James Kaliardos, make up artist, actor and entrepreneur, founder of Visionaire and V magazine gave us the honor of coming to our studio to be photographed by The GROUND’s Editor-in-chief, Ryan Yoon and answer some of our questions about his life, his career and his passion for beauty.
When were you first exposed to Fashion?
When I was seven I would do my mother’s make up by copying pictures from Vogue. Of course, I didn’t know it, but I was copying Irving Penn pictures from Vogue on my mother that she would wear to the PTA meetings. I was mesmerized by that world, but I didn’t know who anyone was. I didn’t know the difference between advertisements and editorials and who the models were.
When I was older my friend Ed Rodgers went to Parsons while I was still in Michigan. When he came back home he opened up Vogue and said ‘This is an ad, this is an editorial, this is Iman’. He showed me what it was all about.
I made a collage of all these fashion images as a kid. It was all Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Diane Von Furstenberg. I would go down to my basement and fantasize; it was my sanctuary. And the fantastic part is that almost everyone on that wall I have met and worked with. I think that visualizing those images really got me there. I haven’t taken it down; it’s still there in the basement of my home.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York when I was seventeen. I wanted to go to Parsons or somewhere away from Detroit. At first I did not get accepted anywhere because I had very good grades and very bad grades. In world literature I had an A+ and in Math I had a D. I was going to go to this horrible college in Michigan, but by some fluke I was accepted to the summer program at Parsons. So I went and got all A’s and so they said I could come as a full time student if I wanted. I had two weeks to drop out of the other college.
I really came to New York to be an actor and Parsons was like my lying way of getting to New York.
How did you meet Stephen Gan and Cecilia Dean?
I remember I met Stephen Gan in the dormitory at Parsons. We started taking fashion pictures just for fun. Well, I guess for me just for fun — he really wanted to do it as a career so we started doing these test shoots. One day I remember it clearly; Cecilia Dean walked in. She was just so beautiful, so incredible with such great personality.
How did you three start Visionaire?
We worked a lot for Details magazine. It was a free-spirited downtown magazine. And everyone came through it. Work didn’t start until four in the afternoon and kept going all night, because we were all out partying, clubs were still amazing then.
Stephen worked there as the fashion director and when Condé Nast bought it, first they ran it without changes but after a while they changed it to a male magazine. I remember they asked Stephen, ‘What do you think about a white shirt story?’ That is when we knew it was time to go.
I started working for all these people who had personal projects, they had photos in their drawers but there was nowhere to showcase them. There was Vogue and there was Paper magazine and nothing in between. Not much around so we were like,’we have to do something!’
What was a defining moment of your career?
I met Diane Von Furstenberg at Parsons. I did her makeup for her portrait and I started doing her makeup personally. Then she asked me to do one of her shows. I was a kid, it was crazy! Iman, Naomi, Cindy, all the big girls were in it. I remember I was so nervous. Friends and some art students were helping me. I was very good. I was just talented at it, I never went to school for it. I never had to learn it. I really love women and it just happened. I see women and I just see beauty.
Iman sat in my chair and she said “Darling, you can do what ever you want to this face”. And I was like OMG, she really gave. It was a rite of passage. The most beautiful woman, the Goddess Iman allowed me to do this. It was just this incredible thing that happened.
You met Andy Warhol?
Stephen asked me to go to Area one night when we first met. But I didn’t have any money. I was ashamed so I told him I had homework, but as he was going out, I told him I would do his makeup. So I did this half face orange and gold with like a reddish stripe around his entire face. He met Andy first that night. Andy wanted to photograph him, and did this series of Polaroids that ended up running in L’Uomo Vogue.
Later I met Andy a couple of times. He never talked much, but he liked it when you talked; so one night when he sat and listened he said to me – You need to wear more makeup. It was just a message about makeup, like a key. The night he died I was in Paris and dreamt of him. I always felt this kind of connection with him.
Tell me about some other people who have influenced you.
That was another amazing moment; I was working with my friend Luigi Mureno, a hairdresser working with Donatella Versace that night I was working with her, a phone call came in for Madonna. I told Donatella, ‘Can I please do your make up and then go to Madonna?’ She was so sweet and said absolutely…before sending me in her car across the park to Madonna’s house.
She taught me how to do Yoga… My boyfriend at the time had cancer and died. I was really upset and I was on tour, a press tour for Ray of Light. ’Ok we have to do this everyday, come to yoga everyday,’ Madonna said. And every day I would go into some hip opening position and I would burst into tears.
Do you consider fashion an art form?
I don’t consider fashion art; fashion is fashion, art is something different.
Do you Consider Make up an art form?
Am I an artist? Well it is Makeup artist. I have to vote yes. Paint splattering a face doesn’t mean it is art. Is what I do an art form? I don’t know, but it’s artistic. I don’t think it is art, but I consider myself an artist. I have worked with artists Cyndi Sherman, Marina Abramovic and Andy Warhol to name a few.
Is it different working with an artist from working with Julianne Moore or Madonna?
Not really… I think when you work with an actress or performer…Working with Madonna is an incredible experience on every single level; she is so in to it and really wants you to do something interesting. She is into the transformation and the projected image… we are working on something that we will project in the world as an image… Not just “I wanna look good”… Everything communicates something. And that is very interesting.
If you could re-live your life would you pursue another career path?
I think if I didn’t have Visionaire and my acting, I think makeup would maybe have been more difficult for me at times. But because I always had other things going on I didn’t take certain things to heart than other people do, I think.
The other day I walked into Visionaire. The toilet cracked in half and I fixed it and dragged it out, I am always doing these things. It’s not all glamorous. I have 20 mouths to feed on staff. It’s my company. We made sure not to fire anyone over the recession. It’s hard running it with our schedule but we have been an outlet for so many people to show so much of their work. All of these people started with us as we started with them. It’s just great. If I were just on Broadway or something I would miss this.