Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prince: The Man, The Music, The Makeup

      Apollonia starred as Prince's love interest in "Purple Rain" and epitomized his vision of beauty.

Anyone born before 1980 probably remembers Prince at the height of his career: Twenty seven years ago, in 1984, he released Purple Rain, an album which far eclipsed its movie version and still rightly tops many Best Albums of All Time lists. The music and videos were as much a visual feast as they were a study in musical genius: Prince broke all the rules back then. To this day, his music and the looks he championed push cultural comfort zones.

At the time of the album's release, I was still forming opinions about my looks, which were morphing constantly under growth spurts and impending puberty.: Images of Christie Brinkley were everywhere. Makeup contracts weren't yet signing models of color; it was considered an event when a magazine put one on its cover. 

Prince's vision of beauty was the opposite of its time: The women in his videos and  movie were all dark-skinned, dark-haired exotic beauties. Their ethnicities were something you couldn't quite put your finger on. There was something controversial about Prince's virtual harem of women (he'd take them under his wing, give them a stage name, and essentially become their Svengali): Vanity, Apollonia, Sheila E, Sheena Easton, and even Carmen Electra all had their images built under his influence. He even did a song Cindy C., dedicated to supermodel Cindy Crawford. She once said she understood that song wasn't about her, but about what he saw when he looked at her pictures.

Prince's music is still seared in my collective 80s memory. As time has gone on and no one has come along to duplicate him, I appreciate him more and more. Brilliance often teeters close to the edge of insanity: When he renamed himself as an unpronounceable symbol, people were officially diagnosing him with stuff (it was later revealed to be a protest of the practices of music labels). Aside from his musical talent, I appreciate that he went against the grain in his idea of beauty and pushed an image that pop culture wasn't promoting at the time. No, it's not the only standard of beauty, but it's another standard of beauty and helped one little girl know that it was out there.

As an artist, sometimes your purpose is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Prince did both in a way that was both brilliant and enduring.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Erica Carr: A Beautiful Mind

I first met Erica Carr in a closet, of all places.We were both working at the Make Up For Ever booth during The Makeup Show in New York City last Spring.

Sometimes, being composed and quiet is what makes you stand out the most. A closet has a great way of amplifying who we really are. Erica was a model of efficiency, hard work, and composure the entire time. She was also extremely pleasant and down to earth, no matter how stressful things became. Unlike some of the other volunteers, she understood this was a team effort and acted in a way that was supportive of everyone.

Many of us exchanged contact information or business cards after the weekend. One day I realized Erica had "liked" my makeup page on Facebook, and I friend requested her. That's when I realized she's a business owner, running a hair and makeup salon, Erica Carr Makeup and Hair Studio, in the San Francisco area. She is currently booked out until 2013 with work. Her success doing weddings in Hawaii is so big, she's now working on opening a second studio on location.

I was initially surprised that she owned her own business, because I'd pegged her for many years younger than she is. When I thought back to the makeup event, it really didn't surprise me: Someone who works that efficiently and that hard applies the same ethic to her life.

"I'm very organized; I have more binders than you can imagine," she said with a laugh.

Like many who've made it in a creative field, Erica's story is unconventional and a little convoluted, but it maintains a few common themes: She's followed her instincts throughout her life, when things seemed good and bad, and it's opened new opportunities for her. She creates her own opportunities by always thinking in new ways, acting upon ideas, and being persistent. To this day, she is always open to learning more about her craft, flying herself out to take hair and makeup courses, taking any opportunity to be around creative people and learning from them.  As much as her portfolio and status has grown in her 20-plus years in the business, she still doesn't hesitate to roll up her sleeves and do the grunt work.

"I've had people who want to work for me, then are put out when I ask them to wash brushes," Erica said. She is happy to help out others, but is frustrated when their interest lies more in bypassing the dues-paying portion of their careers.

Erica has paid her dues and then some. She's built a professional relationship and friendship with high-fashion makeup artist, James Vincent, who offered her a chance to work at New York Fashion Week, an opportunity she jumped at even though it scared her. Mainly, James just believes in her - enough so that when he couldn't cover a makeup job for a music video, he sent Erica in to replace him. Being in situations that scare her and pushing through has been the critical point of growth for her professionally.

Besides doing bridal and fashion work, Erica also runs classes out of her studio and does online tutorials for Beauty Bridge. For more information about her and to see her work, please visit

A few additional tips in her own words:

Fake it 'til you make it: "When I was doing Fashion Week, I was frightened. I was sure I was going to fail. I was working around big-name makeup artists who were represented by agencies. (I got through) by focusing on what I know and asking questions when I didn't know something."

