Posted by

Interview with Alex Box

Interview with Alex Box

Alex Box talks about her goth roots, her visions and ideas of the alternative and how this all led her to become an unconventional artist working in the medium of make-up, and ultimately spearheading Illamasqua’s creative direction.

You are a Fine Art graduate from Chelsea College of Art, (her degree show which explored the relationship between the body and environment), and your work has graced numerous covers such as ID and Dazed and Confused. Where else has your work been showcased?

The person I was mainly working with on the catwalks was Garath Pugh. He’s a true artist and one of the most exciting designers I’ve seen. His shows are more like a piece of performance art mixed with the avant-garde. He’s also someone I really identify with in terms of both him as a person and what he is trying to achieve. I think that’s one of the most important things when I am choosing my work. For me its just as important what you do as what you don’t do. I do turn things down that I don’t think will benefit both parties.

What is the impetus for what you do?

The impetus for me is always in what I feel, from my heart and my soul. What drives me aesthetically is a mixture of nature, magic, the unknown, creativity. I like to put a bit of myself into whatever I do. I guess it’s a way of exorcising what ever is inside of you. Sometimes that’s quite dark, sometimes it’s quite colourful, but it’s always beautiful.

Your work is often hailed as “goth”, what do you think of this?

I do tend towards and have always tended towards the more dark and complex beauty, a gothic beauty. Things that have a tragedy and are enclosed in shadows. That deep, dark magic inside of everyone.

But there is another side. Goth can actually be very colourful and dramatic. It’s not necessarily about being dark and heavy, but in being complex, intricate and bold. And that’s what a lot of people don’t understand, they think goth and just think depressing and heavy. I like to explode these myths, and it’s something I try to do with Illamasqua.

What subculture did you belong to growing up/bands you listened to/places you frequented?

I used to and still do listen to Bauhaus. I was very into and influenced by the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cramps, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Coctaeux Twins, Classical Music, the early Sisters of Mercy, Southern Death Cult…
When I moved to London in 1990 I worked in Kensington market at the gothic shoe shop. I met a lot of bands through that and started going to see people like Christian Death, Sex Gang Children, Rosetta Stone and people like that – that was much more of a London scene. I also went to Slimelight and actually worked at the door for a brief period.

How did that come about?

I just used to be one of the people who dressed up. Don’t really go any more, I probably should.
But now I’m back to the beginning again, with white hair and black streak, I feel very much myself but I do also now like to play with more concepts of what gothic is, things like Goth Couture. I will wear a completely white Armani suit with a faux fur coat but I still have my hair and make-up in the trademark goth styles. I like to experiment with it like that, I think I’d look stupid if I was wearing the same clothes as I was in 1990!

From your history it’s obvious you know the “real” underground scene, what are your thoughts about how these translate to the high street and into high fashion?

To me, the high street is very quick and constantly references the past. The nature of the high street is it takes what ever is of interest in that moment, which is horrible and not forward thinking. I personally lament for a time when people had to source their own clothes. Now people can go to the shops and get the kit if they want to be a goth. That takes away the playfulness and the proudness of wearing something that you sourced or made. For people to be so catered for in that way stifles the creativity. I think that’s why people start to create subgeneres, as a backlash.

The alternative, by its very nature is an enigmatic removed lifestyle. Do you think the marketing and popularising of the goth look/lifestyle will betray and cheapen it?

No, at Illamasqua we’ve been very careful not to say “goth” and I’ve really made sure we are careful not to reference any particular scenes of our time because the minute you do that you give out the wrong messages to 90% of the world, because its trying to pin an emotive message on the back of something that is already been, gone or is present. I personally have never wanted to say this is “goth” make-up or “burlesque” make-up. Because what I want it to be is an image I’ve created, and I’m not solely goth, I’m not any of those things, like anybody else I’m a product of music, art and our times and the end of the day I just want to make beautiful images that don’t necessarily have to be set in any particular genre.

For me it’s all about smells, textures and sensuality and not so much about the fashion. That’s the reason most of the images don’t have clothes, so that the make-up doesn’t become set in a style. Illamasqua is not attached to a subculture and we’re not saying we’re bringing the underground overground. What we are saying is we want to provide for those who want to wear different colour, shades and textures. We want to say, “we’ve got it if you need it”. If you want green lips, we can sell it to you, but if you just want red lipstick we’ve got that too.

