my love/hate relationship with foundation

The makeup artist I am today is completely reliant on the happy accident of working for Laura Mercier cosmetics for eight years and being fortunate enough to work personally with Laura. I joke that I used to “stalk” her; before I had my kids, I used to plan my NYC trips to visit my family around Laura’s personal appearance schedule. I would just show up at Bergdorf’s , Bendels, Saks, and start working. (Okay, so my regional pulled some strings first)I ended up doing over a dozen events with her this way. I remember one day at Bendel’s, nobody showed up. To see makeup artist extraordinaire Laura Mercier-! But so much of their traffic is tourists and actual natives are pretty jaded about all these celebrity makeup artists. It’s like every other day you have Trish McEvoy or Bobbi Brown traipsing through so you are pretty unimpressed by it all. So anyway, Laura spent the whole day giving us an inpromptu training session right there on the sales floor. She certainly could have packed up and gone home instead, but she answered every question we had, did demos on all of us, and imparted her wisdom.

For those of you unfamiliar with her background, Laura trained as a painter in Paris before going into makeup. She came to New York to launch American Elle with Steven Meisel and her career pretty much exploded after that. She created most of Madonna’s most iconic looks and has done countless magazine covers and editorials. I read a column she had in Allure many years ago, and became such a fan.At that time she was doing so many covers that I could actually spot her work before checking the credits in the magazine. When her line came to Cincinnati Saks, I interviewed to launch it there, and Laura did two personal appearances at our store during my tenure. (Unfortunately one visit was the exact day I gave birth to my third child, so I missed her-!)

In the very early days of Laura Mercier Cosmetics, we were a tiny little company. We had virtually no training, but we did have national makeup artists travel in for events who had all been trained by the master. But it wasn’t until I worked personally with Laura in Chicago for the forst time that I really “got” her technique. She is very hands on with her artists, and for 75% of the day she kept murmuring to me “too much coverage” (in her wonderful French accent, which I take great delight in butchering when I attempt it) She repeatedly told clients that they didn’t really need foundation. Wait-isn’t this retail? Aren’t we supposed to take this client for all she’s worth?

Finally at the end of the day, she took me aside and told me she was very pleased with my work and she loved how I had mastered “the flawless face”. Laura’s philosophy when her line launched was pretty revolutionary; she was the very first to have a primer; she had found on photo shoots that what a model wore under her makeup directly affected how the makeup looked and lasted on the skin, so, like the painter she is. she concluded that there should be a primer coat underneath the foundation. After all, you wouldn’t paint a piece of raw wood without priming-all the paint would keep sinking in and you would use too much product. She created a very highly pigmented foundation so that she could apply a super sheer layer but still get amazing coverage. She followed this with a thick, pigmented camouflage cream to painstakingly feather over each little flaw. (maybe not for everyone, but for us perfectionists, it was a dream)

This entire story is the illustrate the frustration I feel when I see makeup artists treat foundation like spackling or a mask. I have seen some of the most gorgeous women have their features obliterated by a thick layer of makeup. I met a woman on Saturday who had so much makeup on that you couldn’t even determine her ethnicity. (She had her makeup done at Bridalrama) I removed her makeup and realized how beautiful she was and how amazing her skin looked. Why would anyone put that much makeup on a luminous, even skin? I guess that is why I have had so much trouble jumping on the airbrush bandwagon. I tried-I took a class in NYC and invested a ton of money in equipment-but it doesn’t feel like my medium. I don’t feel painterly. I even felt like I was trying to take the easy way out, shooting a layer over the whole face instead of tackling each flaw with a teeny brush. I don’t love how it looks or feels on the skin, no matter how I try.

Obviously this is a topic that hits a nerve with me, but I just wanted to share my philosophy with those of you patient enough to get through my manifesto! I do have a lot of clients inquire about airbrush and I just figured it was time to put this out there.

Happy Monday, y’all!

February 2, 2009

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  1. Melaina25 says:

    I feel ya Nance. I was watching Rock of Love Bus last night (don’t judge) and there is an African American girl, but she either piles on the foundation or she wears ivory foundation and it looks soo unattrative!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Funny I should read this blog entry today. I was just walking through a department store here in Lyon (France) and thought of you as I walked past the Laura Mercier counter. For me, it’s impossible not to associate Laura Mercier with YOU!

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