The Coolest Thing I Ever Learned From A French Makeup Artist

Every eyeshadow look ever created is an elaboration of one of three basic techniques. Here's how they break down.
Publish date:
October 4, 2013
eyeshadows, chanel, How-To, smoky eyes, palettes, makeup artists, blending

One of the best moments you can have as a learner is when you hear an expert perfectly articulate something you have always intuited without being able to express. Something clicks into place in your mind, and from then on, your brain has the organizational tools to process future information on the subject into patterns and themes.

I loved feeling that sensation as a student, especially in college when I was exposed to topics and ways of thinking that I had never encountered before. I spent an entire geopolitical lecture on industrial espionage with my eyes bugged out of my head and my hands white-knuckling my desk. I still have my frantic, messy notes from that day as a souvenir of how mind-blowing education can be.

Working in the beauty industry, the most emotional moments tend to come more from aesthetic bliss, due to, say, a sublime visual campaign or a transcendentally beautiful color. But sometimes an expert really can blow your mind and rearrange your thoughts on a beauty topic.

A few months ago, I was in a seminar with a makeup artist for a luxury cosmetics brand who just casually mentioned that there are three proto eyeshadow shapes. Every eyeshadow look ever created is an elaboration of one of these three techniques for placing eyeshadow.

Apparently this was common knowledge in the Paris makeup-artist scene. For me, it was a staggering revelation. It changed how I understand eye makeup on the runways and in beauty campaigns, and it shook up my own approach to eye makeup application.

For the following looks, I used the Chanel Les 4 Ombres Palette in 37 Variation. This is the international version with the round, baked eyeshadows rather than the square, creamy ones in the American version.

So without further ado, please meet the three primordial eyeshadow shapes!


The Technique

The Italian is simply light color on the inside and dark color on the outside of the eye. This look is applied to the mobile eyelid--the part that moves up and down when you blink--and slightly upward onto the immobile eyelid. I used the light pink and the dark plum from the palette.

The light shade extends from the inner corner of the eye to just over the pupil, or about 2/3 of the way across the eyelid. The dark shade does the same thing in reverse: it starts at the outer corner and extends 2/3 of the way toward the inner corner. The two colors meet and blend over the center of the eye.

The Visual Effect

This look draws light into the corners of the eye, visually spacing the eyes and broadening the upper face. The deep shade extends the outline of the eye upward and outward, creating the illusion of larger eyes and higher, more defined cheekbones.

The Elaboration

I visually divided the mobile eyelid into quadrants and applied the shades in descending order of darkness. The light pink in the inner corner, then the gray, then the medium purple, then the dark plum in the outer corner. I blended, then added liquid eyeliner and mascara.

This is the Marilyn Monroe-inspired shape that widens the face and gives a feeling of openness to the eyes. It is particularly flattering eye look on narrow, angular faces.

It is also a very pretty way to show off eyelashes. Eyelashes will stand out against the lighter part of the eyelid and blend into the darker part, visually thickening them.


The Technique

The Halo is probably the most instinctive eye shadow shape. It is the shape that many women make intuitively when first experimenting with makeup because it is so simple. One color is applied in a sweeping motion over the entire mobile eyelid. I used the medium purple from the palette.

The Visual Effect

This look clothes the eye in a wash of color. Visually, it recesses the eyelid and brings out the eye itself.

Since this look is one predominant color and extends right down to the lash line, it can be a particularly effective way of bringing out the color of the iris by choosing a complementary eye shadow shade. Also, the deepness of the color near the lash line lends itself very well to eyeliner on the waterline.

The Elaboration

The Halo is the proto of the most mysterious eye look in existence: Smoky. I extended the medium purple shade up into the crease and around and beneath the eye. I applied black eyeliner to the top and bottom lash lines and water lines, then blended it into the medium purple with the deep plum eye shadow.

For dimension, I added a dot of the pale pink shade into the corner of the eye and onto the middle of the mobile eyelid. I applied mascara liberally to top and bottom lashes.

The Smoky is clearly one of the defining makeup looks of our time. It reveals and conceals with light and shadows. Because it darkens and shortens the eye area, it is more flattering on rounder faces with larger eyes for a more proportional effect.


The Technique

The Banana is the trickiest look from a technical perspective. It consists of a light eyeshadow shade on the entire mobile eyelid with a darker shade just behind it on the immobile eyelid. The dark shade creates a narrow curved shape like a banana. The light shade is then applied underneath the brow bone without blending into the “banana” of the darker shade.

The Visual Effect

This look creates definition in the eye socket. It simply highlights the protruding elements of the eye--the brow and the mobile eyelid--while receding the concave crease of the eye. It gives the illusion of height and dimension to the face.

The Elaboration

I added some of the medium purple eyeshadow above the crease for a more blended banana effect. Then I added a winged liquid eyeliner and mascara for a retro cat eye.

However, you can also take the eye shadow look in the opposite direction and make the crease line as defined as possible for a mod “cut crease” effect. Or, for an almost imperceptible no-makeup definition lift, you can use skin tone colors in a matte texture to just slightly bring forward the eyelid and brow bone and recede the crease.

Because this look follows the natural contours of the eye, it flatters all face shapes.

Eye makeup is hard. It takes a lot of technical skills and tools to do well. A little bit of organizational skills can go a long way to planning a look that works with your face and the rest of your makeup look.

Do you feel like you sort of knew these proto eyeshadow shapes intuitively, without being able to articulate it? What is the most mind-blowing advice you ever got from a beauty expert?