October 26th, 2015
Kelly Cornwell is an artist of many talents – graduate turned National MUA for Space NK, magazine Beauty Director turned red carpet and editorial goddess. Her leaps forward in the industry, leaving a trail of stunning images in her wake, have her in high demand by both celebrities and magazine heavyweights. And – even better – it’s her birthday today. Happy Birthday Kelly!
WP: What first sparked your interest in make-up?
KC: I think it was probably my mum. She used to always buy Vogue, and this was back when it was all very couture, there were no high street pages. It was all very high end, very glamourous; it was like a different world. And my mum always wore make-up, she still won’t leave the house without some make-up on, without a bit of lipstick. So in that sense, it was always around me. I used to love those No7 Bronzing Balls – you know the ones that were all glittery, and they used to break up and get crushed in the carpet? Then when I was getting older and listening to talks about what we’d do when we’re leaving school, I saw a leaflet for the London College of Fashion. And I thought that would be exciting – the prospect of travelling into London, of being based on Oxford Street, in that buzz, every day.
WP: Why did you choose the LCF to train at?
KC: Because it was based in London, and I liked the idea of being at a college that focused on fashion make-up rather than trying to cover everything. I like to be free, to be able to experiment – I used to meet up with friends who had jobs in offices, and I just hated the idea of it. I love the excitement of getting a call where someone’s asking if you can get on a plane tomorrow – even if it can be a bit hectic!
I studied Fashion Styling for Hair and Make-up, although I’m not even sure if they do the same course any more. And make-up was actually quite a small part of the course; we used to have a three hour lesson on a Friday afternoon. The rest of it was the science behind the cosmetics, the hair, the history of fashion – and this is back when there was no internet! You had to learn it, so that if someone said ‘I want a Madonna eyebrow’, or a Louise Brooks lip, you knew what they were referencing. You had to research, and read, and learn it – you couldn’t just whip out your phone and Google it! Sometimes I still get caught out, and I’ll have to look something up, but it was about putting in that groundwork. The [LCF] library was amazing, they had copies of Vogue all the way back to day one. I was there for two years and came out with my National Diploma.
When I booked my first job I thought I knew everything – and I really didn’t! On my first shoot I knew nothing, the shoot environment is totally different to what I knew or was expecting. I think 60% of this job is people skills. With any client, any job, if you get their trust then you can probably convince them to do anything – even if they think they don’t suit it, or they’re unsure, if they trust you they will try it. You need to communicate, and you need to get them on your side. Then it’s 40% make-up and your skills.
WP: How did you make the transition from graduate to Space NK’s National MUA? What was the biggest lesson you learned in that role, so early in your career?
KC: At the time I didn’t know what Space NK was – there were only a couple of stores in London, it wasn’t anything like what it is now. I remember I went into the Liverpool Street store, I was on my way to meet friends and I just stumbled across it. And after looking round, I asked if they were hiring – the next day I brought my CV in and Nicky [Kinnaird] interviewed me. I didn’t know who she was, but she liked me and she was like ‘Can you start Monday?’, when they were opening in Harvey Nichols. And it just went from there. I knew I didn’t want to do all week, so I’d do three or four days a week in the store and I’d take other make-up jobs on my days off. Back then it was so small that I could still change my days around fairly easily so I could take jobs, and Nicky really encouraged that side too. They started working with Dowal Walker, who were happy to try anything, and I’d do events with them. And we had a great relationship – I worked there for about eight years, on and off. It changed when the brand started to get a lot bigger, and it wasn’t so easy for me to change my schedule as I needed to.
Then Nicky got Linda Cantello’s number, and told her that she should really use me if she ever needed someone. And she called me up, she had a Calvin Klein shoot for a week – and that was when I knew I had to move on. I was with Linda for two years.
