I think it’s more that people are ‘free’. I think there’s a real freedom to do whatever you want, and people are so afraid to be commercial. Because of that, there are millions of trends.

Makeup can be all over the place, too, but people want to feel beautiful in the end. If that means wearing a dark lip, they can do a dark lip. If they want to do matte skin, they do matte skin. I don’t personally have to like it, but I respect it. I think that, at the moment, we are being taught to respect individuality and differences, even when you have Kim Kardashian telling us to be all cakey and the same. Still, she looks amazing – but she looks amazing without it! Usually, people with all that cakey makeup are the ones trying to hide something else going on underneath.

Is there a makeup trend you wish didn’t exist?
Thick foundation. I thought the crowd here might throw tomatoes at me when I kept saying “natural skin”, but it’s a different vision. For French people, it’s a quick dot of makeup on the face. Here, ‘natural’ means something totally different!

What’s your favorite beauty look to create?
I just love to make people feel beautiful. I want them to be happy when they leave my chair, and to not want to take off their makeup because they feel so good. They suddenly want to book a babysitter and get their husbands to take them out, or go out with their friends. Things like that make me very happy.

Creativity is fascinating, but for very specific occasions. It doesn’t work on a daily basis. I don’t mind creating crazy makeup for a show – if that’s the designer’s vision – but it works for that. Then again, we live in a world where everything is different and, if everybody thought like I did, I might be at home begging for the phone to ring.

Complete the sentence: To me, beauty is…
What drives me.

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