The relationship between a celebrity and her makeup artist is a hallowed thing, one that requires a lot of faith, understanding, and sometimes even mind reading (yes, mind reading—we’ll explain later). At the end of the day, makeup artists are often the people celebrities trust most—the ones who see them without makeup (sans filter or good lighting), the ones they travel with, and the ones who get up close and personal with their pores. We’re endlessly fascinated with the inner workings of the celeb beautifying ritual, which is why we selfishly decided to pick the brain of a top celeb makeup artist to see what it’s really like behind the curtain.
How long does it usually take to get a client red carpet–ready? What’s it like to travel with a celeb? Do you just get, like, hordes of free makeup sent to you on the daily? We asked all these questions and more to the talented Daniel Martin, Dior Beauty brand ambassador and makeup artist (and friend) to the likes of Jessica Alba, Kate Bosworth, and Olivia Palermo.
If you’ve ever been curious about what really goes on in the sacred hour (or two) before a celeb hits the red carpet, you’ll want to keep reading. Keep scrolling to find out what it’s really like to be a celebrity makeup artist!
BYRDIE: Describe a typical day in your life.
DANIEL MARTIN: Coffee, Uber, get to work, come home, play with my cat, watch either The Walking Dead or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hallelujah for Uber, because it’s really changed the landscape for getting around with your makeup kit. I think for a makeup artist in New York, half the battle is getting to work.
BYRDIE: Can you tell us about your kit? Do you have different ones for different jobs?
DM: I have three different kits, and depending on the job, I switch out my kit a lot. It can be a carry-on to a large bag that I bring with me to Paris—it definitely fluctuates depending on the job I have. I have a full-time assistant who helps me out with everything. He gets my kit together, he organizes my call sheets, he’s in touch with my agent [at the Wall Group], and he’s restocking my makeup. I’m really lucky to have him.
BYRDIE: Have you always had an assistant?
DM: I’ve been really lucky to have an amazing assistant who moved on to be her own person [represented by the Wall Group]. When she was moving on, she mentioned Kelvin, my current assistant, to me. He was on my show team, the team that works under me during fashion week shows. I have a team of 20 assistants on rotation during that time. He’s awesome and talented, and a lot of it, too, is the etiquette on set with clients—you don’t see him, and you don’t hear him. He’s really attentive and just great.
When he became my full-time assistant, he came to London with me, and he came to Paris with me twice for fashion week. When I was in L.A. for the [Golden] Globes, he came with me. It helps to have a second pair of hands.
BYRDIE: You work with so many dynamic leading ladies. What do you think makes them call on you again and again?
DM: I’ve been really lucky to work with really independent, strong, confident, and driven women. I’m just attracted to those kinds of women. I know my role—it’s a supportive role. There’s a camaraderie; there’s a trust—there’s no weird competitiveness. I’ve worked with teams before where it’s like, we need to get this shot or take a selfie. It was so much about getting this false pretense. There’s a whole generation that won’t know what all of us went through while working in fashion.
BYRDIE: How does the whole booking process work? Do your clients contact you directly or go through your agent?
DM: It’s 50/50, depending on the relationship. Or they’ll just contact me and I let my agent know, and that’s cool. That’s the ebb and flow of the business. That’s what’s going to happen—you work with these girls for so long that they become family. And sometimes there’s no rate, and they really want you, and you do it anyway as a favor. That’s the nice thing about having these relationships. Everyone has each other’s backs. They feel good knowing you are making them feel good. We’re just lucky we’re able to do this.
BYRDIE: The Met Ball just happened—do you have any crazy Met stories?
DM: There was one year, the punk-themed year, when I wound up doing four people for it. My third person made me late for my last person, and I literally had 15 minutes to do makeup on them before they walked out. Ever since then, I’ve never done more than two [clients]. It was such a disservice to my last client. I just felt bad. It was awful. That’s the craziness of the Met Ball.
