Dubai-based, French-Tunisian street artist and sculptor eL Seed is known globally for his vibrant Arabic calligraphy, which he transforms into grafitti. To our surprise and delight, the artist has announced a collaboration with an unexpected brand: MAC Cosmetics. He and MAC's senior artist Mariam Khairallah set out to create a self-expressive, hyper-pigmented collection that married both of their ethos and aethetics. The global collaboration is set to launch in the Middle East prior to the rest of the world on 21 March.
Read on to find out how the collection came about and what you can expect from the creative range.
Courtesy of MAC Cosmetics
Harper's BAZAAR Arabia: Where do you see the overlap between art and beauty? What about current trends?
eL Seed: I think beauty, in a certain way, is an art in itself. We cross paths in our purpose: why people use makeup, I would say, and why people do art. From my personal point of view, I try to switch perceptive and empower people and communities in places where I go and paint and I guess beauty has the same purpose – you try to switch perceptive and it’s also empowering.
As an artist, I don’t try to follow trends – I try to follow my heart. It’s more of a personal thing. We really took the time to make [this collaboration with MAC] – it was more than three and a half or four years. I think it’s deeper than just a marketing trend.
HBA: How did this collaboration come about?
eL Seed: MAC reached out to me in 2015 and we just started the conversation. To be honest with you, I didn’t know too much about the brand because I’m not into makeup, but with the advice of my wife…I realised it was the right fit, because it wasn’t just a local launch or collaboration, it was a global thing and MAC also has a history with artists. I feel like I’m becoming part of the history of the brand, because I’m coming after other artists and other artists will come after me.
HBA: Where did you draw inspiration from?
eL Seed: Usuaully people have this idealistic or romanticised idea of what artists get inspiration from, that they go and watch the sunset. There’s a French writer, who said, “Inspiration is for kids and the work is for artists.” Usually I get inspired by places that I visit, people that I meet, books that I read. It’s not like you’re just sitting and the idea comes.
HBA: When you and MAC Senior Artist Mariam Khairallah collaborated on this collection, what audience did you have in mind?
eL Seed: We met in 2017 to choose the colour. As an artist, I selected colours women wouldn’t really use because I was thinking from an art palette perspective, which involved orange, yellow, red, and blue. With Mariam, it was a revelation. We finally managed to put all the colours together: it was a funny moment. She made sure the colour that I picked would suit a woman’s makeup and it comes as a kind of extreme but I really wanted the blue and the pink. It was an identity thing for me – I had to have pink in the palette.
HBA: Have you worked on anything related to make-up in the past or is this your first foray into beauty?
eL Seed: No, this is the first time. I’ve learned a lot from Mariam. I never looked at makeup as an art, but now I understand why they say ‘makeup artist’. It’s really a practice of mixing colours, layering, creation, composition…making sure there is a balance in how you articulate everything.
HBA: Can you tell us a little more about the design process?
eL Seed: It always starts with a message: my work is inspired by words. I thought about how you use makeup in a certain way to highlight something and say what you have in your mind. I drew from this quote from Cicero which says, “the face is a picture of the mind, with the eyes at the interpreters.” Makeup is a way to convey a message, the same way as I convey a message through my artwork.
HBA: Will you take any aspects from beauty application into your artwork after this experience?
eL Seed: In terms of blending, maybe! I didn’t study art, so usually I never mix my colours. I don’t know if it’s me being lazy but…the gradient of colours are ones I have already, so maybe I should explore mixing and blending more – it’s the word I keep hearing.
HBA: Do you have any particular favourites from the collection?
eL Seed: The brush, the flat one. The highlighter carries the name of my wife and the lipstick carries the name of my daughter, so maybe those are my favourite ones.
HBA: Why did you name the products after your wife and daughter?
eL Seed: I name projects and work that I’ve done after people that I’ve met. The pink colours in that painting of Brazil are named after favelas in Brazil, and one is called Gabriella, named after a Brazilian poet who lives in Rio. One is called Stendhal, named after the French writer. I love the fact that I can choose the name. They didn’t name the product like ‘Pink 005’. It’s more meaningful and intimate.
HBA: How long did you work on this collaboration for?
eL Seed: The first call was 21 August 2015 and we’re launching it on 21 March. So 3 years and 7 months. I remember because it was my birthday on that date.
Courtesy of MAC Cosmetics
HBA: What is the most surprising thing you learned about make up during the design process?
eL Seed: I didn’t know it was so diverse in terms of tools, technique, colour, mixing…I discovered so many products, I was always thinking what is this for? I don’t use it on a daily basis so it’s different for me to convey a message through a makeup product. It was about collaborating with MAC beyond the fact that it’s a beauty brand – it was the spirit and philosophy behind it that attracted me. Lots of brands had approached me before. For me as an artist, when you work with no limits and no restrictions, it’s cool.
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