For many of us in the industry Heidi Morawetz was the original super make-up artist. She worked with all the greats: Sarah Moon, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, and most thrillingly, with Guy Bourdin, creating the flash-lit imagery that is emblematic of the eroticised Seventies.
She arrived in Paris from her native Vienna in 1965, aged 25, armed with a diploma in applied arts. By 1970, she’d met the photographer Guy Bourdin who told her that she understood style and understood colour – she just hadn’t translated her talent into make-up yet; it didn’t take long and she was soon shooting with him for Paris Vogue.
Heidi’s spirited way with colour brought her to the attention of Yves Saint Laurent and she signed to the house in 1978 to develop a make-up range. Then in 1980, Chanel came calling and Heidi embarked on a long-standing relationship with the house that saw her overseeing some of the most game-changing developments in colour cosmetics that are still relevant today: she was the creative force behind Le Blanc de Chanel and Rouge Noir nail polish, creating a black cherry shade by mixing black with red on her kitchen table the night before the A/W 94 Chanel show.
The US manufacturing division of Chanel was first to market with the colour – called Vamp in the US, and it was picked up by Uma Thurman for the film Pulp Fiction and worn by Madonna in her Take a Bow video. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this single creative moment sparked the subsequent explosion of the nail industry.
Her partnership at the helm of Chanel’s makeup studio, with Dominique Moncourtois – he was the technical genius employed by Mademoiselle herself, and Heidi the creative magician – lasted 30 years.
I was lucky enough to spend a day with Heidi, back in the early 90s when I was beauty director of ELLE. Straight off the flight (this was pre Eurostar) we spent time at the studio and I was privileged to be shown the Chanel make-up archive which included a lipstick and powder worn by Mademoiselle, as well as designs from across the decades. She took me for lunch and then to her favourite place of inspiration: a ribbon shop, tucked away in a back lane, that had been in business since the 1800s. Boxes of antique ribbons were stacked to the ceiling, and every surface was adorned with reels of colour and texture. We spent hours going through the silks, satins and velvets, looking for colours and textures to inspire a range of lipsticks she was working on. I bought some ribbons and still have them today.
It was a mark of the professionalism of Heidi that she had received terrible news that day of the death of the husband of a friend. At times, her beautiful blue eyes would brim over – her signature was her heavily kohled cat’s eyes – as she was swept back into grief. Now, it’s us who are grieving at her loss, another one of the true creatives gone.