I really learned how to deal with people in that role, and how to use products – and by that I mean… when you can make a normal, an everyday person look and feel great, then working with a model with great features is plain sailing. I got to work with a real variety of brands too, that was brilliant. The customers were ideal canvases to learn from, to try things out on and to really learn speed on. Being able to work fast is such a valuable skill, and customers don’t want to sit in a chair for ages if they’re just trying something on. It was a great learning curve. I also managed to build up a nice little kit from the testers they had in the stores. It comes back to that idea of putting in the groundwork – you could throw anything at me now and I’d be able to handle it, because of that grounding and experience.
WP: Why did you gravitate towards editorial/fashion make-up? What is it about these genres that you love?
KC: The whole glamour of it, really. Its hard work, but you do get looked after well – I call it the Instagram life. You might have worked a 22 hour day and had no sleep, but you’re on a beautiful island or an amazing location and it looks fabulous. It is hard work though. But I wouldn’t want to do anything else – I wouldn’t like to have to worry about continuity for six months on a film. With this work you might pull a 20 hour day, but then you’re done and you can see the results straight away. I get to work with really interesting people, but I’m constantly moving on. I don’t think you can have as much of a life when you’re locked into a film for months, it must be really hard to hold down a life with kids and stuff.
WP: Having worked as the Beauty Director for Wonderland, do you come to editorial jobs from a different or dual perspective now?
KC: No, not really – the only difference is that I have to bite my lip more, because someone else is in charge. With Wonderland I would pick the team, cast the model, design the looks, the whole feel of the shoot was my call. So when there’s another Beauty Director I have to step back a bit; obviously I still contribute, but we work together. Before, the concepts were all my ideas which I would then take and work with all these creative people. Now I’m given a brief again, so it’s different. I’ve always looked at the images – so I know straight away what’s working. It’s a team look – on a shoot I did with Simon Emmett, if he hadn’t thought to light it in a particular way then we wouldn’t have captured the lashes of the look so well. It’s always a team effort.
WP: We get a lot of entrants to our Editorial make-up competitions, where they are judged on both how their make-up appears in person and on a screen after being photographed. Do you have any tips/advice on how to create great looks for the camera?
KC: When you get there really look at the clothes first. There will already be a ‘look’ which you can build on. Come up with a story for who she is, almost like a character. If you go by that, then pick a look or a design which suits the model – it’s always a good idea to have a look at a girl’s books to see what suits her. If you’re going to make a statement then make one, don’t be afraid to push it. Do all or nothing, because otherwise the look won’t come across properly. And sometimes it’s having the practice and the confidence to not do everything – that’s something Linda taught me. This was back in the ‘90s when looks were quite minimalist, and you had to be confident enough not to over-do it.
Beauty shoots are great because they’re a platform where you can really prove your skills, you can show what you can do. My advice would be to avoid HD powder! It’s fine on a moving screen, on a moving person, but not with flash photography. You can’t see it to the eye, but they will pick it up. All those pictures of celebs with white under their eyes? Just use something else.
WP: Speaking of products, what are your make-up kit must haves? What products do you always go back to, and what are your latest discoveries?
KC: I’ve used the Bobbi Brown BBU stick palette for at least ten years – I use it on everyone, it’s a real staple. The Shu Uemura eyelash curlers are as well. And I love the Elemis Pro-Collagen Hydra-Gel Eye Masks, because no matter who or what I’m working on I always prep the skin thoroughly, and I put these patches on. It helps to make the client or model feel great, and they can stay on while the hair is being done. I always stock up on MAC Blotting Powder, to avoid any HD powder problems; it just takes the shine away. I also really love the Aerin Lauder Multi-Colour for Lips and Cheeks, it’s like this rosy cream blush.
The Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask is amazing for prepping the skin because it brings all the blood up to the surface of the skin, makes it look really plumped and youthful. Then I’ll use the Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream as a base for the face. For the body I always use MAC Face and Body to even out colour on the arms and legs, and you never have to worry about it coming off on the clothes. God, that’s always a nightmare. So that’s definitely one for the red carpet.
