May 4th, 2016
Georgina Graham is a bit of a maverick. An artist who eagerly ingests as much culture and experience as she can, Georgina’s work has featured in Vogue, i-D and Numéro to name a few, and made up the faces of living legends – Sophia Loren, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni, Jennifer Lopez. Her latest work with KIKO Milano caught our eye, so we took the chance to have a chat about her insatiable appetite for life and make-up.
WP: What is it about make-up that you love?
GG: I am fascinated by the history of make-up – from ancient and golden age cinema to sub culture and street style. Recently I have been exploring the future of beauty with technology and this has been a theme on several shoots for independent magazines and mainstream. I am intrigued from an academic view on woman studies and feminist action how make-up can be transformative, seductive and empowering with a strong cultural impact.
WP: When did you decide you wanted this to be a career rather than a passion or hobby?
GG: Last week I had dinner with a school friend who said that I was playing and talking about make-up when I was a girl at 16 but I don’t remember that. I always thought I was a bit of a late bloomer at school. You should see my pics, like a geek from hell. The actual moment I thought it could be a career was when I left Uni and came back to London. I was backstage as a guest at a McQueen show and I saw Val Garland (but had no idea then who she was) and saw her speaking with her team and I thought ‘that looks like fun and something I would love to try to work towards’. That was the exact moment I saw career possibilities and dreams started to happen.
WP: I’ve read that you have had experience as Beauty Director for magazines – do you think this has helped to set you apart from other artists, as you’ve been on both sides of the job?
GG: Working for magazines has given me a greater insight of the bigger picture; I really understand the vision of the magazine I am asked to work for, how to create and carry out great ideas and have people believe in me enough to carry out my vision for editorial or video. It teaches you how to truly collaborate with the hugely talented photographers, models, stylists, hair dressers, manicurists, set designers to create a beautiful and original set of images. I have been privileged to work with the greatest art directors and editors in the world and I think I am a good team player as a make-up artist and a beauty director. This is an industry where communication and clarity really is everything. I have a motto: fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
WP: Would you say you have a particular trademark or look which you’re known for?
GG: I think that when I am shooting fashion I like to make a woman look as beautiful as I can. I want her to feel her best and the mood depends on the shoot and theme. It may be the very freshest spa-like skin with minimal make-up, or it could be inspired by sub and pop culture icons such as Nina Hagen, Debbie Harry – or even artists such as Tony Oursler or Marilyn Minter who I admire and collaborate with. I think I am a bit of a make-up chameleon in beauty and I try to seamlessly move between high concept and classic beauty. I think it is important to keep trying new ideas and also try to perfect the things that you are good at. I like bits of everything and sometimes it’s capturing the mood and feeling of the moment, being part of the zeitgeist.
WP: What is your favourite genre of make-up and why?
GG: I like it all. What I like is creating images and borrowing aspects from all genres or trying to create something totally new. I can tell you what I don’t like and that is this really heavy foundation and contour trend where girls and women think it’s cool to look like a plastic mannequin. I call it the sex doll look where nothing looks real. I see this look on Instagram and a lot of make-up tutorials. I know people think it is fun but it really creeps me out and equally fascinates me. At times I just want to say ‘here’s a wet flannel love, just wash it off!’
WP: What is the biggest misconception that people have about your job as a MUA?
GG: That it is an easy job. It is a hard slog to get to where you want to get, and even then you may not get there. You have to continually prove that you are good at what you do and consistently create great work. It doesn’t matter what you did last season, it is what you are doing this season. The hours are long; I can’t even tell you how many dinners, weddings, birthdays etc. that I have missed of friends and loved ones because I am away or travelling. There is zero routine in the life of a freelance artist and things change all the time which you have no control over. So this is a job for people who like a spontaneous lifestyle. However I have been all over the world, met some of the most incredible and brilliant people, made some of the best friends I could ever have hoped to meet – and also met plenty of plonkers too! It is the fashion business after all! On a serious note I also happen to love what I do and every day can be equally different, challenging, creative and thrilling. This job is never boring.
