Who’s The Mastermind Behind KISS’ Iconic Make-up? Gene Simmons Explained

Several factors have contributed to KISS‘s success, such as their stage outfits and extravagant live performances, including fire breathing, blood spitting, and smoking guitars. The most well-known feature of the band is, without a doubt, their iconic makeups which have now become their signature looks.

Thanks to their make-up and costumes, the band members took on the personae of four individual comic book-style characters, and many fans can recognize the KISS members just by their face paint. Since the band is incredibly attached to its makeup looks, it experienced a lack of commercial success during its unmasked era that lasted for over a decade, starting from 1983.

While it’s evident that these four makeup looks are based on specific characters, the story behind their creation and the creator has always been a matter of curiosity. Often being the spokesman of the band, KISS bassist Gene Simmons once revealed how the band decided to adopt these personae, and we’re here today to explain how it all started.

Each Of KISS Members’ Make-Up Represents A Character

KISS is primarily known for its monumental makeup designs; Paul Stanley as the ‘Starchild,’ Gene Simmons as the ‘Demon,’ Tommy Thayer as the new ‘Spaceman‘ after Ace Frehley, and Eric Singer as the new ‘Catman‘ after Peter Criss. Although the band members occasionally used alternative makeup designs for photoshoots and live performances, these four makeup looks have become the staple faces of all four members.

KISS previously had two more makeup looks named the ‘Fox‘ used by late drummer Eric Carr, who worked with the band between 1980 to 1983, and the ‘Ankh Warrior‘ put on by guitarist Vinnie Vincent, whose tenure with the band lasted only for a year. However, due to the short time these two members spent with the band, their makeup looks are often unrecognizable to many KISS fans.

Gene Simmons Revealed The Story Behind Their Make-Up

During an interview with ’90s fanzine Porkchops & Applesauce, Gene Simmons opened up about the band’s formation in 1973 and how KISS members decided to create their unique iconic looks as they had to compete with numerous successful glam metal bands.

As it turns out, all the band members looked peculiar compared to other rockstars, who were dressed feminine and put on makeup, as they looked incredibly tall and masculine. Since the members considered performing a holy experience, they decided to create their own makeup look and outfits to stand out as a band. 

Gene Simmons’ statement on their make-up follows:

“At the same time that we were forming in New York, there was a very big glitter scene, where boys were basically acting like girls and putting on makeup. You know, all the skinny little guys, hairless boys. Well, we were more like football players; all of us were over 6 feet tall, and it just wasn’t convincing!

In the very first pictures we took when the band first got together, we looked like drag queens. But we knew we wanted to get outlandish. We weren’t a Grateful Dead kind of band that would get onstage and look worse than the roadie delivering our stuff. This doesn’t negate what the Dead and other bands were doing; it just wasn’t us.

Getting up on stage was almost a holy place for us, like church, so being on stage looking like a bum wasn’t my idea of respect. That’s where the makeup and dressing up came in. It would have obviously been a lot easier to get up on stage in jeans and T-shirts and go, ‘Okay, here we are–we’re the Ramones!’ And that would have been just as valid, but it would not have been honest.”

According to Simmons, there was nobody involved in the creating of the four iconic makeup looks as he was the one who sat in front of a mirror in a loft in downtown New York and drew on himself. Simmons explained that the band members always focused on being the best version of themselves when it came to their music and stage performances, and the effort they put in their looks represented their enthusiasm.

Gene Simmons continued telling the story:

Nobody else was involved. I just remember being in a loft in downtown New York, and looking in the mirror, and just starting to draw. It was very stream-of-consciousness. What you see is really what just happened. There is a credibility line that we completely ignored, and still do. That credibility line of ‘We don’t want to be big, we want to be small and play in small, smoky places, and we don’t care if anybody like us.’

Um, no! We never adhered to that point of view. It seems very self-destructive to me. Anything that prevents a band from becoming as mega as possible is complete idiocy to me. If you think highly enough about the stuff you’re doing, you want as many people as possible to listen to it–it has always been about that for us.”

It’s astonishing to hear that there wasn’t a marketing team or a manager who was trying to create a brand behind KISS’ character designs. Considering the successful brand they have built over the years and their number of products, including coffins, Halloween costumes, action figures, and many more, fans admire the band’s creativity and purpose behind their face paint even after all these years.