Alberto de Rossi: Italian Makeup Artist

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Alberto de Rossi and actress Claudia Cardinale in the makeup room for the film The Leopard (1963) source

He is the makeup artist credited with the iconic doe eyes of Audrey Hepburn, the designer of Elizabeth Taylor’s dramatic eyes for Cleopatra, and Ava Gardner’s favorite makeup artist to work with. In Europe, Claudia Cardinale and Anna Magnani equally enjoyed working with him. Europe and America both admired the makeup artist, Alberto de Rossi, who continues to inspire makeup artists and everyday women alike.

Early life: Alberto de Rossi was born in Rome, Italy. (Though his exact birthdate appears to be unknown.) In his spare time he painted and dreamed of that as a profession. de Rossi would reflect that while growing up, his family was poor and he had to begin working very young to help his family. His father was also a makeup artist, Camillo de Rossi, who is credited as Italy’s first makeup artist for film.

Education: He began to apprentice his father at the age of 14 years old to learn the craft of makeup artistry. Though Alberto de Rossi didn’t become a professional painter (although he would continue to paint as a hobby for the rest of his life), his skills with a paintbrush and color theory were probably useful to him as a makeup artist.

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Alberto de Rossi observes Audrey Hepburn’s makeup application, circa early 1960s. They worked together throughout Hepburn’s career and when he died Hepburn’s son, Sean, recalled that Hepburn wept and felt as though she had lost a brother.

Style: With an approach to makeup he described as “common sense”, he believed the environment indicated the the style of makeup a woman should wear and used the example of a woman on the tennis court versus going to dinner to illustrate his point. He stressed that brows should be natural and to use care when plucking, always leaving enough for natural growth and never shaving them off completely. With fashion and film makeup designed as characters for the camera, he felt it’d be too extreme for mimicking in everyday life. This is why he believed women should understand “color harmony”, meaning knowing what colors work for their individual skin tone and eye color instead of following trends. The most famous makeup trick of his is best remembered on Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer, wrote in his book Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit that de Rossi’s technique was “a slow process of applying mascara and then separating each eyelash with a safety pin.”

Legacy: Alberto de Rossi died on March 13, 1975. His warm personality and artistic techniques allowed him to work in America and Europe with some of the most famous movie stars of the era. Many of the actresses he designed makeup for continue to serve as an inspiration. The looks of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor are still emulated and appreciated for their full brows and feline eyes. British makeup artist Samantha Chapman’s video on Ava Gardner demonstrated glamorous makeup for hooded eyes. Alberto de Rossi’s straightforward yet elegant approach to makeup has made his work timeless, both in the world of film and everyday life.

Mini Retrospective

1940s/early 1950s

Clockwise from far left: Italian actress Valentina Cortese as Fatine in Les Miserables (1948), Gina Lollobrigida and Carlo Giustini in Campane a Martello (1949), Lea Padovani in Three Steps North (1951) and Audrey Hepburn with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953).

 

mid 1950s/early 1960s

Clockwise from far left: Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963). de Rossi became ill and was unable to work on the film so Taylor applied the makeup herself however she did not exactly create it as some stories have said. She actually used the drawings and tricks de Rossi taught her specifically for the looks, Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace (1956), Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell in Le Notti Bianche (1961) and David Niven in The Best of Enemies (1961).

mid 1960s/early 1970s

Clockwise from far left: Romy Schneider in Ludwig (1973), Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million (1966), Ava Gardner as Sarah from The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) and Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

In His Own Words:

The most beautiful women I have ever worked with are Ava Gardner and Anna Magnani–not before when they were very young,but now, now that they are past 40. They both have marvelous cheekbone structures, but most important, time has given their faces character and understanding. And in that character there is great beauty.”

-from June 5, 1966 for The Detroit Free Press

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