“I invested every single penny I made into this, and I almost lost my future because of it.”
If you’re a living, breathing human being who has access to a phone, then there’s a massive chance you’ve heard of Alexis Stone. The Manchester-based drag performer, who currently boasts over 740,000 followers on Instagram, is renowned for her makeup skills and extraordinary illusions of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga.
Last year, her profile reached a whole new level when she uploaded a dramatic surgical makeover akin to American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein, who is best known for her extensive cosmetic surgery. But on 1 January – after seven months – Alexis revealed that the transformation was fake, and that it was actually a mask created by the award-winning artist, David Marti, the vision behind prosthetics on big-budget movies such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth.
“I went into it with the mindset that it was a live movie performance,” Alexis tells us. “There was no angle I went into it thinking it was going to be a “social experiment”. I wanted to reinvent myself in a way where I could take a step back away from the most toxic thing in my life, which is social media, focus on sorting myself out, my health, my sobriety, and to demonstrate what I’m all about.”
The project has since received universal praise from the media, and has been hailed as a commentary on beauty standards in modern society. We sat down with Alexis to discuss her incredible transformation, how it changed her life, and the vile treatment she received from fans, and on one occasion, the police.
What inspired you to do this, as some people have called it, “social experiment”?
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come from a very narcissistic, angry mindset. I was two weeks into sobriety, I was very angry with the world, I was detoxing, and anyone who has gone through sobriety will know it’s not fun. I rung David Marti and I said, ‘I need a face.’ I told him the idea I had and he said, ‘You’re fucking insane.’ But for him as well, it was such a breath of fresh air to what he does. He’s created movie magic, from Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth., Crimson Peak, Mama. I went into it with the mindset that it was a live movie performance. There was no angle I went into it thinking it was going to be a “social experiment”. I wanted to reinvent myself in a way where I could take a step back away from the most toxic thing in my life, which is social media, focus on sorting myself out, my health, my sobriety, and to demonstrate what I’m all about. For all the people who said it’s all photoshopped, who for those who doubted my ability, it initially was a big ‘fuck you’, until I started submerging myself in David’s world. Getting caught up in social media, you forget the power of makeup and the beauty of it. I was spending time in the studio and having the live casts, and that anger very quickly went away as I started grieving things I was oppressing. Every time I went to David’s it just reminded me why I do what I do. I love makeup. Not so much beauty makeup, but even when I was designing clothes for Gaga in Italian Vogue, I wasn’t trying to make women look beautiful, I was trying to transform them into monsters. So this project started off as a very narcissistic angry ‘fuck you’ to the world and it ended up breaking a lot of boxes surrounding beauty and how we perceive other people’s happiness. I said I felt beautiful from day one, and every time I wear the prosthetics I feel beautiful, but it wasn’t me who said I looked botched. It was everyone else. And yes, we went into it doing Jocelyn Wildenstein-esque faces, but I know Jocelyn, I love Jocelyn, I think she’s beautiful. I just wanted to pick someone I knew other people would question.
A lot of the comments on your Instagram, before you revealed that it was a prosthetic face, were quite negative. How hard was it, not responding to the hate?
People say to me, ‘How could you respond in such a personal way if it was all fake?’ The silicone was not my skin, but every comment was real. It became very personal. I spent seven months of my life committed to this. And when it went past the point of, ‘You’re botched’ and ‘You’re a monster’ to ‘Oh, just do us a favour and kill yourself,’, that’s when it became personal. I went fucking insane when I was in hiding. I couldn’t take the bins down without the concierge bumping into me, so I had to wear the mask. Yeah, there were times that I responded to comments and I wanted, well I did, tell people to fuck off. You have to believe you had it done to some extent to make it believable, in the same way Charlize Theron performed as Eileen Wuornos. She dived into that role as much as she could. She gained the weight, she did her research, and to the most part, she was Eileen Wuornos, and look how it worked out for her, she won an Oscar. You have to really push yourself. Jim Carrey did this really interesting documentary where he lived his life as a character he was playing in a movie. When he walked onto set, if someone was to call him Jim, he would say, ‘Who’s Jim?’ By the end of it, he became this character, so it’s very hard not to take things personal when you put your life and soul into it. I invested every single penny I made into this, and I almost lost my future because of it. I lost a relationship, I lost all my finances, all my future collaborations because brands were like, ‘What the fuck?’ So it was personal for me, and for the most part, it was real.
When you were in the relationship, were they aware of what you were doing?
