Charlotte Tilbury $34
The makeup artist and entrepreneur on bringing glamour, innovation,
and trade secrets to the masses.
Written By JACK SUNNUCKS
Photography By NAJ JAMAÏ
Makeup ByCHARLOTTE TILBURY
Hair BySIOBHAN BENSON
In this series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to the makeup artist who used twenty-plus years of industry experience to found her own empire.
“My mother always said of me, ‘She’s a redhead, darling, and they’ve got loads of energy,’” laughs the saucy, auburn-maned British makeup artist and entrepreneur Charlotte Tilbury. Her mother was right. Tilbury, who is all brains, beauty, and fabulousness, is not only one of the most sought-after artists in her field, she is also the mastermind behind her eponymous beauty brand, which launched in 2013. Plus a wife and a mother of two—God bless her stamina, because that is what fuels her ever-expanding empire.
Tilbury—whose portfolio includes myriad Vogue covers; campaigns for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tom Ford, among others; and countless red carpet looks (including Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Penelope Cruz)—explains why on earth she endeavored to join an already oversaturated marketplace. “I saw a white space, and it was really about [learning how to] bring out your best features. [Growing up], I was this red-headed girl with fair eyelashes, and I looked a bit like Boris Becker without any makeup on,” she chortles. “I can remember sitting [at makeup counters] in department stores when I was younger and wishing that the number-one makeup artist in the world would come to me and say, ‘You know what? For your eyes, for your hair color, you need…’”
When she was 13 years old, her whole world changed. “I returned to boarding school after discovering mascara, and everyone—from age seven to seventy—was like, ‘Oh my God, you weren’t that attractive before, but now you’re really attractive.’ I thought, You know what, I’m going to run with this because I’ve become more popular, and I’m having a better time. If it takes a tube of mascara, then that’s what it takes! Makeup changed my life.”
Tilbury began her career assisting UK-based makeup artist Mary Greenwell. “I wanted to do my time, earn my stripes, and hone my [skills],” she explains. When she branched out on her own, she quickly established herself as one of the most talented young makeup artists, and went on to work with fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, and numerous celebrities, cementing her reputation as a creative chameleon.
She understood her audience. “I realized that people didn’t know what to choose or how to use,” she says. “And fifty percent of women in England did not engage with makeup. It’s less in America, but still around forty percent.” She introduced a collection of looks based on beauty archetypes, from Rock Chick to Ingénue, that customers would find easy to grasp. (The LOOKS link sits prominently at the top of her website.) Her instructions make it easy to morph into a more glamorous version of oneself in only a few steps, and they are in line with her ethos of democratization and demystification. “If I was working with Gisele, it’s always that beach-y gorgeous look. Or Kate, a feline flick, rock-chick eye, beige lip. Then you’d work with Penelope Cruz or Kim Kardashian and do a bronze, smoky eye, contoured skin. These social archetypes really exist. They update themselves a bit, but they don’t ever go out of fashion.”
I returned to boarding school after discovering mascara, and everyone—from age seven to seventy—was like, ‘Oh my God, you weren’t that attractive before, but now you’re really attractive.’
Glamour and ease are a winning combination, yet one that most brands have a hard time exploiting. Tilbury seems uniquely tuned in to what women actually want, perhaps because she has spent two decades talking to women and touching their faces. “They were disempowered because the product wasn’t good enough. So as an expert I knew how to create, say, eyeshadows. Go to the number-one powder lab in the world, and now you’ll get an eyeshadow that smooths over your crepe-y eyelids. Some people go, ‘No I can’t wear it—I’m too old.’ But it’s the product that’s not right.”
One of Tilbury’s products that got it most right is her Magic Cream, a super-rich moisturizer that fans rave about as being, well, magic. The formula has the kind of industry pedigree her fans love. “The Magic Cream was something I was mixing up backstage, and the models called it Super Magic Cream.” A lot of her formulas started out this way—the nude lipstick made popular by Kate Moss was initially a mix of concealers Tilbury had put on her friend for shoots. Her thinking has always been something along the lines of, as she says, “I’m going to give away all my secret tips and tricks, which as a makeup artist is the reason you get booked. You hold all that secrecy. And I’m going to empower women to become their own makeup artist, and effectively do myself out of a job.”
I admire Helena Rubenstein, Estée Lauder, Chanel—they revolutionized the space at that point in the beauty industry. And really when I talk about the white space, that’s what I wanted to do.
Tilbury’s other magic secret is her total mastery of social media. Her 1.2 million Instagram followers are called “Darlings” at the beginning of every post (true to her real-life mode of communication), and they get a mix of behind-the-scenes access and empowering how-tos. “It’s been so fabulous launching my brand during the digital era,” she exclaims. “I’m the most Googled makeup artist in the world, can you believe that? I got an award,” she says, unable to stop laughing, “From Google! Literally, who knew?” Watching her Facebook Lives, it’s easy to see why—she has a way that’s both chummy and commanding as she expertly applies a cat eye. Warming to her theme, she continues, “We film quite a lot. A lot of celebrities tell me they go online and watch my YouTube. I’m teaching them!”
Tilbury, who is expanding her brand worldwide (she has just returned from launching in Berlin), has 900 employees with whom she communicates and keeps up to snuff via monthly satellite presentations. She recently came out with a dry sheet mask, the first of its kind, and is working on a slate of new products. “Being ahead of the curve, all the time, excites me,” she says of the development process. Of her next steps, Tilbury concludes in customary rousing style, “Everything interests me. You just have to see where life takes you and never say never—to anything. I’m a great believer in creative visualization and following the signs. I have a really strong vision for this brand. The people I admire—Helena Rubenstein, Estée Lauder, Chanel—revolutionized the space at that point in the beauty industry. And really when I talk about the white space, that’s what I wanted to do.” Speech over, she smiles and affixes me with her unmistakably smoky eyes. “I never think small,” she laughs. “I always think quite big.”