It helps that the team at Illamasqua are made up of all sorts of people, while I tend to be “lets make it darker, lets make it darker” there are others that’ll come in and mix it all up again. But most of us have all been bullied or marginalised at some point in our lives for being different so we have empathy and understand. We’ll support the differences and help you achieve that alter ego.

Indeed, Illamasqua is billed as the Make-up for your Alter Ego. What would you say is your Alter Ego that you live through its application and creation?

I’d say I’m living my alter ego, I am my alter ego. Although I do have an alter ego now and again which is very, very blonde with big breasts, [she laughs] I go to a lot of Halloween parties dressed as a very tanned “normal” person! I have a strange desire to sometimes be the opposite from what I am.

Another journalist asked if Illamasqua planned its introduction to coincide with a time of recession. I said to her no, but it’s interesting how that’s happened, as we are all heading towards that; a time of stepping back and thinking about what you’re made of, of what you are and what drives your base interest. I think in general people aren’t just one thing. One day I’ll wear skintight clothes the next it’ll be quite baggy; a huge form of clothes that I disappear into as I walk home. And each outfit make me feel a very different person. It’s interesting how you change, how you shape-shift. I think there’s too much onus on being a single perfect thing.

Being the artistic Director of Illamasqua, which specific products do you take credit for and what made you create them?

Yes certainly, the eyeliner which stays on forever and the box red lipstick (which was named after me) are both staples of my make-up kit and I’m so proud they sold so well. The lipglosses too, are something I wanted. Especially the black, grey and odd colours. Things like that that I knew really doesn’t matter if people actually buy it, for me it just had to be there. What I like is not following a trend, just making things that may or may not catch on. And it’s not about that, it’s just about creating things that can go on your eyes and your face, I just want to create matter really.

That’s what I like about Illamasqua, is the products can be used for so many different purposes

Yeah absolutely, the intense cheek colour which again can be used on the eyes. And the really, really white foundation as well, which I absolutely insisted on. And all the colours through from the shades of pale to jet black. It’s not that we are trying to be the United Colours of Benneton, it’s an artist’s palette. We see no reason colours should become a racial issue. Anyone should be able to wear out make-up when and how they like it.

Tell me a bit about the other members of the original creative team.

The majority of the make-up product has been created by myself and Kate Masserela. And in the beginning the art team Anja and Dave. They were really great fire-starters. Dave was one of the first people, for me, to convey that goth make-up. Also as a man have that whole goth thing and conquer the darkness. Anja apart from being a great musician, is a painter, and so her ideas of colour are really strong as well. Then into the melting pot we also have Julian Kynaston the CEO and Malcome Pate who is a film director. But everyone here bounces ideas around and nobody is too precious about putting things out which is where all our ideas come from.

You mentioned Dave and men wearing make-up, Illamasqua seem to really champion that, what are your thoughts about it, do you think it’ll ever really catch on?

I think I live in a very different world, and yourself as well, where men go to clubs and do wear make-up. It’s normal for us, but it’s a very small world. I think the only thing that the man in the street wants these days is anything that will make them looking better, their skin looking healthier or looking younger. Which isn’t really something that we are all about. We’re more for the alternative look, for people who actually want to wear make-up.

Do you have many men coming to the counter?

Not a lot but we do have some. We also have two guys that work for us, one called Adam and one called Mika, and Mika’s alter ego is Mika Doll. He works in the clubs and has a really big following all over the place from Japan to here. He wears his own style of clothing so is quite different to any gender really. Adam wears a lot of make-up as well but more in the goth style. So it gets guys who are like that to come to our counter.

We have spoken about quite specifically doing more for men in the brand; more images of men. Siren has an image of a man. Our model, Alex is a manly sort of man and I’ve done all sorts of makeup on him, and he still looks very manly and sexy but in that dirty and quite oily kind of way. For me it was important that he was quite masculine, too many people just pass off men wearing make-up as gay and I didn’t want that. Illamasqua is all about breaking boundaries and stereotypes.

And lastly what is your top make-up tip?

To powder your lips. People don’t do that and complain that their lipstick fades. Put on a little bit of lipstick, then your lip liner. Then blot them and cover them with power. Then put lipstick over again. They just won’t move, and you’ll never get lip bleeding at all.

Published in Unscene


  1. Illamasqua - Make up for your alter ego | Alternative Fashion and Lifestyle blog - [...] Interview with Alex Box [...]