Mills loved to talk. “We used to call him the big mouth,” says Lizzette Kattan, the former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Italy. “One night we were in Rome and we worked until 2 or 3 in the morning,” she says. “He went to bed and the next day I knocked on his door and he continued the same conversation we had interrupted that evening. I said, ‘No, Joey, let me have my cappuccino first!’ I thought he was really fun to be with.”
Friends remember Mills as gregarious. He liked going to Studio 54, although Thomas says he’s not the best dancer. He didn’t have a permanent partner, which some attribute to having lived through the AIDS crisis. “All he did was work 20 years straight,” says hairstylist Gary Evans. “He never had time for a lover. He joked that he wanted to marry Nelson Mandela when he got home from prison.”
By the late 1980s, Mills slowed his breakneck pace with editorials and runway shows and decided to focus on private clients. A new generation of makeup artists came along. The disco glamor he loved was out, grunge was in. But friends say Mills has kept personal disappointments to himself throughout his life.
When he was diagnosed with lymphoma some 10 years before his death, Mills always said it was “the same disease Jackie O had,” as if he were in good (and, to use his favorite word, “fabulous”) company would be to his girlfriend Vanessa Noel, a shoe designer.
For Thanksgiving, Noel brought over a turkey for Mills and his friends. “I would have to wear it,” says Evans. “Joey would say, ‘I’m blonde. I can’t take this!’ [I’d say]’We adore you, but really, pick up that turkey.’”
“He had a generous heart,” says Thomas. And a tireless spirit. Mills died in New York during the pandemic and Noel recalls her last Zoom with him in his hospital room; She went without makeup. “I told him I was a mess but he was so excited to see me and said I was pretty.” He died later that evening at the age of 80.
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Allure. Learn how to sign up here.
https://www.allure.com/story/joey-mills-makeup-artist-life Joey Mills Helped Define ’80s Glamour — and Paved the Way for Black Makeup Artists