Before Alexandra Butler became Missy Elliott's key makeup artist in 2014, she was an industrial engineer. "I went to school for engineering and worked in a lot of factories," she tells Refinery29. "I've always loved arts and drawing, but was conditioned to believe that it wouldn't amount to a sustainable career."
But Butler just wasn't passionate about her technical career — so she quit her engineering job, moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and got a job at a local MAC counter, where she gained experience as a professional makeup artist. That experience opened doors for Butler, who went on to work in television on the CW's Vampire Diaries and Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta, before Missy Elliott ended up in her chair.
Ahead, we talked to Butler about what it's like working with Elliott, how they collaborate on new makeup looks, and all the goods she uses on her iconic client.
Missy's look has evolved so much over the years, but she always manages to stay true to herself. As a newer artist, did you feel pressure to compete with her old looks?
"Missy has always been extremely innovative and creative, and in the beginning, I felt like every look had to be over-the-top and insane. But I've also put in my head that I am here working with her for a reason because she knows my strengths. So, over time, that feeling has gone away. We collaborate a lot. We've found ways to marry her creativity with a modern aesthetic. Missy loves colour, and she isn't afraid to experiment, while I love a classic, enhanced complexion, so we love to keep her skin glowing and youthful, and incorporate fun elements and colours into her other features like eyes and lips."
So how does a Missy Elliott makeup look come about?
"It's usually a group effort with Missy, [stylist] June [Ambrose], and the team. Of course, it also depends on the event. But, in the makeup chair, Missy is very trusting and allows me to be creative. I was actually on Glam Masters last year, and ever since she's seen my work on that show, her attitude has just been, 'Okay now, I see you can take it there, so let's take it there.' So there's a level of confidence I've built. I have a good idea of what she likes, and she's usually very open to what I want."
Missy has had such a successful career. Has she given you advice as an artist?
"Simply being around Missy and spending so much time around her is career inspiration. In the chair, you would never know she's this huge superstar because she is so humble and down to earth. But over the years, seeing her remain so grounded while still being true to who she is and what she believes in is very encouraging to me as an artist. She's very creative, and she respects her team's crafts and encourages us to think outside of the box."
Missy's skin and makeup is always flawless. What are some of your go-to products when you guys work together?
"I'm a MAC girl, so when it comes to foundation for Missy, I love using Studio Fix Fluid because it delivers impressive coverage and has a natural matte finish. To make sure her makeup lasts through hours or rehearsals and performances, I prime her skin with Milk of Magnesia, which is a slightly old-school method.
I usually set her face with Ben Nye Final Seal, which is like an antiperspirant for the face — sweat rolls off. To keep Missy's skin glowing and youthful, I like to use this oil from LimeLife by Alcone. If her skin needs more hydration, I like to use Embryolisse.
When we do a bold eye on Missy, we usually pair it with a nude lip. Ninety percent of the time she's wearing Black Radiance Lip Gloss in Cashmere, which is the perfect milky nude. We often pair MAC Chestnut lip liner with nude lipsticks like Milani Liquid Lipstick in Adorable.
As far as eyeshadow goes, Missy loves purple. I've been using the Anastasia Beverly Hills x Jackie Aina palette on her and she loves it. I also usually mix the shades in the Huda Beauty Obsession Amethyst palette. I always have the Slush palette from September Rose Cosmetics on me as well — it has a variety of pigmented shades that I use on her frequently."
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