Arlene Sy
Art + Illustration


My journey as an artist chronicled in life events, thoughts, and musings.

A lovely evening with Chanel

A couple of months ago, I was invited to participate in Rustan's Department Store's Beauty Source relaunch. The event highlighted the beauty section's gorgeous new layout and interiors, including a renovation of every brand's counter and displays. 

Prior to the event, Shar and Tara of Rustan's met with me to discuss my contribution to the event. Specifically, it would be for the freshly renovated Chanel beauty counter. I was thrilled beyond belief!


I'm not someone who puts on a made-up face every time, but I still love primping and dressing up when the occasion calls for it. I do have my favorites when it comes to makeup--Shu Uemura and Chanel. The latter of which, I admit to owning five bottles of their Le Vernis nail polish (Beige, Pêche Nacrée, Rose Caché, Ballerina, and Black Pearl).

The girls shared the idea of creating interactive beauty postcards as a unique sampling activity. I would create illustrated, black and white beauty portraits (based on existing Chanel beauty ads), which I'd personally "paint in" for guests during the event, using Chanel makeup colors of their choice.

I was definitely on board just seconds into the discussion. I was incredibly excited to work on these illustrations, because it gave me a real chance to work on the kind of fashion illustration I'd dreamed of making for a client. The collaboration being for Chanel, made it all the more a dream come true!

We decided that I would work on four looks ("poses") that would best highlight Chanel's bestselling makeup items--particularly, Le Rouge and Le Vernis, the lip and nail polish lines. I had a blast going through Chanel's past and current beauty ads to pick out looks I could reference from. I made sure they didn't look all too similar to each other.


After the pencils, I painted the girls using plain black watercolors. As usual, this was the fun part! I was pleased that the off-wihte-ness of the paper lent a subtly warm base to the blacks (so it didn't produce a too-cold, jet black).

Even though I had references, I didn't want to make a too-accurate rendering for all looks. I took liberties with the portraits and brushwork, infusing a more romantic vibe (incorporating Chanel's signature camellia flower, for good measure), to add a bit of myself to the illustrations and not simply leave them as direct copies of photographs.

I had about a week to work on the sketches and final artwork at home. When it was all done, I sent the files for digital reproduction. I was so excited to see how they'd turn out! (I normally ask to check the printer's proofs myself, but didn't get the chance this time.)


The night of the event, I arrived at the Rustan's Makati beauty floor a few minutes early. I caught a quick glimpse of the sparkling brand counters and main event set-up. It was all exciting to see each beauty brand come up with their own special activity for guests. It felt like a beauty fair of sorts, with mini games, sweets, and beauty sample giveaways.

It was great to see Rustan's Kiss of Goodwill exhibit booth, where ladies were invited to swipe on lip color and leave kisses (with their signatures) on acrylic panels, to be mounted on a wall. Each kiss mark would represent a 100-peso donation to be made by Rustan's toward Typhoon Yolanda relief and rehabilitation. It was quite a nice touch. It reminded people that the devastation of the storm was indeed still very recent.

I didn't get the chance to mill around longer as I needed to settle down at the Chanel counter. I made myself comfortable and decided to test makeup "paints" on one of the cards. It was quite relaxing, until guests--loyal Rustan's patrons, magazine editors, beauty bloggers--all started trickling in and dropping by the counter. Thanks to the Chanel staff, we managed pretty well and I settled into a comfortable rhythm of applying customers' lip-and-nail color combos on each card.


I brought a few personal paintbrushes, but decided to use the nail polish and tester brushes instead. Nail polish was somewhat a cinch to apply on paper, and dried really quickly. Lipstick was just a bit harder because, I think, of the oil-based chemicals. I really had to use more strokes and pressure to ensure the colors adhered better. I reminded people to wait a bit for the colors to fully dry.


I must have painted between 20 to 30 cards, based on this piece of tissue paper that I used to clean my brush with. (I'm not sure, I just didn't keep track.) We managed to run out of cards at the end of the night, though! (Yay!)


I really hope to do more fashion portraits and illustrations in the near future. It was a delightful experience, and I loved meeting people--some new, and many old acquaintances from the media. The event brought me back to my magazine publishing days, of doing interviews and attending events. I'm such a hermit these days, it's a treat when I get to go out and have some fun!