When the Stars Want to Save Face They Call on Makeup Artist Anthony Clavet

updated 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

He watches from the shadows with a cool, appraising eye. The object of his attention is actress Catherine Deneuve. During a break in the shooting, he pads forward in stocking feet and kneels before her. He looks like a Japanese priest lost in meditation. He gently brushes Deneuve's forehead and cheeks with translucent lilac powder. He pauses briefly to check his handiwork and then backs soundlessly offstage.

For Anthony Clavet, 35, one of the world's leading makeup men, it has been a hectic day, but he is pleased with his work. "Catherine was exhausted," he says. "I had to rejuvenate her." To this end, he has extended and darkened her eyebrows and brightened her sallow skin tones with a pale pink wash. Deneuve, too, appears pleased with the results. "When makeup goes to the point Anthony takes it to," she says later in her dressing room, "it is art. He has given me more bones than I have. More style, too."

Over the last 17 years, Anthony Clavet has put the finishing touches on thousands of faces—among them Christie Brinkley, Bianca Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie. Clavet speaks of his trade in hushed tones, almost as if it were a religious experience. "I have penetrated all levels of society, from rock stars to royalty," declares Clavet. "I touch the face which is sacred, which is incredibly private and personal."

When Sophia Loren calls, Clavet comes running. "Sophie is the sexiest woman I have ever come across," he says. "But she was beginning to turn into a caricature of herself. Her makeup was looking hard and exaggerated. Now she trusts me totally. She closes her eyes and lets me work. She says, 'You can touch me anywhere but not under the eyes.' " Loren uses a special makeup there to conceal her dark circles.

For years Clavet fantasized about doing Marlene Dietrich. Then in 1978 the actress asked him to create the makeup for her role in the movie Just a Gigolo. Clavet arrived at the studio in Paris, clutching his brushes in an 18th-century Persian box. "I found myself in front of the idol I had always dreamed about," says Clavet, "that great character who used to hypnotize me on the screen. But she looked nothing like Dietrich. Then I started making her up. Once I painted her mouth, she said, 'You are brilliant, young man, you have given me the Dietrich lips.' "

Clavet keeps chitchat to a minimum as he works with his clients. "I don't entertain them when I am making them up," he explains. "I go to beautify them. It is a serious business. And if people say to me, 'What a beautiful makeup job,' then my work has not been as refined as it should have been. I prefer to hear, 'What a beautiful woman.' " During the session, Clavet draws on years of meditation to concentrate his energies. "I visualize myself as a very strong mountain of granite and gold and minerals with caves of emeralds and rubies," he whispers. "I try to flow like the river."

That may be so, but sometimes Clavet seems to go against the current. When he works on a film, for instance, he refuses to re-create blood. And a cosmetic brush that he has used to beautify an actress would never be used to age her. "You have to separate things," says Anthony. "Not to switch brushes is like hitting the face with the hand you caress."

Clavet reminds his clients not to make themselves up under poor bathroom lighting. He also believes that badly shaped eyebrows, or makeup that covers the face and not the neck, can mar a woman's looks. He despairs of women who drench themselves in scent. As for his male clients, Clavet feels makeup, if any, should be invisible. Clavet renews his own face by rubbing his skin twice a week with crushed almonds and honey.

Ever since his boyhood days in New Brunswick, Canada, Clavet felt sure that he would one day work with the stars. "The wise woman who delivered me on the kitchen table read my hairline and the soles of my feet," claims Clavet. "She predicted I would have this life." The son of a forest-service engineer, Clavet is the eldest of six children. After graduating from high school in 1965, Clavet moved to Montreal. There he landed a job at Elizabeth Arden. By day he made up society ladies. By night he worked in clubs, painting strippers' and dancers' faces and breasts. Restless, he moved on to Madrid, where he became artistic director of the Arden salon there. In 1973 he struck out on his own and since then has worked with many of the major cosmetic companies, including Yardley, Chanel and Estée Lauder.

Clavet considers Manhattan his home but spends only half the year in his Central Park South studio. Next month he's off to Jordan to make up Queen Noor for her official portrait. Come summer, Clavet will be in Ethiopia working on British director Tony Scott's new film, Man on Fire.

During a recent snowstorm in New York City, Clavet pulled on his boots and went for a two-hour tramp through Central Park. It reminded him, he said, of his early days in the makeup game, when he used to dress like a mountain climber in hiking boots with a water bottle strapped to his back. He likened every face he made up to the experience of scaling a mountain. Now he no longer needs to dress symbolically. "I was given these wonderful hands," he says proudly, "and I have learned from the thousands of faces I have done. But I can only help my clients up to a point. Makeup is like starting a motor. The real beauty has to come from the inside."

From Our Partners