Lisa Eldridge needs no introduction because Lisa truly does it all. She’s a makeup artist working at the highest level, both editorially, and on the red carpet. It was an absolute joy to chat to Lisa about the industry, her journey and of course her incredible lipsticks!
At what point in your life did working with makeup become the dream, what led to your love of beauty?
I first started to play with makeup when I was about 6 years old. I lived in New Zealand but when we came to England I found a box of my mum’s old makeup at my grandmother’s house. Mary Quant crayons, Coty lipsticks, Elizabeth Arden eyeshadows – it was so glamorous.
I was initially captivated by the colours, textures and the objects themselves – I wasn’t really interested in putting any of it on my own face. I was always drawing faces, so I started to use the vintage makeup to supplement my crayons. I loved that you could get all these different gloopy, glossy and shimmery effects on paper. I also used to draw faces and use the makeup to shade – I didn’t know I was making face charts back then though! Then, when I was 13, I got a book about theatrical makeup for my birthday. I read it cover to cover and thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing I can transform faces, it encapsulates everything I love and you can do this as a career!’ I actually told my careers teacher at school that I didn’t need to do math anymore because I was going to become a makeup artist. Now it’s a known career, but back then it was an unusual thing to want to do. Ever since, makeup from the past, present and future has been my life.
Can you share with us your journey into assisting when you first started out as a makeup artist and what assisting taught you?
In those days, there was no clear path into the industry. No-one really knew too much about anything, and there weren’t many places you could study makeup. I did a course in Liverpool on theatrical makeup and costume design. Although I was only interested in the makeup… I did design a snow queen costume once – it wasn’t good but her head dress and makeup were AMAZING lol! I knew I had to move to London to get my career started. So I made the move and in those early days, to pay my rent, I got a job on a depart cosmetics counter in a department store.
I found an evening course in photographic makeup that was run by MUA’s working in the industry so I did that and started doing test shoots whenever I could. Once when I was working in an architects office in Mayfair (another one of my’pay the rent’ jobs) I remember seeing a shoot going on across the street, so I ran outside and found out it was a famous photographers studio. I got chatting to his assistant and started doing test shoots with them…. I was always making connections. I did a lot of testing – most weekends you’d find me on a building site on the Isle of Dogs at 6am, making up 10 models for a test shoot. Then eventually after a few years I went to Milan – it was a great place to test and start getting paid work and tear sheets for small magazines at the time and a lot of the new models started out there. When I returned I started doing small jobs in London and also did some assisting backstage with makeup artists Mary Greenwell, Linda Cantello and Lucia Peroni. Soon after that I got an agent.
It definitely didn’t happen overnight – it was a hard slog, and took a long time, but I’m so grateful for that now. It was such a valuable time – you don’t want to make your mistakes on a celebrity job, it’s much better to do it with new models and new photographers! Assisting gives you time to hone your skills, and practice your makeup on lots of different people so you’re able to read faces. It’s like shorthand to me now, I can read a model’s face as soon as they come through the door.
Assisting and testing also gave me important time to learn skills beyond makeup – to become an expert in this field of course it’s about creativity and spontaneity, but you also need to learn how to collaborate with other creatives, how to behave on set and work as a team. Mirroring people is also a great skill to have, especially for red carpet. I met a lot of my ‘tribe’ in those very early years, people like Kate Phelan who at the time was an incredible young stylist – 5 years later we were both working on Vogue cover shoots together.
It also gives you the opportunity to learn about technical aspects of a shoot, like lighting, post production, film – now when I’m on a job, I can recognize exactly the type of lighting set up, and how it will impact the makeup.
What do you look for in a great assistant?
When I was an assistant, my goal was always to be the most useful, knowledgeable, discreet and well-prepared assistant ever, so the artist could relax and know everything was in hand – and that’s really what I look for now. It’s also about passion – being a makeup artist is no doubt the best job in the world, but it’s hard and takes time, so you have to persevere, and be prepared to put in the work to get there. Sometimes new assistants don’t realize how hard work it actually is – they think I just get to hang out with glamorous celebrities and become friends with them. While that can happen, there is a hell of a lot of hard work, professionalism and earning your place that needs to happen first.
I also encourage people to get to know themselves, really think about the type of makeup artist they want to be, and follow that path. For example, if you want to work in film, it’s much better to find work assisting on film sets, as opposed to editorial fashion shoots. There are a lot of people who want to assist, so a makeup artist or agency needs to be able to see who you are and the type of work you want to do before you’ll get booked. Know your dream, and follow that path – being focused is key.
