The Illamafia

How it all started

As told by Founder, Julian Kynaston

Illamasqua portrait you are beauty logo

I’d been building brands for other people for years, most famously ghd, and I thought it was about time to build one of my own. The cosmetics industry interested me for two reasons. Firstly people kept on telling me that it was an impossible market to penetrate due to the absolute dominance of the French houses, namely L’Oreal, Lauder, LVMH and Chanel. Secondly I had witnessed an event in Whitby, where I was really quite moved by the way make-up was being worn by boys and girls, men and women, as a part of the alternative scene.

When I set off to study the make-up market I have to say I was really quite bored very quickly. Every brand was giving the same message and none seemed to be in any way getting close to building an emotional connection with their customer. Of course there was MAC and much of what that brand did was impressive, but it still seemed predictable and lacking emotion.


Looking back, it was probably a period of 18 months within which the idea of Illamasqua, including its name (a fusion of illusion and masquerade), was formed. We set out from the start to bow to no one; we set out to put theatre on the counter; and we set out to empower men and women to play with and explore makeup, like never before. We were to be the brand that gave permission and encouraged self-expression.


With British creativity at our roots and self expression in
our hearts our mission is to inspire you to take pride in
everything you are and all you aspire to become.

Illamasqua Q


It was important from the outset to challenge everything the make-up industry had delivered to date, and as such I remember building an art team who throughout the launch of Illamasqua were keen to make a difference. David Vanian from The Damned and Anja Huwe the former lead singer from Xmal Deutschland, were paired alongside Alex Box. Alex proved to be the master stroke. We initially connected through MySpace and were like-minded in both our vision and aspirations for this new brand.

In the early days, Illamasqua was developed and built, primarily with Alex working alongside my agency, Propaganda, of which I am still Chairman. What we built became irresistible for the world’s retailers from whom we saw a strong interest, but none more so than Selfridges who really seemed to understand and support everything we were setting out to achieve. This led them to launch Illamasqua on an exclusive basis on 1st November 2008.

This now seems like a long time ago, but it’s always nice to look back and remember those incredibly exciting and creative days of which I will always be immensely proud, especially when Vogue UK described us as ‘the most important event in make-up for 25 years’.

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If you’d like to find out more about Julian stay tuned for a Q&A coming soon!

Follow Julian on Twitter and Instagram below.


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Govinder Rayt

Govinder Rayt

Writer and expert