A deck of cards raises funds for victims of AIDS

There are countless ways to celebrate the individual, and freedom of expression has always been high on the list. «MAC is an idea, it’s not just a range of products; the idea is that at MAC you can use makeup to discover or express whatever it is that you want to within yourself – no judgment. And that premise has struck a nerve around the world. I believe that MAC was the first of the new generation of cosmetic companies that sparked a revolution in terms of color attitude, service and makeup in fashion,» said John Demsey, CEO of MAC, to Kathimerini English Edition. Demsey was in town to attend a presentation of MAC’s «Deck of Cards,» a charity exhibition unveiled in New York City, which then traveled to Toronto, Montreal, Sydney and now Athens, with Asia still to come – the Greek stop being a tribute to the company’s local success since its establishment two years ago, not just in terms of sales but also in the way the professional makeup community has embraced the brand. Founded by Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo nearly 20 years ago in Toronto, MAC was initially constructed as a tribute to 1960s- and 1970s-style fashion icons, such as Verushka and Twiggy; its original lipsticks were named after those early-day supermodels. Fashion continues to be key in the brand’s development and these days MAC artists travel the world working backstage with fashion designers at major catwalk shows – MAC professionals were backstage at 49 of the 112 New York fashion shows last season, for example – while they are also heavily involved in movie sets, television shows and music videos. «The brand was developed for professionals, for professional makeup artists as well as actors, models, stylists and theatrical people who use makeup as part of the art of self-expression and creation,» said Demsey. «The concept of MAC is all ages, all races, all sexes.» War on AIDS Established in 1994, the MAC AIDS Fund supports those affected by HIV/AIDS around the world and has, so far, raised nearly $30 million. Its tools? First introduced in 1994, 100 percent of the retail selling price of red-hot lipstick Viva Glam’s sales go to the MAC AIDS Fund – a global cosmetics hit promoted by colorful celebrities such as RuPaul, k.d. lang and Elton John, among others. The series has now reached Viva Glam IV. Another fund-raising product is the annual Kids Helping Kids card program, where children are invited to develop images for holiday cards. More recently, the challenging initiative developed by French publishers Assouline, MAC and prominent Canadian photographer Richard Lohr resulted in the Deck of Cards, sold in MAC boutiques around the world. An exciting project that operates on many levels, the deck of cards features 52 images of body art created by 52 international celebrities and designers, including such diverse personalities as musicians Iggy Pop, Pink and Missy Elliot, singer Dannii Minogue, actor Liev Schreiber and hotelier Andre Balazs, as well as fashion designers Lawrence Steele, Alexander McQueen and Diane von Furstenberg. Besides raising money – most of the proceeds go to the MAC AIDS Fund – Deck of Cards brings out the guest designers’ inner world. Take McQueen, for instance, whose intricate body lace reflects his fashion aesthetic; Iggy Pop’s, his dark moods – he came up with a skull; designer Lawrence Steele’s glamorous side with a Swarovski crystal dress and Susan Sarandon’s message for peace – a body flower composition with a bird. The Deck of Cards also features «wild cards,» meaning guest designers from a number of countries. The Greek contribution had photographer Mara Desypri’s sensual and stylish snake design; Lakis Gavalas’s play on words which took viewers back to junior high school textbooks; gymnast Eleni Petroulaki-Ivic’s Power Yoga and actor Lakis Lazopoulos’s reflection on time. With each piece of body art taking five to 10 hours, some, such as McQueen’s, required up to 12 hours and involved 10 makeup artists. Time is relative, however. «Our commitment to HIV and AIDS has evolved over the past 10 years as the disease has gone from a localized sort of health crisis to an international one, specifically afflicting the developing countries of the Third World,» said Demsey. «As the nature of the disease has changed, we have become more involved with work through the United Nations programs in raising money and awareness for programs on the ground, while at the same time, in the US, given our leadership position, in developing public service announcements for American and Canadian youth and making sure that young people understand that there is no cure for AIDS.» As the company focuses a great deal of its efforts on communication strategy, this seems to be just as important as selling the products. «It’s hard to say where one begins or where one ends, but the process of creative expression and the connection with artistry in terms of the performing arts, pop culture, visual arts, fashion and everyday makeup interconnect with MAC and that is a very unique dynamic that we are really proud of,» said Demsey. A wholly owned subsidiary of Estee Lauder since 1998, which operates as the financial backbone of the company, when it comes to product development and research, MAC is allowed to go its own free-spirited way. (The innovative company was the first outside brand to be acquired by the cosmetics giant: The Estee Lauder group today includes Aramis, Clinique, Prescriptives, Origins, Bobbi Brown Essentials, Aveda, La Mer and Stila, among others.) And when it comes to the products, the choices are endless. «Where other companies create products through market research and the consumer, we invent ourselves from within,» said Demsey. «Our products are created and developed by the artists who work for the company, and the consumer is brought in later in the process.» In an increasingly competitive field, MAC’s challenge is in searching for new textures, new technologies, formula development and new ways of applying makeup. «We take inspiration from anywhere. Everywhere we travel around the world, there is an influence,» said Demsey. «Our current color collection, Aquadisiac was developed from the colors of Japanese Samurai fish – one of the creative directors had a Samurai fish on his desk and the electric aqua colors came out.» Whether influenced by culture, fashion or marine biology, MAC’s mission, besides a big charitable heart, remains clear: «It’s about feeling good about yourself; comfortable within your own skin,» said Demsey. «MAC has no traditional notion of what beauty is.»

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