Paloma Faith: a Cuban twist on the retro look

The singer Paloma Faith is known for her bold, retro look. But on a recent holiday in Cuba, she decided to give her signature style a tropical twist. Here, she explains how she did it

Interview,Carola Long
Saturday 29 May 2010 00:00 BST

When my friend Alice Hawkins and I were in Cuba recently, we went to the Tropicana cabaret show – it's all showgirls and boys, and a chorus line of tropical beauties with fruits on their heads wearing carnivalesque clothes. We were just so inspired and blown away that we wanted to do a photo shoot that celebrated summer and bright colours and that whole Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian thing. Alice and I are inspired by a lot of the same people: Carmen Miranda, Bettie Page, Josephine Baker. And we also thought it would be nice to do a "How to get the Paloma Faith look" thing, because I am constantly being e-mailed by fans saying, "I wish I knew how to do your make-up and hair".

My desire to experiment comes from my attention-deficit approach to cosmetics. I just get really bored, really easily. My base make-up is very influenced by Forties and Fifties glamour, and back then they always had very bold eyebrows. There's nothing wrong with a thick eyebrow; Frida Kahlo had them. I always wanted to pluck them as a teenager and my mum forced me not to, but now I'm really pleased. I think they look nice and frame the face.

I never got into really emphasised make-up until I started wearing vintage clothes. I think it's beautiful; it's my warpaint. It's like going into battle, transforming into this very feminine person. I feel comfortable wearing no make-up, unless I'm being asked for photos – the hair and everything is all part of the public persona. Sometimes I go out without make-up and I don't usually get recognised. When I'm performing, a professional will do my face, but I always do my eyeliner and my lipliner myself, because I have a special way that I like to do it. I always draw over my bottom lip so that it looks bigger than it is. It doesn't work on the top lip.

When I was a magician's assistant, I had to learn to do all the hair and make-up myself – most magicians are fanatical about the past so the retro look worked. However, I learnt most of my looks from Alice when we worked in the lingerie shop Agent Provocateur together.

Fashion has been quite androgynous for a while, with stick-thin models and no breasts, pared-down fashion, short haircuts – all that stuff. It's as if the idea is to become equal with men by becoming more like them, but I disagree with that. I think that we should be empowered and strong with our femininity. I think women's sexuality is a strength and almost a weapon, rather than something that makes us a victim. That's what's amazing about film noir – it was early feminism in a way. I get lots of women saying to me, "I never had the guts to dress up before, but you've given me the confidence to do it". Especially my responses to comments about my weight or my eyebrows or whatever. These are issues that teenagers have to face. Often they write to me and I think it's important to respond. I just say things like: everyone's different and that's what is amazing about the world.

Having said that, personally I wouldn't wear the kind of make-up that Jordan wears, and I don't use fake tan – it makes me look like someone out of Dallas. I don't really like very thin eyebrows – they look as if someone has been plugged into a socket, especially when they are really high. Dark lipliner is another faux pas. However, I like Pat Butcher's make-up in EastEnders – that blue eyeshadow with pink lipstick – and trannies get it right too. I've got lots of tips from the transvestites I know. Russella, who is my favourite drag queen, does this trick which he claims was his idea, even though it's actually mine. You get red lipstick, then you get glitter from Mac or Kryolan, and you dab it over the top. You have to drink through a straw but you shouldn't be eating if you want to have glittery lips anyway.

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