You hear so often about the lack of diversity in fashion -how models of color are continually exoticized and fetishized, and there’s the cliched statement that magazine editors still seem to adhere to, that magazines with black models on the cover don’t sell as well. (That theory is eloquently disproven by Constance C.R White in this interview with Index Magazine). But if you’re just a spectator on the surface, you might not realize how many of the fashion industry’s biggest movers and shakers behind the scenes are black. And I’m not talking about Andre Leon Talley (although at 6 feet 7 inches tall, he’s literally the biggest mover and shaker I can think of. I dream of meeting this man someday, seriously. I love me some Andre). I’m talking about Pat McGrath, the genius make up artist with a British and Jamaican heritage.
Born in Northampton, England, McGrath grew up with an eye for beauty and a real passion for fashion. When she was little, her mother took her along when she went shopping for makeup. From this 2003 Time Magazine feature, Fast Forward: The Shape of Things to Come, she reveals that her mother “was always mixing up colors because there wasn’t anything out there for black skin.” McGrath honed her makeup blending skills at art school, and then be working for fashion spreads in i-D and Italian Vogue. According to this awesome interview, her first real gig was on tour with Karen Wheeler from Soul II Soul. (Ooooh, there’s an old school jam I haven’t heard in a minute! Back to Life is one of my forgotten favorites).
Pat McGrath is heralded as an artist, a genius, a creative muse. She has worked extensively with Steven Meisel, and is ranked among the makeup artists whose careers he has helped to shape through a series of iconic Vogue magazine covers, alongside Laura Mercier, FranÃ§ois Nars, and the late, great Kevyn Aucoin. Her eye for color and skill at blending made her a natural for behind-the-scenes cosmetics creation. She helped to create Giorgio Armani’s cosmetic line. Now she’s the Global Color Cosmetics Creative Design Director for Procter & Gamble, and the genius behind the new-and-improved Max Factor.
Pat McGrath has conceptualized makeup for every renowned fashion house in the world, and she’s created outstanding looks for some of the world’s most iconic figures. Oprah wept happy tears after seeing the amazing work Pat did for her American Vogue cover.
She’s known for “creating natural, polished looks” — so sayeth this how-to-use-blush article from the Telegraph, but McGrath has also come up with some of the most innovative makeup looks ever seen. Scroll halfway down this page to see some of her most out-there creations, the exaggerated Joan Crawford brows she created for Galliano and rubber eye makeup she used for Dior in 2003. Pat McGrath culls her inspiration from a wide range of sources, from African tribal tradition to Japanese kabuki makeup to impressionistic art.
Despite her obvious love of vibrant color, Pat McGrath always presents herself as a very basic canvas. She’s typically photographed wearing all-black, and her demeanor is friendly, no-nonsense professional through and through. She reveals a crisp wit in this New York Magazine q & a (I’d vote for Oprah too, Pat)!
Watching the master at work, creating glamorous looks for the likes of Oscar de la Renta, makes me want the entire Max Factor collection. My inner product junkie ached at the sight of those incredible eye shadows. Max Factor has some super hot summer shadows. Serengeti and Rainforest and African Violet are bright and fierce and would look great on bellas with beautiful, deep brown skin tones.
One of the coolest features on the Max Factor website is the Pat’s Looks section, where she reveals step-by-step makeup tips. My personal favorite is the smoky blue and green eye in the Diane Von Furstenberg look. Mouse over each cosmetic and Pat’s detailed instructions pop up, giving a free learning resource for the makeup challenged. That’s all you need to do it yourself, right there. Pat herself admits, a lack of professional training actually worked in her favor. “I broke every rule because I didn’t know what the rules were. And that’s how you learn and come up with new things. Even today, I’m still learning.” She inspires this late-blooming, makeup loving afrobella.
Peep the following Mod TV video montage of her doing the Anna Sui, Gucci, Stella McCartney, John Galliano, and Dolce and Gabbana Paris runway shows. Here, you’ll find more makeup inspiration than I could possibly provide.
I LOVE that Gucci eye, the elongated line looks amazing on Liya Kebede. And the out-there looks she created for John Galliano are to die for. Oh, she’s amazing. As a beauty-obsessed bella, the fact that a woman who looks like me is working behind the scenes to not only create the looks we see on the runway and in magazines, but is actively involved in creating the actual makeup sold in stores, feels reassuring. It gives me bright hope for the future of fashion and the beauty industry. Hats off to Pat McGrath, Afrobella of the Week!