BYRDIE: How long do you usually have to do a client’s makeup before an event?
DM: They usually give us two hours for hair and makeup for a red carpet. That full two hours is maybe an hour and a half of both hair and makeup at the same time, and about 20 or 30 minutes for touch-ups and getting dressed.
BYRDIE: Can you walk us through your typical makeup process?
DM: If it’s a red carpet—the Globes, the Oscars—to me, it’s never about hair and makeup. It’s always about the dress. So you definitely don’t want to create something too elaborate—it depends on the comfort zone of the girl. For hair and makeup, it’s always going to be one or the other. If the hairdresser has an idea for funky hair, I need to tone it down with the makeup. I always start with skincare first—usually an eye mask or face mask. I always do eye makeup before complexion; that way, if I’m doing a dramatic eye, all that fallout can be easily cleaned up.
Also, when you’re working with a hairstylist at the same time, they’re usually standing behind the client and typically start at the bottom of the nape of the neck and work their way up to the crown. With me, starting at the eyes, it’s almost like a yin and yang—you kind of move with each other. It’s a rhythm that you’re able to create after years of doing this. So I always do skin, eyes, foundation, and then end with lips.
BYRDIE: What’s a part of your job people might not expect?
DM: You need to listen. People can tell you what they’re feeling, but you really need to listen. You need to pay attention to body language and read in between the lines, too. They can say, “I want a smoky eye,” but their smoky eye is so different from what you think a smoky eye is. If I’m working with a new client, I’ll bring my iPad with me. Pinterest is an amazing thing. You can’t ever go in and say, “I think you need to do this.” Or if you bring something to the table, you need to explain why: “I think you need to do a red lip because of X, Y, and Z,” not “I think you need to do a red lip because you look great in a red lip.” You really need to listen. A lot of makeup artists and hairstylists think, I’m an artist, and I’m going to do this. No. That’s never going to happen. Sometimes you can do that when you have a relationship with the client. It takes years to say, “No, let’s not do that.”
BYRDIE: What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
DM: Just knowing that my clients are happy with what I’ve done. That’s the worst, when you can feel them being uncomfortable. When they’re not comfortable being beautiful, then you didn’t do your job. That’s why you’re hired. [Laughs] You’re hired to make her feel good and make her feel her best. You kind of have to suck it up and lose your ego—at the end of the day, you’re providing a service.
BYRDIE: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
DM: Dealing with different personalities. Because we’re all creative; we’re all emotional. Especially when you’re on a photo shoot and you’re dealing with the photographer, and the art director, and the creative director. You’re dealing with so many personalities. You need to learn how to adapt, rather than try to go against it because of your own artistic integrity. That’s the hardest.
BYRDIE: Now onto the fun questions—what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you through your job?
DM: Well, I rode on the Thames in London on a private yacht with Helen Mirren. [Laughs]
BYRDIE: Do tell.
DM: I was working with Greta Gerwig for the premiere of Arthur, which was five years ago, maybe. This was the beginning of her career and her first major movie. Greta and Helen Mirren invited us to the premiere, and we got there by boat. We were on this boat with Helen Mirren, her husband, her publicist, and maybe 10 other people, drinking champagne, riding along the Thames to the premiere. My partner and I were just sitting there, like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” The production was just like, “Come with us, they’ll do the red carpet, and then we’ll go to dinner.” But then we were getting on a boat, and then we picked up Helen on her own dock.
Nothing can top that. I also met Michelle Obama when I was with Jessica [Alba]. That was pretty amazing.
BYRDIE: We have to ask—other than riding along the Thames with Helen Mirren, we’re sure your job has many other perks. Can you share some with us?
DM: Besides the endless free makeup from generous brands, flying first class internationally, and staying at the most incredible hotels, designers will also give you thoughtful gifts as well. I've worked with Proenza Schouler for 10 years, and I have a pretty awesome collection of bags that would make any girl jealous.