How To Become A Celebrity Makeup Artist
by Ning Chao
Published May 19, 2011
At The Makeup Show in NYC this past week, Clarins spokesperson Pati Dubroff shared her tips on how to become a celebrity makeup artist, based on her own experience climbing the glam squad ladder (and moving from Paris and New York City to Los Angeles to switch from a fashion editorial focus to a more celebrity-based career). A top celebrity makeup artist, Pati has worked with an impressive group of gorgeous women. Eva Mendes, Megan Fox, Drew Barrymore, Kirsten Dunst, Emma Watson, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow—Pati's star-studded client list goes on and on. Here, Beautylish has the highlights from Pati Dubroff's professional makeup seminar.
The first step to becoming a makeup artist is to work at the counter. That's how I got my start—working at Yves Saint Laurent at Bergdorf's—it's an easy entryway into the world of beauty. So many counters and brands need ambassadors and you can learn makeup and technique on the job.
Tests should serve what your goals are. I left the counter to freelance and did whatever it took. I did free jobs, low-paying jobs, and found assistant work through agencies. One assistant job was working for François Nars—it was a free job. But then I became his full-time assistant. We shot with Avedon, Penn, and worked with Madonna on her music videos. And then we worked at all the fashion shows. We went to Milan and Paris. Nars was the Pat McGrath of 20 years ago.
Working backstage at fashion shows, I learned that you have to be fast and good. Back then we would be chain-smoking, doing makeup, and swigging champagne at seven o'clock in the morning. It was the day of the supermodel. François was developing the concept for his makeup line so I got to see that process as well. Then I moved to Paris and assisted Stephane Marais. I had so little money, I would just eat baguettes, but I was willing to do whatever it took.
After Paris, I moved back to New York to work on fashion and catalogs. I was doing well for a while, but then there was a slump in my career. I wondered if I should go back to work at the counter or work as a waitress? In the end, I changed agents. Sometimes it's not just about you but other circumstances.
My new agent had more relationships with celebrity publicists. It was 1999 and actresses had just started to replace models on the covers of magazines. I started working with them and realized that I like these personalities. They're interesting women. I also decided to move to Los Angeles. My husband and I were always long distance—he lived in L.A. and I thought I would never leave N.Y.C.—but moving was the best thing I ever did, for both my personal life and my career.
Everyone has their own path and I think everyone is protected in their path. When I moved to L.A., I got a message from my agent as soon as I landed and got off the plane—I was booked for an Annie Leibovitz shoot for Vanity Fair's Hollywood Issue. I had never worked with Annie Liebovitz or Vanity Fair before and it was like the angels sang. I just knew that moving to L.A. was the right decision.
In Los Angeles, I work with more private clients. These jobs can be stressful too, but it's usually a quiet storm, not a chaos like the backstage of a fashion show. When working with a celebrity, you have to read their energy. Sometimes you have to be chatty and fun—their entertainment—and sometimes you need to be serene, calm and invisible. It's all about boosting their confidence.
Very often with celebrities, you've got to play it safe, especially for red carpet. And sometimes with photo retouching, what you do the day of the shoot isn't what you see in print. Julianne Moore taught me that if you use orange or brown tones on redheads, it makes for a muddy face. So I never use peach on Julianne, it's always a hot pink. But one magazine color-matched her lipstick to match their logo. It was an orange red. I called her up as soon as I saw it in the magazine and said, "you know I would never put that shade on you!"
With the advent of face fillers, it can change the way makeup holds and wears. If you fill lips a lot, the inner moist area gets pushed out and lipstick doesn't stick to it. The lipstick ends up migrating to the edges of the lips, so you have to be careful. Whether it's over-plumped lips or a pimple, sometimes I'll ask my client if I should keep touching up an area or just leave it alone.