Beautiful Thinkers: A conversation with Marco Castro about gender fluidity, Peruvian women and makeup as a spiritual art form.
Marco Castro is an American screenwriter, film director and make-up artist.
The makeup industry has always fascinated me—not because I’m looking for makeup tips (though I’ve watched my fair share of YouTube tutorials) but because I see it as a cultural indicator. A distinctive part of the larger fashion and beauty scene, the makeup industry bridges the gap between reality and utopia.
I set out to interview someone who was not only leading the industry but also informing culture and my search quickly took me to Marco Castro. Peruvian- born and NYC bred, he sees the world through lovely rose-colored glasses. I’d like to live in the world he sees.
I was drawn to a quote you said in a Harper’s Bazaar feature: “Every woman has a past, no matter what age. It’s something in her eyes, that’s what fascinates me.” What in your life story shaped that observation?
I never had a father figure. I was always surrounded by women my grandmother, my aunts, my mother, my sister and cousins. My background is native Peruvian. I was raised in Peru. Having so many living examples of powerful women around me made me understand that women didn’t need a man in their life to succeed and to do important things.
Also, in Inca culture, women could be priestess. They had equal value and held significant roles in society. My mother, for example, is a shaman. In Peru, we have this name called “Pachamama”, which means goddess. The four cosmological Pachamama elements are water, earth, sun and moon, and they’re all female. To me, female represents everything. If it wasn’t for women, none of us would be here.
So yes, after working so closely with so many women, when I look at their eyes I can tell their story. When you are sensitive, you can really connect with a person. Women have this side, this shine, this special magic in their eyes that even if they don’t say a word, they tell you what’s going on in their head. You can tell.
Is there a certain period in the past that is your go-to for makeup?
I love the 60s, and I also love the 1920s. They’re not always my reference, but I have a fascination with makeup during that time. They were both periods of revelation. Women in the 1920s were starting to cut their hair shorter and wear shorter dresses. They wore darker eye shadows and started doing smokey eyes. It was a very rebellious period. The 60s were the same. They showed more skin, more cleavage, and they wore brighter colors on their lips. Both decades were liberating and empowering times for women.
Is there a particular age that you tend to work with more?
I have clients from 12 to 80-something. Age is becoming like gender in that you don’t really focus on how old someone is. It’s more a matter of spirit.
What’s the process look like when you start working with a new client?
When I work with someone new, I like to ask questions prior to meeting them to get an idea of their lifestyle. That helps me understand how far I can take it, how natural or how minimal I should keep it.
Doing makeup is spiritual. It’s very personal because you’re touching their face. I don’t let just anyone touch my face. A person needs to have some sort of confidence in you and trust to let you touch him or her. Touching someone’s face and applying makeup can also be pampering. I like to protect my clients and make them feel comfortable with me.
Your background on both sides of the lens as director and makeup artist is fascinating. How has that duality shaped your philosophy and your aesthetic?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to grow creatively by being part of the entire process. Creating a film takes a lot. It starts as an idea or a vision, then you write the script, do the art direction, cast auditions, direct the actors, edit, and finally post-produce. It’s an entire process which allows me to tell a story from conception to finish.
When I do makeup for a fashion show or film production it often requires period makeup from the 60s, 70s, 80s. It’s a collaborative process with the director, photographer, model, hair and stylist. We build a character together. Makeup can help get the actor into the psyche of their character. I’m telling a story through the look I create, the way I use eyeliner or the shapes of the lips.
When you’re doing just makeup, do you find that the person wants to become a different person or reveal who they really are?
It depends on the situation. If you’re working on a big fashion shoot, there’s an idea and a concept already and you work together with the talent or the model to help them become that person or character. But when I work with regular women, not actors or models, I use my tools and my hands to help them become who they want to be.
Who are some formative forces that have helped shaped you as an artist?
Every single person I come into contact with becomes a part of who I am. My biggest influencers have been the artists that I have been lucky to work with like Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish filmmaker and director. Francois Nars is also very important for me, as well as Nan Goldin. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded and mentored by amazing artists that helped me develop my artistic side.
I didn’t realize that Francois Nars was a photographer as well.
Yes, yes, he’s a photographer. Well he started his makeup brand first. He is still one of the most incredible makeup artists of our times. When he launched his brand, he photographed his first campaign. That’s how he started doing photography. Now he’s a well-known photographer and published a few books. He’s an amazing visionary.
Would it be fair to say that your longest running collaboration has been with Nars?
Yes, yes it has. Francois and his brand, have played a huge part in my life. I’ve seen the entire creative process behind creating a global brand. I’ve learned how to express your vision, how to create something and how to make it happen. When you know Francois personally, you understand the brand is him. You can see the artist in the brand. When you look at a product and see the font, the texture, the color and name of the color and the pigment, you truly see him.
What do you think of the YouTube makeup tutorial universe?
Well I think it’s helpful. It helps people that don’t have access to certain products seek the help of professionals. It brings the experience home and allows people to do some research through reviews before they buy their products. You need to be able to see how it performs and how it blends, how much pigment it has. I like that people are taking the time to create these channels to help other people to share their experience with products. I think it’s great.
Video is the future of communication. I’m working on developing a brand that will create video content for other brands, whether it’s beauty or fashion to tell compelling stories with their products. Then I’ll eventually launch a small beauty line that will be genderless. It will be an in between beauty line that will cater to everyone. This is the ultimate blending of my two worlds.
Are men becoming a big market for beauty products?
In terms of makeup there are more brands that are catering to men, especially in Asia. Korea and Japan have developed products for men to make their skin look flawless, brighter and younger. In Asia the ambiguous look is very big. I know guys who wear more makeup than their wives or girlfriends. Asian society has always been a little ahead of the game in terms of trends in beauty. I love that men are taking care of themselves. Wearing makeup doesn’t make you less of a man.
Now it’s come into America where we’re more open to wear products and concealers and BB creams. Ten years ago that was unthinkable. More brands are coming out that are gender fluid, or genderless. I love where this is going because beauty is about self-expression and individuality. Progressive brands are catering to that.
That’s really a marker of a broader cultural shift. What impact do you think these changes have, not just for the makeup industry but for society?
Treating everyone equally regardless of your race or the color of your skin or gender is very important. It’s not only important for us now, but for future generations. To obtain equal rights we need to treat everyone equally. As I mentioned before, I was raised in Peru, and even though I was raised by really powerful females, South American culture is still very macho-centric. Growing up as a child who was sensitive, not feminine, but sensitive and artistic, was seen as being gay or homosexual. Being gay means being weak, that you’re not man enough.
I grew up with that mindset, but now it has turned completely opposite. There are some radical and extreme feminists now that are blurring men and diminishing men. In order for everyone to obtain equal rights and to be treated equally we need to be more open and treat our children equally and respectfully. Whether it’s a boy who wants to play with makeup and wear makeup, or a girl who hates makeup and doesn’t want anything to do with makeup. It’s important to respect that not put any labels on it. Just let them be.