Aoife Cullen
Photography by Maja Jankowska

Makeup Artist Aoife Cullen On Subversive Beauty

According to the London-based makeup artist, "weird" and "beautiful" are synonyms.

“‘Weird’ and ‘beautiful’ mean the same thing to me,” says Irish makeup artist Aoife Cullen, who is based in London, England. “Sometimes people will comment on a post that I’ve captioned ‘weird’; they’ll say ‘It’s not weird; it’s lovely!’ and I always clarify that ‘weird’ is a compliment; it’s not a derogatory term.”

@aoifeartist ⭐️ thank u for the inspo ryou.roki (on ig) #weirdlipcombos #editorialmakeup #makeupartist ♬ rewind – .

Cullen, who goes by @aoifeartist on Instagram and TikTok, has amassed a combined 450,000 followers on the platforms and become one of the faces of the “weird-girl-makeup” movement online. “I really enjoy unconventional makeup,” she says. It shows. Her “weird lip combos” series on TikTok is a fan favourite; it has racked up hundreds of thousands of views thanks to the makeup artist’s unexpected use of colours like silver, blue, green and grey on her pout paired with her signature ultra-skinny brows. Her inspiration sources include a magical fairy-tale pond and a multicoloured plant species called Begonia kapuashuluensis. “I’m also really inspired by fashion runways and the world of drag,” says Cullen. “I’ve always been drawn to that sort of otherworldliness that comes through. It’s very exciting for me.”

“‘Weird’ is a compliment; it’s not a derogatory term.” — Aoife Cullen

With her eccentric signature style, one might assume that Cullen got her start in a similarly unconventional way, but she actually worked as a retail makeup artist for Bobbi Brown for six years. “Obviously that was very different, aesthetically, from what I do now,” she laughs. “But it was a really good place to start. I did feel a little like a black sheep, because there wasn’t much room to be creative, but I got loads of experience. And I still, to this day, use a lot of the techniques I learned there — things like colour matching and working with different skin types and tones.”

Much of Cullen’s criticism of traditional beauty is due to its history of targeting women’s insecurities as well as its tendency to cater to the male gaze. “Makeup was initially created to ‘resolve’ a so-called imperfection,” she says. “It wasn’t necessarily for the benefit of women but for the benefit of how women are viewed. I’m not sure we can ever fully escape that.” But Cullen is thrilled to see modern-day girls and women not following the rules, including getting in on the weird-girl-makeup movement. “It is empowering to play with makeup and be connected to your femininity in that way but break all the rules of how much makeup you should wear and how you should wear it. I think we will see more and more people trying to move away from the male gaze and doing things for their own confidence and self-expression.”

@aoifeartist makeup for colouring outside the lines always 💙 #editorialmakeup

A prime example of this is a TikTok that Cullen posted in 2022 in which she swipes a stripe of blue liquid pigment on each eye and blinks, allowing the product to smudge above and below her eyelids, resulting in an abstract, graphic look. The comments read “tbh no,” “let’s be real” and “running out of ideas?” Cullen says that she’s come to expect this when one of her looks takes off on social media, reaching far beyond her own community of supportive followers. “When something goes super viral, it brings a lot of aggressive comments, especially from men who just don’t get it,” she says. “I think my following is 98 per cent women, so it’s rare for men to wander onto my page, but when they do, they’ll usually post something misogynistic. It doesn’t happen too often, though.”

As for the future of the weird-girl-makeup circle that Cullen is a beloved member of, she is excited about its growing popularity. “Finding my community was quite rough,” she says. “Even just two years ago, creative makeup wasn’t the norm; it was still all about Insta-glam. Now, people are much more open-minded.” As for the future-future? Cullen says that once you’re a weird girl, you’re a weird girl for life. “I will definitely be that old lady wearing loads of eyeliner and lipstick — because that’s exactly what you’re told not to do.”

Ahead, the beauty essentials Aoife Cullen swears by.

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream Aoife Cullen

“I have been using this for years, and I will never not use it. I love it for myself; I love it for photo shoots. I literally bought 10 tubes just yesterday.”

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About-Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint

“These eye paints work for everyone. They’re so versatile.”

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Jecca Blac Brow Seal & Block

“I use these probably every time I do my makeup. They’re for concealing your brows.”

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Supergoop! Glowscreen SPF 40

“This is my favourite base product for no-makeup days. It’s really sheer with a bit of shimmer.”

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27 87 Genetic Bliss Eau de Parfum

“This is such a unique, gender-neutral scent.”

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This article first appeared in FASHION’s Summer 2024 issue. Find out more here.

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