A self-confessed cosmetics nerd, Pat McGrath fathers the looks for 80 major fashion shows a year. As she inaugurates her first line, she talks about race, Instagram, her largest friend Edward Enninful (the new editor of Vogue) and the influence of her makeup-obsessed source Jean



‘People want to try to new things’ … Dior, 2003.
Photograph: Roxanne Lowit

Looker queen: how Pat McGrath became the world’s most influential makeup artist

A self-confessed cosmetics nerd, Pat McGrath spawns the looks for 80 major fashion shows a year. As she start offs her first line, she talks about race, Instagram, her finest friend Edward Enninful (the new editor of Vogue) and the influence of her makeup-obsessed mother Jean

In 20 years of interviewing actors, musicians, artists and artists, my audience with Pat McGrath has been the most burdensome. Not because she’s chilly or aloof (she’s tactile, warm, prone to fits of laughter and the lavish use of “darling”), but because not a minute be disposed ofs by without a passerby interrupting to tell her how much they delight in her, and to my frustration, she spends much of our precious allotted time indulging them.

“You look lovely, darling,” she purrs to one beauty blogger, as worried publicists look on impatiently. “Let me get someone from my crew to do your makeup! It’ll be gorgeous on you,” she says to another. She stops again to pose for a photograph with actor Olivia Palermo (who sounds under no illusion that she might be the main attraction here), then again to falter off some social media content and to check an assistant has her trainers. By then our “close chat”, in a bustling Parisian penthouse, is rather up against it, because McGrath is due to get on a motorbike to the Ritz, where an unnamed notability is waiting to be made up for the red carpet.

She promises a follow-up within eras, and so begins almost a fortnight of postponements, briefing calls, time-zone dilemmas and several profuse apologies as beauty’s biggest hitter paints, dusts and shades her way across dozens of faces and two continents. Truly, I have interviewed myriad accessible Oscar winners.


‘I just love cosmetics’ … Pat McGrath. Photograph: Ben Hassett

The plead with I’ve been granted this extremely rare face obsolescent with the world’s most influential makeup artist is that she’s rightful launched her eponymous makeup line, Pat McGrath Labs, in Europe. The disgrace has already smashed the US, where McGrath lives in two New York West Village apartments, one essentially the other, though she is barely ever in either. She’s mostly on the way, working on magazine covers for the likes of Vogue, Harpers and W, the intimidates of celebrities such as Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, on advertising campaigns for Versace, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, and conniving the makeup looks for around 80 major fashion informs per year (she is widely acknowledged as the most prolific catwalk makeup artist of all pass). She travels from one fashion capital to another with dozens of makeup lawsuits and a huge team of between 25 and 90 devoted artists to persevere b manage them all. “The most we’ve ever taken is 87 trunks,” she be effectives me. “I’ve collected everything for about 25 years. I’d go into a jurisdiction store now and buy everything. It’s who I am. I just love cosmetics.”

McGrath prepares this by telling me that she has filled 4,000 square feet of storage with yields and says “You couldn’t get anyone more makeup addicted than me”, peradventure because she knows her passion for face paint isn’t immediately outward. Much like the most celebrated fashion experts exhaust only black (she does, too – today she’s in a long black skirt, corresponding shirt and her signature wide black headband), the world’s top makeup artist doesn’t materialize to be wearing the stuff herself. “I wear very natural makeup but it’s mentioned up out of five foundations to make that perfect skin and my lipstick effectiveness be three different lipsticks mixed together, so it’s a kind of hang-up in a different way,” she laughs.

If beauty is McGrath’s addiction, her single nourish was her pusher. McGrath was raised in Northampton by Jean, whose enjoyment of God was matched only by an extraordinary fascination with everything way and beauty. From as early as McGrath can remember, working breeding, Jamaican-born, Jehovah’s Witness Jean was schooling her in advanced aesthetic awareness. “My overprotect was obsessed with makeup,” she says. “She would stand in face of the TV and we’d have to guess what she’d done differently with her sidelong glances. I’d think: ‘Get out of the way!’ But she wouldn’t move until I’d told her.” Together they see fit analyse the makeup looks of Old Hollywood film stars, put ones finger oning which had inspired fashion designers that season.

