On May 19, 2018, the entire world turned its attention to one event: Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry. It was momentous, emotional, beautiful — the stuff of fairytales.
Thanks to social media, it was also among the most widely viewed and closely scrutinized of any such occasion in history (after all, Instagram was still in its relative infancy back in 2011 when Prince William married Kate Middleton).
I think it wasn’t until in high school, being exposed [to fashion]. There was a magazine store at Pike Place Market that sold Interview and Paper and The Face. I would take the bus there the first Saturday of every month with some friends. We’d stock up on all the international magazines. That’s when I fell in love with fashion.
When did you start to pursue a career as a makeup artist?
I got a job working at the MAC counter at Nordstrom in college. That was when I was like, I think I really want to get into makeup. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that I moved to the East Coast.
That’s when I really honed in on makeup, and I got a job working at an Aveda concept salon in Virginia. At Aveda, they did both hair and makeup. They were sponsoring shows for New York Fashion Week then as well, so that’s how I got into [working backstage].
What was it like working backstage back then?
Well, it was through Aveda that I met Pat McGrath because she was consulting with the brand in ’97. Then, when I got to New York, I was assisting on her show team.
That’s such a coveted opportunity to get at such a young age.
I was definitely low on the totem pole. I just really lucked out. Even to this day, I wonder if she knows who I am. At that point, I was like, I’m just fortunate to even be on her radar. I was also freelancing, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and doing the struggle like everybody else.
Did you sign with an agency?
When I moved to New York, I was working in a corporate position with Aveda. Then after 9/11, it was a wakeup call: I didn’t move to New York to do a corporate job, I came here to be a makeup artist.
It was a total reset and realization that you don’t know what the next day brings you, so try to be as happy and fulfilled as you can in that moment. It’s already hard living in New York City. I feel like if it weren’t for that trigger, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. So in 2004 I went out on my own, full-time.
At the time, Gucci Westman has head of creative for Lancôme and Carrie introduced me to Jack [McCollough] and Lazaro [Hernandez] at Proenza Schouler. Carrie introduced me to Thakoon [Panichgul]. She introduced me to Richard Chai. That’s kind of how I got into the fashion fold. Through Jack and Lazaro, I met Chloë Sevigny, and it just snowballed.
You were working with both fashion clients and celebrity clients — was that rare at the time?
Yeah, in the early 2000s, it was very divided. A lot of the celebrity makeup artists were based in LA, and then the fashion kids were in New York. But it was starting to hit that moment when celebrities were sitting front row at the fashion shows.
As an artist, I feel like you also need to understand all the aspects of what we do, rather than just showing up on set and doing your job. You have to look at the bigger picture, rather than just focusing on what you do.
Are you able to identify one moment in your career that really felt like your big break?
I was able to participate in the all-Black issue of Italian Vogue. That editorial got my introduction to The Wall Group, which still represents me now. That basically signed me to the agency; from that, it was them getting the LA agent that introduced me to a lot of the LA girls.
So I would say that, and then working with Jessica Alba because from that relationship, I started consulting for her brand, Honest Beauty. I also had my Dior Beauty contract before that.
Given that you do work with so many brands, how do you choose which ones you want to align with? And how do you maintain authenticity?
I was introduced to Dior right after Peter Philips signed on. At the time, it wasn’t a creative director role, but more of a brand ambassador role, something that a lot of the fashion beauty brands hadn’t done.
I keep it really down-to-earth and really real. I’m really bad at “fakeness” and bullshit. If I love your brand, I love your brand. I’m just not someone that’s going to be paid off to talk about it.
How has the industry changed most since you first got your start?
I think for a makeup artist, you have to really understand the business. We work in an industry where we’re working six months out. You have to keep an eye on the business aspect as well as the artistry.
Right now, especially with social media, it’s created a whole other dimension of how people see your work, how people reach out to you. It’s created almost this segregation between people who work in fashion and people who work with celebrities and people who only work in that Instagram medium.
It’s not to say that one trumps the other; it’s just that you have to be more aware of how your work is viewed and if it translates in those mediums.
What advice would you have for someone who is coming up in this era and trying to start their career as a makeup artist?
Try to get your feet wet in as many avenues as you can and really understand what it is to be a makeup artist. One thing that a lot of people haven’t realized is that what you shoot on your phone and edit in an app doesn’t necessarily translate once you’re shooting on set with someone who’s using film.
You have to understand lighting. You have to understand skin texture. You have to understand longevity.
But it was exciting to have been asked, because I wasn’t expecting it, and to also be asked to attend was a whole other thing. It’s a blur. It definitely brought my visibility up and it’s been really weird, but at the end of the day, we’re still great friends. Her profile’s on a much more global level, but — it’s weird to say — it’s still kind of the same.
What was your approach to her wedding-day makeup look?
For me and her, it was about her looking and feeling her best. I honestly didn’t know the magnitude of what was going to happen. I didn’t even know what her dress was. I didn’t know who was doing her hair.
My intention was to make her feel as beautiful and as comfortable as possible, because it was about them. It wasn’t about us. It wasn’t about Serge [Normant] and I. She was comfortable in it and then that was it.
I know one thing a lot of people reacted to was that she looked so natural — you could see her skin and her freckles.
How is her skin that glow-y all the time? Is it purely genetics or all your makeup skill?
She has great skin and it’s really balanced. If anything, so much of it is about hydration. She’s good about drinking lots of water and taking care of herself. That day in particular, the Gods were on our side. I don’t do anything different with her than I do with any of my other clients.
She just takes great care of her skin. You can’t get that with anything that’s too emollient, meaning too oil-based. A lot of [her favorite moisturizers] are a water-based, like hyaluronic acid moisturizers.
How did that day change your career, if at all? Was it mainly just attention on social media?
I had my phone off the whole day of the wedding. But right after, I went from 17,000 [Instagram followers] to 70,000 in one day. It was bonkers.
Then I panicked because it brought up so much performance anxiety. That wedding put me in a whole other stratosphere on social media that I can’t understand.
I’m lucky that I had a career prior. If anything, it’s just my profile is up, but I still have the same clients. I still work with the same people. My day-to-day hasn’t really changed. I’m just lucky that I have job that I love doing and that I have great friends that I get to work with.
Are there any goals you’re still working toward in your career?
I’d like to get back into education because I feel like when people reach out to me on Instagram, so much of it is about [that]. I want to do a book — not necessarily on artistry, but just sharing the journey.
I’ve been fortunate to work with all these brands — I’ve been asked to do my own line, but [the market] is so saturated. If anything, I could see working with a brand that’s a bit cleaner. I think people want to know what’s in their makeup right now.