My Interview with Thom Walker, Givenchy’s new Creative Director of Makeup
It’s huge news in the beauty world when a luxury house announces a new creative director of makeup. It’s the pinnacle for celebrity makeup artists who have worked endless hours building up their portfolios, celebrity clients and social media following. And as you can imagine, competition is fierce for these few high profile roles. The job entails working closely with the research & development and marketing teams to create limited edition colour collections, new products and social media content.
I had the pleasure of interview Givenchy’s former creative director of makeup Nicolas Degennes at a Sephora store launch in Montreal years ago. I remember that he carried a notebook that he was constantly writing down ideas for new products, campaigns, packaging and formulas. He was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met in the industry as he was always thinking about the next great product. He achieved that at Givenchy with his remarkable powders. If you have never tried a Givenchy Prisme powder, it is worth the investment. And who can forget the iconic Phenomen’eyes mascara with the ball-shaped brush? I was in New York on a press trip when that product launched at Sephora and it was pandemonium. Nicolas left big shoes to fill.
Enter Thom Walker, a sweet, soft-spoken man born and raised in Yorkshire, England, now living in London. At the age of 19, he moved to Paris to accept an internship at an international cosmetic house with the blessing of his godmother who he credits instilling his passion for makeup. He quickly made a name for himself exploring natural skin textures and streamlined beauty which led to booking jobs with British Vogue, i-D magazine, L’Uomo, Dazed and Confused and W magazine. Buzz grew and he was soon making up the faces of Emma Watson, Claire Foy, Kristen Stewart and pop star Rosalia. Following months of interviews and discussions he accepted the role of Creative Director of Makeup for French fashion house Givenchy.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Thom for twenty minutes via a Zoom call from London recently. Here’s what he had to say:
Dave: To start, tell me how you balance such a high-pressure career with your hope life?
Thom: Balance is really important in life. And I feel it is important to close off work at the end of the day. I have a studio so I close the door and try to keep my makeup separate from my living life because you can constantly, constantly, constantly be thinking creatively and your mind doesn’t stop. So I try and keep my work life separate. And when I do get time off I’m like everyone else and like to watch a Netflix show or go to a pilates class or I love a massage. Being a makeup artist you end up with a very broken back. So I try and protect my back as much as possible.
What’s a typical day in my life? I keep my kit in my studio. And my suitcases for my makeup. We go to the studio before any job and we pick up the kits. I always wake up early. I’m naturally a morning person. I will always have a cup of proper English tea. It’s a stressful job so I always like to feel calm going into the job. So I like to play classical music or ocean sounds – just to kind of set my day up. If you are stressed going into a job, I just don’t feel you give your best. That’s how the day starts. And then we go to set. My assistant will set up for me. I’ll maybe talk to the stylist and the photographer about what we’re going to do. Then we go to the makeup side of things. And the generally when I finish work, I’m dead. I just want to eat and sleep.
Now, my days are changing because of my new role. It’s super-exciting and it is almost like every day is different. Talking to you today. Tomorrow I’m on set. Friday I’m taking a flight. And Saturday I’m chilling.
Dave: For someone who hasn’t seen your work, how would you describe your signature look?
Thom: I always try to create a lasting image with makeup. I don’t always think it is about makeup. It’s about the overall image and what you try to convey through that image. So I always try to have a simplistic edge to my work. Makeup is a collaborative process. You are with the stylist. You are with the hair stylist. The photographer. The model. I like to bring out the best of the model, you know. Whether the references are outlandish or avant-garde, I always try to have a simplistic edge to that reference.
Dave: What do you think your star product at Givenchy will be?
Thom: I’m excited for that moment but I don’t know yet what it is going to be. I know what products I’m going to be developing first. I’m definitely excited to create that ‘Thom’ moment. Colour is such a pull for me. I love a yellow-undertone ochre for instance for a tea-stained eye. That colour feels so ‘me’.
Dave: What is your earliest makeup memory?
Thom Walker: My earliest makeup memory would be one of my godmother. She was quite a glamorous lady in the 80s and 90s. She had such a deep love for beauty and fashion – she loved the luxury element of makeup and its packaging, and I would love watching her apply her makeup. It just fascinated me. It’s definitely one of the reasons I do makeup today.
Dave: What appeals to you in makeup products: textures, colours, packs…all of these?
Thom: I have such a love for everything about design – and what I love about makeup are the endless possibilities it offers, whether it’s new product formulas and textures or clever packaging ideas for a more sustainable beauty world.
Dave: What does beauty mean to you?
Thom: Beauty can be found anywhere and within anything. I like simplistic elements of beauty and making that simplicity bold and impactful.
Dave: Who’s your beauty icon?
Thom: Anjelica Huston –I think she’s simply amazing. I love the fact that she plays with both powerful femininity and masculinity.
Dave: Which icon would you have dreamt to make up?
Thom: Amy Winehouse – I loved that bold, black, instantly recognisable eyeliner she created. Just EYEconic!
Dave: What drew you to work with Givenchy?
Thom: When I think of Givenchy I think of powerful yet simple luxury; it’s timeless and elegant yet it has boldness and it’s brave – with a desire to push beauty boundaries.
Dave: Do you remember the first time you discovered Givenchy, fashion and beauty wise?
Thom: I remember discovering Givenchy when Alexander McQueen was its fashion creative director. I remember seeing such beautiful yet so daring runway shows. I just remember being in awe. My first memory of Givenchy beauty would be the Phenomen’eyes mascara. You opened it up and there was that tiny little ball that just lifted and curled your lashes instantly, I had never seen anything like it.
Dave: Which Givenchy product excites you most?
Thom : The Prisme Libre Loose Powder. It’s an illuminating powder, it has a beautiful airy texture and adds such a sense of light to the face.
Dave: Can you talk about your signature look?
Thom: I would say my signature look is always about timeless simplicity, with an element of surprise. This can include illuminating the skin, nothing on the eyes with a daring deep red lip; or trying new techniques or new formulas for example; or creating makeup looks on boys. However I always revert it back to the model who is in front of me. For me it’s always about enhancing the person in front of me.
Dave: The best beauty tip you have ever been given?
Thom: Look after and protect your skin. It’s out biggest organ.
Dave: What is your favourite technique?
I love the first moment the model sits in the chair and we start skin prep. It’s a real chance for me to get to know the person in front of me. I love to buff the skin, like almost polishing the skin. I can spend a lot of time doing that, it’s quite therapeutic for me as well!
Thom: What is the minimal beauty routine you consider necessary?
Again looking after your skin, treating your skin kindly, massaging your skin.
Expect to see the first Givenchy beauty products by Thom in late 2023 or early 2024.