Finally, make sure you’ve researched the artist you are going to be working with so you know their aesthetic and approach. Likewise know your colours, undertones, shade names, products. It will be invaluable when you need to grab 10 products in 3 seconds!
What has been your proudest career moment to date?
There are so many that come to mind. My first big job was a shoot with Cindy Crawford – that was a real pinch me moment. We got on really well and she loved the makeup I’d done, so I ended up spending the whole week with her, doing her makeup for all of the other jobs she had. I’ll also never forget seeing my first Vogue cover – I walked past a newsagent where I was living in London and just cried happy tears! I always said that if I ever got to do a Vogue cover I could retire – but after that I wanted more and more! In recent years, working with Tim Burton designing looks for one of his movies and collaborating with Dua Lipa on her creative vision for her album campaign have been such fun.
Getting my book deal was also an amazing moment – the history of makeup is a real passion of mine, and I had 10 years worth of research on my laptop before I even got the deal! When I finally held a copy of Face Paint in my hands it was such an incredible feeling, and I’m so proud that it’s now an international bestseller that’s been printed in 10 different languages.
And then of course there’s my lipsticks. When I created them, I knew they were unique, and completely different to anything that had been done before, but I genuinely didn’t know how people would respond to them. When the first collection sold out in 24 hours I was so proud. Having worked at the helm of some of the world’s biggest beauty brands, seeing that kind of success for my own makeup line was a huge moment for me.
You have the most incredible collection of vintage makeup, what are some of your most prized possessions from your collection?
Ever since I first stumbled upon that box of my mum’s makeup I’ve been fascinated with the stories that makeup can tell. When I put makeup onto someone’s face, I understand that there’s a long, intricate history for every single item I use. I first started collecting vintage items in the early 1990s. I’ll never forget the rush of excitement discovering my first vintage makeup finds at a stall in the Portobello Road Market in London. Now, I’ve got a collection that ranges from the Northern Song Dynasty in China over a thousand years ago to modern day classics, like a lipstick in the exact shade that Jackie O wore.
It’s so hard to choose favourites, but I have a powder from the 1900s made by Potter & Moore, who were a big toiletry company during the Victorian era. The pot I have is still filled with powder (that still smells of lavender!) but what I love most is that the person who owned it decided to customize it with the most beautiful ceramic rose on the lid, which just makes it so personal and special. It must have given them so much pleasure seeing that on their vanity each day. I also have a set of false eyelashes from the 1930s that I love because you can tell that they’ve been loved and well-worn, but also properly looked after – cleaned and combed after each wear.
I still get a thrill when I add new rarities to my collection (though the size of my collection now means that I have to be quite discerning about what I buy – I try to be strict!). A few years ago I bought at auction a gold lipstick holder made by Cartier for Audrey Hepburn – it’s so iconic I made a whole video just about this one piece.
As one of the original MUA pioneers of YouTube, sharing your skills and knowledge as a professional artist, how has that changed the accessibility of beauty?
I was a very early adopter of beauty in the digital space, and the first pro makeup artist to have a You tube channel – and years before that, a standalone dot com. I was always into it, starting with reading all the beauty blogs, and watching the early makeup tutorials on YouTube. I remember thinking it was so interesting because these girls were basically consumers just sharing their experiences of makeup in a very authentic way. It seemed very ‘punk’ to me. So while I was busy being booked to do the makeup for some of the biggest premium beauty campaigns, and the brands were stating the most ridiculous claims, ‘This mascara makes your lashes look 10 times longer,’ these girls were going onto YouTube and saying, ‘Well I tried it, and it didn’t work for me.’ That’s still the biggest sea change that’s happened in beauty since the post 1st world war era, and I was really excited about that at the time. I saw very clearly that it was going to be massive but no-one believed me!
I was the first professional makeup artist to upload tutorials regularly to YouTube. I was nervous about starting it – I had a lot of celebrity clients and at the time people thought that YouTube was a bit naff, but I really believed in it. I wanted to teach regular women how they could translate the professional techniques and trends I’d mastered to their own faces.