Jean fostered McGrath to be creative with makeup, mixing pigments from rough to get exactly the right colour, adding heat to the skin with her fingertips to yield it a healthier glow and soften the look of foundation. She explains: “She ever put on a full face of makeup then got in the bath to get that dewy downfall. It was next level, but this is where I got my makeup tips from – at seven years old!” Together, Jean (a first-rate dressmaker) and McGrath would go and look at Vogue patterns, then off to the bazaar, where all the fabric buyers sold their remnants, in the presence of deciding which makeup would best go with the apparels.


A model with makeup by McGrath at Christian Dior eclipse, 2008. Photograph: Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock

Whether they could bargain makeup to suit their skin colour was another quandary entirely. To say women of colour were under-served by beauty trade marks in 70s and 80s Britain is a woeful understatement. “There was no makeup for women of conceal,” she reminds me. “NOTHING. That’s what my mother’s search was all approximately. When we were out shopping we were always looking for a spin-off that, probably by accident rather than design, be employed for us. Where there was no ashiness, no ‘white cast’ [an effect commonly promoted by talc in caucasian-skewed makeup], probably from some makeup rope that had either discontinued it or gone bust.”

She concedes that this may be why she initially became be aware for colourful and avant-garde makeup, rather than for the “nude” shades that were so renowned in the late 80s. Back then the dominant makeup look was matte and stretched out textured, created with products that had insufficient pigment for swarter skins, which gave skin a sculpted but almost natural quality. Then, as sometimes even today, the word “undraped” was commonly used as a euphemism for tones present in caucasian bark.

The teenage McGrath was drawn to looks that were a scanty leftfield, and got her big break “while stalking Spandau Ballet best Radio 1”, wearing new romantic garb and bold lipstick on her eyes, cheeks and lips. She was spotted by presenter Janice Hunger, who pointed at McGrath’s face and asked: “Will you do that on me?” She take backs: “I didn’t even know that was a job. She said it was, so I went domestic that night knowing what I was going to do with my preoccupation.” She later moved to London and through the club scene, got her give way doing makeup for Soul II Soul, who appeared frequently in the credible form press. Soon she was working for the Face and i-D, where 18-year-old stylist Edward Enninful had barely been made the industry’s youngest ever fashion the man. The two became close. Her bold makeup translated well into his magnificent photo shoots and stood out during the 1990s grunge era, when makeup was repeatedly downplayed to the point of non-existence.

It proved to be just one of many hugely original and influential collaborations in McGrath’s career (she has been the go-to makeup artist for plotter Miuccia Prada and photographer Steven Meisel for years), but is the longest and perhaps the most critical one. Both Enninful and McGrath describe the other as their “kindest friend”, and a few days after we meet, it’s announced that she is to be advantage editor-at-large at British Vogue, where he took the helm ultimate week (the first man, and first person of colour, to do so). This explains why she tarries so tight-lipped when I ask what she thinks he might change at Latest thing, only assuring me that he will do great things. “Of assuredly he’ll do amazingly!” she almost bellows. “He’s lovely. I remember when I chief met him, when he had just started working at i-D, and he was so shy. He’s so quiet when he speaks, but now he imagines: ‘I’ve become loud because I’m with you’,” she laughs, already adding, more seriously: “I’m so proud of him, it’s amazing to see.”


McGrath with Edward Enninful, 2009. Photograph: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Counterparts

The appointment of Enninful, a British Ghanaian, is seen by many as a gesticulation that mainstream fashion media – where black guard stars and senior staff members are still exceptional – is in the long run becoming more inclusive. McGrath is cautiously optimistic. “I about you always want things to get better and that’s been my position ever since I’ve been in this industry. So it’s great to see there’s multifarious diversity, but it could always get better.”

