Gwyneth Paltrow’s powder-pink dress, slick side part, and brick-red lips at the 1999 Academy Awards. J.Lo’s voluminous ponytail, glossy nude lip, and plunging green Versace neckline at the Grammys in 2000. These are a couple of the looks that have established their place in the canon of epic red carpet moments, forever to be remembered and referenced for the impression they left.
Because we're fascinated by the iconic beauty moments that make history, and because we’re in the thick of awards season glory—Golden Globes, Critic’s Choice, and SAGs now down; Grammys and Oscars next—we reached out to some of Hollywood's top celebrity makeup artists to find out what their creative process is like when sending a star down the red carpet. How do they pick a look? How do they continually come up with new ideas? How do they strike red carpet gold?
First up, we’re talking to the talented man behind some of the coolest, boldest, most beautiful red carpet looks we’ve ever seen, and on risk-taking stars like Kristen Stewart and Nicole Richie: makeup artist Beau Nelson. From his favorite look to behind-the-scenes secrets (like using Photoshop!), he’s telling all.
Keep scrolling to find out what creating red carpet magic is really like, straight from a celebrity makeup artist.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty
How far in advance do you decide what you're going to do? Months? Weeks? Days?
Nelson: Very often the dresses aren’t chosen entirely until the days before the event, [and] sometimes in extreme cases the look may even change on the day of, so you need to be prepared for anything! Usually though, I know a day or two in advance what my girls are wearing. And because I always work backwards from the fashion, the dress is always the starting point for me.
Pictured: Nicole Richie at the 2012 NCLR ALMA Awards, 2012. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
Is there back and forth with the celebrity?
Nelson: It really depends on the celebrity I’m working with. Some girls are very involved with their own look and they love the process of coming up with a visual story to tell, and other times they just like to relax into it and trust that the team behind them will make them look their most beautiful.
Pictured: Jayma Mays at the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards, 2011. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
Do you have to pitch what you plan to do and get approval or do you just show up and do your thing?
Nelson: Again it’s very dependent on the girl. Sometimes I actually use Photoshop (I used to work as a retoucher) to create images of the celebrity wearing different makeup styles I’d like to try on them so they can see themselves in the makeup before the makeup is ever even done. This gives me an advantage because if they like a look on the screen and it’s on their own face, then most likely there won’t be a lot of back and forth between us, especially when there are time constraints.
Pictured: Julie Delpy at the 86th Oscars, 2014. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
What inspires you when you're deciding what look you're going to create for an awards show? How do you continually innovate?
Nelson: Typically, awards shows aren’t usually where I do the more innovative looks that I suppose I’ve become known for—unless it's for the American Music Awards or the Grammys, which I feel are a little more fun, relaxed shows. For Oscars and Golden Globes, I think it's best to make my girls look classically beautiful. You always have to keep in mind what is appropriate for each event while you are creating a look.
Pictured: Kristen Stewart at the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival, 2012. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
What's your favorite look you've ever created for the red carpet, and why? How did it come about?
Nelson: I actually really loved a look I did on Nicole Richie for the Golden Globes a few years ago. She wore an ice blue dress and I decided to totally go against the rules and use a similar shadow shade on her lids along with navy liner, lots of lashes and a soft pink lip. Combined with Andy Lecompte’s gorgeous waves and that dress, the overall effect was fun and unexpected.
Pictured: Nicole Richie at at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards, 2013. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
What's your favorite part about the whole process?
Nelson: I like thinking about how I can make a look new, even if it’s a very basic one. Sometimes the RIGHT thing is to do a nude face, or a tone-on-tone monochromatic look that is understated and elegant. It's about finding that balance between the client, the fashion, the hair, and the makeup. Some clients simply can’t carry off a very dramatic look and wouldn’t want to, and others really own and feel great in a very “done” look. You have to always make your client feel whatever aspect of herself she wants to feel that night.
Pictured: Nina Dobrev at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, 2014. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
What's one thing people would be surprised, or most surprised, to know about the process?
Nelson: Sometimes it takes as little as 20 minutes to create a beautiful face for the red carpet, and other times it can take over an hour.
Pictured: Kristen Stewart at the Costume Institute Gala, 2013. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
Have you ever completely ditched your plans and done something unexpected, by choice or due to factors beyond your control? How did you adapt?
Nelson: Sometimes you have an idea in your head, for whatever reason, and once you see the clothes in person and your client standing in front of you, your instincts tell you to go another way. Even yesterday with Amy Ryan for the SAG Awards, I was really feeling like a bright coral pink lip might be a really lovely way to send her down the red carpet, but once I arrived in her room and saw she was actually wearing a gown in pretty much the exact shade of coral pink I had thought would look lovely on her lips (as it did on her body!), I had to rethink things and decided that instead of doing bright color—which would look a bit garish with that strong of a dress color—that I would do soft nude pinks on her face and emphasize the blush a bit more. (Strong colors can sometimes wash you out, especially if you are pale, so a little extra pop of blush helps you maintain a balance).
Pictured: Amy Ryan at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, 2015. Makeup by Beau Nelson.
Do you have an all-time favorite beauty look from red carpets past? Is there a celebrity makeup artist whose process you’d love to hear about? Tell us below!