Fiona stiles interview

Did you always know you wanted to be a makeup artist?

How did your journey into makeup start? 
I had just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design where I’d studied fine art photography and moved to New York City with some friends, when I fell into makeup kind of by accident. I had always been obsessed with makeup, but I only had the vague idea that it was actually a job. It’s a long story, but basically I used naiveté and tenacity until I was able to connect with big working makeup artists and assist. It’s amazing what copious amounts of free time and blind perseverance can lead to.

It was a very different path to becoming a makeup artist back then, the industry was very hidden and there was no easy way in. There was no Google, no YouTube, no blogs; people held their information very close to the vest. You had to do some some serious digging if you wanted to figure out how it worked. There was a place called House of Portfolios’s where everyone went to get their leather bound portfolios for their tear sheets, and there was a book there, I can’t remember who wrote it or what it was called, but it talked about the ins and outs of the industry. The irony is that if you were already at House of Portfolios you were most likely already working so you didn’t need the book. That was about it as far as information about the industry went.

After a few years of testing and assisting random people, a friend of mine met one of Craig McDean’s photo assistants and he said that Pat McGrath needed an assistant. I got connected with her and I had the extreme pleasure of assisting her for several years, which was very eye opening and an incredible experience. I got to be on some incredibly iconic shoots, work on major fashion shows and be in an environment where every single person on set was at the top of their game. Those were amazing days and I am so grateful for them.

Fiona stiles interview
Fiona stiles interview

What’s your creative process when you’re creating a makeup look for an artist and what inspires your work? 

I have to say that it’s very organic and spontaneous. I do love doing research and love looking at and collecting images. I’ve been that way my whole life, but now it’s sort of all an inspirational soup in my brain. Of course I still do research for a big event like the Met Gala or a press tour or the Oscars. Those are times when you know the look well ahead of time and you can really marinate on what the look will be. But honestly most of the time we show up and find out what the look is about 10 minutes before we start makeup, so you should have a solid arsenal of makeup and fashion history in your brain that you can refer to. I cannot express enough how important entertainment and cultural history are for our jobs. The reference shorthand between people in our industry is incredible, and if you don’t know your references then you just can’t contribute in the same way. Plus is there anything more fun than devouring old movies, art books and vintage makeup How To books?!

For the bigger events there’s usually a lot of back and forth with the stylist and hairdresser about ideas, looks and vibes. It’s really a team effort and all of the elements need to work together or the look feels disjointed. It can’t be like, “I have this great makeup idea and I’m going to do it no matter what the hair or the dress looks like”. It just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the outfit calls for a soft, minimal makeup look and you let the work be more simple. Sometimes you really get to push it and play. But I never want the look to feel awkward because i’m pushing something that doesn’t fit with the hair or the entire look.

In addition to being an incredible artist, visionary and industry leader, you also have a meticulous kit set up! Tell us about your current set up, and your essentials for kit organizing?

Well right now it’s all a bit different isn’t it? My kit pre-Covid 19 is going to look different from the one when work opens back up. Right now I’m prepping for the most sanitary set up I can manage: Tegaderm patches, copious amounts of 70% Isopropyl Alcohol, UV Light Boxes, and lots and lots of stainless steel because you can really sanitize it (ie, switching from a pencil sharpener that had a plastic body to one that’s entirely stainless steel).

But essentially my goal with my kit is organization and having as much product as possible with the least amount of weight. I depot everything because I want to be able to have as many colors and textures as I can possibly carry with me. I love makeup and I like options because sometimes it’s the product that determines the look, like something might stand out in my kit when I open it and then I suddenly have a flash of an idea.

Within your career what has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome that?

I’m going to say Covid-19. And I’ll let you know how it works out. I can’t think of a more intimate job than ours. We are literally in someones’s face for hours. Think about who else is that intimate with faces…. dermatologists, dentists, optometrists. It’s a pretty small percentage of occupations but all require very close contact with the client/customer. There will be some major shifts in all of these professions (except maybe dentists because they are already so dialed in with the PPE) until there’s a vaccine or herd immunity. It’s just left us so vulnerable and in uncharted territory.

Fiona stiles interview

What’s the biggest difference working with a celebrity on the red carpet as opposed to working with a celebrity for something in print like an editorial?

