A few years ago, 20 minutes before showtime, Halsey was crying alone in her dressing room. “I was on tour and I had just gone through a really ugly and public breakup,” she reminisces over the phone. “I was crying and crying and crying. I was really embarrassed to have to go onstage and be sexy, and cool, and empowering, knowing that every single person in the audience had probably just read some gossip tabloid about me.” What she did next was the quiet, sacred ritual she did before every show: she closed her door, sat in front of the mirror, and applied her makeup. “I just fuckin' took a big breath and just looked at myself and got ready—like I was going to war,” she recalls. “And by the time I had my makeup on, I wasn’t crying anymore.”
Depending on your level of fandom, you might be surprised to know that Halsey—full name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane—has been doing her own makeup for her tour and red carpet appearances for years. To her, makeup is as much a form of artistry as writing a song or performing, and oftentimes feels just as personal. It makes perfect sense, then, that today she would launch her own makeup line, About-Face—a “triple entendre” she tells me that means 1. to go in the opposite direction 2. stands for her initials and 3. when shortened, can be interpreted as the phrase "as fuck.” The entire collection features playful eye, face, and lip products that encourage you to treat your own face as a canvas and embodies her makeup mantra in its purest form: that there’s no such thing as messing up the end result, and the products you use should make things easy for you.
“I was an art student, so I paint and I still paint,” she explains. “Makeup has always been something I've just been naturally drawn to because I'm very dextrous with a brush and I know a lot about color.” (For proof of her artistic prowess, just Google “Halsey SNL Eastside performance.”) Though she employs all her art school knowledge into creating her red carpet and editorial looks these days, Halsey’s first foray into doing her own makeup started years ago and came out of necessity, rather than inspiration: “I was really, really broke,” she laughs. Her label at the time mostly represented DJs and dance music artists, and didn’t have much of a wardrobe or glam budget for its lone pop star ($200 to be exact). And so she styled herself, mostly in American Apparel tennis skirts and Adidas Superstar sneakers, and learned to do her own makeup with drugstore products. And years down the line when her budget grew and professional makeup artists were hired to get her ready before events, she realized something surprising: she still liked the way she did her own makeup best. “Here’s the thing—I'm a musician, so I'm supposed to look like me,” she explains. “People feel connected to you, and they feel like they know you. You want to look like yourself, not look like someone else. And getting to sit down with your face every day and get to know it and what you look like...it definitely helps with your sense of identity, and makes you feel more accepting.” And finally, after doing her own makeup for a shoot with the legendary photographer Ellen Von Unwerth, she felt empowered enough to call herself a “full-fledged makeup artist” and start building her own suitcase-sized professional kit.
The process of trial and error, experimentation, and building her kit all inspired About-Face’s launch products, each one a reflection of Halsey’s own experiences with makeup and each one meant to help you express, rather than conceal (there’s no foundation, concealer, or contour in sight). There are the Matte Fluid Eye Paints, $24—portable “paints” that you can swipe and blend on your eyelid for a watercolor finish or something more opaque. “They're one of the first things that I initially designed for the launch because I love super-pigmented eye shadows,” she says. “It’s just so fun for me because I can mix it the way I would mix paint. It's fun if you're gifted with color and application, but it's also really fun if you're just starting out. You can’t really fuck it up.” Following the same ethos are the Shadowsticks, $21, which Halsey calls “adult crayons” meant for drawing on your eyes, but also anywhere else on your face (“I love drawing on my face,” she declares simply). And launching with three different highlighters—the Light Lock Stick, Light Lock Powder, and Light Lock Highlight Fluid—might seem excessive, but for Halsey, it all comes back to her experience as a musician. “When I was first starting out on stage, I would use eight different products to try to get the perfect highlight,” she says. “I was mixing a highlighted primer with a liquid highlight, and then a cream highlight, and a powder highlight. I was just going crazy because I wanted people to be able to see my cheeks glint from the nosebleed seats. And there are pictures—they did.” From an artist’s perspective, highlighting is also a technique that can differentiate a good drawing from a bad one, and thus, makes all the difference. “Going in with a white marker in a drawing and making everything stand out and feel three-dimensional is key,” she says. “It's always that last step that takes it from being pretty good to wow, this is really life-like. Doing makeup on your face is the same way.”
