Photographed by Michèle Côté
Athena is someone who understands the platform that she has and utilizes it to bring awareness and to create change for causes that she believes in. She practices what she preaches, as she lugs her cruelty-free makeup kit, to each shoot. As a Dazed 100’er and with her work for Gucci, we can only hope that she continues to inspire and influence the generation to come - because it will be stronger, brighter, and more progressive, having Athena lead the way.
This interview took place via Skype between Tate in New York and Athena in London
Editor: Haley Harkins
TVPS: So how did you get to where you are today?
AP: I’ve always drawn my entire life. Then I started painting, but on people. It's all that I know how to do, it's so natural for me. That escalated, and one day my friend said, "Yo - I'm moving to London to be a model. Come move into my model apartment and start doing makeup." So I took the plunge and lived in a model house sharing a bed with my mate in her box room.
Where are you from originally?
Oxfordshire. You step outside to countryside where there are only fields and sheep. It's super cute.
So you went straight from there to London?
Yeah, it was a strange time. But really great, as it gave me the opportunity to practice my craft on so many different girls. That was my first foot in the door, and then it just went from there.
Can you give an overview of what you do now? What’s a shoot like from the initial conversation with the client to the final image?
With commercial jobs, I usually stick to the brief that I've been given as there are guidelines in which you have to follow. However, even in those situations, I do still push certain opportunities. If I can, I try to get involved in casting to ensure that there is a representation of everyone regarding ethnicity, and the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the most important things to remember is that it is all about the team. You can’t go in with a set way of thinking, "I've got this great idea. I want to paint this crazy thing on their faces" because maybe the hairstylist comes up with a cool idea, or the lighting is different. So it's more about adapting your ideas to fit in with everyone.
Even if it is a beauty shoot, it's still about the whole team. A huge collaboration that you wouldn't be able to achieve without having your assistants or without having the lighting team, etc. You can recognize it in the final image, if somebody isn't a team player.
Photography Michèle Côté, Makeup Athena Paginton, Hair Sarah Jo Palmer, for Weather Gurlz
Your work is celebrated for pushing boundaries. How did you first find the space to do that?
It actually took years and years for people to accept my work. I couldn't get any photographers or teams that wanted to shoot with me because they were scared of what I wanted to do. Around 7 to 8 years ago, there was only a handful of people doing this style of work.
I ended up taking the photos myself. Then over time, it caught people's attention. Funnily enough, the people that I'd asked before to collaborate with, after seeing my work they turned around saying, "Hey, what about shooting?" I definitely had to create the opportunity that I wanted to be given. I had to work hard and make that space for myself. I wouldn't have had it any other way as it taught me a lot.
During that time, were you also assisting?
Yeah, I was assisting on and off and I've always had a part-time job. I've worked all sorts of weird jobs to get by to ensure that I can stay in London, to ultimately do what I wanted to do. It's been a challenge.
Definitely. Because just staying in London, not even to mention being creative, is a challenge in itself.
You’ve been represented by Bryant Artists for about a year now, have you seen your work evolve as a result of that?
Definitely, one million percent. Having somebody that believes in you (S/O Louise) changes everything. It creates a whole new level of confidence in yourself from having someone that will back you no matter what, and protect you. Since we don’t have an alliance in fashion, up until you have an agent, it can be very difficult. The industry can be tough, but it's important to learn to stand up for yourself.
To have an agency like Bryant Artists behind you, it takes a load off. It pushes you to achieve more. It's like having somebody constantly saying, "Yeah, you go, girl.” Also, having Louise as my agent, it’s so good. When you sign with an agent, you're basically marrying them. It's a relationship and I think that's something that people forget. It’s integral to have someone that wants to care for you and she has so much love, it's beautiful. She'll randomly send me documentaries on animals, little things to watch over the weekend. It's wicked.
That's so sweet. I love that.
What was the last project that you found exciting and challenging?
I've recently launched a project that I collaborated with Samaritans on. It was an all-male beauty story that I cast, to raise awareness for men’s mental health. Mentally and physically, it was the hardest job I've ever done. Since it was such a personal subject, I was determined for it to be well received. Most importantly though, I wanted to make sure that anyone who did see it, could get the right help if they needed it. Definitely the project that I'm the most proud of.
It’s a really important message that you conveyed beautifully. Well done.
I also saw that you co-founded Weather Gurlz, which places a strong emphasis on taking care of yourself while being in a creative industry.
This industry can be a place where you're pushed to your limit. Sometimes you can’t take lunch breaks, sometimes you’re surrounded by negative energies, and sometimes you’re just simply in a bad situation. It's imperative to be that light and to not only do it for yourself, but to educate others how to look after themselves and care for one another.
That's something that my co-founder, Michèle Côté and I are constantly doing. We go out of our way to look after ourselves on a daily basis. Naturally, we thought, “Well, we should be helping other people do that as well.”
The responses that we've gotten since starting Weather Gurlz, have been incredible. With our workshops, it's been so special to open doors to a new community where people are kind and want to help one another.
It also forces you to ground yourself. It's really just about truth, and about making the space you want to create in, safe. So when you're at work, you're not really working for someone else anymore. It's less pressure, once you can take care of yourself and everyone around you.
So, when you say that you go out of your way to take care of yourself, what does that mean for you? Is that staying up an extra 30 minutes to take a bubble bath? How do these ideas translate into your daily life?
I have a checklist. If my mood changes, I’ll ask myself “Right. Have you had enough water today? When was the last time you had a snack? Have you been outside for air?” I literally live on this list.
