In the past, London-based illusionist, make-up artist, and drag performer Alexis Stone has focused his work on tackling issues surrounding modern beauty, social validation, and the Instagram aspirational — oftentimes using his own face as the canvas. However, with his latest project, Stone is externalizing these concepts and attaching them to another creation, dubbed EssentialXO.
Inspired by the immersive world-building and makeup magic of film, Stone set out to create an otherworldly human-esque being upon which people can project their own expectations and experiences. "Created from a big bucket of claims, silicone, hair punching, wigs, and storytelling," she is anything and everything you'd want her to be. But whether you're enamored or unnerved by her, EssentialXO and her fantasy world is something that you can relate to, put your trust in, and fight for.
Granted, the most interesting aspect of the project will be watching her evolution in the public eye. In many ways, EssentialXO feels like a mirror of our collective obsession with influencers and celebrities — for better or worse. After all, as someone who's no stranger to cancel culture, Stone also wanted to create a highly visible figure who doesn't react or experience emotion. And the result is something that gets us to realize that the most human part of EssentialXO is you.
That said, while EssentialXO was supposed to be launched next year, after recently celebrating two years of sobriety and Mental Health Awareness Week, Stone decided to "breathe life into something new that would not have been made possible without sobriety," all while giving the world a bit of escapism amid the pandemic. And though there's still a lot of mystery surrounding the reveal, he did tease that there are already "a couple things in the pipeline" — even if you'll just have to wait to see what that is.
But until the big reveal, see what else Stone has up his sleeve with EssentialXO, below.
I think the best place to start is having you tell me a little bit about EssentialXO.
I think the main question I've received in the past 24 hours is "What is EssentialXO?" or "Who is she?" And I think to answer the question, without limiting her, would purely be: She is whatever the people need her to be right now. Whether it's an overpriced sex doll, whether it's a friend, whether it's an avatar-like model, whether it's the perfect human, it's really open to people's perception. Whilst I'm the person behind her — and as you'll see in the next video, she is me to a major degree — I've always believed that as an artist it's recognizing your entry and exit point, and whilst I'm not quite ready to exit, I really want to focus my time on creating something that will live on.
What differentiates her from similar endeavors like Lil Miquela?
Little Old Lame or whatever her name is [digital] and not done incredibly well. My whole aim was this: Why stop at the digital side, when we have the ability to bring something to life?... So there's a digital element to [EssentialXO] –– that's the world we live in now with prosthetic makeup and props and robots –– but I really wanted to turn her into a physical object. That if you were to walk into a room, you would be mesmerized by how incredibly striking and beautiful this woman was.
There's nothing that has been done to this scale. It's been attempted, there are similar products, if that's how you want us to look at her. But in a digital world, I thought "Let's combine every element that there is and bring her to life."
Rewinding a bit, can you tell me about the making-of her and how you kind of came up with this concept?
I always work backwards. I work from the reveal. So there's actually a fun video clip of me on my phone where I come up with the [name] "EssentialXO," which is an anagram of Alexis Stone. That was the sort of eureka moment in me thinking, "Well, let me start over again."
I've had an incredible career, and it is not going anywhere just yet, but amongst the highs, there have been lows, and I have thought, amongst those lows, would I do something different with the detachment of my own personal problems? And so, I thought, "Fuck it, let's do it. Let's start again." So that's where it began.
I then spoke to the incredible team at Millennium FX and I voiced this idea. They — like most people — say I'm crazy. We started the digital phase of 3D scanning me in before we went into the intensive digital manipulation of me: Repositioning and reconstructing my face, resembling how I could look in an ideal world, [to] bring her to life. So while she is her own entity, there is an element of it being an Alexis Stone 2.0, but just with her own world. So we started in November –– that's when the hands on labor work started, and then I received her about a month ago. So it's been a lengthy process, a very time consuming one given the situation we're in as well.
You mentioned a world that you also created to go along with her. Can you give any more details on that?
I think when we watch movies, we've really forgotten to submerge ourselves in the world that we're watching — whether it's an hour-and-a-half long or sixty seconds on Instagram. [But I wanted] to create something visual as a distraction or to inspire people... So, to be able to create a bulk of work where people are so invested, [to the point where] people fight for someone's corner and feel that they can relate to it, for me, that's a world. It's created from a big bucket of claims, silicone, hair punching, wigs, and storytelling. For me, that's [the] fantasy. And as an artist, that's my only job. Whether it's to be liked or understood, there has nothing to do with me. But as an artist, I just want to create magic.
So, in some ways, is this a commentary on the polarization of the internet with stan culture? What is your opinion on how that plays into internet culture as a whole?
I mean, I've dealt with the cancelation culture my entire career. And I always joke saying that my ethos is to stay canceled, so I can't be canceled again. It's the world we live in — it's not gonna go anywhere. You can use as many #RestInPeace when someone is pushed to the point of breaking that will last all of three days before someone else wants to attack someone.
