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Kevyn Aucoin, 40; Celebrity Makeup Artist and Author

May 08, 2002|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, who made up some of the most beautiful faces in Hollywood and then put his techniques in the hands of millions of women through best-selling books, TV appearances and a magazine column, died Tuesday at Westchester Medical Center in New York from complications relating to a pituitary brain tumor. He was 40.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Barbra Streisand and Jennifer Lopez--to name a few--trusted Aucoin to make them look their best. Commanding up to $6,000 a day for his services, he was booked months in advance for awards shows.

"Kevyn was a true artist and a loving and special friend," pop singer Janet Jackson said Tuesday of Aucoin, who worked with her on album covers, magazine shoots and concert tours. "Through his craft, he wanted to open the hearts and minds of all people, regardless of race or sexual preference."

His work graced countless fashion magazines and designer runways, and he wrote best-selling beauty books "The Art of Makeup" (Harper Collins, 1994), "Making Faces" (Little, Brown, 1997) and "Face Forward" (Little, Brown, 2000) and wrote a monthly column for Allure, a beauty magazine.

He viewed makeup as enhancement, not ornament, and refused to tout one product as a "must-have," saying that the strategy was just a ploy by the cosmetics industry to get women to spend money.

"His importance to the beauty industry cannot be overstated," Vogue beauty director Amy Astley said from New York.

"The idea of a celebrity makeup artist crystallized with him. There were others before him like Max Factor, but he was the ultimate. No one did it better and no one ever will. His clients were the starriest stars and he had a rapport with them that is unparalleled in his field. They trusted him and they loved him."

But even as he hobnobbed with supermodels, rock stars and celebrities, Aucoin embraced the beauty in everyday women. He appeared on "The Today Show" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," teaching women how to enhance their inner beauty.

"I wish I could get on a bus and tour America because I love women and I would love to be able to do that," he told The Times in 1995.

In his books, he demonstrated how a celebrity could be transformed into another familiar face--he turned Lisa Marie Presley into Marilyn Monroe. He also performed makeovers on average women--secretaries, friends and family. "He fulfilled in the faces of women their fondest dreams for themselves," photographer Irving Penn said from his studio in New York.

Throughout his career, Aucoin tried to promote individuality and a feminist viewpoint within a field notorious for imposing a uniform standard of beauty. In 1984, he helped create the shades for The Nakeds, a pioneering neutral color collection based on skin tones and launched by Revlon's Ultima II.

"It may not seem like it, but it was a powerful moment. Before, there were makeup lines for white women and others for black women. But he worked to design makeup for all skin tones. The idea was to empower a woman by revealing her natural beauty, and not to cover her up with layers of product," Allure editor-in-chief Linda Wells said from New York. "His biggest influence was his celebration of individual attractiveness and the quirks and imperfections that make people different."

Described by friends as "teddy bear-like," the 6-foot, 4-inch Aucoin was outspoken about gay rights, gun control and race relations. He told Time magazine in October 2000, "If all it says on my gravestone is 'DID GOOD LIPSTICK,' I'd rather it say nothing at all."

Aucoin was as surprised as anyone about his fame and fortune, and was fond of saying, "I'm just a kid from Louisiana." He was born on Valentine's Day 1962 in Shreveport and adopted a month later by a family who raised him and three other adopted siblings in Lafayette.

He realized at an early age that he was gay, and his childhood was traumatic as a result. He took refuge in fashion magazines, spending hours making up his younger sister Carla to look like a model.

At 15, he dropped out of high school after two classmates tried to run him over with a car. In 1983, he moved to New York City and enrolled in beauty school. Within a year, he was hired by photographer Steven Meisel to work with Meg Tilly on a Vogue shoot.

Two years later, he was a legend in the industry, working with models such as Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss and celebrities including Tina Turner and Cher. During the 1990s, when peers such as Vincent Longo and Laura Mercier were launching their own makeup lines, he resisted, saying that he didn't want to lend his name to a major cosmetics company that would only offer him 5% of the profits.

Last year, he launched a Web site--kevynaucoin.com--that features a personal profile and photos as well as makeup tips. His newest project was a line of beauty products, the Kevyn Aucoin Collection, which he was launching on the Web site.

"In typical Kevyn fashion, he was doing it his own way," said Vogue's Astley. "He was a brand and he was only going to get bigger and bigger."

Aucoin is survived by his partner, Jeremy Antunes; parents Thelma S. and Isidore A. Aucoin Jr.; brother Keith; and sisters Carla and Kim. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Donations can be made to the Hetrick Martin Institute, a New York center for gay youth, at www.hmi.org on the Internet.

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