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There's a 1974 Mercedes parked in a Tauranga garage waiting for the return of one of the Bay of Plenty's most successful sons.

No, not a petrolhead, but the international artistic director of Lancome, Aaron De Mey, who has become used to travelling in style since ascending to one of the global cosmetic industry's biggest jobs last year.

De Mey, whose first makeup collection went on sale in his home country this week, hasn't been back for a few years now, but his father, Geoff, says the car he did up for Aaron and his partner to use is ready to roll.

Last time they took it on a tiki tour, to Waitomo and to the beaches for some surfing and swimming.

Aaron De Mey told Viva he was hoping to get back from New York this year, but until a visit is confirmed, his father will just keep the Merc idling over.

"He's enjoying what he does so much that he's practically a workaholic," his father says.

Working with the world's top photographers and models and making frequent visits to Paris for range development at Lancome's headquarters, means De Mey's schedule doesn't allow a lot of downtime, but it's the culmination of an ambition that started early.

From his days at Otumoetai College, he was into art and his meticulous approach to his work is still remembered from his time as a student at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Auckland, but he left early to get involved in the city's creative and pop culture scene, doing band posters before heading home for a while, short of cash.

He bided his time helping groom cars at the family business, De Mey's Autos, until he won a scholarship to study at Serville's Academy.

From hair, he quickly branched into makeup and worked on shoots around Auckland, ranging from Levi's to Ezibuy, before heading to the Big Apple in his mid-20s to work his way up as a freelancer.

"He's certainly aimed in a straight line and worked very hard," says proud father Geoff, who with wife Lynda reckon their son's artistic talent may reach way back to the French heritage of the De Meys.

On the wall of the family home are a couple of recently acquired oil paintings by ancestors; one will eventually go to Aaron, 36, and the other to his sister Melissa, a 32-year-old beauty therapist.

De Mey, whose first collection includes items inspired by the New Zealand landscape - and named after it, like the glittery Piha Black nail polish, is a wizard with colour combinations and often applies makeup by hand, rather than brush.

He promises more New Zealand inspired looks. Makeup he views as a tool to enhance and magnify women's beauty. "It should be fun and playful."

As a citizen of the world, how does having grown up in New Zealand inform your work?

I'm a New Zealander and living and working there has shaped my character and the way I work, but New York is so diverse and [gives me a lot of] inspiration. People find New Zealand very exotic. A lot of people ask me about New Zealand and it's a destination many want to travel to.

Your family seems typically Kiwi, but you're remembered here as, I guess, an art school self-created type. What was it in your background or yourself that led you on the creative path?

Desire and a lot of hard work have led to my life in New York. From a young age I was very interested in clothes, beauty and aesthetics. My grandmothers are both elegant women and this probably was the initial inspiration.

I went to Whitecliffe but dropped out because I wanted to collaborate with photographers, stylists and model friends rather than school teachers. The fashion and film scene were very young in New Zealand at the time and so self-creation was a necessity.

It was a fun time, where I was free to explore, make mistakes, observe and learn new things. I have fond memories of working with photographer Deb Smith and her brother Mark Smith. We used to do pictures and projects for Marilyn Sainty. Deb was a great early mentor and I was fortunate enough to have many people like this around me.

Tell us a little about the past decade and what led to your landing the Lancome job.

Ten years in New York feels like a year. I was lucky enough to do the cover of I-D magazine with Naomi Campbell a few months after arriving here. Francois Nars had a makeup agency and they took me on, as a freelance makeup artist.

I worked with the stylist Edward Enninful [I-D and Vogue editor] who introduced me to fashion photographer Craig McDean. Both were big inspirations and through this work, I started working with Rei Kawakubo on her Comme des Garcons shows. This led to working with Grace Coddington (Vogue) and Joe McKenna (stylist) and [photographers] Bruce Weber, Mario Sorrenti, Paola Roversi and Patrick Demarchelier, etc.

I went on to do shows for Prada and Miu Miu in 2001 and later on Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Armani and YSL. I then started working with Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme, doing shows and campaigns for many years and we still work together, with him currently, as a photographer.

In 2007, I was head-hunted by Lancome. I went for a meeting, not knowing who they were. And left the meeting feeling excited, and they asked me to join Lancome.

What might a typical week for an international artistic director involve?

I was in New York on a Thursday, did a shoot for French Vogue in studio, then flew to Miami to do another editorial for French Vogue on location for three days. Then flew the next day to Paris to work two days with Lancome teams on training and new collections, before doing another day of French Vogue in Paris.

Then I flew back to New York and had one day off, in which I did homework for Lancome and product research. I then did an advertising job for two days. This is a typical week.

What are your career highlights so far?