Reach out to people; the worst that can happen is they say no. “A lot of hairdressers are big talkers and not so much sharers of my information. Hairdressers can be drama. Makeup artists are more nurturing because they get so excited about their art. If someone’s like, 'How did you do that?' they’re happy to talk about it. I've also met makeup artists and admired their work only to be turned away and be ignored."

Don't take things personally and focus on what a situation teaches you: “You always have to stay very positive and find what motivates you. Stick to being positive when it comes to any situation. If it’s a bridezilla you're dealing with, don’t take it personally. Take classes from quality people. Never think you know it all. People  told me that I was a horrible artist when I was in eighth grade. I was pulled into the principal’s office and told I shouldn’t pursue art. No matter what people say, ignore and move forward."

Stay close to what you love, no matter how risky it feels: "Always surround yourself with people in the field you want to work in. I walked away from benefits and guarantees (that come with a day job):  I knew if I had to go back, I had the skills to go back. Always trust your gut. It will never lie.”

A few examples of Erica's work below:

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Collective Letter to the Cosmetic Brands

1.) We don't ever use those cosmetic brushes you put in the palettes and blushes. No matter how great the product, these are always designed cheaply and as if we're putting makeup on a Barbie. I once read someone found a use for one as a keyboard brush. Otherwise, we literally never use them.

2.) Limited Edition is a nice psychological ploy to get consumers to think your products are special, rare, and soon to be extinct. The game has become so excessive that it's tiring the consumer. A makeup brand shouldn't throw out a Limited Edition collection more than a couple times a year, and the focus should be on truly creative products that are being market tested. To just see recycled shades or everyday shades is baffling and makes the brand seem out of good ideas.

3.) Relate to your consumer not as a beast you feed, but as the sounding board that feeds you. The smartest brands right now are communicating with the consumers as if chatting with a girlfriend: They're seeking feedback, listening to the good and the bad, and making changes as a result. Milani, for example, doesn't advertise - but they do frequent giveaways and have generated buzz the way a good makeup brand does: word of mouth. Your best advertisement is a satisfied customer. It is not a highly paid celebrity spokesperson or model.

4.) The marker of a successful cosmetic brand - in an ever tougher game - is one that keeps a groundwork of quality products but is always feeling the pulse of consumer tastes.Women's ideas about makeup are constantly changing; a brand needs to morph as much as it needs to stay the same. It's a hard line to walk, but it can be done. The crazes right now are high-definition, long-wearing, baked: These are all terms we never heard of 10 years ago, yet there is an increasing appetite for these products.

5.) Keep your prices in check: As drugstore brands up their game, the consumer has been tipped off that you don't need an expensive product to get a quality product. It truly didn't used to be this way. Then the line of demarcation between drugstore and department store became almost imperceptible. This won't eliminate high-end cosmetics, but it means they'll need to play harder to keep their prices justifiable. The high-end brands that will feel a bad economy the most are the ones who rest on their laurels.

6.) What high-end cosmetics are still getting that drugstore brands don't is foundation: Perhaps yellow undertones are harder to manufacture cheaply, but I'm amazed that their color selections and shade undertones are so limited still. Save two brands, Revlon and L'Oreal True Match, the remaining drugstore brands are still stuck somewhere in the mid-1990s.

7.) If there was a makeup version of fantasy football, here's who I'd want on my team: Milani and Inglot. I think these are two relatively unknowns that are about to explode in popularity. The reason boils down to product quality and price point. The brands have nailed it both ways. Something about the way Milani has conducted its public relations, its new launches, and its old standbys give every indication this brand just gets it. They get the consumer's mind and they respond to it.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the brands mentioned and didn't receive anything from them in exchange for endorsement. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Finding Use for a "Hated" Product

I bought Urban Decay's eyeshadow primer in Eden when it was touted as a primer and concealer in one. Riding high on many recent happy purchases, I assumed this one would fall in the same category.

The problem with Eden primer potion is your skin tone needs to be almost exactly the pale yellow shade of it for it to blend well: Otherwise, it makes your eyes look like they're coming down with jaundice.

This isn't a total fail for Urban Decay: I should've looked more at what the color is and tested it at Sephora. I kept the product, thinking it would work on lighter skinned people I'd do makeup on. When I tried it on a few different Caucasian skintones and they looked just as scary, I just decided it was a universal fail.

