"Industry darling" isn't a phrase I toss around lightly. It's a little infantilizing, seems a bit sexist (how often are we calling men "darlings"?) and just generally gives me the ick. But when I consider how to most accurately describe the career trajectory and overwhelming success of Isamaya Ffrench, who established herself as one of fashion's most sought-after makeup artists before the age of 30, I'm struck by the fact that "industry darling" is, unfortunately, annoyingly apt. (At least it's better than "wunderkind"?)
Ffrench is regarded as one of the most innovative, creative minds in beauty, and has established herself as the kind of force brand executives and creatives alike clamor to have on their projects. She's spent the last decade bringing her particular brand of boundary-pushing, norm-upending perspective to the industry, working with respected names like Burberry, YSL Beauté, Christian Louboutin, Tom Ford, Byredo, MAC, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo and Thom Browne, among many others. Her artistry has appeared on the covers of British and Italian Vogue and Dazed, as well as in i-D, Love Magazine, Pop, Another and W; and she's worked with Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian, to name only a few.
After years of serving as a muse and creative catalyst for so many companies, Ffrench is putting her own name front and center with ISAMAYA, an eponymous makeup and skin-care brand.
Described as "a revolution in beauty," ISAMAYA aims to re-think the stuffy traditions of the industry, reach those who have felt excluded by traditional makeup brands and encourage the same type of creativity that Ffrench brings to her work among at-home users. It focuses not on classic, easily marketable products and shades, but rather on offering the unexpected and even a bit weird.
The inaugural "drop" (the brand follows a limited-batch model) is titled "INDUSTRIAL," and focuses on intense but versatile products and edgy-looking, reusable hardware (including wearable rings) "designed to inspire you to look at beauty through a different lens," as the press release puts it. The five-product lineup includes a clear brow laminator, a glow-enhancing hyaluronic serum, a deep burgundy tinted lip "serum", a deep black mascara and a 14-pan eye shadow palette featuring a combination of "special effect pearls, putty and shimmer finishes." Individual items are priced between $32 (for the brow product) and $115 (for the palette) and will be sold via the brand's website, Isamaya.com, as well as at Selfridges.
Fashionista got the chance to chat with Ffrench about the launch of ISAMAYA and quiz the creative on why she felt compelled to start her own brand, the strategy behind its "drops" and the gaps she's identified in the beauty industry's crowded landscape.
Why did you decide to launch your own line after working with other brands for years?
My positions as a creative director and consultant for beauty brands including Louboutin, Tom Ford, Byredo and Burberry taught me so much, and I loved the challenge of bringing my point of view to those industry moguls who have a strong identity and established clientele.
Over time, I felt compelled to build something from scratch to approach a new generation of makeup lovers, really bringing my editorial experience to the forefront to create a project that doesn't only encompass makeup or skin care. After over 10 years in the industry, it felt like the right time to introduce my own unique line to the world.
What gaps did you see in the market — or maybe even in your own personal kit — that you wanted to fill with these products?
The real gap for me is the approach to a beauty brand. This industry has played by the same set of rules for such a long time that it's incredibly rare to see a pattern that feels fresh. If we do a little game and spread out 10 beauty campaign images on a table from which the logos have been removed, are you able to identify the brand? The visual language has been based on the same recipe for a while, and I'd love to show that this can change.
With that perspective in mind, what's different about ISAMAYA when compared with existing products and brand philosophies?
I've had the chance to try an extensive amount of makeup and skin care working in this industry, so I've collaborated very closely with the factories to develop products that are as good technically as they are visually.
I love the idea of a limited-edition objects you want to keep, so it was important to me to create one-of-a-kind packaging that you can sort of collect.
And then on top of having an e-shop in the U.K. and U.S., and Selfridges supporting us both in the London store and online, which will allow us to reach a global audience, we're going to do pop-up shops in places chosen according to the theme of each collection. [We want to] create a real experience for people to immerse themselves in, to understand the story behind the products.
Who do you see as the ISAMAYA customer? Do you hope to reach people with the brand that may not have always felt included in the beauty industry before?
Most definitely. There are so many amazing subcultures that are usually excluded from mainstream media that offer so much inspiration. I want to speak to a wide array of people and find a new approach to product design. We're going to drop several collections a year, each one entirely different from the previous one.
This brand is for those who are seeking something new, who want to connect with something distinctive and be inspired to explore what beauty means for them. I hope to create a sense of community beyond skin care and makeup.
The brand uses "industrial" to describe the first product drop — what does that mean, and what did you want to evoke in calling it that?
I wanted the first drop to really set the tone of the values for the brand. 'Industrial' is a hardcore concept, and I loved elaborating [on] it through a beauty lens. Think gritty and underground, black leather and shiny latex, chrome piercings and rubber. The collection asks you to break free from commercial standards, to turn your gaze back to yourself. It's about being strong and confident in your own choices and tastes.
You've mentioned that sustainability is a key goal of the brand. How has that shaped the product development, packaging and retail strategy?
Our planet is a magical place, and unfortunately the industries we work in are very wasteful. There are vast opportunities to change, and one of my goals for the brand is to learn how we can better ourselves as we go, working with our sustainability consultant who will help us [be] proactive in our approach.
We're releasing each collection as a limited run, designed with reusable packaging intended to be repurposed — like the rings that can be removed from the products to be used as jewelry. That's a way to address sustainability. Each drop will also have its chosen charity for which a part of the proceeds will go to support a cause that feels aligned with the concept of the drop.
Is there anything else that you hope to accomplish with the drop model? Any other strategy at play there?
We're putting a lot of effort into create amazing products, so even though it feels tempting to let them live for a long time, I think it's even more desirable to have limited quantities, on top of the sustainability aspect mentioned before. Also, it's creatively much more stimulating to wipe off what you've done and start again on a completely different concept.
"Industrial," ISAMAYA's inaugural drop, begins pre-sale on June 27 via the brand's website. Get a closer look at each of the debut products in the gallery below.