What is the atmosphere of your bedroom?
My bedroom is my haven. It’s my favorite place to be, but I’m rarely in it! In the day, its fresh, light and airy, because I have front-facing windows. At night, I need total darkness to sleep. I have these amazing black-out curtains which make my bedroom pitch black—which is how I used to sleep as a child, growing up in Ibiza.
I have beautiful sheets from Bellora, and the most divine mattress topper that literally molds to your body. But my ultimate favourite things to find in my bed are my delicious boys, Valentine and Flynn, and my husband, George.
What time do you wake-up?
My kids are up at 7:00 a.m., and I normally have meetings starting at 8:30 a.m.
Do you set an alarm?
My children are my alarm!
How many hours of sleep do you require?
I'm a great sleeper, but sometimes I don't get as many hours as I should! I work hard and play hard!
Do you drink coffee or tea, eat breakfast?
I love hot water and lemon, to cleanse, first thing in the morning, and avocado on gluten free toast with lots of pepper and chili (great for your skin and your metabolism!).
Do you work out in the a.m.?
Not if I can help it… I stay fit with lots of dancing in high heels. But, recently I have started working out at Bodyism.
What is your morning skincare regimen?
The first thing I do to get that gorgeous INSTANT GLOW is to cleanse with my incredible Multi-Miracle Glow Balm. Enriched with vitamins and floral extracts, this purifying cleanser gives the complexion a youth-boost and makes skin baby-soft in just seconds!
For the best complexion of [my] life, I multi mask with Goddess Skin Clay Mask, followed by the Instant Magic Facial Dry Sheet Mask - which I’m never without. It’s the mask of the future! It has a biomimetic delivery system that delivers GENIUS ingredients, including vitamin B3, crocus bulb extract, plant stem cells, and oils and butters, that [penetrate] all the way to the third layer of the epidermis.
I always prep my skin with my miracle-working Magic Cream. It contains Hyaluronic Acid, Bionymph Peptides and SPF 15. It floods the skin with moisture and protects my complexion throughout the day. I then tap my Magic Eye Rescue for underneath the eyes. It has peptides that renew the skin.
Overnight, I sleep in my incredible Magic Night Cream Elixir, and my new Overnight Bronze and Glow mask. This gives you an instantly hydrated, flawless tan [that works overnight] whilst you sleep! It’s genius.
For perfect #glowmo skin, [no matter how] tired you are, I use my original Wonderglow primer which is the key to glowing skin. It contains a genius ingredient called Fluorescent Core, which re-emits natural light through the skin. Everyone calls it ‘Gisele-in-a-jar’! I also use my Healthy Glow that changes on [each person’s] skin and enhances your skin’s natural GLOW!
For [giving the appearance] of [having slept for 8 hours], I use my life-changing Mini Miracle Eye Wand! It saves my life every day. The Peptide-packed serum lifts, smooths and tightens the skin, while the incredible illuminator refracts the light that gathers in the domes of the under eyes.
What make-up/products do you use on a daily basis?
My absolute essential is my Bella Sofia palette. I wear a smoky Bella Sofia eye every day. You can hypnotise the world with your eyes!! I love how the molten bronze, copper and chocolate shades really make my green eyes POP!
For flawless, defined brows in an instant: Legendary Brows. Brows are the pillars of the face and this revolutionary formula glides on like a dream, and the Micro-Fine Precision Brush coats, shades, and grooms every single hair.
For an instant eye lift I use my liquid Feline Flick pen to define and elongate the eyes. It’s so EASY to use and makes your eyes look instantly bigger and brighter!
I always finish any eye look with Full Fat Lashes mascara—I’m obsessed! It gives you that gorgeous false-lash effect. Recently I have been wearing my Legendary Lashes for a full on Hollywood Flutter! It grows your lashes!
I always switch between my signature Penelope Pink lipstick, or my NEW Pillow Talk and Hot Lips KKW lipsticks for the evening! These three gorgeous nude-y pink shades complement my fair skin beautifully and they immediately plump the lips and produce a fuller, wider pout.
No look is complete without a swish and pop of blush. I love my Moon Beach shade because it has flecks of gold in it. At the moment, I am enhancing my #glowmo with my with my best selling Bar of Gold which literally looks like your face is bathed in candlelight.
When I go out at night, Beauty Glow palette goes in my clutch as everything is in there. It’s easy.
What’s your hair situation in the a.m.?
My friend, Jen Atkin, is a HAIR GENIUS and she created the incredible Ouai hair range. I always use her Ouai Repair Shampoo and Conditioner. It has really transformed my hair! I also like to use my Moroccan Oil in the ends of my hair! And I carry a mini Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray in my bag to amp up my hair throughout the day.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
I try to keep my bedroom as a sanctuary from stress, so I try not to charge my phone by my bedside. But I would say the first things I read after I wake and while I’m eating my breakfast, are probably my emails and my agenda for the day. My bedside tables are packed with books [that range in topic]from icons, inspiration, science, psychology, and biographies - for when I have the time to read!
What business do you conduct before 10:00 a.m.? Do you have any meetings or calls?
Yes, meetings about new product development, marketing, visual merchandising, finance, board meetings… list goes on. It depends what day it is, and what the priority is.
What time do you head to your office?
I head to my office at 8:30 a.m., but often I am be traveling, or on a shoot, or getting someone ready for the red carpet. My everyday life is quite diverse...
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