Recently, a Japanese Vogue spread for which Crystal Renn had taped her temples garnered a lot of controversy when a behind-the-scenes video showed the tape (which didn't appear in the final spread thanks to the magic of Photoshop). Given fashion spreads that glorify or reference blackface have become common in recent years, you could forgive fashion writers for concluding that Vogue had employed eye tape to make Renn look "more Asian." Indeed, that was my initial assumption. I brought the shoot up on the phone with Crystal yesterday,* and she surprised me with her explanation of the eye tape, and why she — not the makeup artist or the fashion editor — had requested it that day. Renn had a lot to say about race, transformation, the many editorial choices that go into the production of the imagery fashion trades in.
A warning: what follows is perhaps the world's longest published conversation about eye tape.
Jenna Sauers: So explain why your eyes were taped. And, uh, explain how, for one thing. Explain how they taped your eyes, because I'm still like, 'How does that not hurt?'
Crystal Renn: Oh no it doesn't at all. It's great. You just feel the character, because it's so not you — and in a way you become something else. It's kind of just the extra key of the transformation. And transformation is why I did it. Anna Dello Russo did not tell me to tape. No-one told me at the shoot to tape. It is something that I often do to add to the look of the character if I feel that the look makes sense, and often I suggest it. I have very heavy brows, and they're more curved than straight, and sometimes when you're doing a character it might require more of a straight brow. Which sounds like such a small detail, but it can completely transform the face. Lots of actresses do this, models do this — I don't know how willing models usually are to do it, or if other people suggest it, but I am willing, and I even bring [tape] it in my own kit.
It made sense for the makeup. When you're at a shoot, you sit down, and you hope — at least, in my career, I've made it a point to be part of the team, and that's what I like so much about modeling, because I really enjoy about the job — so I really try to be as involved as I can be with makeup, with hair, with the creative direction. I wanna know what's going on at all times and offer my own suggestions. You know, everyone comes in with kind of their expertise. Makeup knows what they're doing, but they have to know your face. Creative direction, they know what they want for the shoot. The photographer has to highlight who you are with the light. And I, the model, know my face in different lights. I know my face in different makeups. I know my body in clothes. I know what works. Because I've been doing this so long, and I take it very, very seriously. So something such as tape — yeah, that's not surprising on an everyday basis. Every day, that could happen. And just because we were shooting Japanese Vogue, that is not why we did the tape.
Jenna: So it's not about race — it's about your brow shape. Can you give some examples of other jobs that you've done with tape — are there famous pictures of you out there where you're wearing eye tape and I've just never noticed?
Crystal: Oh yeah! Yeah — tons. A perfect example, and an extreme case where I taped even more than usual was the French Vogue plastic surgery shoot. Where we were kind of even making fun of the whole fact that the entire face was completely done in a different way. That was a complete transformation, more than any shoot I've ever done.
Jenna: Yeah, you were using latex, and facial prosthetics, and all kinds of crazy stuff.
Crystal: Yeah. That was absolutely a job where I suggested tape, I thought it was fantastic — um, it just added to the character. And sure, that's an extreme case—
Jenna: What about more normal stuff? Are there other editorials that you've done that you can think of?
Crystal: Oh, yeah. I kind of feel bad naming them now that this kind of whole thing came out.
Jenna: But it's not a racial thing, you're saying. I mean, giving more examples — it just shows that apparently this is a totally common thing that I never knew about the industry.
Crystal: Well, there's quite a few. I'm trying to think, let's see. Okay: Vogue cover. I did the Mexican Vogue cover, right? That was taped.
Jenna: That was taped.
Crystal: Totally taped. Love that eye.
Jenna: I'm learning all your secrets!
Crystal: That eyeliner was so good, I had to tape. It just made it better. Anything like beauty [stories], eyeliner — it just accentuates the makeup.
Jenna: Did you tape for any of your shoots with, like, Glamour? I'm Googling your pictures now and staring at your eyebrows really intensely, you should maybe know.
Crystal: Glamour, no. Glamour loves a curved eyebrow. No, we didn't tape for Glamour. And they kind of like a more natural look anyway, so it's not kind of suitable for that. No, it tends to be when there's more makeup and drama. And the point is transformation. As a model — I mean, I can't speak for all models, I can go on assumptions based on what I've seen — my assumption is that most girls enjoy the job, but they do the job and they go home. For me, this is my job, this is my art, this is my life, this is my message. To transform is the greatest part of my work. It's the thing that makes me the happiest. And to be able to try to do as many looks as I can and to show as many faces as I can, it's exciting to me and I hope to excite people when I do it.
I've had moles painted on my face. I've had freckles painted on. I've been made lighter, I've been made tanner with makeup. It's exciting to me...It's not who I am, standing in front of the camera — something happens. I become something else. That's part of why this is a job, it's a performance. There's a whole team and tons of work that goes into 8-10 images that you see in an editorial...As a model, I have made it a big point to learn fashion references, which include different types of brows. And because I don't want to shave my brows off and have the makeup artist, or whoever, draw 'em on, we use things such as tape and makeup to fake it, basically. And to bring the look. Which might be a '20s brow. Or to take 'em away. I did a shoot with Tush magazine and we bleached my brows away. I didn't go home like that, we dyed them back. But tape is very much the same thing.
