How Charlotte Tilbury’s former assistant went from avant-garde makeup artist to global creative makeup and colour designer at Chanel.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Lucia Pica’s dishevelled black hair and dark red eyeliner create a striking contrast with her salt-and-pepper Chanel tweed suit trousers and chic green turtleneck, underscoring the particular blend of contemporary and classic that the East London-dwelling makeup artist has brought to her role as global creative makeup and colour designer at French luxury giant Chanel, who hired Pica in January 2015.
When Pica took up the position, Chanel makeup had been without a creative director for almost two years, after the exit of Peter Philips, who stepped down in February 2013, after a five-year tenure during which he helped to tug Chanel’s multi-billion-dollar beauty business into the 21st century, with colourful blockbuster products like 2009’s Jade Le Vernis nail polish and millennial-friendly video tutorials. But the appointment of Pica — whose portfolio includes eye-popping, experimental looks for indie magazines like i-D and Self Service — suggests that Chanel’s beauty youthquake may have only just begun.
“You need to keep some naivety going on and not think about what comes with the big name,” says Pica on joining a house with such a grand history. “If you try and think about what sells more, then you’ve lost your vision, you’ve lost your personality — you’ve lost probably the reason why they hired you in the first place.”
Pica grew up in Naples, Italy, where she planned to study conservation of art or psychology. Two summers spent in London derailed that plan and, in 1999, she moved to the British capital. “In Europe, London is like the Big Apple. It is considered this amazing place where everything can happen,” she says. “When I came here I just felt such freedom. I was so mesmerised by looking at people in the street and everybody looked so different, everybody looked so interesting. I remember not feeling judged — Italy’s a little bit more conservative.”
In Europe’s “Big Apple” Pica took a one-month course at Greasepaint makeup college, which landed her odd jobs, like doing the makeup for extras in the James Bond film Die Another Day, but she chose fashion over film. “I started contacting all the agencies, trying to do fashion shows, trying to get on the teams,” she says.
Pica scored an agent, who also happened to work with makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury. “I was obsessed with her makeup,” recalls Pica. “Her and Mert & Marcus and Katie Grand, they were doing these incredible shoots.” Every two weeks, she called her agent and told her she wanted to work for Tilbury. “She was probably like, ‘Join the line,’” Pica says with a smile. But persistence paid off and a year later, she got a gig working on a fashion show as part of Tilbury’s team. Tilbury took her on full-time and, after two years, when her first assistant left, Pica got the job.
“We did Chloe when Phoebe Philo was there. All the Italians: Cavalli, Moschino, Armani. Alexander McQueen,” says Pica. While a course helps with basic skills like mixing colours and learning how to use different brushes, the real tricks are “what you learn when you’re hands on with somebody who’s so creative: that ability to read somebody’s ideas and interpret that and transform it into makeup,” she says. “There’s a brief; there are references; there’s a set — this woman; this era; this time — and then you go and transform it into makeup on a face. You learn to explore textures and tools in a different way.”
After three years, Pica went freelance. “I had the need to express myself. I feel like when you work with somebody for so long you merge so much, you start almost reading their mind,” she says. Over the next decade, she did the makeup for runway shows by Roksanda Ilincic and Peter Pilotto; advertising campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, and magazine covers for Vogue Paris, Self-Service and i-D, collaborating with photographers including Mario Testino, Alasdair McLellan and Willy Vanderperre. “I really value long relationships,” she says of McLellan and Vanderperre. “Those ones have really helped me shape my style.”
Pica first partnered with Chanel in 2013, shortly after Peter Philips’ departure, when the brand was “trying people out” for the job on its beauty campaigns. Today, Pica travels from London to Paris twice a month for Chanel, but continues to work independently on editorials, such as a romantic story featuring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik, shot in Naples, for the May issue of American Vogue.
Pica designs all of Chanel’s beauty products, including four seasonal collections a year, and is responsible for “everything to do with taking a collection into the world,” she says, including creating the looks for the accompanying advertising campaigns. It’s a large undertaking: last year, Chanel’s beauty and personal care business generated about $3.4 billion in revenues, according to Euromonitor (though this figure includes fragrance and skin care, on which Pica does not work).
Her first full collection for Chanel will launch in August, but her touch was already visible in the brand’s rouge noir Christmas 2015 campaign, for which Pica painted Sam Rollinson with ultra-glossy burgundy lipstick and nail polish, her eyes lined with black and framed with an unusual dark purple eyeshadow. The unexpected colours continued on the red carpet this year at Cannes, where Pica framed the eyes of Chanel beauty ambassador Kristen Stewart with a vampiric red shadow.
Pica’s inspirations range from fabrics and art to screen sirens like Isabella Rosselini and ‘90s movie stars like Nastassja Kinski. “You start from an idea, you create the story around it, you create mood boards and inspiration material. Then you move on to actually making products,” she says, after which she works on the campaigns and press promotion.
Beauty is one of Chanel’s most accessible product categories and, along with fragrances and eyewear, one of the few the brand currently sells online. “You can really reach out to everyone, especially with such an iconic name behind it,” says Pica. Girls today, she says, look to “the internet, the tutorials, the celebrities” for make-up inspiration. Indeed, the meteoric rise of online beauty videos and vloggers like Michelle Phan and Zoella has opened up new commercial opportunities. Phan, who accumulates millions of views per video, has served as “video make-up artist” for Lancôme, launched her own beauty collection, as well as a book, a beauty subscription service and a television network.
This March, Chanel launched Chanel Beauty Talks, a new video series in which Pica and a Chanel ambassador (Gisele Bündchen in the first episode; Keira Knightley in the second) give tips on using makeup products — but stop short of providing a full tutorial. “As a makeup artist, of course, I know that there are ways of doing certain things that make your face the best it can be. But I think there is a certain obsession with doing things one way and not respecting individuality, which I’m not so excited about,” Pica says.
“If everybody puts makeup on the same way, we’re all going to look the same. And that’s not what I like,” she says. “I like to see diversity. I like to see different interpretations. I’ve made this first collection, and I’ve given it my vision. But what would really make me happy is to see an interpretation of someone having a lot of fun with it, play with it, do their own thing with it.”