Creative Brief: Maxine Leonard

This article was published in issue #7889 of British Journal of Photography. Visit the BJP Shop to purchase the magazine here

“Our covers come with a punch,” says Beauty Papers’ co-founder and editor-in-chief, Maxine Leonard. Since the magazine launched in summer 2015, it has built a reputation as an unrivalled, uncompromising voice in the fashion and beauty industry, calling out traditional ways of working through no-holds-barred collaborations and concepts.

Leonard studied at London College of Fashion and trained in Japan under Shu Uemura before working as a makeup artist for fashion editorials and shows. She’d been in the industry for 15 years when she and creative director and fellow Beauty Papers co-founder, Valerie Wickes, sat down together to discuss the gap within publishing where a radical magazine that placed beauty front and centre might exist. “I was becoming frustrated at the change I felt was happening within editorial,” she explains. “I felt like the balance between art and commerce had shifted to such a degree that the creativity was being compromised.” Almost five years on, Beauty Papers exists as a creative agency alongside the biannual print publication. 

Portrait © Elliott Erwitt.

What magazines did you grow up reading?

When I was a teen I used to read magazines like Smash Hits, but my mum would occasionally buy Vogue at the supermarket, and I would steal books from the library and stuff like that. Then I got into The Face and i-D when I started going to London College of Fashion. The Face at that point was using Judy Blame and Jean-Baptiste Mondino a lot. That work has never aged – it still makes the hair stand up on my arms. 

You say you have a punk ethos. How does this come in?

We took punk as part of our manifesto, not in the aesthetic, but in the sentiment: punk was about screwing the formula, and that’s what we wanted to do with Beauty Papers. To this day there’s no advertising, and that’s a very conscious decision for the brand. We want to create bespoke content that’s not available in other publications, to inspire and provoke. 

Issue 07, feature images © Casper Sejersen.

How did your years as a makeup artist prepare you for making a magazine? 

As a makeup artist, you have to be a game player. You understand that it’s not a solo journey. On set, there’s not one person in the room who isn’t part of creating that imagery – and that extends to agents, production, assistants, catering. It really takes an enormous group of people, and I think my experience on set gave me an understanding of that, and a huge amount of respect for photography. I also learned an awful lot from my business partner, Valerie Wickes. As a makeup artist you might prep for a job beforehand, with ideas and a moodboard, but then you go on set with your suitcase, and you leave. You’re not part of the production, or the initial conversation in putting together the team, or the design at the end. Valerie’s been a creative director for over 25 years. She’s worked with photographers like Steven Klein, and she’s had incredible clients, so I learned about the journey after the shoot has happened from her – how you manage that imagery, and how design, typography and paper are so integral to the finished product.

Issue 01, feature images © Ren Hang.

How has the magazine evolved since it launched?

We’ve managed to merge the art world with fashion and beauty. There is a division between the art world and fashion and beauty, but we have been fortunate to collaborate with artists who are willing to break those boundaries – from Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing to the Chapman Brothers [1] and Zanele Muholi. We are starting now to look at more provocative subjects. That’s a challenge, but in the times we’re living in, it’s got to be more than commissioning beauty stories. I want it to be informative, educational and visceral in the way that it inspires. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out now?

I’m old school, but I think that you can’t run before you can walk. It’s important to test. It’s important to create a team, to unify your voices, work together and challenge each other. I also think it’s really important to print your work. It’s expensive to do, and it’s a luxury, but I think printing gives you a different understanding.

Issue 06, Kate Moss cover © Lisa Butler.