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Phnom Penh & Exhibition: "Ici ou Là" by Damien Dufresne, beauty designer

Artist Damien Dufresne moved to Siem Reap at the end of 2023 after six years in Shanghai. Hairdresser and make-up artist, a true orchestra master juggling brushes, cases, light and shadow, he will be exhibiting his work from 4 April 2024 at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra gallery.

"I have no reason to be proud of my work, but I am simply happy with the progress I have made. Above all, I'm aware of how lucky I am to be doing the job I love. But without the help of the people who came along the way, both personally and professionally, my path would have been very different. I believe that alone we are nothing, and that nothing is more important than sharing.''

Damien Dufresne is a modest artist who admits, in a tone of voice that is almost apologetic, that he prefers to talk about his work and his friendships rather than himself. Yet there's a lot to be said for a life made up of twists and turns, changes of direction, experiences, encounters, challenges, from town to town: Paris, Milan, New York, Seoul, Shanghai... and Siem Reap. The way he looks at the person he's talking to makes the interview bounce back, turns the questions around, builds confidence and creates a climate of complicity. I'm sure he does the same with his models, whose photographs, often in close-up, give a glimpse of the beauty of their personality through the beauty of their work.

"Ici ou Là" by Damien Dufresne, creator of beauty
"Ici ou Là" by Damien Dufresne, creator of beauty

Making the stars shine

Perhaps he also used the same methods when he did make-up for models and stars, for Dior and Chanel, Thierry Mugler and Yves Saint Laurent. He worked with many of them, including Liane Foly, Sylvie Vartan, Pascal Obispo, France Gall, Elsa, Vanessa Paradis, Mauranne, Grace Jones, Isabelle Huppert, Sophie Marceau... insisting on the key role played by the make-up artist.

"A special relationship develops. The make-up artist is often one of the last people you see before you leave to face the stress of the stage or the camera.''

Damien Dufresne continues to practise this profession, which he has loved with all his heart, but in a completely different way. His way.

Damien Dufresne, creator of beauty

Hairdresser, make-up artist, artistic director and photographer

Damien Dufresne began his career in hairdressing, a profession he practised for ten years before turning to another activity. At the age of thirty, he learnt make-up and became a studio hairstylist and make-up artist. Ten years later, at the age of forty, he took a new turn, deciding to give up hairdressing and focus on make-up. He became artistic director in Seoul, a position he held for twelve years.

He then moved to Paris, where he left the studios to work in the L'Oréal laboratories, creating seasonal colour ranges for the brand's make-up. It was also in 2012 that he decided to step behind the camera to begin the photographic work he continues to this day.

In 2017, he moved to Shanghai for a new life, a new start, a new challenge. Damien Dufresne describes this period as one of the most intense and creative of his professional life.

Damien Dufresne, beauty creator

Image maker

"I've never had a career plan. I've never set myself a clear-cut objective. I've always relied on chance and chance encounters," confesses the artist, as if surprised to have got this far.

Little by little, he has managed to find his way as a creative demiurge, managing every aspect of his art, from choosing the model to preparing her, from her hairstyle to her clothes, right up to the photograph that marks the culmination (and the passage to immortality) of the work.

"For a long time I was just an executor. Embarking on an artistic career on my own was the surest way of finally becoming truly creative. Yet I don't feel like a make-up artist, hairdresser or photographer. I make images, my images, without constraint and according to my inspiration alone. The camera only serves to hold the images I've created.

Damien Dufresne, beauty creator

Behind the scenes of creation

At the inaugural evening of his studio, the designer gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of his work, revealing a few of his shooting secrets. A session orchestrated by Damien Dufresne requires a host of assistants to bustle around the models, sharing the tasks under the maestro's supervision. The process follows a tried and tested method, during which the model's hair is first combed, before undergoing a more or less lengthy preparation session. "You have to move fast in the Cambodian climate, as the temperature quickly melts the make-up. The limited time available creates a sense of urgency, which is conducive to creativity.

While the order is well established, everything else leaves the imagination and creativity free rein.

"I like not to prepare anything in advance. This applies to make-up, but also to photography. I build up my images little by little, by talking to my models, using the screen to explain where I want to go, to show what I like and what I don't like. I give them a certain amount of freedom, except for posing. I like restraint in my photos, simplicity. The inner look is much more moving than seduction".

He draws his inspiration from his own experiences, his ups and downs, his joys and sorrows, his stories and heartbreaks, his laughter and melancholy. He tries to write all this on the faces of his models.

Damien Dufresne, creator of beauty

Pictorial work

The result, often a medium shot or a close-up portrait, is more like a painting than a photograph.

"My father was an excellent draughtsman. He used to take us to museums, and that was pretty much the only art education he gave us. So my first references were painters, and only painters. It was only later that I was able to build up a literary or photographic culture. In the images I create, I use the face as a canvas. It's like a flat surface".

But often, having talent isn't enough - you have to be able to make it known and recognised. Masa, his boss, his muse, his sister and his platonic love, took care of that. Leaving the artist free to unleash his creativity.

Damien Dufresne, beauty creator

"Life as I see it''

Damien Dufresne's photos are exhibited in several galleries around the world, including one in Siem Reap, at the foot of the Kulen Hotel. Next spring, the artist plans to combine his studio and gallery in a single location.

A studio and a gallery - that's something for the people of Siem Reap, whose cultural scene has been considerably depleted since the pandemic. The crowd that turned out for the studio's inauguration was a clear indication of the public's appetite for art, especially when it comes to creators of this calibre.

For someone who has travelled so much, the choice to settle in Siem Reap is a long-awaited balance. "Here I find everything I've been waiting for: calm, generosity, smiles, kindness, real life. Life as I understand it.

Instagram: @dufresne_damien

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