Judy Chin talks about ‘Black Swan’

Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

“Black Swan,” director Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller set in the world of professional ballet, is a stylish treat. Not only does the film, which opened this weekend, boast exquisite, Rodarte-designed ballet costumes, it also showcases some striking makeup artistry by award-winning makeup designer Judy Chin.

Chin has worked on dozens of films, including “The Tempest,” which also opens this month, as well as “Frida,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Requiem for a Dream” and the “Sex and the City” films. A resident of New York who also designs for the stage, Chin is currently working on Julie Taymor’s Broadway production of " Spider-Man.”

Chin took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to share the secrets behind Natalie Portman’s darkly romantic look, winged eye makeup and blackened red lips.

How did you begin the process of designing the makeup for this film?


I was trying to create something that would be very striking visually, and help convey the idea of good versus evil. I did look at photographs from New York City Ballet’s “Swan Lake” productions to get a feeling for the characters. But a lot of times, makeup is more about a mood. So I just had to sit down and draw. I had some rough ideas, then I got a model to work with so I could paint. And I did that for two days. I photographed everything and gave Darren [Aronofsky] choices. Luckily, he liked them.

What was the idea behind the Black Swan look?

It was fairly simple, actually. When I worked at the New York City Opera many years ago, I learned to use cake makeup. A lot of people think it’s old-fashioned, but it can create a flawless porcelain finish. And I wanted the Black Swan’s skin to look almost stony. For the black eye makeup, I wanted something sinister and dangerous and deadly but still sexy and provocative. The brush strokes made her look like a hunting bird in motion.

Take us through, step by step.

For the white finish, I used Starblend cake makeup in the shade butterfly geisha 14B. For the eyes, I started with a sharp line of red Kryolan Aquacolor for an intense, piercing look. Then I used black MAC Chromaline eyeliner on top, and mixed MAC silver pigment powder with Ben Nye makeup sealer and applied it in feathery strokes. On the lips, it was MAC Dubonnet with MAC Vino lip liner underneath.

But you wouldn’t want to try it in real life, right?

It’s funny, because however extreme this makeup may seem, if you know how to adapt it, it could work for an evening look. The highlighting and contouring are classic techniques for beauty makeup. And people would be surprised by how much you can change your features with intense eyeliner. I would just ease up on the wings.

What’s your go-to product?


MAC’s Powerpoint eyeliner pencil. It’s soft enough to smudge right away, but it also sets quickly.

How long do you spend doing your own makeup?

Ten minutes. I’m an eyeliner and mascara girl. That’s it. But my husband would probably say longer.