Behind the runway looks of painted faces and spritzed ’dos in Bay Area fashion shows such as Snow II, San Francisco Fashion Week, and this year’s Charity Fashion Show is Pigment Cosmetics founder and CEO Manhal Mansour.
And while Pigment Cosmetics and its line of fashion-driven beauty products are constants when it comes to San Francisco fashion events and photo shoots, they’re not just for industry insiders. Anyone can stop by the white-walled downtown location for makeup lessons and a touch of color. Mansour also opens Pigment’s doors to the Bay Area fashion community as a hub for local fashion shows, networking events and collaborative projects.
We sat down with Mansour recently to talk about the man behind Pigment’s many makeup brushes, what goes into creating a runway look and whether San Francisco women are putting their best faces forward.
We’re familiar with your company, Pigment Cosmetics, from all the fashion shows and events we’ve attended in your downtown headquarters, but we’d like to know a little more about the man behind the company. Tell us about yourself.
I was born overseas—Kuwait, but I’m not from Kuwait, I’m Palestinian, actually—by parents who work in a completely different field. When I graduated high school, my parents sent me back here to go to school in Sacramento. I went to college, graduated with a degree in engineering—emphasis on architecture—so you can see where the art started to seep into this. Then I worked in the industry: engineering, structural, architectural field for about five, seven years.
How did you go from designing buildings to working in fashion?
I had an incident where I didn’t get paid for a job from a developer who was a family friend, and he turned the incident around to where it seemed like it was my fault. I was really young, my early twenties, and that’s when I decided that that would not happen to me again. So I was already looking at things that were more of my interest, and that literally was the final straw that pushed me over. I started working in the industry, in the hair aspect of it, but I always had an eye for fashion. I started doing fashion shows and working with modeling agencies, and things like that.
How did Pigment Cosmetics come about?
[At first], we were Elite, and we were just doing hair and makeup, there was not cosmetics, which is what gave birth eventually to Pigment. We would get these jobs and when we would sit together after the jobs, we would all be like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome—wouldn’t it be amazing—if there was this line that had beautiful colors, but could last longer?” Well, you don’t need a hammer to hit me on the head to get it, so after about two to three years of that, I was like “Really? It has to exist somewhere.” Well, it didn’t. And we started to talk to people, manufacturers, and nobody wants to talk to you when you are not going to order a thousand pieces of a shade. [In] about two and half to two years, we’ve found someone that was willing to talk to us, and they had a lab, and that’s where it started.
What goes into creating the line of makeup?
We’re very lucky because we work with fashion designers year around, and we have a pulse on the colors. We see what the designers are doing, and we see the colors that they’re into. We are around the runway, so we see other makeup artists and other stylists, being so intimately familiar with that scene. Then you go back and you create what you think is happening. There are instances where you go out on a limb, you just do something or see something and you go, “Oh my god, that is absolutely stunning,” and it has no basis, but that’s a very risky proposition when you’re going to order thousands of pieces in that shade.
How does Pigment Cosmetics coordinate with a designer to create a look?
It’s quite an involved process, and I think people don’t think it’s as involved as it is. Generally, when a designer begins their collection, we like to be invited and be involved from the get-go. Then we can see the swatches of the color, we see the evolution of the collection. We actually touch the fabrics, which allows us to have a three-dimensional perspective, and that’s what creates three-dimensional looks sometimes in makeup. Once we’ve developed that final look, and we invite the designer to look at it, then we develop the palette, and we hand the palette to every makeup artist at the show. It’s a very narrow choice of colors and needless to say, they’ve all practiced with those colors in advance. The show is about the fashion designer and their clothes, and showing them in the best possible light.
What show are you most proud of?
Los Angeles Fashion Week 2007. We were doing a collection for Joseph [Domingo] the year prior, and he walked in two nights before the show in the rehearsal room. And one of our staff was doing something off-the-cuff, a look that we couldn’t do for that show for 2006, but Joseph allowed us to explore the idea and develop it for Fashion Week 2007. What it was, was the eyeless models where we covered the models’ eyes. We made them look like their skin. I mean, you couldn’t see their eyes—nothing. It was almost eerie. It was perfect; we rehearsed it for five months. That’s something I really like about him, he was open to exploring something different. In some respects, it might’ve backfired.
What do you think of the looks you see off the runway and on the women of San Francisco?
The San Francisco woman is classy, sophisticated, beautiful, well put-together, fashionable—all of those. In their yoga pants and their dresses, they still look very sophisticated, nothing over done. It’s not an ostentatious display of anything.
Do you have any makeup advice for local ladies?
They could use a little bit more makeup. Well, you know, I’m a makeup artist, so you know I like to see a bit more color. Personally, my recommendation would be more blush, more lips, but you know that’s an artist for you.