"It's not a mask to stop the world from getting in. It's like styling your hair," he said.
"Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful. It's not as if it's a real corpse. It's art. I like being a freak."
Although he now models for haute couture house Thierry Mugler, Genest grew up in Quebec and lived on the streets after a brush with death at 15.
He spent five years sleeping rough and washing cars and had his first face tattoo at 21, beginning a process of total coverage.
His fortunes changed when he was discovered by Nicola Formichetti, the creative director who works with Lady Gaga.
She later opened a concert with her face made up like Genest's with skull and blackened eye sockets.
"I always wanted to ... have my very own freak show ... It is my revenge on the world," says Genest.