It's the coldest day of the year, but in the restaurant of the Connaught Hotel the temperature is perfect. On my right is a table of fashionistas, pale-faced and serious looking; to my left a pair of lunching ladies, discussing their interior design arrangements. But the most interesting person in the room is sitting right opposite me. Olivier Echaudemaison, Creative Director at Guerlain.
Handsome, immaculate, not a hair or stitch out of place; this is the man who, for the past decade or so, has been in charge of le maquillage de Guerlain. It was Olivier who invented Les Meteorites, those much copied little balls of colour that bring even the dullest of complexions to light. It was Olivier who perfected the art of the bronzer; Olivier who dreamt up Midnight Secret; Olivier who invented the most luxurious lipstick bullet known to mankind; Olivier who ensures that this most venerable of great French brands remains at the sharp end of the cosmetics market.
He is 73, but looks the right side of 60. He is straight into the menu, ordering crab cakes and fish and chips. And a glass of Chablis. Or two. Ostensibly he is here to discuss his book, Colors of My Life; but he soon goes off piste and we chat about everything, from Botox to the future of the Euro. He is, like all people who survive and thrive in this business, seriously clever - and clever enough not to take himself too seriously.
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He doesn't need to: after all, he's been around since Shirley MacLaine was a star, and Brigitte Bardot used to stroll barefoot around a traffic-free St Tropez. Photographs of him in the sixties show a snake-hipped, impish young man, dressed head to toe in black and shoe-less, posing in the Yves Saint Laurent boutique in St Tropez. Here he is with Princess Anne, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Princess Margaret. In other shots he gazes languidly at the camera: in uniform during National Service in Algeria, in a moustache with Sophia Loren, a little drunk at a party.
I pull out my favourite Guerlain make-up, the Terracotta Blush , £28.50, of a few seasons ago. "I'm wearing it now," I announce proudly, like a schoolgirl keen to impress. He sucks his breath in: "Ah. Really? But not enough. Pass it here, please." I obey, and soon he is dotting it on my cheeks, smiling and telling me a story about how the last time he did this to a journalist, Donatella Versace came over and demanded a make-over too. "There," he says, surveying me through his giant specs. "Much better. Very fresh, very young."
Our food arrives. "That is very light," he comments, as I tuck into a saintly plate of tuna tartare. 'I'm afraid so," I explain. "I have to lose 20 kilos, you see." He looks aghast. "Mais non, non, non, NON," he says. "You have a beautiful complexion, don't ruin it by being thin." He scans the rest of me with his expert eye. "Ten will suffice," he declares, and dips another piece of crab cake into his béarnaise.
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In the book, he describes himself as a seller of dreams. In person, it is clear that he is one of those men who has a unique affinity with women. As the previous exchange illustrates (because, you see, I really do need to lose 20 kilos), he knows how to charm them, soothe their insecurities, and make them feel at ease - especially if they are not the most naturally beautiful in the room. "Every woman has one part of their face that is lovely," he says. You just have to emphasise it."
This, I think, is his genius. Anyone can make a beautiful woman look even more beautiful; but to make a normal woman not just look but also feel gorgeous is a skill that few in his line of work possess.
Colors of My Life is the story and photograph album of Olivier Echaudemaison’s life as a make-up artist, hair stylist and the artistic director for Guerlain. In a series of make-over images he also delivers his make-up secrets with transforming ‘before’ and ‘after’ images. Available exclusively at Guerlain Boutiques, 30 euros.