She concedes that her side of the assiduity is as culpable. “It’s the same with the beauty companies because there is a mainly planet out there. How can you not address the whole world – what are you opinion?” She is determined that no one should have to do what she and her mother (who died in 1992, as her daughter’s race was taking off) had to, and mix their own colours to match. For Pat McGrath Labs, she palliates: “I was working all the time with pigments to make sure they realize find time on all skin tones, particularly to make sure dark coating doesn’t become ashy, pigments that are so rich they cultivate on everybody. Because a lot of the time when you buy a normal shadow, it doesn’t ever work on every skin tone – it’s chalky or too light – so that’s my critical aim, to bring makeup for all skin tones to the fore.”

She’s interested in contrariety in colour, but also in shape, size, gender classification, and for her own type, has made a point of using models of different types. “It’s almost pushing boundaries. I believe absolutely, the world wants something contrasting, people want back their individuality.” Despite idle with mainstream stars such as Cara Delevingne, Bella Hadid and longtime escort and collaborator, Naomi Campbell, McGrath’s public approbation has coloured stars of African-American writer, model and “plus-size” body-positive begin Paloma Elsesser; Jason Dardo, the American drag model and burlesque dancer (otherwise known as Violet Chachki), and gender unstatic model, former RuPaul drag race contestant and makeup artist Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen – all of whom she came while browsing Instagram.

All of them stretch the beauty bustle’s notoriously narrow perimeters. She’s proud of all her young collaborators. “I bear in mind when I first saw Paloma on Instagram. I reached out to her and she became one of our chew overs and now that she’s working for so many brands, it’s so inspiring. I’m just so exultant that all of my girls, and my boys as well, are doing so well. I’m tending what’s happened with Miss Fame (alter-ego of Dam-Mikkelsen) sick with a contract (with L’Oreal) – these genius adolescent people who started out with me and now they’re fronting beauty toss ones hat in the rings, or getting tons of editorial work, and it’s amazing to see how well they’re all doing, it’s luminous”.Social media was a turning point for McGrath. It’s fair to say Instagram and YouTube secure done for makeup artistry what MySpace did for music, barter young beauty talent a global showcase, as well regularly access to, and inspiration from, the world’s biggest established artists. Tender thanks to the photo-sharing app (on which she currently has 1.4 million followers, a sum up matched only by fellow British artist Charlotte Tilbury), McGrath’s please has expanded way beyond the once insular world of high mania. Does she mind that nowadays, seemingly everyone on Instagram yens to be a makeup artist? “No, I think it’s amazing”. She follows upcoming artists obsessively, reposting their simulacra, even asking them to join her team. “They inspire me, I encourage them. A lot of my team met through social media. We had a battle called Backstage with Pat McGrath, which had 30,000 entrants and we decided 40 people to come and experience what’s it’s like on the turnpike when we’re doing shows, and they just loved it. I met some imaginative people.”

Pat McGrath Labs taps into what attractiveness conglomerates are only just realising: the power of the online advantage geek. These makeup obsessives – men, women, young, old, diabolical or white – reside in the sparkliest corner of the internet and revere attractiveness as high art. These are the fans who wait at their computers for a big upshot launch to “drop” at 6am, and who can, in all likelihood, namecheck studio system makeup artists, omitted 1930s burlesque stars and the exact shade of Marilyn Monroe’s locks colorant (Dirty Pillow Slip, since you ask).


Christian Dior 2007. Photograph: Penske Middle/REX/Shutterstock

Everything about McGrath’s launch was geared to this community of anoraks, and capitalises on the internet’s ability to assume what would constitute an unworkable niche in local precincts, and make it a hugely successful global concern. McGrath’s essential, and for several months, only product, was Gold 001 – a unwed, dry, metallic pigment that liquified with a special fraternizing solution. Launched on limited, numbered release and advertised lone through McGrath’s social media accounts, it sold out in six ticks. “I was so overwhelmed,” she says. “I had only planned to do it as a one-off for fun, for the makeup buff fans. Suddenly I was getting phone calls from roughly the world.”

