“I grew up in Argentina in a little town an hour and a half away from Buenos Aires. My father was a painter and he used to do signage, but he was also painting as an artist. Ever since I was a child I was always drawing and painting and messing around with his pencils and brushes. For a while, I wanted to be a ballerina. I was obsessed with it and started studying, but one day in school, I was doing the long jump and I broke my leg. I was around twelve and I couldn’t try out for the ballet group in the theater with a broken leg. The doctor was like, ‘You’ll never be able to stand on your tiptoes again.’ I worked really hard to do that, but my dream kind of vanished.
Later on I started studying graphic design and art history in Argentina. To make money, I was teaching aerobics and tap dancing, and one of my students was the owner of an ad agency. She was like, ‘Why don’t you come? We’re doing this casting for Coca-Cola.’ So then I went and they liked me, so then I started to do some TV commercials. Through that, I met some photographers, one of whom asked, ‘Why don’t you come and help me with some tests that I’m doing?’ So then I helped him, I did a bit of styling, a bit of hair and makeup and that kind of opened my mind a little. I can put a few different ingredients that I know from my past—composition and lighting and my input as a woman—to create an image. I’d never taken pictures ever in my life, but I became obsessed with it.
Eventually I came to New York 15 years ago, and of course it was hard. I moved to Williamsburg when there was one restaurant, two bars, and that’s it. Nobody in the streets. But it didn’t matter because I was so excited about what I was doing. At the beginning, I was renting darkroom space…I remember a photographer asked me, ‘Oh, so where are you from?’ I told him, ‘Argentina.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, but you’re in New York City. If you throw a penny out of the window, you will hit a photographer in the head.’ But if you think that way, you better just die, because it’s not hope. But I think if you are passionate about something, that’s just an achievement. So many people don’t know what to do with their lives. And I think the passion also makes you keep going because you love something so much that it doesn’t matter that you’re eating rice for months or you have a dollar in your pocket for days. Your dream is not what you can do today. It’s for the future.
One of my first big shoots was for Interview. At that I had some pictures, but it was not the biggest portfolio with celebrities or anything…And then they called me back and said, ‘We have an assignment for you.’ It was to shoot Peter Sarsgaard, so then I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll shoot at my place.’ So he came with his publicist, and it was kind of like a big deal, but for me, I mean…I was excited to shoot for Interview, and I knew he was a great actor, but I was just like, ‘OK, I’m going to do my thing…’ He’s wearing this denim jacket and as we’re shooting, and I’m like, ‘Oh, it would be great to have something else on it!’ So I turn around, and I see his publicist wearing this really weird brooch, and I say, ‘Oh, can I borrow that?’ So I took her brooch and put it on his jacket and took a picture. The story was going to be maybe two pages, and then they loved it so much that became like a spread of six pages. And from then on, I started to work more for them. And it’s funny because I saw the publicist recently and she was like, ‘Oh Paola! I remember that story, 14 years ago, and you took these pictures of Peter and you took my brooch and it was a magical moment!’
When I was around six I remember my mother would have perfect eyebrows, so I was like, ‘Oh, I need to have perfect eyebrows,’ so I painted them by hand and cut them with scissors because I didn’t know that you needed to pluck them. One centimeter was white, another was eyebrow, another was white–I looked sick! I really quickly went to sleep and my mother went to wake me up in the morning and she was like, ‘Oh my god! You’re sick! You’re losing your hair!’ So then I had to tell her that I just wanted perfect eyebrows. She had to put makeup in my eyebrows to fill the gaps because it looked like my face was falling apart. That was my first attempt at perfect beauty.
Now I like to do a badass cat eyeliner and mascara–kind of dirty. I curl my lashes with a Shu Uemura eyelash curler and put on Diorshow mascara, sometimes waterproof. I’ve used it for years. I tried to buy something else, but they don’t work! If you want thick lashes that stay curled after you curl them, I think it’s the way to go. The brush is really thick and if they try to sell you a brush that is really thin, it’s not going to happen. Then when the night comes I like to use black eyeliner and extend the edges, but it is very important that it’s really black with no blue to it because I like black. When I have pure black, I think it emphasizes the color of my eyes.
