Confessions Of A Celebrity Makeup Artist

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
As told to Phillip Picardi. 

Coming Up 
At the beginning of my makeup artistry career, I did more fashion shoots. Basically, the magazines request you to do celebrities for shoots and covers, and you make connections with some of them. That’s the best way to start a relationship, because you spend a whole day with them, or sometimes you meet the publicist, and then you get along and they ask you to do more stuff, like press junkets and premieres and other shoots. That’s how I got into doing it. Slowly, you build your book: You get more clients if the publicists know you’re reliable, you show up on time, you don’t gossip. And then, especially these days, if you work with one actress, others see it on social media and want to hire you because they’re friends with her. That's always fun.

I was really young when I started, and it was kind of intimidating to hear the word "celebrity," because I felt like I couldn’t fuck up, you know? But now, I think most people I work with like me because I don’t treat them like celebrities. I remember my first job: I got this call from a record label to work with a teen pop star. Slowly, it became kind of like a power struggle, because I’d get a call from the label saying that the star wore too much makeup and they wanted her to look clean and young, so I had to do what they wanted me to do because they were the ones paying the bills. But, it was weird, because obviously I couldn’t tell the star that they'd said anything. After I hung up, the star's manager called and said, "Tomorrow, you have to do what she wants and not what the label wants...we have to keep her happy."

When you’re young, you want to know who you should please to keep the job. Now, I realize it’s more about finding a happy medium and keeping the celebrities happy because they have to be confident with their images. That was a hard first job, but I learned a lot from that power struggle. In that situation, it was my first time, so I was trying to do something in the middle, but then it wasn’t what she wanted, so it just made it a really hard day and I learned quickly that’s not the way to go. The more I do it, the more I have a stronger opinion, too, so now I can have a conversation with people, and I’ll say, "You have to talk to her...because it’s not my job!" 

At the beginning, I used to freak out about missing a job that I thought would put me on the map. But, there’s no single job that can make or break your career — it can only seem that way. There’s no overnight success. A photographer friend told me when I first started that it can take up to 20 years to really make it, and when you’re 22, you think you’ll make it in five. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’m like, Oh yeah, it’s kinda true! 

The Dirt On Divas
Sometimes, you get calls to do celebrities who are super-particular about their look. If I get a call to do one of the divas, for instance, I do my homework. And, I look up on Getty to see what they looked like at their latest events, and try to pick it apart a little bit. What they’ve been doing doesn’t necessarily look good, but then it’s a balance, because they’re hiring you for your touch, but you also have to anticipate what they like. People could say they want "natural," which could mean, to them, a lot of makeup, just rendered in neutral tones. You have to respect that you're working with artists — especially when it comes to the really talented actors and performers. All artists have their eccentricities, so you can't have too big of an ego.

If it’s a woman of color, for example, she might bring her foundation and say, “You can use yours, but I brought mine.” And, I will always respect that and use hers, because you want to make her comfortable, and there have probably been many experiences where her skin has been treated incorrectly by other artists. Then, I'll try to give her something she will like, but add my two cents, and the next time she'll hopefully trust me more. There are people who say they’re going to do their own base. And, you say, “Okay!” Sometimes, it’s too light, and then you can’t fight it. So, I fix it by sneaking something in with a little bronzer to warm it up.

I feel like the more you work with someone, the more you get to know their faces. For me, even with someone I work with a lot, I’ll see something on Getty afterwards and will keep it in mind to avoid for next time. I’ll fill in the brow differently, or I'll know she gets shiny in certain places, or that she eats off her lipstick. Some celebrities just jump around from glam to glam, but that means nobody gets to know their faces. 

A lot of people think the job is all glamour, but that's not necessarily the case. Once, I was hired to do a star's makeup before an appearance, but her flight got delayed. So, they asked me to meet her at the airport to do her makeup in the backseat of her car as we drove to the event, and I agreed. But, I got to the airport, and they told me that she was now going to take a helicopter to the event, and asked if I could do her makeup in the helicopter. I was like, "a) I'm afraid of heights, b) I might throw up, and c) This is ridiculous." I just put my foot down, finally, and told them they were crazy. I ended up doing her makeup in five minutes, adding a little eyeliner, a pop of blush, a lip color, and some good concealer. You have to be quick on your feet.

What gets me the most, though, is when people aren't considerate — be it the client herself or her publicist. I don't have to be your friend, but if I show up at your hotel at 5 in the morning, it's rude to just order coffee and breakfast for yourself. Sometimes, on these long press days, the only time you have to eat is when she is eating. Or, sometimes, a publicist will call me at 5 p.m. the day before a 9-a.m. job when I'm already working, and they'll ask me to run to Barneys to get the client her favorite Clé de Peau concealer. Once, someone told me their client was a germaphobe, and that I needed to bring brand-new makeup brushes...at 4 p.m. the day before a job. And then, there are all the allergies. 
The Bottom Line
Payment is an interesting topic to navigate, because being compensated doesn't always have to mean money in this business. For TV, you never get paid much. For editorial, you might decide to do something creative for free because you can use the tear sheets to show potential advertising jobs. If you do work with someone over and over, though, you might begin to get resentful if the pay is too little, and that's never healthy. It's important to know that it's not just about money, it's about what you get out of it, and you can negotiate that with people. I ask myself, "I'm doing this for no pay, so what do I get out of it?" And, sometimes, you can arrange for a makeup company to sponsor a red carpet look on a certain actress. You have to make money somehow, and I'm okay with that, so long as I use the products I'm being paid to. Not everyone has the star power of Angelina Jolie, who can demand her glam squad wherever she goes and for whatever she does. 

With press, you have to pay attention to the client. A lot of artists try to be friends with their clients, taking selfies. That's a big mistake. You have to keep it professional, and don't talk about anything personal. You also have to be careful about how you take photos: If you snap your product setup at the hotel room, for example, some fans or paparazzi might be able to see where your client is, and that's never good. And, when talking to press, be mindful of your words. I always say, "I use this lipstick, and I love it." I would never say, "She loved this lipstick," because that's putting words in her mouth. That can be particularly tricky if she has a beauty contract. 

But, look, this job can be so great. A lot of times, I've worked with young actresses only to see their careers blow up. I once started working with one young woman and the money was just okay, but I loved her and her team, so I stuck with it. Then, the press started writing about her everywhere she went, which was amazing for my career. I started getting approached by so many brands, and got hired for ad jobs. I got invited to big jobs with major luxury fashion clients who had dressed her. It's always good to work with someone who has potential. Someone once told me to find my muse, and I'm glad I learned that. Everyone will always chase after Angelina, but I believe in the actresses I've worked with and the projects they've worked on, and it's paid off. It sounds naive, but it's true: As an artist, when you're inspired, you'll be better. 


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