At the moment I really like the La Prairie under eye concealer – usually I use the Givenchy Mister Light. I’m also liking the newest Clarins lip balms, they have a subtle tint of colour. Sometimes it’s hard to branch out from your staples because you don’t know how they’ll work. You don’t want to try a brand new product on highly photographed clients or a big job in case they don’t work! But you can always rely on things like the Chanel Christmas collection, they’re always good. Peter Philips did such a great job there, I really noticed a difference after he updated the eyeshadow formulas. They really went up in terms of colour and pigment. The Les Beiges range is so good for contouring, without looking heavy or obvious.
WP: Your Instagram is a treasure-trove of inspiration and wanderlust-inspiring travels! What are your thoughts on social media and how make-up artists can advertise themselves and connect with each other through these channels?
KC: I’m quite old school, so it took me quite a long time to get on board with the whole social media thing – I’m not one to ask someone for a selfie! [Laughs] I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’m from a generation where you don’t really talk about what you’ve been doing. I think it’s very easy to get insecure with it – we all do! It’s that Instagram world I mentioned, where you see what other people are doing and get worried that you’re not doing as much as them. But don’t – don’t feel insecure and thinking they’re working and you’re not.
I’m starting to get more and more used to it all. It’s a very personal thing – Linda doesn’t use Instagram or anything, for example, but Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury do and they’re huge on there. I just realised you’ve got to embrace it – people are being discovered and being given contracts because of their profiles and their huge numbers of followers. I do think it’s a great way to follow people you’re interested in, and to be inspired, but to remember that it’s not always as it seems. Don’t get paranoid or insecure in yourself because of what others seem to be doing.
WP: You’ve worked with a host of famous faces for editorial and red carpet events etc. Do you have any advice on how to work with a client to achieve a look you’re both happy with?
KC: It’s like I said before, it’s all about getting their trust – and asking questions. People don’t ask nearly enough questions these days. Things like ‘Do you know if you have any allergies?’ Because the last thing you want them to do is to break out in a rash on the red carpet! That’s why we carry so many types of foundations with us, not just shades – I always think three is enough to cover just about everyone. If you just take one foundation formula, what are you going to do if they’re allergic to something in it?
I asked a new client if they liked having eyeliner in the lower lashline and waterline, and she was so surprised. It’s worth asking because some people have eyes which just run when you do that, and it turned out that theirs did too, but no-one had ever taken the time to ask her that. Generally people just do it, and then they have to backtrack and un-do it. But if they’re someone who has their make-up done a lot then they know what works for them. You should work together, and that way they’ll trust you. Some people have their own look, and they like to stick to it. It’s always best to work step-by-step and slowly build up the look together. Take a confident approach, but ask lots of questions.
WP: Having worked with some of the best designers/photographers/publications in the business, what’s the next big ‘tick’ you’re working towards on your career checklist?
KC: Probably working with a make-up brand to develop products. At Space NK I learnt a lot about textures and formulas and brands. I don’t want my own range necessarily, I don’t think I could bring something new to the table, but I would love to work directly with a brand and to go into their lab. While I was at Space NK, Laura Mercier came in herself to train me and I still use some of the tips she gave me. You never stop learning in this job, you’re always looking to go forward.
WP: What does the rest of 2015 hold for you?
KC: Lots of press junkets, lots of travel – it’s busy! November and December are already filling up. I have a lot of work coming up with Alicia Vikander, with all of the premieres for The Danish Girl. I’ve worked with her for a while, she’s amazing – she’s a force of nature! So I’ll be busy with her because she’s in a lot of stuff that’s coming up. And I also want to build in plenty of time with my new horse, who is simply gorgeous! We all need our reality checks – I’ve got the kids, the partner, the dog and now the horse. I think it’s so important to build in that therapeutic ‘away time’.