Charlotte Tilbury, backstage during fashion week.
In her 20-year-career as a makeup artist, Charlotte Tilbury has buffed, blushed, rouged, perfected and enhanced the famous faces of Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Eva Mendes, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Kristen Stewart, Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley, and most recently, Amal Clooney—on her wedding day. She has been equally in-demand backstage, where she has driven the runway beauty looks for luxury brands, including Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, and Chloé. This fall, the English talent launched an eponymous makeup collection available at Bergdorf Goodman, Net-a-Porter.com and Nordstrom. Here, she talks about her start, the power of makeup and what inspires her now.
I grew up in Ibiza surrounded by artists, writers, musicians and actors. I knew that I would do something creative. When I was 13, I discovered makeup and became fascinated by its power; it changed my life.
I started wearing mascara after I saw school-friends wearing it, and overnight, people reacted to me in a very different way. I was more popular and I felt more confident. While at first it seemed like a depressing realization, I soon realized that makeup is powerful; it’s every woman’s secret weapon. Makeup can give you the confidence to get that husband you’ve always wanted, change your job, move abroad, get a pay raise. Ever since, no one has ever seen me without makeup on!
Charlotte’s legendary Magic Cream.
After that, I was obsessed with makeup. I used to have posters of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Sophia Loren on my wall. I bought loads of reference books about the silver screen icons—Audrey, Elizabeth, Marlene, etc—and studied their faces. I particularly loved glitter; I couldn’t get enough of it.
I also saw early on how it could be a profession. I remember being on a beach on Formentera with a group of my parents’ friends. We were looking at a Vogue cover of Jerry Hall and they were saying, “Look what Mary Greenwell has done.” I had never heard of a makeup artist before, but I’ve always been fascinated by the power that a beautiful woman has when she walks into a room and wanted to understand her beauty. Then I met Mary in Ibiza and begged to become her assistant—the rest is history!
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Charlotte Tilbury’s based an entire line within her connection on Penelope Cruz, who she made up here for a 2008 cover of W Magazine.
In those days, when I was starting out, it was really about glamazons and celebrating women. It was all about curves, boobs, legs, hair, and makeup. I remember being backstage at a runway show for the first time, when I was assisting Mary and every single supermodel was in the room: Claudia, Christy, Naomi, Cindy, Stephanie, Linda, and Helena. In a way, it was intimidating, but it was also breathtaking. I was looking at them as if they were from another planet. Then I realized that through makeup, you can achieve a little bit of that.
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From there, I worked so hard to get noticed in the industry, cold calling hundreds of magazines and brands, and I was almost ready to give up when I received a note from a beauty editor that helped me to stay driven and to follow my dreams. The note said: “Knock it to them Charlotte, I know you’ll be a star!” Stars have now become an integral part of my signature. I believe everyone has a halo, and can achieve their goals if they put their mind to it.
Charlotte Tilbury as a child, at left.
I worked with wonderful photographers along the way. I met Mert [Alas] and Marcus [Piggott] in Ibiza and started working with them and Mario Testino during the ‘90s—that really kick-started my fashion career. We were all part of this collective, which was creating more glamorous fashion and beauty looks. At that time it was all about deconstructed fashion and we were doing something that was different, glossier and more aspirational.
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Then, after 20 years, I decided to start a line. Even though I worked with the best VIP formulas before they come to market, I always wanted more perfection. I never found a foundation that I fell in love with (I used concealers mixed with creams). I was always looking for the holy grail of mascaras (I used to mix five to get the result I want), and I have been mixing my own Magic Cream for the past 20 years. It floods the skin with moisture. (You can never have a beautiful painting without a beautiful canvas.)
Charlotte Tilbury is Kate Moss’ go-to makeup artist. She did her makeup here, for the September 2012 cover of Vogue Paris, shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.
Also, for example, Kate Moss, who I’ve worked with, has the perfect face for beauty: a heart-shaped face, rosebud pout and almond-shaped eyes. She’s a complete chameleon and can embody so many looks. However, all of these models and celebrities are like you and me. They wake up with the same problems: tired and dehydrated skin, bags etc. They just know the secrets to enhance their assets, which is what my brand is all about: decoding the artistry so that every woman can put their best foot forward in life. Beauty is not an exclusive club. There are no unattractive women, just some that don’t understand the power of makeup.
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Today, the light, colors and energy of Ibiza are still constant sources of inspirations for my work. I always leave Ibiza recharged and full of ideas for new shades, looks and products. I’m also inspired by Helena Rubenstein, Estée Lauder and Coco Chanel – strong, powerful women that paved the way for women to have the access to makeup today. They completely shook the industry. Harry Selfridge was an incredible visionary, too. I love the theater of shopping and retail. It’s like bringing your childhood dreams into a reality.