Alessandro Michele's new campaign for Gucci Makeup is causing quite the uproar. No, there’s nothing subversive or anything obscene. In fact, there's nothing overtly sexual about the campaign at all, other than the fact that it features close-up shots of lips. But instead of the smooth, airbrushed smiles you see in most luxury beauty campaigns, these lips are spread into wide grins showing crooked, gap-toothed teeth, or hidden behind a coy flick of a tongue. These lips are real, and the lipsticks and balms that adorn them are meant to accentuate—not camouflage—their different “flaws.” The absence of glossy perfection in this campaign shot by photographer Martin Parr is purposeful—in fact, it’s the entire mindset behind the newly-relaunched collection, which boasts the ethos of "beauty in imperfection." It's a nice concept to latch onto in our ever-evolving beauty landscape, and it’s certainly not the first time a beauty brand has claimed the phrase—but it is the first time a luxury brand hasn’t immediately juxtaposed the proclamation by releasing hyper-airbrushed ads featuring traditionally beautiful models. Michele is taking the phrase to heart, and the proof is in the campaign. Some might call the imagery jarring, or strange—and Michele doesn’t necessarily disagree. “The idea of the campaign is to create a representation that is close to reality with a humanized point of view, however seemingly strange,” Michele explains. “But the strangeness is human, so it's beautiful.” The new collection consists of an assortment of 58 fun, fanciful shades of lipstick in three different finishes—a satin, sheer lipstick, and barely-there balm. Blot them on with your finger, swipe directly from the (floral-adorned) bullet, use them as blush, or even on your eyes—whatever you do, just don’t take them too seriously, because that’s not what Michele intended.
The models he chose to front the campaign aren’t your typical “beauty girls,” either, from punk band Surbordt frontwoman Dani Miller to NYC cool-girl Achok Majak. The latter is a rising model whose very first show was for Michele’s resort collection four years ago; thus, to be cast as one of the four faces of his beauty campaign feels like divine providence. We got the exclusive opportunity to speak with Majak—swathed in sequined Dapper Dan-inspired Gucci pants and eloquent beyond words in NYC’s Nomad Hotel—about being the face of Michele’s new vision, her beauty icons, and the power in a single swipe of red lipstick. Keep scrolling to get to know Achok Majak and the new Gucci beauty.
BYRDIE: Tell us—how does it feels to be one of new faces of Gucci Makeup?
Achok Majak: It feels amazing. It feels really right, and very aligned with where I personally am at in my life, with the brand, and with Alessandro and his vision and what he’s created in this line, from the quality down to the packaging. Alessandro’s cruise show was my very first show. I’ve come a long way as a model since then, and I’ve grown just by being with Gucci. It’s very, very special. It’s kind of as if you’re just part of Alessandro’s story. I’m not surprised by what comes my way and I kind of just sit back and let it show up. When I knew Gucci beauty was happening, I really started focusing on my own beauty routine and making sure that I really show internal beauty in my photos, and in this campaign in particular.
BYRDIE: What does the phrase “beauty in imperfections” mean to you?
AM: An example would be scars. Each scar has its own story and the beauty of the story, but also the symbolism of having it. My most recent one happened a year ago on my elbow. We were shooting the pre-Fall campaign in Toledo, Spain. I had a freak accident in my hotel room and it led to me getting stitches. Since we were so far away from Madrid, I needed immediate medical attention. The place I went stitched it up, but the job wasn’t done well, so the whole joke on the Gucci set was that the tailor, Ian, could’ve stitched it up better. When I do see the scar, I have a lot of incredible memories and it also brought a lot of incredible people in my life.
BYRDIE: Which of the Gucci Makeup sheer balms is your favorite?
AM: My personal favorite is Penelope Plum. It’s a darker shade but it’s also very light and moisturizing. For me, I can just put on a little bit as a tint for my complexion. But each of the lipsticks, I can warm up for my skin tone. I play with colors that I never thought I would touch. I tend to get intimidated by some colors or afraid they can look ashy, but they’re not at all. I’ve been going through everything. Personally, I’m a fan. I’m going to do a black lip. Alessandro turned me onto that, doing a black lip on myself. BYRDIE: What lipstick do you wear when you want to feel empowered?
AM: I would wear a nice, powerful, bold red, like Goldie Red. And to me, that’s business. When I’m going to get business done, I’m going to put red on. If I want to take it a little bit further, I can pop it on my cheeks and warm up my complexion. I would rather use one product multiple ways.
BYRDIE: How has makeup influenced your creativity and passions?
AM: I have such vivid memories of being a kid and watching movies. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, Birdcage…I remember watching Birdcage and just wanting to watch it again. It took me to a whole other world. I loved the makeup in Rent. It was all my first introduction to makeup, where I really saw it for the creative element.
BYRDIE: Who were your beauty icons growing up?
AM: Jackie Kennedy. Your classic, timeless, elegant, forever beauty. I think of her strength and intellect. She was a very positive figure in time. Also, Princess Diana. I remember seeing her the first time as a kid and I was so drawn to her. Even as a kid, every time I would see her, I was like, I love this woman. Now what I realized it was is her energy and ability to connect with people that drew me towards her. She had so much empathy towards people and really touched people’s lives because she cared to. And if I can say that I’ve learned anything from her, it’s that compassion towards people; I look to channel that own energy in myself.
BYRDIE: Tell us your beauty “power face.”
AM: I love a clean face. There’s something beautiful about your own clean face. I’m big on that. I’ve always been. And then, just throw on a nice red lip. Also, I love blush. It warms me up; you can have fun with it. I love more of a red or peachy color, or even a nice golden-brown; it can almost look sun-kissed in a way. If you have the right amount of blush on and a clean face, you’ll have people wondering what’s going on. That’s what beauty is—the real you. It’s fun to add some pop and color, but I would rather use makeup as a form of expression, and not as a form of hiding. Be who you are and use it as a tool to show who you are and be proud of who you are.
BYRDIE: What do you think the beauty industry can do better?
AM: I think it’s opening up to change. And by that, I mean, it’s starting to look at the different issues that have been going on. We’re starting to see more inclusivity. We’re starting to see people wanting to make more foundation colors. We’re seeing more people of all different colors, sexes, everything. I’ve noticed the industry is a place for people to really be able to come out and be able to be their true authentic selves when they’re not really able to do that anywhere else. I think it’s quite beautiful. If the industry allows people to continue to be themselves, we’re going to see amazing changes happening—ones that we haven’t even seen before.
BYRDIE: What advice would you tell your 16-year-old self?
AM: Keep believing. Keep doing you. Everything you did has manifested out in bigger ways. I would say, talk to more people about the things you believe in. Manifest and attract what you want. Focus on being good. If I was more vocal about that, I think I could’ve made more of an impact. We are in this universe and it’s up to us to awaken to the power that is here.
The Gucci Makeup lipstick collection is available for $38 each on Gucci.com and beginning May 6th exclusively at the Saks Fifth Avenue New York Flagship. It will be available nationwide on May 29th on Saks.com and Saks Fifth Avenue.