I always say that behind every brilliant photograph of a supermodel is a team of highly talented specialists who create a piece of artistic fantasy with lighting, makeup, styling and airbrushing.
Of course I refer to these photographs as ‘fantasy’, as the end result bears little or no resemblance to what someone actually looks like as they stand before the camera, and as such should never be something that people compare themselves to.
As people out in the world, we all want to look as good as we can for as long as we can, but we succeed in this when we approach it as individuals looking to make the very best of who we are and what we have been given.
With that in mind I wanted to write about one of the unseen greats of the fashion industry, Dior’s Mitzi Kanizanec-Kajfez as she celebrated 40 years in the fashion and beauty industry.
On a recent trip to Europe I caught up with Mitzi, who is one of the best make up artists in the world and one of my oldest and closest friends.
I met Mitzi more than twenty-five years ago when we brought the WORLD SUPERMODEL contest to Europe. We spent a week working side-by-side doing 16-hour days with the world’s biggest model agents, photographers and 25 aspiring super models. And it was during this time that we forged our long-standing friendship.
Since then Mitzi and I have travelled to many parts of the world together for work, but today she represents Dior as their star makeup artist in Europe.
Anyone who works in the fashion industry will tell you that it is a hard, competitive slog and not for the faint hearted. Yet her love for her work has seen her survive in a cut-throat industry that sees people come and go without even being noticed for over four decades.
Yet for all the accolades she has received, whether working on large fashion campaigns or editorials for Vogue, Elle or Marie-Claire, there is a humility that underpins her passion for people and life.
Mitzi is a makeup artist with enormous talent and it is easy to see why she is Dior’s star artist; but what makes her different from anyone else I have ever met in the fashion industry is that she sees life very differently.
What she never tells people is that her earlier life was the stuff of fairy tales; married to one of the continent’s richest men; residing in a European castle; travelling the world on private jets; and featured more than once in TV shows such as the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’.
As she reflects on this part of her life she tells me that her strongest learning from that time is that money can buy castles, yachts, jets and diamonds, but it can’t buy self respect or love.
As I grew older I came to understand that when you are young everyone loves you, but as you get older the real lesson is to learn to live happily with yourself; as nobody can give you what you can give yourself.”
I have always believed that friendship is based on common values, and she has shown me over many years that she treasures friendship more than diamonds and believes that happiness is what we bring to life.
Leaving her marriage with only a Cartier ring, a Rolex watch, a suitcase of clothes and her makeup kit, she started a new life in the heart of Zurich. Surrounded by the beauty of a perfect Swiss city, her past has given her true perspective on what is real, what is transitory, what makes people genuinely valuable and what will contribute to a good life.
Mitzi and I visited her castle 10 years after she left and found that everything she owned was still in the room where she left it…literally millions of dollars worth of jewelry, old masters on the walls and an entire French armoire filled to the brim with full-length furs. Even at that point, despite my less than subtle encouragement, she would take nothing! “Gregory, things that brought you pain in the past, cannot bring you happiness in the future,” she told me.
Part of what enabled Mitzi to move on from her the surreal world of high society to the normality of day to day life was that despite the myriad of choices she had at the time, she never stopped working, first as a model and then as a makeup artist.
I ask her what she believes makes a great model and who were her favourites.
“A great model is someone who is comfortable in their skin and whose beauty comes from the inside out.”
“My favourite model of all time was Inès de La Fressange, as she represented all that was chic and understated. I also liked the chameleon quality of Linda (Evangelista); the spirited beauty of Georgianna Robertson; and Christy Turlington always exuded a calm, peaceful harmonious beauty that I admired.”
Mitzi’s good friend Eileen Ford once told her that she knew whether a girl would make it by the way she said ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’ at their first meeting.
Mitzi agrees. “I believe what Eileen says is true. You can tell so much about anyone by the way they carry and introduce themselves. After all – if you are going to be a successful model and rise to the top you need to believe you have something special to share.”
We talk about the current trend emerging with more and more big houses using mature models.
She sees great value in this. Having worked with the older supermodels of our time such as the amazing Carmen, and personally discovered others such as Katherine Lowe, Mitzi says that, “Every age is the great age for a woman, as long as we are able to find our place in the world, make peace with ourselves and accept the changes that come with aging.”
Many years ago she told me that for her a face is like a canvas, that allows her to translate ‘runway looks’ into reality by revealing the individual beauty that is inherent in every woman’s face.
“There is beauty in all faces regardless of their age. My preferred makeup style is always natural, as I don't want to change someone’s face, I want to reveal their ‘age-less’ beauty, and makeup should be the tool not the hero.”
When I ask her about designers and photographers she tells me that her favourite style is what she calls ‘intellectual fashion’. She talks about the brilliance of designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Thierry Mugler whose clothes are clever and timeless and are still ‘wearably’ stylish even 30 years after they were made. She especially admires ‘Mugler’ because of the way he always ‘celebrated the natural shape of a woman’.
Having worked with just about every famous photographer going over the years, including Mario Testino, Jean Baptiste Mondino, Herb Ritz and Helmut Newton, Mitzi’s comment is that “Greatness is best shown in simplicity. In almost every situation ‘less is always more’ – whether that is makeup, statement clothing, friendship or life.”
Mitzi is never short of an opportunity to travel, but her true love is where she lives now - in the old town in the heart of Zurich.
“At times in my life I could have lived anywhere and I had the opportunity to go practically everywhere, but I found a home in Zurich and it is a place that nurtures me at this stage in my life.”
“I also love Vienna and go there whenever I can. The city is perhaps the most magical in the world, filled with music, beauty and culture. On the other hand if I just want some sun and to ‘warm up’ – I go to Miami! After all polarity is what makes life interesting!”
When she is not working she spends her time doing things that support her spirit. “I meditate, dance, exercise, read, light candles, play music, sing and walk through the beautiful city of Zurich. This gives me the time to reflect on my life.”
When I ask her what that means to her she tells me that, “I believe that life is a circle. In the first part of your life you are a student of life, almost like a researcher of what life and love really mean. It is at this time that you have the opportunity to learn about honesty, kindness and respect. In the second part of your life you apply what you have learnt and you reap what you have sown.”
“My greatest learning is coming to a point where I know that…"Omnia mea mecum porto - All that's mine I carry with me."
As we finish our tea I ask her to share her thoughts on what she believes all women should remember as they get older?
1. Take care of yourself from the inside out; respect yourself as you are and be kind to yourself; and
2. It’s not what you have that makes you special, its what you are.
Looking at her face you can see she lives her beliefs; the essence of her beauty is reflected in her eyes and there is no doubt that while she continues to work with models she is a super role model to women everywhere - a woman of substance who has found the secret to what creates a happy life.
GL SKINFIT INSTITUTE®