'Take from the trend what you think works for you': Mickey Contractor

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Take from the trend what you think works for you: Mickey Contractor

The legendary makeup artist maps his four-decade-old journey in India's thriving showbiz

By Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Fri 7 Jul 2017, 5:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 9 Jul 2017, 6:32 PM

A few months ago, we gave a lowdown on how the no makeup makeup look has been trending worldwide. The movement, if it can be called one, started on the ramps of fashion weeks in New York and Paris before marking its presence at international red carpets. In India, however, the story has been a tad different. Bollywood is, undoubtedly, the biggest influencer for the masses when it comes to fashion and beauty trends. For the longest time - the 80s and 90s to be precise - the leading ladies of the big screen leaned towards a more pronounced form of makeup. This was also a time when fair was considered lovely in show business. Over the years, as the debate around fairness products intensified and social media ensured greater access to global trends, a visible shift came about in Bollywood where actresses not only began to experiment with their looks, but were inclined to accentuate their features with natural makeup. With a career spanning nearly four decades, Mickey Contractor has not only been a chronicler of that shift in philosophy of makeup, he has scripted a considerable part of it.
At the Intercontinental Hotel where we meet a day after a makeup masterclass he recently conducted for MAC Cosmetics (a brand he has been associated with for the past 12 years) in Dubai, Mickey is his usual affable self. "Please hide my paunch," he jokes while posing for our camera. However, as we sit down to map his nearly four-decade-long journey in the beauty industry, sweet nostalgia takes over. Starting out 38 years ago was difficult, he says. "Firstly, it wasn't a very acceptable profession for a man to be doing hair and makeup. There were very few makeup artists, but even fewer brands. The only one that was available was Maxfactor, which had a professional makeup line, but was quite expensive. So whatever I could make in a whole month - I usually managed to earn only Rs20 (Dh1.13) a day - I would spend in buying one makeup product."
Success has a way of making struggles seem more romantic than what they really are. Perhaps this is why Mickey looks back at those years with the pride of a man who overcame social and professional odds not only to survive but thrive in an ever-changing and fiercely competitive market. Creating a niche was important in order to stand out, a fine line Mickey trod every now and then in his initial years. As mentioned earlier, the leading actresses of the late 80s and early 90s preferred more elaborate makeup. As a result, there was little or no room for an artist like Mickey to experiment. "It took me almost 15-17 years to bring it down to what it is today. When there are so many actresses who are doing dramatic makeup, they would obviously not want to shift to something else overnight. Remember, this was a time when there was no social media, and unlike many brands that believe in creating awareness by conducting tutorials, makeup artists back then were more secretive about their tips and tricks."
In the late Gautam Rajadhyaksha, one of India's leading fashion photographers, Mickey found a perfect mentor and friend. Together, they became a team of photographer and makeup artist behind some of the most iconic celebrity images of '80s and '90s. "He was culturally, geographically, historically and aesthetically rich in his knowledge He's given me so much of that side of his," he remembers. "Together, we made the stars look good, which is what made them come back to us and listen to our suggestions. Those were the days when stars would work three shifts a day, which means 15-20 hours. So, we would get Madhuri (Dixit-Nene) for a photoshoot at 11 at night. She would come from a shoot where she had already done two shifts. As soon as she came, we would remove her make up, give her half an hour to rest in order to let her skin breathe, and then put on makeup for the shoot that would go on till 4 am. And the next day, she would be on the sets of a film at 7 am." As rigorous as the routine sounds, what made it click, according to Mickey, is the fact that there was a genuine camaraderie between the team of lensman, makeup artist and the star. "We were all friends. Today, I don't think people have time for that. The trust, the knowledge that someone is looking out for you and will do what suits you the best is very important. Gautam and I had been mentors to a lot of actresses when they started out like Sonali (Bendre), Kajol and Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan)."
It is this 'younger' lot that, Mickey says, was easier to mould due to several factors. One, they came with different sensibilities. Two, the technical aspect of cinema evolved, which essentially meant that lighting and cinematography would also play decisive roles in how actors were presented on screen. Last, the social media boom in the 2000s ensured that global trends were at everyone's fingertips. The latter, however, has been a bit of a double-edged sword in the beauty industry. Social media has given birth to 'beauty influencers', who are believed to impact consumption choices of their respective followers. Today, there are several beauty tutorials that give you a step-by-step guide on how to look a certain way. With online filters and apps ensuring that the end product is visually appealing, how does one distinguish between good makeup and bad makeup? Or, are the lines blurring? "Blurring? There are no lines," says Mickey. "You have videos where somebody is drawing a V on the face or someone is making a Z. Then there are layers above that. Who wears such makeup? It will come off and fall on your hands in two seconds. This is not makeup, this is a joke. This is something, which, to me, is about grabbing eyeballs. You are doing makeup but instead of using a sponge, you are using a condom. You are doing makeup with a boiled egg. I mean, really? It's infuriating, but I guess there is a market for it, there are followers who like these posts. So be it. But it's not for people who want to understand and learn makeup seriously."
The idea of beauty is central to a makeup artist's work. Mickey translates it as being the best version of oneself. "The key is not to follow a trend blindly. For instance, many pictures that are released on the Internet will tell you this is the trend for this year. There might be a dramatic eye in blue. Remember the visual you are being shown is extreme. If the blue eyeliner is the trend of the season, you need to find out what you can do with it that will suit you. You don't have to copy the way it's done in the picture. Take from the trend what you think works for you." The message is loud and clear! .

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