WP: What are your trusty kit staples, and what are some of your latest product discoveries?
GG: I look for skin care and make-up products to give the greatest possible instant effect. As my job is editorial, runway, advertising and red carpet, I want those ‘must have’ products that are either multi-functional or long lasting. I am obsessed with Sunday Riley tinted primer which I like to use instead of foundation, because it lasts and makes the skin flawless. I love MAC eye pencils and cream liners. I use KIKO eyeshadows and love their wet and dry formulas. I like Laura Mercier concealers and I love Chanel lipsticks. There are always a couple of Dior mascaras in my kit, and I also like the independent, natural brand RMS – I always have the Living Luminizer and cream eyeshadows with me. I like to mix up luxury brands, niche brands with high street and natural or organic products. My kit is a bit like the contents of my fridge: some things from the supermarket and some things from my posh deli where it costs £15 for a coffee and croissant!
WP: If you hadn’t become a make-up artist, what would you have done?
GG: I would have either worked with food in some capacity, as I love cooking, or I would have tried to become a writer. I am an avid reader and I love the books of Joyce Carol Oates, Siri Hustvedt and Jonathan Franzen.
WP: Whose work inspires you?
GG: That’s a hard question, there are so many we could be here for days. I like to educate myself and dip in to all different genres of film, art, music and youth culture. I am a big fan of Sonic Youth, Patty Smith, Nick Cave, I love the art of Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, Walter de Maria, and the films of Fellini and Andrea Arnold. I don’t know where to take this as there is just so much. I am inspired by my colleagues and co-workers because they push me to improve, to work harder and they want me to do the best I can. I always want more. I am like Augustus Gloop and I don’t want to fall in a chocolate river, but maybe a river of art and culture. I just want to eat it all up. I get major FOMO (fear of missing out) if I miss a great exhibition, show or gig. My greatest make-up artist icon is Lucia Pieroni, who I think just always gets it right and has great taste paired with incredible skill. I also love the boldness, creativity and sense of humour of Aaron de Mey. I love the work of iconic make-up artists such as Serge Lutens, Richard Sharah (David Bowie’s make-up artist) and Barbara Daly (Kubrick’s make-up artist, and Princess Diana’s!)
WP: What advice do you have to the assistants and students who are looking to break into the industry?
GG: Work hard, study, practise and improve your skills all the time. Get inspired from everything out there. Do things. If you haven’t got cash to splash look for other more creative routes, whether it is a walk in the park to look at changing nature or taking advantage of free galleries and museums. Everyone can become a photographer now with iPhones. Now, with easy to use technology and tools such as Instagram, it is easier for people to be their own agents and self promote so they can build an identity, get noticed and hopefully get work for themselves. I am a big fan of technology and the digital world. There are no excuses to not do things. If you have the money then try to support the arts: go to gigs, see dance and theatre. Read books. Books feed imagination. Imagination is a big, big part of creative inspiration.
Remember that no one will work as hard for you as you can work for yourself, so don’t become complacent or lazy even if the competition is fierce or you feel low. Make things happen by getting out there and trying to meet new contacts and people in the industry. Starting out is hard as people expect a lot for free, that is just how it goes in this line of work. We all were there and we are still doing favours and so on. For the real newbies, make sure that you are not being exploited. It can be a fine line between assisting for free (for experience etc.) and then being treated like a slave. There are many things that make-up artists don’t have, such as unions or anywhere to turn for bad behaviour, even when you are successful, so try to make friends in your community and have people you trust who you can talk to.
People who say “it will happen when it happens” should just give up now because it won’t happen when it happens. You need to work your ass off to make it happen. You will have extreme lows and extreme highs and it takes time to develop the armour you need to survive the fashion industry, but I honestly think that if this is your dream you must give it a shot because we have one life only and you can’t live your life thinking ‘what if?’
You can find Georgina’s Instagram here.