Jenna: But just to be clear: when you say it's about "transformation," you're not talking about specific racial transformation. This wasn't about making you look Asian?
Crystal: Oh, absolutely not. We didn't even think about that on the shoot. I'm the one who suggested it, and it didn't even cross my mind. It's something that I regularly ask makeup artists, you know, if it will bring something more to the character. Offer a different face.
Jenna: But not an Asian face.
Jenna: I think part of this is attributable to the difference between the images that fashion produces, and the reality behind them [that] is often very different.
Crystal: Even when I walk down the street, and the makeup's on, and everyone's done their work, I still don't look like that. Because there's incredible light, and things that you wouldn't even think of that go into it. I think that's hard for the public, sometimes they think that what they see is exactly what that girl is. And it's just not.
Jenna: In a way, fashion is too successful. It's too good at convincing people that what they see is, is real.
Crystal: Exactly. And I think part of the reason this controversy happened was because it was for Japanese Vogue. And people saw the taping of the eyes as resembling Japanese women.
Jenna: What do you think about other fashion shoots that have changed girls' races? You have to admit, I think, that people had that impression because blackface shoots have been happening for the past few years, where a magazine will take a white girl, paint her skin brown, and stick an afro wig on her. Karl Lagerfeld shot a video with a bunch of European models, including Freja [Beha Erichsen], and he taped their eyes — but with an express intention of making them appear to be Chinese, because the video was set in Shanghai in the 1920s. Fashion does sort of do this thing fairly frequently where it takes a white girl and tries to make it appear as though she is of a different race.
Crystal: Somebody who does this — picks the white girl, instead of picking the black girl, and then paints the white girl a darker color to make her look black. That person may be a racist. Or they may not.
Jenna: It certainly sends a pretty racist message.
Crystal: Yeah. Do I think we need to use more black girls within the industry? Absolutely, one hundred percent, yes. As the model, as somebody who thrives on the transformation, I am beyond thrilled to do stories where they change my gender, where they take me and make me something completely different....But the reason I am not 100% morally okay with [blackface shoots] — I would feel that I'm taking a job from one of them. I would feel that I'm taking a job from a black girl who deserved it. And who could do it more authentically than I could. I wouldn't want to send the message that I don't think black models should be absolutely everywhere in fashion. I think we should all be included within fashion. Whether it's size, whether it's race; I think that all different types of beauty should be in fashion.
I've gotten to a point where weight doesn't dictate what I'm doing, I just am, and I go with what happens. And that has made me appreciate different kinds of beauty much more than I used to.
Jenna: So, um, what kind of tape do you use? Can you buy it? Do you recommend this as an at-home kind of beauty trick?
Crystal: You know what, the at-home beauty trick I would say would be to braid right above your ears, one on each side, and then tie them back as tight as you can when you can see that your eyes have lifted. That's when you tie the braids together in like a little ponytail. And then you brush the hair over it. Is tape appropriate for walking around the street? Eh! [Laughs] It's gonna show. You don't have a retoucher there who's being thousands of dollars to deal with it. You know what, probably not. The braid is amazing. And it has the same effect. Might cause a headache, take a Tylenol.
Jenna: The braid's gotta hurt.
Crystal: Yeah, the braid hurts. That's why I choose tape. It's easier, less pain, less focus on the pain, and you get the job done.
Jenna: And you don't have to worry about what your eyes and eyebrows are doing.
Crystal: It controls an area that I can't do. I can still lift my brow, I can cause a curve. I can do certain things with my face, to lift certain areas such as under the chin, or knowing which direction for my face with the light. And knowing exactly how I look at every angle. Just like with any job, you have to be professional. When I go on a set, I can glance the light, I can see one shot, and know exactly how things are going to look. And through much effort and practice, I've gotten there. It really is just practice. It's not something that you just do on your first job.
Jenna: And it's just regular office tape?
Crystal: Oh, no, it's not that — they actually call them face tapes. You get it at a beauty supply store, they have them at Ricky's in New York City and that's often where the makeup artists go. I don't know how many models request it on their jobs, but I think makeup artists love that I'm willing.
Jenna: Well. This was fascinating. My eyes were never taped when I, um [modeled].
Crystal: Not ever?
Jenna: I didn't even know that this was a thing.
Crystal: I don't know, though. You kind of have taped eyes without having to tape. You kind of have the eyes that I tape for.
Jenna: That's very sweet of you to say! [Laughs] Well, this was actually really interesting. I would even say...eye-opening.
Crystal: [Laughs] It's funny, because each time I bring out the tape, I say, 'Well who else does it?' And they say so-and-so, and so-and-so. And I'll keep them nameless. But yeah, it's more common than you think.
Disclaimer: I met Crystal a couple years ago, when her book came out. We met when I interviewed her for this site. Since that time, we've become friends; for that reason, I generally do not to write about her, except occasionally when she makes the news and I make mention of it in the daily link roundup I am responsible for. It presents a conflict of interest, and it's not really seemly, or appropriate to our relationship, to write about her — and especially to blog about her, when so much of blogging is opinion. But yesterday, she was adamant that she wanted to talk about it for the record, I think because she felt like she had nothing to lose by explaining herself in this situation. I edited the interview for length, but I don't believe I made any editorial decisions to flatter her. Nonetheless, this disclosure is offered for your consideration. And now I will return to my usual Crystal Renn news-participation blackout.