LONDON: Adele Adkins is one of the handful of celebrities who is less identifiable with her surname than without it. By the age of 22, her awesome voice had amassed her 10 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a fortune of several millions. Her look became as ubiquitous as her sound: big hair, heavily winged kohl, flawless skin and chiselled cheekbones, her exquisitely symmetrical features set off by a lavish, tightly frocked hour-glass.
It was retro glamour of the sort favoured by ingenue talent seeking to look older, more sophisticated, in control. Adele herself refers to it as "borderline drag". The message was implicitly defensive: her emphatic maquillage was a mask to hide behind while the world gaped and gawked. All of which means that her decision to appear on the latest cover of Rolling Stone magazine giving the illusion of a bare face - freckles exposed, eyes slightly ringed, with slicked hair, and clad in a bulky bathrobe - is nothing if not a statement.
This is not the uber-groomed, prematurely matronly Adele we are used to being confronted with; neither is it the half-naked rock chick who traditionally adorns the publication's cover. Instead, we see a woman who, at 27, has the confidence to know that her talent needs no adornment, her worth lying in more than her looks. The paradoxical result is that she has never looked more ravishing: clear-eyed, dewy-skinned, full-lipped, arched-browed, with that perfect retrousse nose lesser mortals are forced to pay for.
The moment the star tweeted the image earlier this week, she was applauded for her "bare-faced beauty" and "bravery" in going without slap. As someone who has interviewed many of the world's greatest make-up artists - Bobbi Brown, Mary Greenwell, Pat McGrath, Charlotte Tilbury, Gucci Westman and Lisa Eldridge - I don't buy it. Instead, I see shading in the brow, contouring about the cheeks and eye, mascara and/or false lashes, and a pink sheen to her pout. Her skin may show beguilingly through her foundation, but I have no doubt there is foundation, concealer at the very least.
Eldridge, who has bestowed such supposedly bare faces on Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Emma Watson, concurs: "The no make-up make-up look is a piece of work involving many artfully applied products. And it's popular: my tutorial on this look has had over a million YouTube views." None of this detracts from Adele's pulchritude; instead, it serves to make the message behind this artful artlessness still more fascinating.
Our heroine grew up in north London's crime-ridden Tottenham neighbourhood, and still fears a reversal of fortune, from pounds 50 million back to nothing. She tells Rolling Stone: "I always feel like I'm gonna get thrown out. Or it's going to turn out to be some, like, hidden-camera show. Like someone's gonna send me back to Tottenham." Earlier this year, she found herself sobbing on meeting her idol, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, explaining: "I'm not sure if I'll ever not feel a bit overwhelmed when I go to places where there are loads of stars."
The irony is that Adele is now the star and, in her studiedly undone Rolling Stone portrait, she looks it. As a guise, it boasts a certain Kate Winslet aesthetic - stark, raw, pared down - betokening a "strong woman" who is "performer, mother, partner", as the platitude goes; a million miles and several million pounds away from the uncertain girl of the album 21, who stormed her way to success with songs of heartache.
This is makeover as make-under, and all the more exclusive, exorbitant and beholden of success for it. Here is the face of a woman who has made it. If as no less an authority than Dolly Parton declared "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap", it takes even more of a fortune to look expensive. Wannabes cake themselves in make-up; those who have arrived dial down the artifice, while hoicking up the cost.
Adele may refer to herself as "fat" and "relatable" in the Rolling Stone article, but this expertly created, "less-is-more" mode reveals her as spectacularly lovely. Well might she have received modelling requests from cosmetics companies - work she is too fabulously wealthy to require.
Finally, there is the stare. Every student of cultural studies will find themselves writing about the "male gaze" - the way in which women are depicted as objects by so many masculine subjects. Yet here is a female expression that subverts it. Photographer Theo Wenner may be responsible for the image, but the attitude is all Adele's own.
In the article, she talks about working with - then standing up to - male artists such as Damon Albarn and Phil Collins, as well as "business meetings full of men" and male producers who attempt to make decisions for her. Instead, as a self-declared feminist, she relished working with female artist Sia: "I actually love the dynamic of us both being in there and just f------ being bossy." This, then, is what growing up and appreciating one's power feels like, and looks like - and the result is truly beautiful.
Changing faces: new-look stars
Instead of face paint, bright wigs and statement lips, the pop diva has recently debuted a far more classic and elegant guise. Think new Hollywood glamour - winged liner, softly powdered skin and nude lips; definitely not what you'd expect from a pop star who once wore raw meat as a dress.
Yes, Kim wears a lot of make-up, but her overall look has become more subtle. Gone is the tango-orange bronzer and sticky red lip gloss - she now favours neutral colours. Under her fluttery false lashes her eyeshadow is always brown, taupe or beige, and her lipstick is always nude.
The dark, gothic eye make-up and bright streaks running through her hair have been replaced by cat-flick eyeliner and glowing skin (much like Adele). As for her hair, it's now a creamy lavender-grey, which, by her standards, is subtle.
Top products for a 'no make-up make-up' look:
1 The Oxygenating Foundation by Oxygenetix (pounds 45, cultbeauty.com) evens skintone without you looking as if you have make-up on.
2 Enhance a natural look with a slick of black eyeliner. Guerlain's Eyeliner, left (pounds 26.50, houseoffraser.com), lasts all day.
3 Finish off a neutral make-up look with nude lipstick. Barely Golden Lipstick by L'Oreal Paris (pounds 6.99, boots.com) is a warm hue that flatters anyone.