One day I had a thought: The product is opaque, yellow-based, and it's made to not crease and to last. Yep, I painted my walls with it. No, kidding aside, I tried it as an undereye concealer. It works beautifully under the eyes, when just a few degrees higher on the face, it's literally disturbing.

The lesson is if you have a product you hate that you can't return, consider some of its properties and if it could have another makeup use. For me, what I hated it on the eyelids I wanted on my undereye area: coverage and opacity.. At the very least, you won't feel like you wasted your money. At best, you may have a turnaround on your opinion of the product.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Embarking on a Makeup No-Buy: Why, What, and How

At the end of August, I decided to stop buying makeup and started what many know as a makeup no-buy. It's exactly as spartan as it sounds: You banish yourself from makeup counters or the makeup aisles of drugstores. Or you learn to window shop really well.

The timeframe I decided on: Six months. Yes, half a year. Why that long? I did an honest assessment of my makeup collection and estimated that's how long it will take to make a real dent in it. I don't own a lot of makeup by many people's standards, but I have enough to last me that long. I have eyeshadows in every shade imaginable; I have six (yes, six) foundations; I have lipsticks and lipstick palettes to carry me through the next two seasons. If I'm being really honest with myself, I don't need more for a long time.

My mindset had also hit a place where more just felt excessive: A lot of people are motivated to enter a no-buy as a last-ditch effort to curb their urge to spend. But I think it's important that your mind be in a place where you don't want more. I can watch collection videos, new releases, and cruise Sephora without feeling any twinge of deprivation.

Will I succeed or fail? I don't know for sure, and I'm not preoccupied with it. For me, the reality check is the coming-down feeling I usually have after I bought a product I didn't really need. When I feel the urge to spend on a hyped product, I'll channel that emotion and let the feeling pass. My mother is an example of the other extreme: She uses makeup long after the shelf life has expired. I'm still scarred by memories of a Mary Kay skincare collection that lasted through the whole Reagan era and a few years into the Clinton term. I'll take a little bit of her makeup modus operandi and use that to help me get through.

As for reviews, I have tons of items I can review that I've been meaning to get to. This no-buy is also motivated in part by forcing myself to focus on what I have and write the product reviews I've been long meaning to write.

This is not my normal mindset, so that's how I know I'm saturated. Makeup love isn't always expressed by continuing to buy and collect: It has a lot to do with appreciating what you have and really getting use out of it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Current Favorites

Favorite products probably won't be a regular part of my blog, but there are some items I continue to reach for lately and thought I'd give them a quick nod. As a disclaimer, I have no affiliation with any brand, so these are my unsolicited raves.

Make Up For Ever's Liquid Lift Foundation: This is a lesser known foundation by the brand, but once I tried it, I wondered why it doesn't get more attention. Don't be thrown off by the name (if you're young): The finish is simply radiant and undetectable, which is a desired effect no matter what your age.

Urban Decay's Naked Palette: Yes, this product gets a ton of kudos and hype, but I wanted to add that my love for it hasn't worn off in nearly the year that I've owned it. I've used it virtually every day and only recently hit pan on one shadow. The colors are imaginative, unique, and yet wearable. For anyone who still questions if it's worth the money, it truly is.

Milani Baked Blush is Luminoso: This is the most delicate baby pink that still shows up on your cheeks. The whole Milani blush line is fantastic and affordable. It deserves more recognition than it gets and is better quality than many high-end blushes I've used.

CeraVe facial moisturizing lotion: For $12, this product packs a considerable punch: SPF protection and a number of moisture binding qualities using hyaluronic acid and cermides. The ingredients both protect the moisture barrier of the skin and pull moisture from the air to the skin. The line is available at most drugstores.

Make Up For Ever's Aqua Smoky Lash: I've heard repeatedly that the waterproof version dries out quickly, but it hasn't on me. It's one high end mascara that has delivered: It grabs small lashes and adds considerable length and volume.

Coty Airspun loose face powder in Translucent: This is an oldie but goodie and brings me back to my teen years when I was first trying makeup. The powder works great at setting makeup and has a finely-milled texture that doesn't cake on skin or settle into fine lines.

NYX Mega Shine Lip Gloss in Natural: The whole Mega Shine collection is great, but this shade is the perfect nude and looks more high-end on the lips than it is. Its glossy finish is subtle enough to keep the look refined without being bland or flat.

