The following is an interview with makeup artist Laura Geller, who spent years doing makeup for Upper East Side brides before launching her own brand Laura Geller Beauty. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Doing makeup for brides was more psychology than anything. It was a day when I listened to them vent and knew how to calm their nerves. Because you hear everything.
There was once a bride who told me, "Keep my mother away from me. She’s not allowed in this room." So I had to navigate telling the mom to just give me a few minutes, that I work privately, and I can’t have anybody in the room when I work. I didn’t want to tell the mother that the daughter didn’t want her in there.
Rule #1: Prepare For Anything
Once, I was at The Water Club and the photographer wanted to go outside and take pictures and the bride walked in between two cars and emerged with black dirt on both sides of the bottom of her dress. So I had to clean her dress, because there was nobody else around. I took her to the bathroom and she took her dress off. I sprinkled on baby powder, which I always had on me, and kept rubbing it with a white towel and I was able to lift off the dirt; I basically cleaned her whole wedding gown.
I was always the artist that had emergency items that nobody would ever dream of having. There wasn’t anything in my makeup kit that if they asked for it, I didn’t have. Perfume deodorant, hairspray, different colored hair pins, breath mints... and Benedryl, because many times brides had reactions from foods they ate the night before and came in swollen. I even had a special knife I used on the bottom of the bride’s shoes to create an abrasion so she wouldn’t slip.
Her Craziest Requests
I once had a bride ask me to remove her Tampax because she couldn’t do it herself. Typically, most brides will ask their friends to come into the bathroom to hold up their dress because they have so much crinoline. So she was like, "I have to change my Tampax and there’s no way I’m going to be able to reach down under the crinoline. Would you mind?’ And, yeah, I mind. I put my foot down on that one. I said, “I think you probably have some close friends here.” And she wasn’t even one of the horror brides.
I had another bride who asked me to trim a hair on her nipple. I can't remember if it was a plunging neckline, but she said, ‘Do you mind just trimming this? Do you have a scissor on you?’ And so I did that.
I once did a bride in the Hamptons and the family put me up the night before because I had to be there at an ungodly hour. The bride hadn’t eaten, and they were taking pictures outdoors and I was standing next to her and she fainted and I brought her back. I got her cold compresses, bananas, and Gatorade. I took care of her like she was my own family member.
When I sent the bill — I was very formal and did everything by contract — the mother of the bride went ballistic on me, and said, "How dare you send me this bill?" (They were probably one of the wealthiest families in the Hamptons, by the way.) She said, ‘I put you up overnight. I gave you a free weekend in the Hamptons, and you’re billing me for all these excessive hours?’ I said, ‘Your daughter fainted in my arms. I brought her back to life, but OK.’ I wound up taking it off the bill because it wasn’t worth the fight and having a bad reputation, but talk about a bridezilla mother.
I’ve had many brides who got burned from waxing their lip and eyebrows and had these red patches that I knew how to cover; I can’t tell you the countless brides who got burned and had crusty areas of their eyebrows.
I had another bride who had a pimple that came to a head on her day and she could not stop bleeding. Blood kept coming through the pimple and I had to continually cover it and cover it and wipe up the blood and cover it, so that was not fun.
Of course, there were always the brides who needed a tattoo covered on the back of their neck or their arms last minute. I had a thick, opaque cream called Dermacolor that would cover a third of an arm. I carried the palette around and used it for everything — not just for emergencies. It was better than anything for covering up dark circles and discoloration. That was a staple in my kit. That was my best friend.
Primer was something I used on everybody. I never did a bride’s face without putting it on, because it really helped resurface the skin and make makeup last longer. I also had a makeup setting spray that contained alcohol; it was like shellacking the face. I would use it after finishing anyone who had to go a long time with their makeup. It was drying as could be, but the best thing for making sure makeup stayed put.
The thing I walked around with most was my Matte Maker Oil Blotting Powder, which I used on men and women alike. Let me tell you, when we did weddings and people were hot and sweating, that matte maker was everything; it absorbed perspiration, shine, and softened large pores.
Whenever I did brides, I always bought a new, black waterproof mascara. The one time I didn’t do waterproof, the bride came back after the receiving line and had black all over her face. I was looking at her crying during the ceremony and I remember thinking, "Is that black running down her face or am I just imagining it?" I was so responsible — it was the biggest nightmare of my life. I was like, "Oh my god, I can’t believe I did that." I had to whisk her away and redo her makeup. There was no room for error.
Making It Memorable
One of the things I always told my team — because I’m a people person and it came natural for me — is that this is about the bride. It’s not a time to talk about yourself. I would even tell them to carry their own food, because there are weddings where you'll be there for six to eight hours and never even be offered a sandwich. You had to be selfless.
30 years later, people still come up to me. My son is in the 10th grade, and I can’t tell you how many of the weddings I did for the moms in his class. They say, "I don’t even know if you remember me, but I will never forget that day or the compassion you gave people. I had just lost my grandmother..." At a time when you’re at an all-time stress level, you’ve got to make it about them. You either are that person or you’re not — you can’t teach that skill.