Marilyn Manson Explains His Life-Long Love Affair With Makeup

Photographer David Black
February 20, 2015

Rock’s occult prince is all about shape-shifting.

Ash white foundation and smears of shoplifted eyeliner were the early instruments of Brian Warner's metamorphosis into Marilyn Manson. The shock value of a man in lipstick has faded since Manson's '90s heyday, when he horrified the mothers of America with his androgynous and occultish looks. But, at 46, he still wears makeup every day. Here, Manson explores his enduring fascination with visual shape-shifting.

MARILYN MANSON: My mom used to put her wigs and lipstick on me when I was little. I have one weird picture of me as a toddler with an unlit cigarette in my mouth, wearing her blonde wig and a diaper, sitting on the couch. Wonder how I ended up here.

I suppose my fascination with makeup comes from me having a great imagination and not being able to contain it just to a piece of paper or a piece of music. When I was a kid, I used to do the KISS makeup with watercolor paints. I was into KISS mostly because I was told not to listen to it in Christian school. But Alice Cooper and Bowie were more important to me. KISS wore too much of a mask; it was too much kabuki. I wanted to be seen, I just didn't want to be seen the same way that I was. Ziggy Stardust first led me to shave off my eyebrows. People look at you trying to figure out what's missing or wrong, and you can do a lot more with makeup when your eyebrows are out of the way.
In the beginning, I was never intending to be androgynous in the sense that people thought. I wasn't trying to look like a girl; I was hiding something. I had a really bad complexion as a teenager, but I wasn't insecure: I tried to look worse. I liked to put lipstick on my teeth because it was always something that people didn't like to have.

The early performances I did, I wore Maybelline eyeliner that I would steal from grocery stores late at night. I had a mild bout of kleptomania in Florida. I stole Max Factor Pan-Cake foundation, which was all-in-one: you just wet a sponge, and you put it on, and done. So when people say, "Marilyn Manson wears pancake makeup," technically that was true, though only back in the day. Lipstick came a little bit later. Someone threw a bottle at me on stage once. I just cracked my chest with it and rubbed the blood across my mouth.

I think the first makeup I ever paid for was in '95 or '96, before recording Antichrist Superstar. I was in New York for seven months, and I remember going into the MAC store and being very excited. I bought this foundation that they don't make anymore, and lipliner and lipstick. I've been using MAC's Diva lipstick since they invented the color. I haven't really varied since. My makeup kit now is pretty small, about five items. I think limitations make creativity.

"Every character in history or cinema or stories has that flawed left side; I identify with that."

Seven or eight years ago, I came across a mortician's makeup kit that had these wax molds for repairing the damaged faces of soldiers whose faces had been blown off. It had a lot of very strange items for blending and reconstructing people's faces after they were dead, and wax noses and wax half-faces. I was very into asymmetry early on. Every character in history or cinema or stories has that flawed left side; I identify with that. I also had a dog with one white eye that died while I was a kid. Who knows where the unconscious mind will take you when it comes to transforming yourself into some sort of monster.

I moved into a new house last year, and I painted the living room dark red and pale blue. I went back, and I looked at a lot of the makeup I had done in the past, and it's a lot of dark red and light blue, the colors of blood and the veins inside your skin. There's a harmony to incongruous colors that's the same as dissonant chords. Certain colors stand out to me and cause a reaction.

I've done a lot of different photoshoots and videos in the past few months, and each of them was very different. The Pale Emperor, the title of my new album, was the nickname of the child emperor Heliogabalus. He denied God, wore makeup, and would slaughter the peasants in the middle of the street and have their families drink wine from their blood. He was very decadent and androgynous. For some of the photoshoots I used Tempera paint on my face so it would crack, like an old painting. The cracked actor: beautiful with all these cracks and flaws, and maybe underneath there's another painting that has been painted over.

I wear makeup because it's the way I like to look. More like why a woman wears makeup: not in terms of looking feminine but just to look a specific way. Maybe "attractive" is the right word; maybe it's not the right word. It's different every day for me. Makeup gives me the ability to transform quite easily.

Around a table, I'm usually the person that says the most out-of-place thing and sort of breaks the ice. I can say things other people wouldn't get away with because I'm wearing lipstick. It confuses the shit out of people, and I think confusing is just a good way to be. In Spirits of the Dead, Terence Stamp is very much a dandy, with a bleached blond shock of hair and this pancake makeup on, but he has this scruffy goatee, and it works for him. He says it perfectly in the movie: "Just masculine enough for men, just feminine enough for women." That really defines where I'm at.

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Marilyn Manson Explains His Life-Long Love Affair With Makeup