I grew up in Australia and at the time (and still by all accounts), makeup and skincare were prohibitively expensive. As a young pre-teen, my budget did not extend past the occasional lipsmacker. As lovely as these were, and still are, my heart yearned for the products that I read about in Dolly or Cleo. I would spend hours writing lists of my must haves and dreamt of the day I would be able to do more than browse.
My salvation came in the form of my lovely Dad. Seeing his daughters getting to the age were we wanted some freedom but also wanting to instil work ethic into us, he proposed a solution to my economic crisis; if I were to work in his office 3 days a week after school helping with admin, he would pay me $50 a week (a very large sum back then).
Joy abounded, mes amies! With this, while I could still not afford Chanel, I could finally start to begin to purchase products I had only been able to pilfer from testers before. I remember L’Oréal being a huge favourite, as were Revlon, Red Earth, the Body Shop, and Aus. With this bubbling away inside of me, it was only a matter of time before obsession was instilled.
Not long after, I was in a local shopping mall and stumbled across something that would change my life. Browsing the book shop, I spied a book by the famous American makeup artist Bobbi Brown. Simply titled the Makeup Manual, I fell upon it like a life raft at sea. Despite it being the ungodly sum of $45, I joyfully parted with my cash and ran home. Well that was it. Within that I discovered that I could actually have a job as a makeup artist plus all the necessary information to actually do it. It was a life altering moment and it set me on the path that would eventually lead me to where I am now. I also still have that book and regularly consult it in case anyone is wondering.
The difficulty was that in Australia in the 1990s being a makeup artist wasn’t actually seen as a career. Beauty therapist or hairdresser yes, but why would anyone pay for anyone to have their makeup done? The opportunities in film and television were (and still are) heavily male dominated and difficult to get into. To have a career in the industry, the only routes were to go to the UK or USA. Luckily enough for me, I am a British citizen, so just before my 16th birthday, I returned to the motherland itching to start my career.
Unfortunately for me, my parents had different ideas; specifically an education and career with a pension and viable retirement. Though I resented them bitterly at the time, I can now thank them for pushing me to actually get a thorough education.
Despite doing a course and qualifying as an artist, it remained a hobby for a number of years. I would do the occasional friends makeup for a wedding or night out and was always on hand to offer tips and advice but I was still very much an amateur.
The worm turned for me on a trip to New York. While I was relieving the lovely Clinique lady in Saks 5th Avenue of all her stock, we got talking. I mentioned to her that I would love to be a makeup artist like she and she said to me “well honey, why aren’t you?”. I was flabbergasted. Why wasn’t I makeup artist? It suddenly made perfect sense to me and that gut wrenching insecurity vanished. I later that day emailed a resignation to my astonished employers who asked me if I was quite right in the head. Yes, I assured them and continued to assure everyone who asked me the same question as I spelt out my plans.
To make sure I knew what I was doing and what trends were current, I enrolled on various hair and makeup masterclasses and courses. What followed was a very hard slog where many a time I regretted my decision.
The road to becoming a freelance makeup artist is difficult. To become successful, is even more difficult. For 3 years I plugged away, networked and begged anyone I knew for work. It was soul destroying at times and at many points I felt like giving up. The thing which stopped me was that I knew not only did I love makeup, but that with the right experience, this was something I could be very good at and I carried on.
My big break came in the form of basically being a body in the right place at the right time; a photographer I had been testing with was due to shoot an editorial for the Arcadia Group the next day and their makeup artist had dropped out. Would I be able to step in? With a shaking voice I confirmed that of course I would and that was it.
From that moment on the commissions poured in and I found not only was I working but I was very busy. The day I was chosen to be part of a makeup team for London Fashion Week I cried, the day I was chosen for Paris Fashion Week I cried, the day I spotted my work on the front page of a magazine in a newsagent in Soho I cried…. I still cry now with tears of joy that not only am I doing well, but I can finally say I do a job which I love with all my heart.
The best moment was the evening I got an email to say my work was to be published in Vogue Italia. Again, I cried and bounced on the bed shrieking with happiness.
There have been low moments too. With social media, there is a rise of keyboard commentators who for some reason feel the need to tell you that your work is rubbish or that you have no reason to be an artist. This used to really bother me but eventually I realised that as long as I and the people hiring me where happy then I should be too.
This is a career not for the many but for the few. It is a hard worn path to success but once you get there the feeling is amazing. I am very proud to say I have played a part in so many lives and hopefully made many women feel amazing and with the rise of popularity in makeup, I’m sure there will be many more highs I can continue to aspire to.