With red carpet, you get it right or you get it wrong. There’s lots of time for tweaking and perfecting when you’re on a shoot, but you only get a set amount of time for red carpet and if you make a mistake it’s there for everyone to see. I came from editorial and moved to doing celebrity makeup when I moved to LA about 15 years ago. I think doing red carpet has made me a much more skilled makeup artist.

What products have stood the test of time in your pro kit that you continually repurchase/ have to have in your store cupboard?

Armani Luminous Skin FoundationGuerlain BronzersAnastasia Brow Wiz,
 Weleda Skin Food,
 Elizabeth Ardern 8 Hour Cream and Surratt Lash Curler.

Tell us three products you’re currently loving and why?

1. Beauty Pie Contour Gel in 01, this is a great contour. It’s a liquid that isn’t too grey or too orange and has a soft, gentle sheen that makes it look like skin.

2. Surratt Autographique Liquid Liner. Ah, this I the best liquid liner in the world. The brush tip let’s you have real and complete control of the liner. It also let’s you create radon sharp lines, like no other liner I’ve ever used.

3. Pat McGrath foundation and loose powder. Her colors are spot on and the finish is just gorgeous. The loose powders are the perfect tones, and the skin looks velvety and flawless when you use it. Her whole system is just dreamy.

Fiona stiles interview
Fiona stiles interview

How should someone go about getting experience and or assisting if you want to work as a red carpet makeup artist? What do you look for in your assistants?

In all honesty I usually rely on my agency to recommend an assistant or ask a fellow makeup artist if they have someone they love and trust. I know some people use an assistant every time they work, but because we work in people’s homes so often, I try not to bring in extra bodies unless I have to; the spaces feel too cramped and I also want to respect the client’s privacy.

When I do have an assistant it’s usually on a shoot where I have multiple talent and need the extra hands. I look for someone who is very attentive, quiet and self sufficient. I like someone who adapts and learns quickly. I’ve actually created a document that I have my agent email any new assistant, giving them outlines of what I like and expect. That way I set them up for success and ultimately we both have a better experience.

How should someone get experience….? I still think assisting is the best way to learn. There’s nothing like seeing someone work and learning from that experience. Yes, you can learn a lot from YouTube videos, but what you can’t and don’t learn is on the spot problem solving skills. A lot of what makes me good at my job is the tens of thousands of hours I’ve had on the job, and it affords me the luxury of fixing my mistakes quickly and effectively. And I make a lot of mistakes, but no one notices because I solve the problem quickly and without being flustered.

Tweaking a wonky liquid liner, adjusting a foundation shade that’s off, blending something that I missed. That’s the mark of a professional and that’s the kind of skill you pick up on the job. So I highly value assisting. It’s also a low stakes way to peek into what the job is really like, but without the pressure of it being your job. It feels like the long road these days, but I think it’s invaluable.

What advice would you give to makeup artists in all fields who want to grow and be successful?

Be nice and be on time, Or early.

What inspired you to launch Reed Clarke?

I’ve always loved beauty products and I’ve always loved the thrill of the hunt for underground beauty. Ever since I was in high school, when I used to take the bus into San Francisco from my home in the suburbs to find the perfect red lipstick at a theatrical costume store, I’ve narrowed my sites on beauty hunting. The reason I started Reed Clarke was because there were certain products that I was using on clients or telling them about, that were really hard to find, so I thought I’d offer a place where you could get them more easily. Products like Ponaris, which is a nasal emollient that used to be in astronauts’ medical its, that is great for keeping you healthy when you travel. I also import a few products in Japan (like the Sante Beauty Eye Drops) because they aren’t available in the States and are just amazing, effective and really chic looking eye drops). I also love supporting smaller business; well over 50% of the products I carry are from women owned businesses, which is wildly important to me.

The intention of Reed Clarke is that it’s a place you can shop where everything you buy is something you will fall madly in love with. I limit the amount of products I carry on the site so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and so that you know that every item is hand picked with love and tested at length before it’s added to the site. And no matter what, I won’t carry it if I don’t think it’s an amazing product, one that I can’t imaging living without.

You can see more of Fiona’s incredible work here and follow her on Instagram here.