Gray Area: Chanel Is Redefining Monochrome Makeup as We Know It

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Chanel noir et blanc makeup collection
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel Beauty

If someone told me I’d be rocking black glossy lips teamed with a graphic smoky eye, black nails, and high-shine skin this season, I’d say that’s as likely as Kylie Jenner swearing off makeup – until I discovered ‘Noir et Blanc de Chanel’, that is.

For the non-Francophiles among us, the name of Chanel’s new collection literally translates as ‘Black and White’. Created by Lucia Pica, Chanel’s Global Makeup Artist and Color Designer, it’s all about the duality between light and dark, playful and tantalizing textures, and – you guessed it – monochrome makeup.

“This collection is called ‘Noir et Blanc’ – so ‘Black and White’ – and my starting point for the collection was those two colors. They’re the pillar colors of Chanel and Gabrielle Chanel herself”, Pica explained as we sat down to have a play with the products that – like everything else she creates – are incredible. “It’s about black and white photographs of the 20s and 30s, and the feelings and textures they brought. But I also wanted to bring something a bit more real and urban into that moment.”

chanel noir et blanc de chanel makeup collection
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel Beauty

While Coco Chanel and the two colors so synonymous with her played such a pivotal role in this collection’s creation, so did the City of Light itself. “I thought about Paris being the most monochromatic city for me, where I could discover what’s in the family of black and white, where I could look at what’s right beneath black – the grays, the rouge noirs, the dark browns. With white, that shine and transparency. I didn’t want to just create ‘black’ and ‘white’ products, so it’s a play on light and shadow.”

So where better to talk to Pica about all things black and white beauty than in Paris itself? In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, I traveled to the French capital to find out how Pica went about creating such an unexpected collection, her top tips on how to wear it, and how this season is all about contrasting colors – or should we say a lack of color?

 

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You often link colors with emotion. Which emotions do you associate with black and white?
For this collection – and black and white in general – it’s about light and shadow, and the colors in between. They make me think of a woman who is confident and composed, who has a mystery around her. This softness and fluidity come into the textures and colors. They’re not necessarily defined and bright, so there’s an understatement about them. I think of colors as people! You should see me when I talk about colors to the lab, I go on about the character of the color and they just laugh at me. It’s a very visual process for me.

How do these textures and colors come together in the collection?
You’ll see a lot of transparency in this collection, like in ‘Le Gel Pailleté’, which you can wear on the décolletage and cheekbones. The topcoats have a transparent texture to give a veil of shine, which you can wear on top of other eyeshadows or on their own. There’s a white one and a kind of petrol-bronze color, which is really in between light and dark.

The eyeshadow palettes are more about velvety, cream textures, with the ‘Modern Glamour’ being straightforward black and white and more graphic. This graphic look continues to the nails, too, with a pure black and white polish – and to the black and white eyeliner pencils. There’s transparency and luminosity with the clear lip gloss, which contains very fine particles of sparkle. We also have a black lip gloss, which is very exciting! I tend to wear that on top of the ‘Rouge Obscur’ color as it has a plum-y undertone.

When it came to the lips, I wanted to concentrate on those in-between and non-definable colors. I thought about the black and white photographs, where those heroines and glamorous women were probably wearing red lipstick, but because of the finish, they look a little bit gray and muted. I thought that these mauve-y, dark plums were the right colors to go with within the world of black and white. So you have this balance between classic and ‘transparent’ glamour, where it’s all about light and shadow and a play on texture.

Black can be a wearable lip color! It can be worn in a natural way if it’s paired with a light, shimmery eye and just a touch of mascara.

A lot of women are scared to experiment with black hues and dark makeup. What would you say to them?
‘Noir Supreme’ is a cream-to-powder eyeshadow that has a softness, so it shows there is a soft side to black. It’s more elegant and sophisticated – it doesn’t make me think of goth or hardness or rebellion. It’s about being composed and confident, even in the way you use your makeup. You can use your fingertips in a very relaxed way, you mustn’t be scared! And because the texture is so easy and malleable, you can just do a quick smoky eye with your fingers. Then you can add another color on top to build it very subtly, or you can use the topcoats that are super transparent and create light and depth.

There’s such an easiness and naturality to this collection. When you think about the concept and you look at it, you might think it’s difficult to use, but you can build them because there’s so much transparency to the products. What I see as modern is when something is done in a way that is easy and relaxed, and it’s not scary at all because you can do it fast. Thanks to new technology, these products are so easy to blend. You can soften them down.

The lipsticks and liquid powders are a great introduction for those who don’t know how to wear lipstick or strong colors. It’s a veil of color without the weight or commitment of a strong lipstick. Black can be a wearable lip color! It can be worn in a natural way if it’s paired with a light, shimmery eye and just a touch of mascara. The contrast between naturality and depth is beautiful. It’s all very easy and welcoming – so come and play!

