Tracey Gray Mann has been painting the world’s most famous faces for 30 years. Her client list, over the last three decades, is like a who’s who of the modelling world. Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Barbara Palvin, Claudia Schiffer—you name them, and she will have worked with them at some point. With so many years of experience working in the world of makeup, we jumped on a call with Mann (she currently lives in Paris) to see what expert insights we could glean. Keep scrolling for our exclusive interview with makeup artist Tracey Gray Mann…
BYRDIE UK: How did you come to be a makeup artist?
TRACEY GRAY MANN: I was working as a facialist in a hair salon in New York that sold Chanel products. I started playing around with the makeup after doing facials and experimenting with different colours with the clients. I soon realised I loved makeup more than doing skincare. I moved to London and did a six-week fashion makeup course at a place called Complexions. I knew a freelance hairdresser in Paris, and he let me live with him. At that point, I had a terrible book of tests from my beauty school, so I started assisting Linda Cantello and Mary Greenwell on shows.
I was doing the show circuits in New York, London, Milan and Paris, and slowly building up a portfolio with photographers.
BYRDIE UK: How do you prepare for each job?
TGM: It depends; it’s good to have an idea of who the photographer is. I have a look at pictures of their work, the kind of lighting they use and the things they like. It’s good to go into each job with a background idea of what they like before the shoot. Sometimes we get a brief in advance, but most of the time it’s on the day. I collaborate with the stylist, photographer and hairdresser.
BYRDIE UK: Your career spans 30 years. What advice would you give to people wanting to become a makeup artist?
TGM: It’s changed quite a lot. It’s a lot harder today, apart from doing your beauty school, you have to be so much more aware of social media—it was never a part of it then. Being an artist and putting makeup on people is a whole different thing to being good at social media and Instagram. You need to do both now, you need to have the art of doing makeup and a background in marketing and social media.
BYRDIE UK: Are there any beauty books should every woman own?
TGM: Fashions in Makeup by Richard Corson. It’s a complete history of makeup. A really concise history of makeup important to know.
BYRDIE UK: We’ve seen ’90s brown lipstick make a comeback recently—why do you think that is?
TGM: Well, I think ultimately women use makeup to complement their skin tones. You’re always going to get those nude brown sort of colours come back. And I think there has sort of been a comeback of the lip pencil, which helps accentuate your natural lip line. Women are using it differently now; they are using the pencil as a base all over the lip. The colours haven’t changed so much, but now there is more choice in textures—more glosses in mattes and shimmers.
BYRDIE UK: What or who inspires you?
TGM: [Makeup artist] Linda Cantello inspired me in the beginning. Topolino, Pat McGrath and Stephane Marais, too. I go to a lot of art galleries in Paris. I love the Grand Palais, it always has really interesting exhibitions. I love to wander around book shops such as Merci Used Book Café on the Boulevard Beaumarchais and 7L library created by Karl Lagerfeld where there is a huge selection of books about photography art, design, architecture and fashion.
BYRDIE UK: You've created some really strong, bold makeup looks—how can real women re-create these?
TGM: I think if you’re going to do a bold makeup or using a strong colour it has to work with what you’re wearing. If you’re wearing a nude dress, try a bold lip. Or if you want to try a graphic eyeliner it has to go with the total look. There are so many makeup tutorials out there, don’t be afraid to experiment. Makeup doesn’t stay on forever.
BYRDIE UK: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. What was the highlight for you?
TGM: I think it’s always good to get a background on who you’re working with. I worked with Helmut Newton, and I was a big fan of his work before I got to work with him; it was like a dream come true. I also worked with Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood; they’re both extremely intelligent and have this amazing knowledge about the history of fashion. It was an honor and a privilege to work with them.
BYRDIE UK: You’ve worked with Kate Moss. What do you think it is that’s made her the icon she is today?
TGM: She’s a really nice person; really funny. She has this amazing bone structure; she was never the classic model, she’s much smaller than the other girls. But essentially, people love to work with her. If you were to ask who the one model of the century is, it has to be her.
BYRDIE UK: Which is your favourite look you’ve created?
TGM: Some of my favourite looks would be the graphic eyeliners—some really bold pops of colour. I do choose very bright colours and very strong pigments. Some I mix myself. Using a nude or white liner underneath really makes the colour you layer on top pop. At the moment, there are some really nice eyeliners from Glo & Ray, in particular a burgundy colour I’m in love with. [Ed. note: Glo & Ray Sky Breaker Lasting Silky Eyeliner, $15, in Burgundy]
BYRDIE UK: What are your tips for getting a graphic line right?
TGM: Start off really thin. If you want a winged look, use a credit card as guide from the outer corner of the eye to the outer corner of the brow. Then fill in that wing shape as thick as you want it. There are so many different colours of eyeliners now, that’s really fun and exciting; don’t just use a classic black.
BYRDIE UK: What are your absolute favourite products? Any you’ve loved for decades?
TGM: I like the Shu Uemura products, they have great colours. The Eyelash Curler ($17.25) is a staple in my makeup kit. I also like STIKS COSTMETIKS flip-top lipsticks. Lauren Napier Cleanse cleansing wipes, I have them in my bag at all times; they’re great for when it’s boiling outside to freshen up.
BYRDIE UK: What brushes do you recommend every woman should own?
TGM: I use a mix of everything. There are some great sponges nowadays like the one from Barely Cosmetics. I do tend to use my fingers a lot, though. A good concealer brush is important, a contour brush and an angled eye shadow brush. I also can’t live without L.A.B. 2 Lash Out Loud Mascara Wands ($18).
BYRDIE UK: Thanks to selfies, being in photographs has become the norm for everyone—it’s not just models on camera. What rules should every woman know about makeup for photography?
TGM: The whole contouring thing has gone way too far. I’ve seen lots of these bloggers with hundreds of thousands of followers and they look scary in real life! There is so much contouring and baking. Less is more; subtlety is everything. Baking came from the stage—ballet dancers have been doing it and people in the theatre. In real life, you’re not walking round with those big tungsten lights where you need so much makeup.
The key to great makeup is really good skin to start with and a healthy diet. Avoiding the sun, drinking plenty of water. I always start every look with a micellar water and then use pore minimizer or serum and let that sit for a while in the skin. I then do a little facial massage; I use upwards movements to stimulate the lymph when applying moisturiser. It relaxes the model and gives a nice base to the skin.