For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it's a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our latest subject is makeup artist and influencer Katie Jane Hughes. This story was told to Cat Quinn and edited for length and clarity.
My mom was a singer, and at five o’clock every Friday night when she had a gig, she would start putting on her red lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and bronzer. Makeup was her way of turning up and getting ready. I remember watching her put on red lipstick, and it always being on the top of her microphone — sometimes it would even smell like lipstick after a show.
I wanted to be a singer, too, so I went to drama school, but eventually dropped out. I was never an academic to begin with and always felt left behind in class. I used to get bullied, and I would come home and get upset with my mom about it. She took me out of school and homeschooled me for a bit. I didn’t end up finishing anything — not even drama school — but it hasn’t held me back in any way, shape, or form.
I come from a working class family, and we’ve always been self-employed our entire careers. To say the word "hustler" in the U.S. is to say the word "grafter" in England, and I come from a family of grafters. The work ethic my parents instilled in me was to get my foot in the door somewhere and work my way up. My mom suggested I get a job in a nail shop and learn my way through doing nails, acrylics, and gels. The owner of the shop taught me everything. I started taking my own clients, and eventually left the shop to do nails on my own.
I was really good at it, but I decided I wanted to do something else. So I went to work at a makeup counter in my hometown. I remember using my fingers to paint my eyes with the eyeshadow from the shop floor. I told a customer to do that, and got kicked behind the counter from a girl at work. "No, no, no, don’t tell them to use their fingers. You can sell brushes!" she said. It irritated me, and from that moment on, I knew I did not want to play by the rules. I didn’t last at that counter very long.
I went back to working in nails, but this time I moved to London, and started doing manicures in a fashion and editorial environment. I knew I eventually wanted to go back to makeup, but that’s a really hard transition, and not many people do it. I met with a bunch of talent agents who told me, You might as well just stick to nails — it’s going to be too hard to make the switch. I was a bit soul-destroyed, but then Instagram came along and changed everything.
I started to transition from posting nail stuff to posting about makeup, and then I started posting close-ups of my eyes. It’s so crazy to think that posting a few photos can change somebody’s career. Without it, I don’t know that any makeup artists like me would be where we are today. It really did give us a platform to show our work, and ourselves, to the world.
When this whole Instagram thing blew up, the only thing I saw on the platform as far as makeup was heavy, heavy, heavy face, heavy eyes, bold intense brows, and no skin texture. I didn’t want to conform to that; it’s so against my religion in makeup. When I was working as a nail tech on set with makeup artist Val Garland, she would say, "If you get the skin right, everything else follows." That never left me.
I started posting pictures of myself to Instagram with glossy skin. My skin had visible pores, unfiltered, unedited. Don’t get me wrong, everyone edits their stuff — I edit my stuff — but I don’t edit my photos into oblivion. I might edit a pimple if it’s distracting from the main event, like an eye or a lip, but I will never take pores away, ever, because you can’t get rid of pores. I will not show an unrealistic standard, because that’s just not fair.
It’s a little sad when boys or girls think their skin should look a certain way when it really can’t because people are filtering the skin texture in photos. They end up putting on too much makeup to look that way, but that person on Instagram doesn’t have a lot of makeup on in real life — it’s just the editing. I think that in the same way a branded photo of eyelashes has to disclose that it’s been altered, influencers should have a disclaimer that says something’s been edited.
I want to bring the real back to makeup, and educate people who don't want to wear a full-coverage foundation, but still feel flawless and show their pores without fear. Some people will comment on my pictures like, "Oh my god, she’s so sweaty. Why is her face so shiny like that?" And I turn it into a conversation. But for the most part, I’m so blessed with the positive responses I get. People tell me that I've changed the way they approach makeup completely. That feels really good.
Makeup As You Go
When you work in fashion, the look is typically clean, simple, with brushed-up brows. And so Instagram became the place where I could try all these fun looks that I wasn’t getting the opportunity to do on models. I think seeing it on me — a girl you would expect to see on the street versus a supermodel — took people by surprise, and they thought, Oh I could wear that, too.
Most of my inspiration comes from random things. I’ll see two houses that touch and they're two different colors — and I’ll wear those on my face. One time I opened my dryer, and I saw pink, red, and burgundy fabrics touching. And I thought, Oh my God, I have to do a makeup look inspired by that. People loved it, because it’s weird and there are no rules. Makeup washes off.
I feel fiercest in a liner. It’s like, I spent time on this, I’m ready to take on the world, and I’m turned up. Glossy makeup is the fun; it’s my party makeup when I'm going out with friends in the city. And a bold lip makes me feel most chic. The thing I love most about makeup is the transformative effect it has, and how it can really make you feel powerful and free and fun and quirky. There is a space for everybody to play. It’s a huge world out there, and everyone is welcome.