If you had to pick just one product from the collection, what would it be and why?
I’d probably say the ‘Noir Suprême’ palette because it gives me so many possibilities and color results – but can I have another one please? I’d say the topcoat then! At least then I have two things to play with and can layer together, depending on if I want to have something super transparent or a bit bolder.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in creating this collection?
The challenge, both practically and in my mind, was to balance the interesting concept with the wearability of the collection – that’s why I looked for all those textures. And that’s why I’m so happy with the results.

You said the ‘Les 4 Ombres’ palettes have a cinematic and photographic feel. Describe the film noir heroine you envisage wearing them.
A confident, composed woman with a slight mystery and that masculine femininity, like Lauren Bacall and Monica Vitti and, in a way, even Winona Ryder in the 90s. She could wear a really dark, plum-y red lip with a transparent color on the eye and still look really fresh.

Who would play you in a movie?
I don’t know who would want to play me! It would be someone from the past. I like Monica Vitti a lot – she has this sense of being a little bit lost. I’m probably thinking about her in the Michelangelo Antonioni movies, where I found her really interesting because she was always really indecisive and in between two worlds and a bit dreamy, almost like she’s not there. But you also know that in the end, she knows what she wants.

You said the ‘Rouge Coco Gloss’ has a tone that reminds you of photographing light at night. What part of Paris would you capture at night?
The Seine at night from under a bridge, where the light hits the water and it’s very romantic and magical.

chanel noir et blanc kristen stewart
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel Beauty

Who is your ultimate beauty icon?
I have quite a few I like, but if I’m thinking about this era, I’d say Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, and Lauren Bacall. I love women who have a sense of masculinity about their faces. And they all wore dark lipstick, so I guess so that’s good for this collection!

What inspires you the most?
I think creativity comes as a result of all the things that I do. If I’m going to the movies or an exhibition, or even for lunch with a friend, that can be a creative experience – just seeing something new and discussing things. Everything that nurtures me. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily have an idea right then, it can suddenly come out of the blue later.

The other day, I was on the train to Paris, thinking about my next collection. I suddenly had this idea, so I texted the guy from my team who does the research, and he asked if I was thinking about a certain artist. I was like, “I really don’t know – it just came to me!” It must be because of something I’ve seen, and it just came back to me. It could be anything, anywhere, but I do think it’s important to always be feeling something, whether it’s yoga, meditation, a movie, a holiday – it all contributes.

What has been your biggest ‘wow’ moment?
Apart from getting the Chanel contract? I think that might be it! [laughs]. It’s a big one! Also, because it came quite quickly in my career. I had been doing my own thing for about seven years, so it was quite a big moment when it happened. I’d been interviewing for a year and a half, and was doing the visuals at the same time, so it was like, “Is it going to happen? Is it not?” So when it came together, I felt quite comfortable with it, but I was still like, “Oh my god, wow! Now what am I going to do? What’s going to be my first collection? Where to start!” It’s been an amazing journey.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing is seeing an idea and a concept become reality, seeing it on a woman’s face, when it was nothing before. When someone says that they love a color you’ve made, that’s a very special feeling. You know what you’ve gone through to get there. Before, I saw photographs and images from editorials that I’d done, but if I had mixed my own color and used it on a model’s lips, that color no longer existed at the end of the day. Now if I mix a color, it can stay and become a product that continues to touch women.

And the worst part?
Sometimes I have to do things like fly to LA for one day to shoot a video and come straight back to do press. I have some periods that are very, very intense! There’s the creation of the collection, then the promotion of it, and finally the practical part of actually doing makeup. It can be the best thing, but also the most tiring part!

What’s your favorite makeup look to create?
I try to find different things to do all the time, especially in the campaigns and stuff, but I do like a finished look. I like to find that balance between glamour and freshness and modernity, so I’d say red lips with defined eyes, but with fresh-looking skin. I like to do everything!

What’s the biggest mistake women make with their makeup?
Definitely wearing too much foundation. I think everyone could wear a third of what they wear! That’s why I recently worked on the launch of ‘Eau de Teint’, which is a transparent water foundation. It’s my dream come true! I think it’s just enough, and you can build on top with concealer if you want. But I love the transparency and the glow you get with it – it’s like a second skin. It was my dream foundation to have and make, as I don’t use foundation very often – not on myself or for work – but I always start with it now because I don’t detect it too much and it’s really fresh.

What three makeup products are always in your kit?
A lipstick, ‘La Palette Essentielle’, and a mascara.

Is there a current makeup trend you wish would be banned?
I prefer natural skin as opposed to skin that’s been really contoured and highlighted with 14 different products! I’m not opposed to sculpting the face, but I love the idea of adding light rather than shadowing too much. You can do a little bit, especially in photoshoots, but do it in a very soft way. I’m not saying people shouldn’t use this great technique, but I do think it’s being overdone. It can be subtle. Just be careful and be aware of those lines!

Complete the sentence: To me, beauty is…
Naturality – in your attitude as well, not necessarily wearing no makeup. It’s about having naturality and ease about you.

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