I loved doing my first collection, Pink Irreverence, but I am even more excited about Fall 2009 for Lancome.

In terms of other work ... I remember being really happy to do my first shoots for French Vogue, Italian Vogue and American Vogue. I did the Jil Sander campaign with Craig McDean quite early on and Calvin Klein with Steven Klein and Mario Sorrenti. They were all great experiences.

I love my job and there's a lot to look forward to. I'm lucky to work with creative people and do what I enjoy.

Will we see your New York apartment in a glossy magazine like that of your high-profile predecessor Gucci Westman?

No, I'm quite private.

Describe where you live and your favourite New York places?

We live in the Lower East Side, in a large loft space. I love a clash of opposing styles ... so the interior is minimalist, high-tech and modern, mixed with pieces of elegant Parisian style furniture and a very extensive library of books.

We are really into the designs of Jean Prouve, George Nelson, Harvey Probber, and Knoll. Cappellini is my favourite furniture store in Soho, New York. Our apartment is quite like a hotel, as I don't get to spend regular amounts of time there ... but when I do ... it's very comfortable and relaxing.

The East Village has so many great places to hang out in and see. There's a great new bookstore on Bond St, called Dashwood Books that I adore. Great vintage stores and all the best underground bars and clubs, are just blocks away from our apartment.

I like to go Uptown for a whole new experience and eat at the Russian Tearooms or Mr Chow or hang out in the summer in Central Park.

Do you have a place in Paris or a favourite hotel you stay in?

Many. I love St Germain de Pres, the 1st arrondissement and the Marais.

In St Germain ... I love Brasserie Lipp, Societe and Les Deux Magots. Le Flore is another favourite. There's a good new club called Club Montana. My favourite hotel is on Rue de Rivoli ... Le Meurice. It overlooks the Tuileries, the Louvre and the Eiffel tower.

Where do you draw your inspiration for a cohesive collection?

It can start with one idea, but usually I draw inspiration from my life and personal interests, films, artists, books, strong heroic women, exotic locations, whatever takes my eye.

These in turn, are compiled into books, scrapbooks, storyboards, multimedia displays. Then I think about colours and packaging, architecture, the campaign and this is communicated to all the teams at Lancome and we start on product development. We work two years in advance and sometimes it takes even longer. There's a lot of preparation and research and people involved.

Who are your favourite photographers, models or designers to work with?

I love working with Bruce Weber, Mario Sorrenti, Ines Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Hedi Slimane and Patrick Demarchelier. Designers I work with are Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, Prada, Karl Lagerfeld and Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garcons.

My favourite models ... there are so many, but I love Daria Webowy, Kate Moss, Sasha P, Natalia Vodianova, Lily Donaldson, Lara Stone and Anna S.

The seasonal pressure must be huge, but do you also have longer-term projects and products you work on?

We're working on Oscillation technology [micro-movements used in Lancome's mascara vibrating wand] being put into other projects, which is very modern. I don't really see things in terms of pressure ... I like being busy.

What are you favourite cosmetic items and beauty secrets?

A great moisturiser, such as Genifique [launching here in late July]... which is a serum that delivers nutriments and moisture to skin. It instantly brightens and illuminates the complexion.

Always brush your eyebrows into shape. A clean mascara wand with lip balm or salve adds shine and gentle hold.

Piha Black Color Fever Gloss looks great patted over the top of black or chocolate brown eye pencil, for a sexy, smouldering gaze.

Describe what you see as the looks of the near future and the extent they tie in with fashion and other cultural trends?

More is more. I really think women will be taking more time to indulge in beauty, skin care and luxury. Even if it's five minutes extra in the morning ... just to paint your eyes or lips or nails.

People are beginning to dress up again. Evening makeup for day and vice-versa. Colour is important, especially jewel tones, anything rich, gold, silver, metallic, vibrant hues of pink and red. People desire quality, sophistication and a little indulgence. Women want to look strong and powerful and sexy again and men are more self-aware and realise the necessity of grooming and good skincare.

Your appointment was considered an "edgy" one for Lancome. How have you found working with an established premier house?

The people who chose me are very sharp and directional and Lancome is a blend of tradition and high technology and I think my work reflects the same values. It is a twist of high luxury meets urban street style. I feel really comfortable at the house, and enjoy my collaborations with the laboratories and the amazing teams, there. They are respectful and encouraging of my ideas and treat me as part of their family.

Will the world credit crunch change the balance between the commercial and creative for a job like yours?

I think this credit crisis can separate talent from mediocrity. It motivates people to be more creative, original and focused. My intention is to drive Lancome, to develop the best and chic-est beauty products available. It is essential to concentrate on delivering quality and luxury and to focus on unique and versatile products.