Meeting WORLD makeup master James Leuii

Key to helping designers make a major impact on the catwalk at fashion weeks around the world are some seriously talented and hardworking hair and make up teams, which are more often than not lead by inspirational artists who share the label’s vision for what they want to achieve.
Makeup artist James Leuii is one such figure, whose work with Shiseido on the runway for WORLD at this year’s New Zealand Fashion Week cemented his reputation as one of the country hottest and most unique talents. Every year Shiseido's creative team looks forward to the WORLD show, which always means serious drama calling for some serious makeup looks to match. The New Zealand label’s collection for Winter 2012 came with the title “Good Vs. Evil” so was always going to be big, and the makeup looks that James created with help from Hiro Nemoto fitted in perfectly with the knockout, theatrical glamour of the show.
I caught up with James to talk about his work with World over the years and on the show, which is no mean feat given how busy the Grey Lynn resident is. A designer, makeup artist and DJ, my first question to him was – how on earth do you fit everything in? “I don’t know really, it just happens!” says the talented multitasker with a laugh, “I guess my DJ happens in the weekends so isn’t a big deal the rest of the time, and my makeup work is mostly seasonal so comes all at once and allows me to design when I have something in mind to work towards.”
James started out training as a clothing designer then – as many a creative has done over the years – quite literally “fell” into doing makeup after being put on the spot at a shoot. “I was helping a friend at a shoot and when the makeup artist didn’t turn up,” he explains, “so I took one look at what makeup was there and just had a go. It was terrible if course, but still ended up in print!” From there he started to teach himself on the job, and with extra help from very talented friends like New Zealand-born, internationally renowned hair stylist Brent Lawler he started to develop his own style.
In his early years he had an association with beauty giant L’Oreal before teaming up with Shiseido, with whom he still works closely today. This year was James’ first time leading the makeup team backstage at the WORLD show, and the label have nothing but high praise for his extraordinary work. “James is an absolute unknown and unrecognised genius, he is the single most extraordinary high end and directional makeup artist - stressing the word artist - that is currently working in New Zealand,” WORLD’s Benny Castles tells me. “He is a quiet visionary whose technical ability and design aesthetic are of the highest quality, and an essential part of any WORLD show or shoot because he has an innate understanding of the brand and its personality and for that we are lucky!”
The looks he created had a touch of drag queen drama but were still incredibly feminine, with lashings of lashes and gallons of glitter that still made the models’ own unique features shine.
James has worked with WORLD for almost a decade now, after being pulled into the fold by Lawler and WORLD show producer Harold Samu who he grew up with. As well as keying their show James completes all of the makeup looks for their campaigns and editorial work, and speaks the same language as the label when it comes to defining their key aesthetic each season. “They give me a lot of freedom to create,” he says, “and I really appreciate that as it’s so rare these days in the industry. There is so much going on in a WORLD show that they only work with people they totally trust to be able to get the job done, so they can focus on what they do best.”
“It’s a lot of work… but I love it.”


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