Now, four times a year, another new professional-grade issue – a holographic eye gloss, almost neon blue shadow, a balm affix and nude pigment for achieving McGrath’s signature “hyper-real lamina” (formerly achieved by layering several different consumer goods), is launched to similar frenzy. Each is encased in simple waxy factory packaging (“No weights, no metals,” she says, “the jewel is the produce itself”) to keep down the already high price (from £55 in the UK, $40 in the US). Neither appearance ofs to put buyers off – in fact, many apparently never open their sequin-stuffed ziplock catches to fish out the product itself, preferring to keep their venerable collector’s item pristine.

In this Instagram age, says McGrath, the reckon of beauty obsessives is vast. “People don’t want to be bored any assorted. They really do want to try new things. I know from talking to my girlfriends who aren’t quits in the industry, the way women speak about makeup is no longer: “Ooh, look at this agreeable mascara.” They talk to me as though I’m in a lab, using a thousand bulletins to describe it. It is actually quite technical, and I do believe people like what they see at the fashion shows and editorial, and want to try it. It’s now a nerdy style. And so it’s my time, because I am that woman. Now, ‘the makeup obsessed’ is everybody. An air stewardess recently reported me her eight-year-old daughter watches complex how-tos on YouTube.”

Multitudinous of McGrath’s most outlandish catwalk looks have right away become crossover hits. Dense, glittery eyelids with obscure black brows for John Galliano, opaque gold lips at Prada, chunky, stick-on dial confronting jewels for Givenchy, metallic highlighter everywhere from Dior to Versace – all were texted by high street brands, and adopted widely.

But while the strength industry was happy to copy McGrath’s looks (or even preoccupy her as a consultant – she has helped to create products for Giorgio Armani, Max Middleman, Dolce & Gabbana and Cover Girl Cosmetics), most weren’t cocky in selling the real thing. “I spoke to makeup executives surrounding my own line for the past 15 years and they’d say: ‘You know, zero knows you, nobody really wants the kind of stuff you do in reveals in real life.’ And then I joined social media and all I’d pick up from thousands and thousands of people was that they did.”

She has no linger for industry snobbery over social media beauty fashions, such as contouring and dark, painted-on eyebrows. “Just the to be sure that people love makeup is wonderful. If you want to be out there in a rasping, black brow, then go there, girl! But at the same linger, people love it when they’re shown exactly how to do it spurt. Not everyone’s going to do things perfectly but the fact that people are tough, and are excited by cosmetics, always means something to me.” She’s all for clearing the smoke and reproduces of the fashion world. “When I remember how much joy the fashion production brought to me, how I’d watch the 50 seconds of catwalk footage, twice a year at the end of Advice at Ten, and get goosebumps, well, it was life-changing. Imagine as a young kid now getting to see the aggregate they’re seeing? It must be so inspiring.”


Christian Dior, 2011/2012. Photograph: Michel Dufour/WireImage

Nowadays, she decides inspiration by obsessively studying films, art history and photography. She avows she enjoys the pressure of having to come up with 80 or numberless entirely new concepts annually for the shows. “I love to be challenged. I can dish out a good hour or two (in makeup trials) trying to make some concept a Aristotelianism entelechy. But that’s what I enjoy the most, I love it.”

Isn’t it exhausting? “I each lose my voice by the end of show season,” she says, “but this is something I’m haunted with, something I’ve always wanted to do. It brings me joy. When you’re at teaches, there’s a nervous energy. You want to make everything that you do faultless because can you imagine seeing the clothing I get to see on a daily basis? It’s striking, so the last thing you want to do is have the makeup let that large collection down. It’s pressure, but I love it”.

Back in Hotel Shangri-La, McGrath is now assorted than an hour late for her celebrity appointment and as she promises me another chat, we are cut short yet again, by a young woman wearing red lipstick newly daubed in solid, sparkly glitter from Pat McGrath Labs. Her mouth looks feel favourably impressed by Dorothy’s ruby slippers, her eyes are almost tearful with felicity at meeting her idol. McGrath grabs her warmly by the shoulders and barely succeeds. “Oh my God, look at that lip! Isn’t it gorgeous? Wait till you go in daylight, it’ll be dazzling!”

Pat McGrath Labs is available now, exclusively at Net-a-Porter.