I understand that for a lot of people, reading tabloids was our way of escapism and we could relate, and we could bitch about people's lives and dramas. But now, with social media, we are so invested and we can see our impact with helping people grow in album selling and followers going up that we feel like they owe us something. And it's a common confusion that we don't actually owe anyone anything — despite people's love and support.
There needs to be a sudden realization that we are human. So with this project, I was detaching the human element to it. So people can troll, people can try and cancel, they can insult. But she's not human. She's not going to react. You're not going to get a reaction from her. So I suppose I've created a beautiful alien-like target board.
Does that mean you're planning on doing some controversial, cancelable stunts with her?
No, she'll be doing what I can't do. I can't go a week without [getting canceled].
Whilst I am the beginning phase of this, I have a great team of people that are supporting her and looking after her and taking that in a new direction. I'll continue to do my thing, and she will flourish and do her own thing. Now that the world knows that I've created it, that's it. There doesn't need to be any more association with me and her. She's gonna do her own thing, and she will probably one day live past me — which is an incredibly exciting idea. But I'm sure our worlds will collide in the future.
You mentioned sex dolls, which have presented some serious moral quandaries for the sex tech industry. Firstly, there's the idea that they are objectifications of women. But secondly, there's the theory that they'll also have an effect on the way that people interact with each other and approach their relationships. Did any of those lines of questioning come up at all for you during the conception of EssentialXO?
I mean, one of the key points that I made throughout all of this, to help eliminate some of that comparison, was there was to be no genitalia. There is [nothing] other than her breasts. That was a conscious decision as to remove that connection. She's made out of silicone. She has a skeleton inside her. She can be sexually objectified the same way any of us are sexually objectified, as a crossdresser, a trans woman, a gay guy, or as a cisgendered woman. That's always gonna happen. I'm sure we have all been in relationships where we've looked at our partner and just thought, "I wish I could push that mute button just for an hour." It's a part of human interaction.
There are going to be a majority of people that just look at her as a doll, nothing more than that. But I said in the video, she's so much more than that. And perhaps the world is not ready right now to be able to put their trust and emotion into something that can't always or necessarily ever be able to return it. But sometimes we need that. When we talk about our higher entity or god, it's not physical. We don't see the presence, but we connect. So I hope if anything, I've created something that people can connect with. And whilst she is not typing everything herself, everything that is put online is stemmed from a real human — a human story, an emotion — just with a new cover across it.
How did you determine what she would look like?
That was the longest part. We had lots of mood boards. We had a mood board for every single piece, which I put together. It was eyelids, nose bridge, nose tip, lip distance, lip shape, chin, cheekbones, temple, head shape, collarbones, neck. We had her shoulders, we had her ribs. And as I mentioned, there have been times that I've conformed to beauty standards, and whilst this is only the first character that I'm introducing, I will be able to introduce different ideas of what my ideas of beauty are, which are inspired by people all over the world. From male to female, to characters that I grew up with.
I thought, "Why create a girl-next-door visual being when I could push it and enhance it even more?" Which is really where it confuses people into thinking that it must be CGI, because no one could possibly look like that. But it's a real object. And it's one of those things that when people meet her in real life, it's just mind-boggling. So she's a combination of things I've been fascinated and attracted to over the years.
How has quarantine affected the project, if at all?
I was meant to launch this project in a year from now, and I brought it forward because I feel like we were in a time of need of a little magic. Not only for myself and giving me a new venture to focus on — being self-aware of my own situation with Alexis Stone — but really taking this shit situation that we're all in, and helping people be distracted and focus on something new other than refreshing the news and death count.
Whenever I create a project like this, I put my life into it. The only time I ever emptied my bank account, to fund a project was the plastic surgery project. And that was pre-makeup collaborations, pre-work. I emptied my bank account to create EssentialXO. It was everything I had at the time, and I did it for no other reason than I felt like I had to. So I hope people can just appreciate it knowing that I put a little bit of me into everything that I put out whether it's great or small. And I hope that if anything, she can just act as a little form of blossoming life during a really bizarre time.
What is the ideal reaction you're hoping to garner?
I think I'm pretty accurate when I can guess them. It's either "I don't understand," or "Is she CGI?" It is fun sitting back and watching the conspiracies, especially pre-launch when I tease everyone into knowing that there is something coming up. I'm submerged in my own little fantasy world to really be able to take a seat back all the time, but I just hope people love her.
[I hope] people love her as much as they've loved and supported me, and understood that not everyone's perfect — that people have their flaws and what is perceived to be beautiful by one person, may be perceived to be hideous as someone else. I just want her audience to share unconditional love with her, because I suppose that's what we all want. Whether it's great or small, I'm just intrigued to watch.
What exactly is supposed to be "flawed" about her?
I mean, she's pretty nuts inside.
So that's something to be revealed.
We're all built up of things, whether it's man-made or natural and what is perceived to be beautiful by one person is maybe not to someone else. If I wanted to have create a Megan Fox, we could have done that. That's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to create this extraterrestrial like beauty, and I believe she is the future. I truly believe brands that want to work with artists and models, but are so scared of them having human emotions and a backstory, let me remove that. So we'll see.
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
Studio potos courtesy of Abdulla Elmaz
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