Everyone thinks I'm really funny because every day at work I go for a walk. I say, "Right, guys. Going to go out, get a coffee, be back in a bit." I need that time to myself. People will also ask "Why have you been in the bathroom for 10 minutes?” but I'm actually doing a cheeky little meditation. You've got to do what you can in the situation that you're in. Even if you’re having a stressful day, there's always an opportunity to take a couple of minutes, pop to the bathroom to breathe and re-ground yourself.
It varies for everyone, there are a multitude of things that you can do for yourself. We all have specific needs that we should cater to. The more that you get to know yourself, you're aware of exactly what it is that you'll need. If you know that day is going to be stressful or busy, pack your bag mindfully, whether it's another bottle of water, a certain snack, or headphones to listen to a Ted Talk, etc. I’m always quite strict on that with myself.
I know you're launching a beauty book soon. Can you talk a little bit about the process of putting that together? What should we be looking forward to?
It's a very personal project. Only a few people have seen snippets of it because it's my baby. It follows my journey of creativity and connection. I cast those whom I have an unconditional love with; I paint onto their bodies and take the pictures on my film camera. It's about that one-on-one connection. Paired with excerpts from old diaries, love letters, and notes from those whom I love. Basically, it's a whole body of work that's just a good vibe.
Photography Nadine Ijewere, Makeup Athena Paginton, Hair Anna Cofone
You've taken a strong stance on cruelty-free beauty. Why is that something that's important to you?
I love animals. I'm a sensitive soul, and I was brought up vegetarian. I don't have the heart to kill an animal therefore I won't eat one, and I certainly can't use a cosmetic product that's then been tested on an animal. For the sake of what? Potential vanity or creativity? I mean, it goes both ways, but I have to remain ethical about it. I’ll constantly fight this. Until the law changes, I'll definitely be an advocate for it.
Have you ever found it to be limiting? For example, maybe you need to use a certain makeup that you can't have access to because it tests on animals?
I started changing my kit two years ago, at first I found it to be difficult. There weren't many products available, since then it's changed an incredible amount. It's been amazing. Any brands that we do contact, they're happy to help.
What's different about a brand that is environmentally friendly and cruelty-free is that they legitimately care. They want to do as much as they can to promote that you can have a mascara that's just as effective, but an animal doesn't have to die for it. Brands are changing, but there are still a lot of items that I'm looking to add into my kit. We still have quite a way to go, though I'm extremely positive that we'll be there in no time at all.
I view your work as art. The painting is displayed on a model, which is then captured by a photographer, but at the end of each look, you have to wipe away your designs. Has that process influenced your view of art?
That's actually something that I love. The fact that you do wipe it off, it's disposable. There's something so beautiful about celebrating the creative flow that comes through you in the moment. I don't ever tend to recreate something. I get asked to do the same thing over and over again, and I have to explain, "You know what... I did that for a shoot a year ago, so I’m just going to leave that there. Why don't we try this instead?"
People do get stuck in that field, where it’s difficult for them to accept change. But I think change is something that I've definitely learned from makeup. I love being in that moment, leaving it there, and then going straight to the next thing.
What do you think prepared you the most for where you are today? A person? An event? A learning experience?
I think that one thing can't take credit.
It's a multitude of everything. Every experience, every person that you meet. You know, it's that whole butterfly effect. If you didn’t sit next to that person on the bus who told you something, or if you didn’t meet that one person, your whole life could be completely different.
That being said, you have to take into account that every bad thing that happens to you is just as influential as any good thing, and it's really about understanding that and being able to manipulate it positively. Overall, I'm very aware that my whole journey up until now is because of every single experience or person that I've lived through or encountered.
Photography Michèle Côté, Makeup Athena Paginton, Hair Sarah Jo Palmer, for Weather Gurlz
Who do you look up to?
Anyone that is trying to do their bit for the planet or for the world. It could even be if they're looking after their Nan and taking her a sandwich on a Sunday, you know? Anyone that goes out of their way to help, I think, "You're for me."
What is your take on our generation and where do you think we're headed?
There are two things, actually. Body confidence has changed, it's a huge topic of conversation now. I mean, you don't really hear of fat-shaming anymore. That was such a thing when I was growing up in school, and now it's celebrated to be curvy or to have a larger body size. I think that's cool, but I also think it’s important to still remain healthy. You can still have a bigger shape, but I think health is something that's not maybe spoken about as much.
Another thing that's definitely changed since I was younger is the number of people that are talking about the LGBTQ+ community. It's stunning. As a child, I hardly knew of anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, let alone what it was. I come from a very small place. It was unspoken, and now it's become so normalised. Education within communities are helping, though I hope that sex education in the schooling curriculum expands from only learning about sex for straight couples. So there's still room for improvement but those two things are something that I've thought a lot about recently.
And where are you headed?
I want to keep raising awareness for anything that I can. As far as immediate goals, I want to carry on doing me, keep taking it one step further each time, meeting the right people, receiving the right information, educating myself more. It’s essential we know that we are who's in control of our knowledge, as well as our whole life.
Are there any specific ways of how you'd like to see this industry evolve?
I’d like to see legalities regarding invoicing, working hours, and sexual harassment. I’d love to have some form of an alliance. The industry needs it desperately.
I’d also like to see more sustainability in fashion and within the actual garments themselves. Education in sustainability is important too. For example, when you wash clothes filled with plastics and microfibers, it goes right into the ocean. That's actually what's causing a large percentage of the plastic pollution. Therefore it would be helpful for a larger scale of people to be aware of facts like that because it all comes down to supply and demand.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
Don’t give up. No matter how many people might stand in your way, or how many obstacles might turn up, just keep thinking, "Okay, well, I'm just going to get past this little bump in the road, because my goal still exists.” If it's in your head, it can become a reality. Don’t let somebody else's perception of what they think you should be doing interfere with what you truly believe in.
Weather Gurlz X Piczo, Makeup Athena Paginton, Hair Yuko Aoi