Dusting crimson pigments on skin he creates blended illusions. His canvas smiles back as he adds a tinge of the brightest shades to it. Makeup makes the world go round, or so they say. As Kumar Iyer gives us a sneak peek into his lifestyle we think we’re in for heavy tones, contours, and glitter with a tinge of glamour. It’s anything but that. With vivid palettes to set the tone, this makeup artist from the LGBT community says makeup is a form of self-expression and subtlety is his style.
Bingedaily spoke to Kumar about this art and the space it dominates in the LGBT arena. “Makeup does not define me,” he says “I like dressing up as a man, and in those glorious moments that life permits me, I dress up as a woman.”
The evolution of makeup in the LGBT community
Perception of makeup and its association with the LGBT community has changed over the years, says this makeup artist. “If we look at the scene decades ago, a man was either gay or straight. The list ended there. The space for bisexual, queer, trans, asexual was in oblivion. If a man deigned to even so much as wear a hint of makeup, he was considered to be gay.”
“Today men who are intrinsically male douse themselves in makeup. The barrier has been broken down. The association of femininity with makeup no longer exists. The reason behind this stark revolution - visibility.”
The massive dissemination of social media has caused the rigid and fluid to balance out each other. It has changed the game and caused ideologies to intertwine and given birth to a new outlook. “A man would never have the courage to march to the cosmetic shop across the road and buy himself some makeup in the days of old. However, with e-commerce taking over and inclusivity steadily gaining traction, no one would bat an eyelid if the scene were to be repeated today. The boundaries have been broken.”
However, while the view is different today, years ago gay men still found it impossible to find their space in society. A young Kumar knew there was something up from the word ‘go’. “I wasn’t like the rest of the boys and girls, and although I went to an all-boys school, I was a loner.” He never thought there was anything special about him until he heard the word ‘gay’ on the radio. “I identified with the person being spoken of and came to believe I am not one of a kind and there are others who are like me. ”
“Makeup is a tool of expression for the LGBT community”
As the beauty industry is being liberated from its rigid, not-too-loud norms, the definition of makeup has expanded and is now a form of expression of one’s ideals. One’s makeup choices are shaped by who they are, what they believe in and what they wish to portray. To this adds Kumar, “There are men in the LGBT community who love adorning themselves with makeup. Trans women too love dressing up and going all out to showcase their likes. There’s a reason the word ‘queer’ has come about to be. It’s different, something you wouldn’t usually see, something that is making its own mark.”
Does makeup define one though? “It’s an unapologetic expression,” says Kumar. “People are in love with colours. And I say why not? Everyone should be entitled to the tools they wish to employ in order to give the world a better idea of themselves. Celebrate your looks the way you want to.”
The beauty industry is more inclusive today
Once Kumar had found his identity and accepted his persona, life was a high. As the beauty industry has taken great strides to be inclusive, homosexuality was not as frowned upon as it once was. “I was once listening on the radio to Cory Wallia, a makeup artist speaking of homosexuality. I later saw him on another show and there was a connection I felt. The stars were in my favour and the man who I adored, was now mentoring me,” says Kumar recounting how his journey in the industry started off.
“It has been a rewarding experience,” he says. “While Cory Walli had ignited the fire in my heart for the makeup business, there were other beauty entrepreneurs who spotted my talent and guided me on this path. Parties to go to, being on a first-name basis with stars, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. A lonely boy had found his safe space,” says Kumar who has worked with the likes of Manisha Koirala, Channel V, MTV, Lara Dutta, Sushmita Sen, Imtiaz Ali, and spent a roller coaster decade in the industry.
While makeup is the highlight shining bright in the palette of this LGBT artist’s life, another secret fetish of his is fashion. A fashion forecaster! “There are times a style of mine that I come up with today is a trend a decade in the future.” While mystique and charisma exude from him, there’s a real Kumar lurking somewhere behind the glam.
“People assume if you’re gay, you will be a makeup artist”
This LGBT makeup artist speaks of another aspect that is all the hype these days - life coaches. “People often associate being gay with certain some professions. A makeup artist is one of these. However, it shouldn’t be the case. If you belong to the LGBT community, you could be a makeup artist or also whatever the hell you want to be. This is what life coaches serve to do - tell the younger ones that it is okay. You listen to them baring their souls,” says Kumar who himself has coached many young boys who felt lost and hopeless when they identified with being gay.
While his experiences have seemed like dreams come true, there’s one wish that remains unfulfilled. “When Sushant Singh Rajput passed away, I felt hollow. Though I never knew him personally, it was tragic that he ever took such a drastic step. Meeting him and doing his makeup was a bucket list task. It will never come true.”
“At 50, you take stock of life. It isn’t a mid-life crisis”
With a yearning to experiment with makeup, Kumar has had an existence filled with palettes, stories, and glitter, and now wishes to give back a slice of what he’s learnt. “At 50, you sit down and think through every story you’ve lived, you take stock of life. It’s not a mid-life crisis I’m suggesting,” he adds with a laugh. “When I started off in this field, oftentimes I found myself craving to familiarise with someone who knew what feeling lost felt like. Now it’s my turn to be that figure for the younger ones.”
With a plan on expanding his learnings to other cities in India, Kumar is all set to begin teaching. Having experienced it all first-hand, he is looking forward to imparting these lessons which you’d seldom find in a textbook. “Familiarity breeds contempt is what I’ve learnt. Makeup is one such profession where touch plays a great role. You learn about your client’s personal life and more. Do you keep it with you? Never,” he says. “You release it back into the universe and never speak of it to anyone. If you’re confided in, you do not repeat it.”
To Kumar, there’s something much more important than the showbiz - stories. He recounts an incident where he was assigned to work with Steven Spielberg in 2014. “While I never did get around to doing the legend’s makeup, I ended up chatting with him for the quarter of an hour! Do I regret not being able to be his makeup artist? No way. The talk we had, the time we spent is any day more memorable.” Kumar was fortunate to interact with Waheeda Rehman, Helen and those moments, he says have left their footprints in his mind for a lifetime.