He knew, but the year leading up to this project was definitely turbulent. The transformation transformed my life. I went from transforming into these celebrities to being able to talk to them, to be able to travel first class… I do not come from money, and they do not teach you at school how to deal with money in any sense, and it’s really hard finding your feet amongst that, whilst being watched by hundreds of thousands of people, especially within the gay community. We are very vicious at times, especially when it comes to drag. There are a lot of men who do drag that are very insecure and jealous. When you shave your eyebrows off and get acrylic nails, you get very sexually frustrated because nobody’s interested in the day walkers. So you have to tip-toe. I have been very outspoken, and having emotional personality disorder, it’s not the best combination. One day I could wake up and feel like Beyonce, and the next day I can wake up feeling like Michelle. I have my ups and downs.
What was the general reaction like once you revealed it was just a prosthetic?
I couldn’t have predicted it. I knew it was gonna be a shit-show, but the support I’ve had from the biggest makeup artists around the world has blown my mind. Having Mario post about it, and then having Tom – Lady Gaga’s stylist – say they were all shook by it when they were in Vegas together… it does come full circle. It’s incredible how easy our content can reach unreachable people. I find it very humbling how a lot of these people have translated it as me being a genius, and I honestly do not see it like that. If you saw my house now, there’s wigs everywhere. It looks like Return to Oz. So for me, I had to do it. I always get the question, ‘Why?’ But I had to do it. It wasn’t a choice, it kept me sober. If I had not done this project, fuck knows where I would be now. It was going from one extreme to the next. The response has been incredible, and I’m just glad that I’ve inspired people because without laughter and inspiring people, what else do we have?
You say it started off as something narcissistic, but it became an actual commentary on beauty standards.
It’s very surreal. Yesterday, I received a message saying that I helped someone come out as trans because they realised, ‘If I don’t do it for myself, and I don’t be my authentic self, then I’m never gonna do it.’ It’s definitely surpassed my own expectations. I’ve not had a chance to sit down and reflect on the whole thing yet. It’s opened up a lot of questions, which good art does. It leaves more questions than answers, and there’s no one answer as to why I did this project, and people can translate it how they want. Some people think it’s a big publicity stunt to sell a product, which came halfway through the project, because they thought the surgery was real. The brand still wanted to work with me, and that gave me hope that brands wanted to support me because of me, not the way I look. And then some people think it was a fascinating social experiment, but the overall message is that I had to do it because it’s who I am. I’d be lying if I said I had planned out every element of this. Most of it was calculated. I had padded walls because I knew people were gonna question my mental health. I predicted 50,000 people would unfollow me, and it went past 65,000. And in the space of three days, 45,000 people came back. It just goes to show how fickle we are as humans. We’re programmed to think “out of sight, out of mind”. Maybe a hundred people reached out to me saying they were concerned. All of my friends unfollowed me. And now they’ve come crawling back up my arsehole saying how worried they were, and they unfollowed me because they found it really hard. This wasn’t about you. Think how I felt reading these comments everyday. There were times when I would be so upset, and I would quickly throw the mask on, and I would sit down on camera and say, ‘Look, fuck all of you. This is who I am.’ And it is who I am, whether I got prosthetics or not. I was gonna have all the surgeries done before I had this bubble burst with sobriety. I got so carried away and thought, ‘Fuck it, if you want a botched monster, I’ll be a botched monster. I’ll get the surgery, and act like a bitter, venomous drag queen. And another question I get is, ‘Are you angry towards those who showed negativity towards you?’ There is not a bone in my body that has any resentment for anyone. I thought I would go into this new year such an angry person, but where I’m at now, I’m financially stable and I have my future ahead of me. I have these amazing collaborations coming out with brands who support me, and then I’ll slowly transition into doing movie makeup, which has always been the end goal. This project really did save my life.
It’s easy for people to leave a negative comment on social media, because everyone’s a keyboard warrior, but you also left the house in prosthetics. Did you receive any hate from people on the street?
There was an interesting time when I got on the train to have a meeting with a brand I’m working with. I had my headscarf on, the sunglasses on, had a little surgical sheet mask across my face. The ticket officer asked to see my ticket and I was the only person he asked. I showed him my ticket, thought it was fine and put my headphones back in. As I approached the destination, there were four police officers with guns with big rifles across their chests. I get off the cabin and they called me to one side and asked me to take my mask off, to see my ID. They asked me why I’m wearing so many bandages and I told them I had plastic surgery, and they sent me on my way. It was surreal. The first thing that went through my head was, ‘What happens to people, who for religious reasons, wear headscarfs from head to toe?’ I understand it. I did look suspicious. But again, what a fickle world. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because I’m surrounded by plastic fantastic people, but I don’t bat an eyelid when I see someone walking with a fresh nose cast from a rhinoplasty, so… That was an experience. Also, going out one night with all the makeup and the hair and the costume, not only was it incredibly hot, but there were drunk people pointing and giggling and trying to take photos.
