Digital publishing has put a tight squeeze on editorial budgets, with the creative side of magazines increasingly subject to the dictates of clients and commerce. This situation was frustrating for makeup artist Maxine Leonard and creative director Valerie Wickes. In response, they launched Beauty Papers, a biannual magazine on the culture of beauty, releasing its first issue in February 2016.

Beauty Papers sets out to liberate the beauty industry from commercial control, and hand creative freedom back to artists. The magazine uses beauty as a vehicle for commentary on culture, politics and creativity.

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What led you to launch Beauty Papers?

Maxine Leonard: I am a makeup artist, first and foremost, and it was really an observation that there is a lack of creativity in the industry, which is governed and dictated by commerce—editorial not being what it was, and not having the freedom to create. The Face and iD magazines, where I started, were very strong publications—I grew up assisting artists who were very free to pursue their ideas. I spoke to Valerie about my frustrations and it really interested her. Then, we formed Beauty Papers.

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So a lot of creative work is now about pleasing brands?

Valerie Wickes: Yes. Part of the reason is down to technology. The digital age has allowed for much more certainty during shoots. Before, you would go on a shoot and no one really knew what was going on—you would base the shoot on a polaroid that was quite often blurry. And then, about three weeks later, you would see three pictures. Now, because of that visibility and because of digital, the certainty has made everyone want even more certainty. It’s never enough, and therefore the process has become even more restricted.

ML: With Beauty Papers, we’re not driven by pleasing brands; we’re driven by expression and wanting to say something. We go beyond selling mascara. We do credit the products, but they’re not our focus.

Why focus on beauty?

ML: Beauty is political. This is something that isn’t observed in the glossies or more commercial magazines. We have no overlords at this company, because there is no advertising. We see Beauty Papers as a political vehicle. That’s not to be provocative, it’s to make people think. We want Beauty Papers to educate.

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It’s interesting that you use the word “political” alongside “beauty,” because that’s probably the last word I would associate with the beauty industry.

ML: That’s because it’s not the message you’re being fed daily. I’m not saying we need to be scrubbed bare—I do believe imagery should be aspirational—but I also believe our industry has a responsibility. And it’s an important one.

What significant changes have you observed in the beauty industry over the course of your career?

VW: The creative balance you had before in terms of beauty was less celebrity driven, and as a result it was more diverse. Now, the way women or even men are being presented is becoming homogenized: one look. Where’s the diversity that was previously there? We felt things were getting narrower. Creatively, that made things more restricting, but also culturally, lack of diversity has a massive impact, and that’s not good.

ML: Social media has influenced and affected our idea of beauty. Instagram, for example, is quite an incredible vehicle, but I think it’s also very disruptive. We are fed imagery every day, and we are overloaded with information. I am shocked at the idea that you would promote contouring, the idea that certain celebrities are famous purely based on looks, and the phenomenon of plastic surgery.

Recently I had a contract to do a day’s work as a makeup artist in Selfridges, and I wasn’t prepared for the emotional journey I would go through. Women were coming to the counter asking to look like certain celebrities and asking to restructure their face. It became very emotional, because it’s not a very liberating feeling to promote to society—male or female.

How much has social media influenced our behavior beyond beauty?

ML: Massively! People are becoming addicted to looking at their phones. We are craving attention and receiving likes or love hearts. Businesses aren’t getting anything done because their employees are looking at Instagram.

I admit, I was guilty of doing the same thing when we first launched. Our Instagram following doubled overnight! It was exciting, but when I look back, I remember I couldn’t put the phone down. It’s unhealthy how much time we spend looking at our phones.

VW: There’s a piece in our first issue that builds on this conversation. We refer to this as the “display culture”—all you do is you put a display of yourself in the best possible light. And it can be dangerous. It’s interesting to have those debates and put the point of view out there, and think about the cultural and social aspects of beauty and politics.

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Issue one focuses on plastic. How did you choose that theme?

VW: We love the idea of plastic because it has many layers to it. It’s a very rich subject, and it touches on lots of emotional issues to do with authenticity and fakeness. That’s a beauty trend in itself.

ML: It’s very relevant to now. It’s about flexibility and form, just like the material itself, but it’s also a metaphor for how we can adapt and change to survive. It’s about being liberated.

How has the beauty industry reacted to Beauty Papers?

VW: It’s been positive, and it has opened people’s eyes to the fact that everything was looking the same. Beauty was looking the same and was going nowhere. Our publication was something different, and had a different agenda to most other beauty features. People were surprised and excited at the offer of possibility. People want something new, and to see things in a different way. The old formula isn’t working anymore—it’s less powerful, so everyone is trying to find new ways of doing things.

What’s next for Beauty Papers?

ML: The next issue! We are determined to change the face of publishing. And we would like brands to engage with us in a different way—we need to show people there’s a different way of doing things.

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