René Koch knows them all, the divas from film and television, opera, theatre and politics – he offered them guidance, applied their makeup and quite often became their friend.
He learned the art of beautiful appearance from scratch. He was his own model, which brings us right back to the beginning, when he performed as a Travestie-Star in the Sixties. He kept the pictures of him in glitter dress and in his curly wig, which he now presents to the public the very first time. He performed at gay bars, parties and fancy-dress balls. Back then, taking a cab, all dressed up, was quite daring, because wearing female clothes, one was immediately identified as a “Fummeltante”. Role models, at that time, were women like Mae West, Bette Davies or Marlene Dietrich, but René Koch loved the extraordinary, the larger than life types, and the ones that were not at all like “mommy”. Boas, made of crêpe paper, and home-made long eyelashes were mandatory. He was singing along to chansons by Zarah Leander and Helen Vita. The audience at the former “Kleist Casino” had a great time.
Photo: Archive René Koch
This was school for life, where one could learn the essentials of what makes a great performance. Those evenings could end abruptly after an unheralded raid of the police, when the guests ended up at the police headquarters, where they have been registered in the notorious “Rosa Listen”. After a while, he grew weary of the nightlife and started working in a grocer’s stores to finance an apprenticeship as a cosmetician and makeup artist. When the American cosmetics company CHARLES OF THE RITZ became aware of him, they became his sponsor and educator. Koch remained faithful to the company for 21 years (1969 – 1990) and was promoted head make-up artist, a position he later on also held at Yves Saint Laurent. He worked in Paris, London, New York, Zurich and Berlin.
In the late seventies he got to know Hildegard Knef at the legendary “Tuntenball” at the ICC. He became her closest beauty-confidant. René Koch was not only responsible for her make-Up, but also advised her in questions of life and fashion. This is shown in a special part of the exhibition. The list of his customers is long and exclusive, from Joan Collins to Claudia Schiffer to Brigitte Nielsen.
Photo: Archive René Koch
After a long career he is an honorary member in many organizations. He is involved in the advisory board of the Berlin AIDS-Hilfe and remembers the beginnings, when, while collecting donations with Judy Winters, he was spit at, at the world-aids-day in front of the Europa-Center. In 1996 he founded the work group Camouflage e.V., a charity association for people with cicatrices caused by accident or fire and for people with anomaly of skin. For this, he was awarded the “Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland “(medal of honour) in 2002 and the „Verdienstorden des Landes Berlin“ in 2013 by the mayor Klaus Wowereit.
He won numerous awards in the cosmetics industry, like the “Cosmetic Oscar” (1986), the “Asta Poppelsdorff Medaille” (2000) and the “Goldene Maske für Kreativität und Trendbestimmung” (2003). Since 2006, he has been presenting his own cosmetic label “Cosmetic de Luxe” on TV. He is the author of many books about beauty, he also draws and writes poetry. His many television appearances demonstrate his popularity. The press reports about him extensively. In short, René Koch is quite famous.
The Schwules Museum* now honours René Koch as a museum founder, since he has established his own museum in 2008: the “Lippenstiftmuseum”. The museum exhibits objects that represent “The Art of Beautiful Appearance”: Precious powder compacts with integrated lipsticks, jeweled, posters, curious stuff, the latest fad of cosmetics, color palettes from pink to crimson, prints of lips with dedications from his most famous clients and various beauty aids from the time of capitalism and socialism. Special exhibitions from his collection that were especially successful were shown in different cities and museums.
Our homage, in honour of René Koch’s 70th birthday, will take you on a journey through his self-confident gay life.
You can find press pictures here.