When Schitt's Creek made its way to Netflix in 2017, two years after the under-the-radar Canadian phenomenon initially began to air, it didn't take long for U.S. fans to get hooked. The show has its cast to thank for that, including comedic heavyweight Eugene Levy as Johnny Rose, his IRL son Dan Levy (also the show's creator, writer, and producer) as his TV son, David Rose, and Annie Murphy as Alexis, the island-hopping socialite sister who routinely dates men named Stavros.
But, as bright as each and every one of Schitt's Creek's stars shine, it's the Rose family matriarch, Moira (Catherine O'Hara), who perhaps most captivated eager viewers with GIF-able quotes and a rotating collection of wigs. The instantly iconic Moira Rose is a puzzle of moving parts, made up of bizarre accents and an avant-garde wardrobe that sticks out like a sore thumb in the small town of Schitt's Creek, where her family was forced to relocate after losing their fortune.
Though Moira's choice in makeup seems minor when compared to her big personality and even bigger wig collection, her over-lined lips and smoky eyes are as essential to the character as a wig named Maureen — a fact confirmed by O'Hara's personal makeup artist Lucky Bromhead. Ahead, Bromhead tells Refinery29 exactly how she designed Moira's now-famous signature look (and the look from The Crows Have Eyes III that we still haven't stopped thinking about).
Moira's Signature Look — With A Side Of Denial
After Bromhead and O'Hara read the script for Schitt's Creek, they sat down together to discuss: Who is Moira Rose, and what does she look like? Bromhead says that she and O'Hara aligned immediately in that they'd be pulling from Moira's well-traveled and opulent life. "Moira would draw inspiration from where she's been," explains Bromhead. Take, for example, the character's signature smoky eyes: "If she'd gone to Moroccan marketplaces and seen beautiful women with smoky eyeliner, she'd draw inspiration for her own look."
Moira may get beauty inspiration the same way a magpie steals shiny objects, but her look isn't directly inspired by anyone in particular. Despite what Twitter would have you believe, Moira was not inspired by Madonna — although O’Hara and Bromhead have seen the comparisons and are flattered. Bromhead confirms that there was never one person in mind while designing Moira; she's simply one of a kind.
In collaboration with hairstylist Ana Sorys, O'Hara and Bromhead agreed that the only thing that should change about Moira's look was her wig du jour. "The wigs allowed Moira loads of ways to express herself," says Bromhead, adding that since she could change her hair, she didn't need to change her makeup. "There are so many iconic people that never change a certain element about their look, like [Vogue editor-in-chief] Anna Wintour. Her hair doesn't change for years, but it stays fashionable." And so, Moira's red lipstick was born.
Bromhead tells us that she was literally wearing red lipstick when she and O'Hara were having this discussion about her character. "Catherine suggested Moira wear a red lipstick and I agreed 100% because it's such a strong colour and it really is a signature," she recalls. "We did make the conscious decision that the red lipstick is something Moira would wear to hang onto her old life. It's also how she maintains the core of her identity."
Candice Ornstein, head of the makeup department on Schitt's Creek, explains that the eponymous small town in which the show is set is meant to look and feel bleak in comparison to the Roses. "There's an obvious juxtaposition between the Roses and those who inhabit Schitt's Creek," says Ornstein. "This family comes in and it's the biggest shift these townspeople will ever see in an environment like that. In a way, the Roses are the colour of Schitt's Creek."
The "Naomi Campbell" Lip
Before filming officially began for the show, Moira's makeup was perfect — on paper. But when shooting started, both Bromhead and O'Hara felt that something was off. "Catherine suggested she try something with Moira's lipstick, out of curiosity," she says. "She took the lip liner and she did what I call ‘The Naomi Campbell.'" Like Campbell often does, O’Hara drew her lips without a Cupid’s bow. “Initially, it wasn’t that big, but then we made it bigger and bigger," she says. "Her entire face changed because of the shape of her lip.” Bromhead credits MAC for almost every part of Moira's routine, including MAC Lip Liner in Stripdown to outline the lip shape and either MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo or Dubonnet depending on Moira's entire look (wardrobe and wig included).
Bromhead says that budge-proof, foolproof cosmetics — like MAC products — are crucial for working with O'Hara, who is perhaps one of the most expressive comedic actors in Hollywood. "I wish I could explain to you what a genius she is with her face, in so many ways," says Bromhead. "I don't only mean when she was creating this character and emoting, but also when I'd paint on her lips in the trailer. She would have a full conversation with me while I was putting on her red lip without moving her mouth and I'd understand every word." (O'Hara's ventriloquial talent was even featured on the show in season 2 episode 6.)
The Crows Have Smoky Eyes
The only time you don't see Moira in her red lip is while she's filming The Crows Have Eyes III in season 5. “When we were designing her look for The Crows, I said she could not lose those lips,” recalls Bromhead. “Without those lips, she’s not Moira Rose.”
Instead, they ditched the red colour for a nude formula — without altering the overdrawn lip shape — and built up her usual smoky eye, which typically included at least four MAC eyeshadows (Concrete and Carbon being the boldest of the bunch) topped off with MAC's Brush Stroke 24 Hour Liner in Brushblack. "She had to look creepy, but still Moira. So, I suggested keeping the black smoky eye, but making it even darker, a little rounder and bird-like," says Bromhead. "I also suggested taking away her eyebrows because that immediately made her look strange.” It changed her whole face — again.
Of course, the work couldn't stop there. Bromhead says that the look for The Crows was a collaborative process between Sorys, who made the spiky black wig, and prosthetic makeup designer Mark Wotton, who made a prosthetic bird beak for O’Hara. Yes, a prosthetic beak. Like we said: iconic.
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