I was doing the YSL Touche Éclat, but now I use the Givenchy Mister Light Corrective Pen for concealer. It’s very light and it doesn’t wrinkle under the eyes. Sometimes when they are thicker, it starts accumulating makeup in the wrinkles and I think it looks terrible. Then I put on a little blush from Nars in Liberté and it gives you that excitement in the face where you have a bit of color. It’s enhancing and some people are like, ‘Oh, you’re so tan!’ But it’s just a little bit on the cheekbones.
For many years I was careless. I put on makeup in the morning and then at night I’d add on some pencil and lip balm. Then I’d go out very late, end up having sex and going to sleep with makeup on and waking up with it all smushy, and then just washing my face with whatever soap is there and keeping on going. All my friends were like, ‘What creams do you use?’ But I just used some soap because I thought it wasn’t that important. Some of my friends were like, ‘Maybe just use something for wrinkles around the eyes?’ So I bought this really expensive [cream]. I think it was Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream—the yellow one, and All About Eyes Cream, the little one for the eyes. A lot of products were causing me to get a rash so I did a test that said I was allergic to gluten, dairy and soy—so I stopped using everything. But the real problem was what I was eating. I figured it out when one day I put some random cream on and nothing bad happened. I think people should consider this because so many times we think that it’s the cream or our skin, but the skin can represent what you eat. Now I can apply any cream I want!
For a while I was using only one serum. I shot the campaign for this YSL Forever Youth Liberator Serum and then they gave me some and I tried it and it was amazing. But the experts were like, ‘No, no, no, serum is not the answer.’ I love the texture of serum because I don’t like to feel like I’m wearing a cape of cream on my face. Now I have Belif’s The True Cream Aqua Bomb because it feels more like serum than cream. When I can’t take that, I travel with a serum from Boots No. 7–the Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum that I get at Duane Reade.
For my eyes, I go for something expensive. I’m using the Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 cream, but before this, I was using La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Eye Lift Cream. The packaging needs to be good [Laughs]. They just need to feel good. A few times I did something that shouldn’t be allowed, but I put lip balm [under my eyes]. If it can heal the cracks in your lips…But you need to make sure it’s unscented because I tried a scented one and my eyes were full of mint scent.
I usually wake up and have a shower. Then I put the Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse on my body. It’s not super strong, the scent is so soft. It penetrates, but it also gives you a shine and it’s light. Sometimes if I am super dry, I have Biafine for my legs. It is supposed to be used for burns. I take it with me on set because if we are shooting in a weird location, people don’t protect themselves with sunscreen so I give them a little bit of this. If you have the great chance to have an aloe plant around you, you can just cut a piece and put it wherever and it’s the greatest thing ever. The bottom part of my legs gets so dry from wearing jeans and boots, so you put one coat of [Biafine] and the next day it is perfect. It’s not an everyday cream. And because I go to Mexico a lot, I’ve discovered Tiger Balm for mosquito bites. You rub a little on and don’t scratch it.
Mavala Scientifique Nail Hardener is magical for growing the nails. My niece discovered it when she was biting her nails and needed them to be longer. It smells a bit like garlic. Always painting and removing paint from your nails makes them weaker. It’s important to let them rest and not to paint them all the time.
My favorite fragrance, Bvlgari Omnia, was discontinued which was a problem because I always wear the same perfume. They came out with similar ones, but it’s just not the same. I had all my friends looking for something similar. One time, I was photographing Ben Gorham [from Byredo] and I told him the story and he was like, ‘Come to the shop and we will find you one!’ There’s one called Mister Marvelous that I’ll wear. Then I have the Coqui Coqui Maderas that my friends make. But still no Omnia—I’m in kind of a desperate situation.”
—as told to ITG
Paola Kudacki photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on September 5, 2015.