It’s hard to imagine that when Gabrielle Chanel created Chanel Beauty’s first Rouge Allure lipstick color, 99 Pirate, in 1924, she could have predicted where we are with makeup today. While color theory has become a hot topic on TikTok (the hashtag now has over 2.6 billion views) with countless hot takes and tutorials on the psychology behind complementary colors and products, Chanel left it to the pros.
Instead of debating the perfect red online, the brand tapped three emerging makeup artists — Valentina Li, Cécile Paravina, and Ammy Drammeh — to be the inaugural group of the brand’s new Cometes Collective, a group of makeup creators who will help shape the future of Chanel Beauty. Although we won’t see their colors until 2024, we got a sneak peek earlier this year by chatting with them about where they want to take the brand.
We met them at a private villa in Le Muy, located in the South of France and owned by art dealer Enrico Navarra, which was decked out with art installations and exhibits that represent each artist’s objects of inspiration. Barcelona-raised Drammeh featured ’90s makeup books Making Faces and Face Forward by Kevyn Aucoin and spoke of scenes from ’90s R&B and hip-hop music videos that shaped her love of makeup. Belgian-born Paravina showcased watercolor paintings and a color-scheme dictionary that describes the origins of every color. Li, who was born in Guangxi, China, displayed a book that pays homage to Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka.
The trio will expand Chanel’s beauty palette — which historically consists of its five famous colors of white, black, red, beige, and gold — and create new colors. “Nowadays new products are coming out every day,” Li tells me. “But we are spending a lot of time studying to create each color, so it’s quite a precious moment.” The good thing is that Li is not alone and has two other creative companions. “It’s just the general attitude of everything is inspiration,” Paravina adds.
You each have such unique, distinct backgrounds. Tell me about your childhood and how your environments influenced your artistry.
Cécile Paravina: I grew up in the northeast of France, close to the border of Luxembourg, and it’s a really culturally deprived area. It’s an old miner town and the mines closed in the ’60s or ’70s, so a very bleak area of France. So when I was growing up, I didn’t really have a lot of access to culture. My mom was an accountant and my dad was a mechanic. So they really didn’t really care about art or anything like this. As a young girl, I remember really wanting to go to the museum. I was really interested in it. And I loved to draw. I had this innate creative fiber, but I really couldn’t develop it. So I think this sense of deprivation lit a fire within me. I was really hungry for culture and the internet really changed my life when I started using Tumblr. I found out about fashion and cinema, which really inspired me. So that’s kind of the root that started my journey into being creative with makeup.
Ammy Drammeh: I’m Spanish and I was born and raised in Barcelona, which at the time was a very working-class environment. My parents have nothing to do with the creative industry. They are both retired now, but my mom was a nurse and my dad was a driver. I had this conversation with my mom and she said, “When your teacher told me that you should pursue makeup, me and your dad looked at each other and said, ‘What is she going to do with makeup? Is she going to work in a beauty parlor?’” They didn’t know where this passion of mine would go, but they still supported me. Spain really wasn’t really a diverse environment, not only for Black people but in general. There was no immigration coming from anywhere. Oftentimes, I was the only Black kid in my town, which made me rationalize why I’m so into developing complexion shades now, and was inspired by the music videos I saw on TV of Missy Elliott and Aaliyah. Back then, I had to mix complexion colors together because nothing else was available. So I would find the darkest shades of bronzers and try to create something. This was a huge part of my love for makeup.
Valentina Li: I grew up in a small village in the south of China. But I was super happy as a kid. We had no amusement parks, but I would climb trees and the mountains. My grandfather is into Chinese medicine. So my mom would take me into the mountains and we would actually dig out all these roots of vegetables and greens. She’d teach all these different things about flowers, like the kind of flower I could put on my nails and it would become nail polish. We didn’t have much going on in this little town, but in school, I was in dancing and singing groups and drawing competitions. I feel like I fully used every bit of my childhood to shape my creativity, which is in my artistry today.
What change do you hope to bring to the House of Chanel?
Cécile: There’s a new brand appearing every moment, but what we really appreciate is what’s already dear to the house of Chanel: timelessness. And timelessness is the opposite of temporality. And temporality is just trends that are passing by. It’s really this idea of creating something that can be used in 50 years.
Speaking of makeup trends, do you believe in them?
In unison: No.
Cécile: For me personally, it’s really hard to look at social media and be super attentive. With my creative thinking, I look at other sources for inspiration, like the general atmosphere of what’s happening in the world and how people deal with their emotions. Innovation can come from anything, and not necessarily looking at images on concepts online that have been predigested from beauty.
Valentina: I use social media quite a lot, but I try to think more independently instead of focusing on trends. I’m aware of the trends, of course, but I try to not let the trend affect too much of my own creations. My creations actually come from my heart. And from my true passion for makeup. As the Cosmetics Collective, we really want to create avant-garde products. I believe that we need to be consistently training our brains to think ahead of time and trends to be original.
Ammy: I think the problem is not the trend. The problem is how short these makeup trends last. It would be so beautiful to create something that will become part of history.
Has coming together as a collective to create products presented any challenges?
Ammy: It’s the most difficult when we are not at the office and we need to talk to each other about something and we need to figure it out. We usually figure it out on Zoom, but it’s much nicer in real life. But we have a very active WhatsApp group.
When it comes to makeup, color is at the core of your creations. What’s the one color you think looks good on everyone?
Cécile: I love black. It’s just universal and suits everyone.
Ammy: I know I’m wearing the Rouge Noir Lip Liner today, as always.
Cécile: I love that color. If I use it as a lip, it will look super vampy, but if you use it on darker skin tones, like a super-chic deep red. It’s a really interesting, cool color that works on all complexions.
Who are your biggest beauty inspirations?
Ammy: Eric Ferrell and Billy B. because they were doing all the ’90s R&B and hip-hop music videos I loved as a child. They were creating the looks. I’m lucky enough that social media exists so I could communicate to them how inspiring they were. And Eric Ferrell passed away during the pandemic, but before that, we got to have a chat. He’s so humble and amazing. He’s literally an icon.
Cécile: For me, it’s obviously Serge Lutens. I feel like he’s like my spiritual grandpa or something. He also comes from the northeast of France, which is quite different from where I’m from. But there’s a link between the both of us. His work has inspired me so much. I love what he’s done and I collect everything he’s made and produced in terms of books, even stuff that’s from Japan. So I really love his work and I often go through it and he really inspires me to push my vision to the furthest.
Valentina: For me, it would be Pat McGrath and Serge Lutens.
Ammy: Wait, sorry, I have to say, Pat McGrath for me as well. She’s like the mother of makeup.
Valentina: I love how she mixes different kinds of materials together. Makeup is never just about colors, it’s also about textures, layers, and dimensions. And Serge Lutens is such a visionary. I love his work, it’s like a painting.
Ammy: And I think it’s very obvious, but, of course, Gabrielle Chanel. The three of us really use her as an inspiration when we create. She’s always present over our shoulder.
Cécile: She’s always in the room watching over us and we think to ourselves, What would Coco Chanel do? [laughs].