July 2nd, 2014
We love British brand Illamasqua for its no-holds-barred creativity towards make-up. It’s definitely a brand to play, be inventive and experiment with – which is why we were excited to sit down with Spob O’Brien, the Head of Professional Development for Illamasqua.
Spob’s journey started, as so many do, by playing with her mother’s make-up as a child. “My Mum would throw dinner parties in the ‘70s and I loved seeing everyone all dressed up for the evening,” she explained. Her friends would give me their old make-up and loved the pretty boxes. It was years later that I found out about hair and beauty colleges.” That brief insight into the world of colour and cosmetics was enough to ignite a passion within her that still burns bright and insatiable today.
Gaining a fiercely competitive place on a course at Thanet Technical College, which became East Kent College, was the real beginning of Spob’s journey as an MUA, and it was an experience which indubitably shaped her and her work today. “We had to attend five days a week from 9am to 5pm, with two or three late evenings till 8pm,” she recalled. “We consistently took exams – and if you failed you had to leave.” This unforgiving set-up spurred her on, pushing her to be more inventive and competitive. “At the start of the three year course, there were three classes with 65 students in total. By the end of the three years there were only 14 of us left. Every day I use something from that course. Sadly, it no longer exists.”
While at college she was inspired yet again, this time by Ron Freeman from The Royal Opera House, who came to give a talk. “I couldn’t believe what he was talking about – a magical world. You have to remember, this was way before the days of the Internet, and you had to go to a local library for information! Anyway, Ron allowed me to visit him at The Royal Opera House – and as they say, the rest was history.” The world of theatre beckoned, and Spob went on to work as a job as a junior at Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
“I worked in theatre for years and still miss the sound of the audience arriving. I have always loved being part of a large team, and that lead to [working on] films and commercials.” The transition from stage to screen has resulted in some incredible opportunities for Spob – from commercials for the likes of IKEA, Hovis, Heineken and Sky Movies, to behind the scenes of some of the biggest films: Rush, The King’s Speech, United 93, Brideshead Revisisted – not to mention working on the Oscar-winning, mind-bending thriller Inception, which has been one of her career highlights; “It has to be my favourite film to work on to date, as it was all so top secret and a real challenge working in difference time levels on the script, and zero gravity on set.”
So what drew this free spirit to Illamasqua? Turns out it was simple. “Julian Kynaston [founder of Illamasqua]. He sent out his research team to ask questions within the industry, and he liked my answers. From this he brought me into his research team to dissect products one by one. As Head of Professional Development, I work closely with the pro world, investigating what the pro artist wants and needs from make-up. Then I also train the Illamasqua Art team on Art, History and the creative world, such as films; and I work closely with colleges and the development of courses, kits and their students into the industry.”
She’s currently addicted to using the Illamasqua’s Hydra Veil, Matte Veil and Skinbases – “They give a wonderful flawless skin for on camera!” – and always relies on Illamasqua Pressed Powder in 010 and Layrite Hair Pomade to be in her kit for emergencies. Spob has also been busy co-editing and promoting this year’s breakthrough text The Art of Male Make-up with David Horne and Mark Bowles. With such a varied career, she was hard-pressed to pick a highlight; “It has all been a highlight,” she admitted, “and with more to come. Next year I celebrating 30 years in an industry I truly love.” But that doesn’t mean she’s resting on her laurels! She has a certain goal in mind which she’s yet to achieve. When asked if there was a person or brand she’d still like to work with, Spob instantly replied, “It’s an art institute. I would love to do research and work with the V&A and The British Museum, as I have so much more research to build on in my education programmes – watch this space!”
Through her role with Illamasqua, Spob knows exactly how difficult it can be to be a budding new artists trying to break into the big time, and she had some advice to share for those who are looking to set yourself apart from the rest, and help you make the leap to the big leagues: “Be kind, honest, smile, help each other and never give up. It is all about teamwork, and in film and TV we all offer each other help and guidance. Do join BECTU, as there is so much help there when you are starting out and they have great networking events. You need to be protected and understand how this industry works.”
Before we wrapped up, we wanted to know what sort of trends and products we should be on the look-out for, to which she replied in a way which completely reflects the creative and expressive company which she calls home. “The format that I work in isn’t geared by trends. If you are reading this as a hair and make-up artist – set your own. If you are reading this as a make-up fan – never be scared just have fun with make-up, you can always wash it off and start again. Make-up what you want.”