Did you at any point ever think, ‘Fuck this. I can’t do this anymore’?
Oh my god yeah. I remember the first food shop I did, and as soon as I got to there, the security told me to take my scarf off. I refused and he said, ‘Well you’re not coming in.’ This was like week one into the surgery. I thought, ‘What am I gonna do?’ So every time I had to have friends drop food off, or I ordered food for delivery. My concierge thought it was real up until a few days ago when I walked in without the head mask on, and they were like, ‘What the fuck?’ Every element of my life, even Christmas with my mother, she knew it wasn’t real but her fiancé and her fiancé’s child didn’t. So when I turned up, that was another huge, ‘What is going on?’ It wasn’t so much that I had to lie to people, it was that I had to be very selective with who knew. Only five friends of mine knew, including my mother, and they all signed non-disclosures because I couldn’t risk it, with everything I had put into it. We all know what the queer community is like with Chinese whispers.
What have you learned about beauty standards from this experience?
Do it for yourself and keep it off the internet. I’ve learned from my own botched surgeries that when you put something online, you are opening up Pandora’s Box for hate. I got asked a question, ‘How do you feel about those who have surgery that went wrong and they can’t take it off?’ and ‘How do you feel as a cisgendered white male, is it insensitive?’ I thought it was the most ridiculous question I’ve ever been asked. I’ve had botched surgery, whether I’m a cis white male has nothing to do with it. If this is the only thing that I am remembered for, on the short time that I am on planet Earth, as the guy who lived his Mrs Doubtfire fantasy, then I’m happy with that. I’m not trying to be James Charles or Jeffrey Star, I’m not trying to win Drag Race, I just wanna make cool shit. The most creative thing these beauty influencers can come up with are, ‘Let me invest $30,000 on a private yet and do my makeup,’ and talk shit about every other brand. Is that the be-all and end-all of makeup? Where is the beauty and power of makeup? I hope these artists and influencers can take a step back and think, ‘A smaller artist has dedicated seven months of his life, he’s really demonstrated makeup and it’s ignited a conversation. Now it’s time for me to demonstrate my artistry in the best way possible.’ I mean, it’s been done before. You look at Little Britain and Catherine Tate and Sasha Baren Cohen. They do it, but they’re not allowed to do it anymore because of how politically correct we are. As soon as Joan Rivers died, we were fucked. I can’t keep up with it, and I’m very involved with the queer community, whether it’s living with four trans women or dating all walks of life. These TV shows, if they were put online now, the amount of uproar that would circle online… We’re too busy fighting each other instead of appreciating shit for what it is. When I was asked that question, I thought, ‘Oh shut up. It’s got nothing to do with gender or my skin.’ If we can’t be entertained by a crazy crossdresser living his Miss Doubtfire fantasy for seven months, we’re gonna go insane.
How do you think we can all work together as a society to change our perception of what is deemed beautiful?
Mass homicide. A purge. I don’t see it going anywhere. If comments weren’t able to be liked, or things weren’t able to be shared, people would be a lot nicer, because nobody would fucking entertain their bollocks. If we were in a position where we could not entertain it, not reply, not like somebody’s negative comment, we would be in a much better place. The internet is designed for people to share irrelevant or wrong opinions. Or maybe we should remove comments and every response should be a video. Nobody’s going to sit down with their face and say, ‘You’re a botched monster.’ They’re then opening themselves up to criticism. All I can see, as a society, we can knock it on the head and enjoy it for nothing more than winding up the cunts.
Finally, you recently collaborated with The Creme Shop. Can you tell me a bit about that?
I worked with them just before I entered sobriety in LA at DragCon. The Creme Shop are known for doing eyelashes, and they ended up branching out and doing makeup accessories and tours, which enables people like me, to be creative. I told them I was doing a reinvention project, so I said, ‘Why don’t we come up with a reinvention sheet mask?’ They asked me what benefits I wanted this project to have, and I said, ‘Well if we can come up with not only a beautiful mask that rejuvenates your skin, which has proven scientifically to do with anti-ageing properties like collagen, but one with a really beautiful design?’ And the design is the golden ratio to beauty, or perceived beauty which is something I’ve always found fascinating. I reached out to them and they saw my face, and it all fell into place. So the product is coming out in a month’s time and it was designed for people to experience the same thing I did. You put the mask on, you’re recharging, you’re reinventing yourself and your skin, and you’re hiding behind what people perceive the golden ratio of beauty. At the end of it, you get to do your reveal. I believe it’s a very beautiful product, and it’s something I stand behind.
Watch Alexis’ Making Of documentary below.