I’ve written all sorts of makeup artist profiles for Mascara Wars, and I always try to keep them as short and snappy as I can, but this one, well this was a whole different ball game. There’s just no way to rein myself in when there’s so much to say!
Kabuki, the makeup artist in question, with a life story as colourful and unique as his work is one of the most fascinating artists working today, and truly earns the “artist” moniker. His all-encompassing creativity has spanned the realms of illustration, fabric design, performance art, and of course makeup artistry, with a makeup career across feature films, music videos, shows, editorials and even the Royal Ballet. Known for his bold style, creating surreal, detailed and technically incredible looks, no one compares to Kabuki. A true one-off, a makeup artist’s makeup artist and a legend in the field.
Born in glamorous Rochdale, Lancashire, and growing up in Florida, before settling in New York where he lives today, Kabuki was already an accomplished artist by his teens. There’s a glorious video online of an 11-year-old Richard Ogden (aka baby-Kabuki), Rochdale accent and all, showing off his fairytale-esque drawings , inspired by his friendship with famed illustrator Errol Le Cain. Amongst all the little gems in the slightly hilarious and adorable video, he says, “I like drawing anything from fairy tales, anything that’s dramatic”, and it’s clear to see that the childlike imagination of that 11-year-old Kabuki is alive and well in his work today!
After getting into the likes of Bowie, Boy George and Cyndi Lauper in his teenage years, Kabuki began to transfer his otherworldly designs to his own look via extravagant makeup looks, and after moving to New York at 20 to work in fabric design (something which also comes in handy in his more fantastical creations), he discovered the club scene and his alter-ego Kabuki Starshine was born. The exquisite looks he created as one of the best known of NY’s club kids (check out the gallery below!), whilst being paid for appearances, performances, and even modelling for Thierry Mugler, often featured incredibly technical designs and hand-made add-ons such has his now famous sea-creature like fins, that went on to pop up again in his future work. Many a great makeup artist has had their beginnings in the underground club scenes of big cities, there’s something about that self-expression and fearless style of makeup that is striking, original and can never be taught.
During his time as Kabuki Starshine, he was spotted by legendary NY costume and fashion designer Patricia Field, stylist on a new show unheard of at the time, a little known production called “Sex And The City”. She brought Kabuki in to makeup the stars from the first two seasons and the next stage of his highly varied career began. The next step was coming on board, in a serious life imitates art imitates life scenario, to create the wild makeup designs for New York club kid biopic “Party Monster”. Legendary photographer Steven Klein saw the film and snapped up Kabuki for a fantastical shoot with Karen Elson for Vogue Italia (2004’s “Mad Magnificent”). Madonna saw the story and called and the rest is history. It’s pretty much unheard of in the makeup world for one artist to so effortlessly span so many fields of makeup. Luckily Kabuki describes his makeup style in one word as “flexible”.
He’s gone on to shoot regularly for the likes of Numero, Elle, Vogue Italia and Harpers Bazaar, as well as creating looks for ad campaigns for Nars, MAC, Max Factor, Dolce & Gabbana. His fabric, eyepiece and mask designs have been seen on the runways of Manish Arora, Gather Pugh, Zac Posen and Jeremy Scott to name but a few. And just when you think you know what style to expect of Kabuki, he’ll go and do you a gorgeous, nude, bronzed makeup for Kendall Jenner on the cover of GQ, or a classic beauty look for Uma Thurman in Elle. He is by no means a one trick pony, Kabuki covers the full spectrum of makeup artistry.
Still think you’re not familiar with his work? Well how about the mind-blowing looks he created for Katy Perry’s “E.T.” music video? How about the numerous looks for Rihanna, including her “Where Have you Been?” video below? He’s also created a whole host of looks for pop culture icons Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, Lana Del Rey, Rita Ora, Lady Gaga, even Michael Jackson. Is there anything this man cannot do?!
So how would Kabuki describe his own work in a nutshell? “I don’t like to send anything out that looks ugly,” he says. “It can be bizarre… It can be bald and have three eyes! But as long as she looks beautiful, to me that’s what my aesthetic is.”
“I didn’t really plan on being a makeup artist,” he reveals of his varied path to makeup superstardom. “So I’m very lucky that I ended up in the right place.”