Backstage Pass

Kevyn Aucoin was a genius. He inspired me on many levels. Even though we never met, I always felt a connection to him. Obviously we were both makeup artists, but we were also both from small Southern towns, and we both headed to New York City to find ourselves and pursue artistic freedom and fame. As a new and struggling makeup artist, I would rush to the newsstand every month to look for Kevyn's work in magazines. I would stare at the images and study the makeup in awe.

 Billy B.
Billy B.

I was always amazed with the choices he made, how he painted and transformed faces. I never formally studied makeup and I never worked as an assistant makeup artist, so in a way Kevyn was my teacher. I couldn't wait to try to recreate his amazing work. Somehow it was never the same and I was always disappointed in myself, but nonetheless, seeing his artistry drove me to perfect my craft and kept me studying and practicing.

Over time, as I became more successful, I would see Kevyn at red carpet events, and even though we would sometimes be within inches of one another, I could never get up the gumption to say hello. Then Kevyn dedicated his book, Making Faces, to all the makeup artists, past and present, who had taught and inspired him, and my name was on the list. It was the single most validating thing that had ever happened to my self-confidence and my career. I couldn't believe Kevyn Aucoin even knew who I was, much less my work. I sent him a thank-you note and flowers. He sent me a note back, thanking me for the flowers. He also told me how much my note had touched him, as I was the only makeup artist who had thanked him.

This month's issue of In Style magazine features a story about makeup artists and their clients. I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the story with my client Sharon Stone, and she graciously agreed. This was another huge validating moment in my career: Not only was Sharon a client of Kevyn's, but she was also his dear friend. When I had the opportunity to work with her after he died, it was possibly the most exciting and terrifying opportunity I had ever had. How could I ever begin to fill Kevyn's huge shoes? The answer, of course, is that I couldn't, and that I could only do my best.

I'm thrilled to say Sharon and I have worked with each other many times since that day. Now I think of Kevyn often—especially when I work with his friend Sharon. I know he is watching, and I hope he is smiling. So now it's my turn, Kevyn. This column is dedicated to you. Past and present, you continue to teach and inspire me, and I will always thank you for that. For more about Kevyn, visit

E-mail Billy B. at [email protected], or visit