Anika Leila was in elementary school when she first saw the faces.
“I would vandalize the desks, I’d be drawing on the walls, my art book — I have a Post-it Note from my secondary school art teacher saying, ‘stop drawing those faces — they’re scary,’” laughed Leila.
Now 25 years old, the Central Saint Martins fashion design graduate has turned her affinity for faces into an artistic signature, using expired and discarded makeup products to paint them on dresses, tube tops, skirts and just about anything else she can construct.
“I’ve always wanted to analyze people’s faces — I used to stare as much as possible so that I could make sure I didn’t forget,” said Leila, who grew up in London and would make annual summertime trips to see her grandmother, a seamstress, in India. “She taught me the basics of sewing. A lot of her work — quite similar to what I do now — was very much about freestyling.”
“I wouldn’t say I was very caught up in that [era], but people thought I really liked that stuff, so I was given a lot of makeup as gifts,” said Leila, who amassed heaps of bold lipsticks and colorful eye shadow palettes that quietly expired in the years that followed.
Fast-forward to her time at Central Saint Martins, Leila found herself in a creative rut induced by her desire to create without contributing to waste. “The pollution and waste of the fashion industry tend to impact people who are from where I’m from — I didn’t want to be part of that,” said Leila, who had previously experimented with drawing on paper using makeup, and realized she could paint her garments the same way.
“I’ve gone through colored mascaras, lip liners, eye shadows — I’m always asking my friends, ‘have you cleared out your makeup recently? Do it again,’” said Leila, whose go-to brands for painting include Anastasia Beverly Hills (“great pigmentation”), Nars Cosmetics and Kylie Cosmetics.
Leila uses the makeup products to create all kind of drawings, but it’s her faces in particular — which range from looking terrified, to pensive, to undecipherable — that have caught the attention of TikTok, where her videos have garnered more than 300,000 likes.
“My artwork is very much based in my personal life and my mood, and I think that reflects well in what I produce,” she said. “I always get a bunch of questions like, ‘What is this? I don’t understand,’ and I’m like, ‘don’t worry — it’s artwork.’”
After graduating, Leila launched her namesake direct-to-consumer brand offering a range of beautified tie-back tube tops, drapey dresses and skirts, but her primary business right now is custom clothing orders and canvases.
“I’m working to exhibit in a gallery, which, hopefully, will happen in 2024,” said Leila, adding that while her drawings are indeed a reflection of her own experiences, “seeing a lot more people now trying to understand and engage with my work, putting their own perception on it — I love that.”