Just own it. If there was a mantra that went along with Rory Gevis, that could be it. Let’s just own who we are; let’s respect ourselves for being fully the people we have become. She is a longtime beauty insider, currently the executive director/creative at MAC Cosmetics where she has worked for the last 14 years. She is also a fashion magazine veteran, having been an editor at W, Bazaar, Mirabella and Taxi. If that wasn’t enough, she is a tremendous painter, which is how she came to our attention.
Her portraits are an investigation of character, a seeking of truth, brought to life with an uncompromising vision. The current social media tyranny of ageless perfection is nowhere in sight; these are images of life experience, bringing to mind a time when youthful perfection was not a mandated requirement. There is a power to her work, and a welcome intensity of character she brings to a canvas. Therein lies the fascinating juxtaposition of her world: on the one hand, there is a long life at the very highest levels of the fashion and beauty industry; then on the other hand, someone who insists on bringing to light a world centered on the lasting power of humanity. The contradiction between the unattainable and the ultimately inhuman standards of a realm long known for being fickle and temporal, versus something far more enduringly human. We could see this as a marker of wisdom — someone who is capable of holding 2 very different world views simultaneously, and excelling at both.
We should also note that Rory is no invisible shadow out in the world: her personal style is as uncompromising as her work — think Diana Vreeland in 2023. Seeing images of her out and about is a reminder that dressing well is not about being a slave to fashion of-the-moment; personal style is something more than just trend — it can be a powerful expression of one’s world view.
How old are you?
You are a longtime New Yorker; how do you feel about being your age in NYC?
I was born here. I love New York and even though it has changed over the years I will always be here. Getting older here, well, I used to love to talk to the older people I met when I was young, I loved hearing the stories, so I hope I can be like that for the younger generation…
You have a senior position at MAC Cosmetics. Beauty and age can be a difficult topic for the industry. What are your thoughts on that?
I agree; the world in general looks up to filtered, filled and blurred out faces. I love to look good but I love a face that shows life… and age. I feel like I try to inspire that at work, that we are not invisible and we have the money and the loyalty to buy products — not for the unboxing moment or a post, but because it makes us feel better and if it does we will buy it again.
“I love to look good but I love a face that shows life… and age”
What advice would you give to women our age on makeup?
My makeup advice… I embrace my character so I don’t like to cover up, hide behind makeup. At times I just do moisturizer and a bit of lipstick, but other days I am a bit more dramatic, and just do eyeliner. I think I follow the no-rules-have-fun-be-yourself rule of beauty.
What is it like working with a younger team? What are they learning from you, and what do you learn from them?
I love working with younger teams, hearing about what inspires them, but I do love to inspire them as well. Funny story: I taught myself how to use AI for work. I do visual concepting presentations and, I have to say, I am quite proficient at it, so now all the 20- and 30-year-olds come to the old lady to learn how to do it.
For some women, age is equated with invisibility. How do you feel about that, and is there any advice you can offer?
It’s a two-way thought. In one way, I love the invisibility to be more of a voyeur but, on the other side, I want to be seen, heard, and not ignored when I’m in certain situations.
“I worked for some amazing magazines, and did live the dream, creating worlds and stories”
Having come from working within some of the great magazines of their time, what do you feel is the role of magazines today?
Oh, that’s a sad situation. I always loved getting a stack of magazines and devouring them, dreaming, loving the imagery and the luxury of spending time reading the articles. Keeping them for decades. Photography was so much of my life, what made me me in a way… I miss a real magazine. I worked for some amazing magazines, and did live the dream, creating worlds and stories. It was the most magical time.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a painter.
I started doing art as a child and basically never stopped. I do something daily — painting, sculpting, photography, drawing on an iPad. I need to do something creative every day. It’s my being.
What is your creative process?
Depends. Lately, I have been doing studies on the iPad or playing with the things I want to paint on a iPad first, then doing the “real” painting. But it really changes; sometimes it’s very guttural, sometimes more time and details.
How do you schedule your time between your day job and your art?
Well, I need to be in my office 3 days a week so, the other days, I try to get to the studio as much as possible. But I do art from home as well so, as I mentioned, I’m always doing some art; it keeps me somewhat sane.
“I need to do something creative every day. It’s my being”
Do you have a specific environment you go to where you paint?
I have had studios on and off over the decades. Sometimes I don’t, and work only from home — which gets a bit much as it’s a NYC one-bedroom apartment. So I recently took a studio again so it is more of a dedicated place to go and do my work.
How do you decide on your subjects? What sort of relationship do you develop with them?
I do both commissions and my own imagination. The subjects I do love are mostly figurative, and portraiture. I love faces, emotions. I love soulful-looking people, a story in a face.
Tell us about your poodle. You two seem inseparable.
Elsa. She is my soul, my life. We found each other 12 years ago. She was a rescue, but she really rescued me. She’s going to be 13. We are never apart. She is wise, kind, funny. And obviously very beautiful. We match everyday. I have a bow for her hair to go with whatever I am wearing. It’s just a thing that we do that amuses us… and others.
We are all of the age when we may be taking care of family members. If you don’t mind, how do you manage that emotionally and with your schedule?
I worry constantly. My mom is 90 and I have a brother who also is challenged emotionally and physically so I always feel like I need to be the responsible one. I need to work and stay healthy and strong to be there for them. I talk and text with my mom all through the day, and we read together at night. She is in her apartment, me in mine, but it’s our book club. I see her as often as possible, as well; she lives in Queens so not too far away.
Looking at your images, I am getting a Diana Vreeland vibe. Who would you say are the style icons you look to?
I have always loved women like Georgia O’Keeffe, Jane Goodall, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn and, of course, Diana. Real women, real faces, strong, indomitable, unforgettable.
What inspires you?
What music do you listen to?
I live in a 1920s building. I’m always listening to some music from the ’20s or ’30s. I love to imagine myself living in my apartment.
What is your beauty/skincare routine?
I’m pretty basic: I use shea butter and lipstick.
Do you have an exercise/fitness activity you enjoy?
I was a phys ed major when I was younger, and was very athletic. I used to ride horses and run. But I have serious spine issues so, unfortunately, I don’t do either any longer. The horseback riding I still dream of daily. I love horses. But I do my daily somatic or Feldenkrais movements, some at-home mat Pilates as well. I do try to walk a lot and swim when I can.
What are you eating? Do you cook?
I eat the same thing most days. I don’t cook. I live alone and keep it simple: salads, hummus, fish.
What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
My family, Elsa, and art always come first.
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