December 2nd, 2014
It seems fitting that the title of her incredible book is One Woman, 100 Faces, given her own dynamic versatility. Francesca Tolot‘s career has spanned decades, and seen her working with every famous face under the sun – or so it would seem. But we’re not impressed with her endless roster of celebrity clients (well, we are, but we shouldn’t digress). It is her versatility which has left us floored – visible not just from the images gracing the pages of her book, but also the range of work she has undertaken. Editorial shoots, commercials, runway, music videos, Hollywood films – a true master of all trades, and a jack of none, you might say. Warpaint were lucky enough to be invited to her book launch, and snagged some time with the lovely lady to ask some burning questions.
Incredibly, Italian-born Francesca had no intention of becoming a make-up artist originally. “It might be unusual, but the thought of becoming a make-up artist never crossed my mind until I met Diego Dalla Palma, who then became my teacher and mentor. He is such an inspiration! After meeting him I took a make-up class at his store, for no other reason than to have fun and to play with his make-up colours. It turned out that he loved the way I was learning, and actually asked me to substitute for him on a booking for an advert. The experience was totally negative; I disliked everything about it, and told him that I was not interested in the profession. When he asked me again, for another favour, I found myself on the set of Italian Vogue with a renowned photographer and supermodel. It was there that I discovered the exciting world of editorial photo shoots and the artistic possibility of make-up. And right there, I decided to peruse make-up artistry as a profession.”
Despite the fact that it took a fair while for her to realise that she wished to work with make-up, the act of applying make-up had already made an impression on the young Francesca. Coming from a creative family – her brother is a painter, her mother a doll maker “and my father could make anything” – it is unsurprising, in hindsight. Francesca observed her mother applying make-up, the first thing she would do each day, a habit which led to her own love of make-up for herself and then for others.
After working for several years in Italy, her big leap to the States proved to be the springboard for her blossoming career: “My biggest break was coming to America; this gave me the opportunity to work in the Hollywood scene, but also maintaining my passion of editorial work thanks to my long-standing relationship with the iconic photographer Herb Ritz. During this time, I started working closely with Madonna on a wide range of great projects from editorial covers, multiple videos, and creating the look for the movie Dick Tracy.”
The rest, as they say, is history. She was keen to stress the serendipitous and collaborative nature of her success, from Diego to her agent, to Herb Ritz and Helmut Newton, who hand-picked her for that shot of Elizabeth Taylor in the swimming pool. Such an unassuming nature was surprising for someone who is so clearly sought-after and so highly regarded, and she was hugely charming – it’s easy to see why so many people develop deep and long-standing relationships with Francesca.
Speaking of long-lasting relationships, we of course touched upon the news of her book launching. A substantial, glossy coffee-table adornment, ideal for make-up aficionados and art or photography lovers alike, One Woman, 100 Faces is the culmination of a decades-long relationship with her model and muse, Mitzi Martin. “I didn’t set out with the intention of making a book,” Francesca said. “Mitzi used to come in for test looks for me, for more than 10 years. Then one day, when I was just at home, the name came to me! It has taken another 10 years to find the right publishing company – they all wanted me to use celebrities. I came this close to signing a deal – and it felt like my heart was bleeding, I couldn’t sleep. And we had to say no. It had to be the vision I had, or it wouldn’t have been my book.”
Shot by Francesca’s husband, Alberto Tolot, the book “captures the emotional evolution and complexity of a woman’s personality. The book celebrates the dynamism of femininity for the last 20 years, working with my muse. After working with Mitzi for so long it only made sense to compile the beautiful imagery into this artistic compilation.” Francesca and her husband are actually named as joint authors for the book, “because it’s about the pictures. Without a great photographer, lighting, a great model – the best make-up in the world wouldn’t matter. It’s a matter of teamwork; the book can’t exist by itself.”
With such a varied body of work, we were interested to hear that Editorial remains her favourite medium to work in: “Editorial is my passion. It’s a piece of history to have a magazine with your work in your hand.” Francesca was unfazed by our questions on the technological revolutions which have occurred parallel to her career, simply replying “I don’t take into account HD – I do the best most precise work I possibly can to have it translate well on all platforms regardless.” However it is the film Dreamgirls which claims the top spot in her experiences thus far. “I was scared to take it, I didn’t want to take it. The idea of three months on the same job, with the same people, trying to match work I’d already done – it was foreign to me! Yet it turned out to be the dream job – I was given proper creative freedom.”
“Being open to learn and experiment,” was Francesca’s response to how she believes she has remained so dedicated and involved in the artistry of make-up after all this time. “The book kept my creativity going, it was a separate outlet where we could do what we wanted. Before this it was like a library in my mind, and I would take and adapt images and ideas to other creative shoots.” The freedom to improvise is clearly something which excites rather than worries her. “It is exciting! To be down to the last minute and have to find a solution – that’s when I learn! And then I can take that and use it in another situation.”
Of course, we were all dying to know which products she regularly reaches for from her kit, which we’ve heard weighs more than 50 pounds. “Mascara,” was her instant reply to her must-have product. “If you’re tired, it opens the eyes and makes you look alive. One of my favourites is the In Extreme Dimension one from MAC. I don’t use false lashes any more, I prefer natural lashes, and you don’t even need them with this mascara.” Other favourites included their Strobe Cream and the classic Ruby Woo.
We ended with the future, as we asked what her plans were, once the (deserved) clamour for her book has settled down, but Francesca wouldn’t look too far ahead. “I am so happy in the now with my book release, I am truly just living in the moment and enjoying it… but perhaps another book in the future!”
One Woman, 100 Faces is available from here. Look out for an exclusive opportunity to WIN a signed copy from Warpaint, coming soon!