The About-Face Matte Lip Color, $22 and Matte Fix Lip Pencils, $17 were created out of her own desire for a lip color that would stay on through sweat, rain, and mic-flips. During her tour, she had trouble finding a matte lip that worked for her because of her chronically dry lips, which would make most formulas crumble and flake by the time she’d finished her first song onstage. “There were all these pictures of me with lipstick in between my teeth because I'd be biting dry chunks of my lip and matte lipstick off,” she recalls. “Making a matte lip was a serious priority for me because I was like, I need something that's going to be locked in and unmovable when I'm performing, and something that's not going to make my lips look like they're devoid of any moisture at all.” And the Matte Lip Colors do just that, dispersing high-impact pigment in just one swipe, yet feeling featherlight and non-drying even after hours of wear (this writer can attest).
When it comes to ingredients, Halsey says safety was incredibly important—again, stemming from a very personal reason. “I have an autoimmune illness, so I'm very sensitive to what goes on my face,” she shares. “And a lot of my audience, they're really young, and I just don't want anyone putting stuff on their face that's going to hurt them down the line.” Her products leave out parabens, gluten and synthetic fragrances to decrease chances of irritation, and are all vegan and cruelty-free. As for packaging, she says with a laugh: “I just didn’t want to do something boring.” The holographic packaging and materials—all designed with the same painstaking care she applies to creating album art with her designers— are recyclable and biodegradable, which she was unwavering about. The whole process of conceptualizing and creating About-Face has taken her over two years, and she wants to make it very clear she doesn’t just regard it as a side project. “I'm just as crazy about this as I am about music,” she tells me adamantly. “I'm known for sending a song back to get mixed or mastered 20 times in a row, and it’s the same way with the products. I'll send them back and be like, ‘This formulation is too oil heavy. Let's add hyaluronic acid to this one. This one's not opaque enough. The shimmer disperses too much in this one.’"
In this day and age, launching a beauty brand can feel like yet another thing to check off on the long list of celebrity extracurriculars. Rihanna has Fenty Beauty, Selena Gomez has Rare Beauty, Lady Gaga has Haus Laboratories...the list goes on. But Halsey wants to make it very clear that About-Face is less about expanding her reach through another avenue and more about building a real community around something she feels genuinely passionate about. “I really hope that people know that I've always done my own makeup, so this is coming from a place of a lot of experience, and a lot of love for the art,” she says. “I meticulously designed all of these products. Everything from the ingredients to the names of every single one of the products—it was entirely of my own love, and design, and approval, and involvement.” About-Face, according to her, is meant to be a community—a place to welcome the outcasts, the rebels, the “blue eyeliner kid in a school full of Hollister and Abercrombie Fitch kids” (her own description of her teenage years). “I feel like I never really see makeup anymore that's about being fucked up and dirty and grungy and just wrong, and so much makeup used to be about that,” she remarks. “I'm just paying homage to the style of makeup and the makeup influences that I've always loved: very '90s-heavy, very Myspace scene queen, very emo revival.” She says About-Face is meant to be androgynous, and a conduit to give anyone free reign to paint, play and experiment with makeup like she has in her own life. “It’s something for the generation of e-girls and e-boys out there,” she says. “I’m watching you. I would have been friends with all of you 10 years ago. I love you.” And for someone who treats her own makeup routine with reverence—she carves out two hours for glam before every appearance, no distractions, just her and the makeup mirror—she hopes About-Face can be a source of comfort and help her audience on their journey to self-acceptance. "“I think so much of makeup these days is about changing what you look like, or correcting things,” she reflects. “Look, I love makeup as an art as much as the next person. I admire the tremendous amount of skill that it takes to do color correction, but as someone who has spent a really long time trying to look different than I do, it was really relieving for me to be able to look at myself and go, hey, that's your face. There's nothing you can do about it. So you better love it, because that's the one you got.”
I'm paying homage to the style of makeup and the makeup influences that I've always loved: very '90s-heavy, very Myspace scene queen, very emo revival.
She's practically giddy when I ask her about what's next. “Lots more products. Lots more colors. Lots more experimentation, innovation, and hopefully products that are presented in ways that people have never seen before, which is really, really exciting,” she says, her enthusiasm palpable across the crackly static. And at the end of the day, that might be About-Face’s biggest point of differentiation—not its products, or design, but simply the fact that it’s borne of Halsey herself.
Welcome to the world, About-Face—the crowd is waiting.
About-Face products are available on aboutface.com and will ship 1/25.