My Meeting Up with the Ex video is still one of my favourites – I remember I did a job with a Victoria’s Secret model, and she just went on and on about this boyfriend who had finished with her. We planned everything for her—her hair, makeup, what she was going to wear, what she was going to say. She said, ‘You should do a video about this!’ and I thought, ‘I am going to do that because if she’s a Victoria’s Secret model, what hope is there for the rest of us?!’ And the thing is, I don’t make videos for makeup artists. I make them for the average woman who likes makeup and who’s interested in makeup.
The digital world has definitely made beauty and makeup so much more accessible and what I really love is that, today, we can be inspired by the makeup looks of women all over the globe. You might want to copy a turquoise liner that you saw on a model in London, and team it with the glowy skin of a fashion editor in Milan, then switch to matte skin and a hot orange lip the next day. There are no rules. Some women wear a lot of makeup, some women wear none and some women (like me) change it up every day. That freedom to choose – and having the products at our fingertips to allow us to do so – is, for me, the most exciting change we’ve seen in makeup over the past 20 years.
Would you say you have a signature look, or a look you enjoy doing the most?
Working with such a huge variety of brands, models and celebrities has really enabled me to work across the spectrum of makeup – I’m as comfortable creating a classic makeup look for the red carpet as I am mixing neon pigments, using paper and fabrics to create makeup, or pushing the boundaries of editorial beauty.
But I think my signature a la Eldridge look is really about enhancing natural beauty. My ‘Ultimate Secret Makeup Look’ is one of my favourites, it’s very natural and beautifying – foundation just where you need it to even and unify, pinpoint concealing (one of my most asked-about makeup techniques), a flush of cream blush, curled lashes and a natural lip. It’s all about thin layers, buffed and blended so your entire makeup is in complete synergy. If you do it well, it’s amazing how transformative this kind of makeup is – the power of subtlety is astonishing!
In a super competitive industry, what advice would you give to artists who are feeling lost and uninspired who want to make it to the same heights as you?
The makeup industry is definitely a competitive space and the times we’re in right now are tough for everyone. I would really encourage people to take every opportunity you can – the industry is all about connections and referrals. You never know what opportunity that might lead to. Every job, big or small, is a chance to learn, to connect and – most importantly – to create. I do also say to young makeup artists look outside of makeup books and social media when looking for inspiration… the best sources come from unexpected sources. I have an amazing book on beetles and insects I’ve used for years as colour inspiration ditto rocks geology, the natural world, tech and science. The hairdresser Sam Mcknight once sent me a book on rare breed Chickens and I thought why has he sent me this? Turned out to be and incredible source of amazing colour and texture combinations!! Things like that send your mind off in different directions and help you to access deep creatively that staring at makeup looks cant really do.
There’s no doubt it’s challenging right now but, where you can, also practice on as many faces as possible. Your flatmate, sister, nan, yourself – basically whoever you can get your hands on! It will help you to hone and improve your craft no end, and I promise you there’s a wealth of inspiration in every face out there. Keep learning, keep testing, just keep going!
At HMIU HQ we’re all huge fans of your lipstick line! What made you start with lips?
I tend to do things organically and in my own time, often (unconsciously) doing the exact opposite of what people expect. I hadn’t really planned to create and launch a lipstick first but I had a dream that I was doing someone’s makeup using lipsticks that were made out of velvet. I was so inspired by the dream that I did an editorial shoot for Teen Vogue using real velvet fabric instead of lipstick – the pictures looked fantastic, but as you can imagine it wasn’t very comfortable for the model! So I always had that in mind and wondered if it would be possible to create a lipstick like the one in my dream.
When it came to the production, we had to go back to the drawing board a couple of times, but eventually managed to create a brand new mold using groundbreaking technology. I also put a lot of work into the undertones of each shade – for example, to the untrained eye a lipstick might look red, but where that shade would traditionally have had blue undertones, I’ve added orange or terracotta or pink. That’s what gives my lipsticks their chameleon quality, I call them my secret pigments! So there were months and months of testing, tweaking and reformulating to get every shade and every texture just right, but I loved (and still love) seeing the look on people’s faces when they first saw the product. They always said ‘wow!’ and then ‘how?’ I knew I had made something pretty special.
What’s on your vision board (if you have one) for the future and what’s next for your makeup line?
I’m excited about the new products I’m creating for next year as I know that all of them are highly innovative. I’m a frustrated cosmetic scientist at heart as I think its one of the most creative jobs/industries right now – even more so than makeup artistry. So I’ve been concocting some unusual formulas … watch this space!