Victoria's Secret perfume in Heavenly: My biggest pet peeve with fragrance is it's phased out seasonally, so a line that stays gains points for that alone. This fragrance smells on me exactly like it does straight from the bottle, meaning it doesn't morph with my body chemistry. It's elegant, slightly powdery, and ageless: A teenager or an older woman could wear it, and it would totally suit her. It smells much more expensive than it is.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How I Contour and Highlight: A New Spin on the Old Technique

                                                The technique applied on myself

Contouring and highlighting are makeup's gift to women: Done well, it can give the face all the right definition. The trick isn't to try to redefine the face but to work with the natural bone structure and accentuate it. I don't personally like powder or matte bronzers for contouring; I don't think they give enough definition. What I use is a stick foundation in shades much darker and lighter than my natural complexion. My current product of choice Make Up For Ever's Pan Stick: The rich pigmention, creamy formula, and wide application work well for both contouring and highlighting.

I hit the places that many have seen in Kevyn Aucoin books or tutorials: The contour shade is run along the underside of the cheekbones, along the jawline, along the sides of the nose and at the tip in a V-shape, at the sides of the forehead, along the underside of the lower lip and under the base of the nose. The highlight shade is run along the tops of the cheekbones, along the top of the nose, along the area of the jaw between the jawline and under the cheekbones.

It sounds very tricky, but with practice, this technique takes no more than a couple minutes. Yes, by the time you're done, you'll truly look like you're preparing for war or a football game. But the finished product is well worth it.

The problem I had for a while was the common trick of blending out the shades with foundation: Foundation is meant to cover, so I often found it erased much of the shading and highlighting. What I started doing was applying foundation first, then contouring/highlighting and lightly blending out with a dampened makeup sponge or stippling brush without any makeup on it. This blends out the harsh lines without erasing the desired effect.

The photos above show Nicole before and after this technique was applied. Again, the effect is subtle but gives noticeable definition to the face.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Biggest Makeup Challenge

                                               The finished product (or part of it)

One of my first clients was someone I never pictured: A very masculine-looking man in his late 20s. He found my page on the Internet and reached out initially with an e-mail account using a female pseudonym.

Once I realized he was a man, my main concern had nothing to do with gender identity: It was with my own abilities. In all my years of practice with makeup, I'd never considered the techniques of how do makeup on a man.

There were added challenges: He didn't want to appear drag in any way. If you scan video tutorials, many male makeup looks are drag queen or essentially a look that's a parody of a woman. Nor did he want the Jared Leto guyliner look.

Ava (certain identifying details are changed) is someone who truly thinks he was born in the wrong body. He identifies with being female much more strongly than being male, but he's facing certain realities: Transgender surgery is extremely expensive, time-consuming, and painful. He's also approaching the age where his masculinity is becoming more pronounced: facial and body hair are becoming harder to tame; if he gains weight or muscle, it goes in all the traditionally "male places," such as the torso and shoulders. In other words, his testosterone is growing along with his desire to be a woman.

When I finally met Ava, I was overwhelmed at the task before me: His features and bone structure are a series of sharp angles and undeniably male. There was no unisex quality to his face or body. As a former high school athlete who continues to train, he's a handsome all-American jock. Even though he'd shaved a couple times that day, a strong outline of facial hair was apparent, as if taunting my plans.

As we spoke, I scanned his face, trying to figure out how to feminize each feature - the bushy brows, the pronounced jawline.. The other trick was Ava couldn't be altered in any way that would affect his everyday appearance, so I couldn't wax or pluck anything.

What I thought about the most in preparation and as I did his makeup was what makes a face feminine. Ironically, doing a man's makeup made me appreciate female beauty even more.

Here are the main components of a traditionally feminine face:

1. Our eyes and lips naturally have a stronger color contrast against the rest of our face than a man's do: This is perhaps why the smokey eye is so enduring in its popularity, as it plays on that contrast. This also explains our love for lipstick.

2. Our cheekbones are higher and more pronounced, which also explains our fascination with contouring and highlighting.

3. Our lips our generally fuller, which is due in part to estrogen levels: This is why full lips are often associated with youthful femininity. As we age, our lips naturally lose their fullness.

The longest part was covering his facial stubble: I've learned that taking an orange lipstick and brushing it along any dark areas will color correct this darkness. I actually broke a sweat while doing his makeup. Was I personally happy with my work? I wish I'd brought a kit to cover his brows and draw in more arched, slender ones. I wish I'd gone for broke on the eye makeup. His masculinity allowed for the excess I normally shy away from.

Most important was that Ava seemed happy with the final product. Despite the misnomers, I was reminded that makeup can sometimes bring out the truth and make us feel like more of ourselves.