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In the second instalment of our BeautyBoss series, we decided to delve into the business story of the most powerful makeup artist in the world: Pat McGrath. The Northampton-born artist received earlier this month an Isabella Blow Award for her contributions to the fashion and beauty industries. Read further to understand why she has become such a phenomenon.

Why Pat McGrath?

Doing some research about Pat McGrath, one thing is clear: the woman is addicted to makeup. A passion instilled in her by her mother, with whom she scoured all the drugstores to find makeup and mix them to match their complexion. She was between six and seven when her mother taught her how to blend foundation with her fingers – a technique fundamental to her success today.

In the interviews she has given, never there was a mention of a business plan or something remotely linked to the idea of making money. Not to mention that besides an art foundation course at Northampton College – she has no formal training in makeup. Her story and profile deserve the attention because she embodies that creative mind with a business acumen all driven by passion.

How many times have you read on someone’s blog or have you written on a cover letter that you had a ‘passion for fashion?’ Pat McGrath is the same, but with makeup nonetheless, she doesn’t express it that way. Her work and the words she uses to describe her passion for beauty is her business plan. “I do believe people love what they see at the fashion shows and editorial, and want to try it. It’s now a nerdy approach. And so it’s my time because I am that woman.” She told earlier this year to The Guardian, confirming her nerdiness/passion is her business strength.

People with creative minds are often said to lack business flair but, Pat McGrath is the woman proving this cliché wrong.

Who is Pat McGrath?

Pat McGrath was born in Northampton, a city in the North-West of London. Raised by her Jamaican single mother Jean McGrath along with a sister. Her mother was instrumental in her career as the person who fed her love for makeup, taught her tips and tricks and above all gave her a sense of fashion. McGrath has told how after watching Vogue, she went with her mother – a skilled dressmaker – to buy remnants of fabrics to pattern makers and then match their makeup with the looks created.

On her career

She came to the British capital in the early 80s. She worked as a receptionist to support herself before being noticed by presenter Janice Long while stalking British band Spandau Ballet outside Radio 1. After meeting her, she started doing makeup mainly for bands before meeting 18-year-old Edward Enninful who at the time was fashion director for i-D. From their encounter sparkled a long-term friendship and working relationship leading her to become the beauty editor-at-large at the British Vogue, helmed by the very same Edward Enninful, almost 30 years later.

From her childhood to her career start, it felt like everything came organically to Pat McGrath. But I would love to argue about it, hadn’t she been wearing makeup the day she met Janice Long, she might not have been where she is today. There is definitely a factor of sheer luck in her career but – literally – putting her work on her face was her portfolio and ticket to getting into music and then fashion. She stated after meeting Janice that she didn’t know at the time that making people up was a job. See, sheer luck can’t get you anywhere if you don’t have the talent (and a smart brain) to catch it.

On what makes her a beauty boss

Her mastery of makeup

She is the most in-demand makeup artist in the fashion industry. She covers 80 shows a year during fashion week but not only. On top of her duties during the fashion month, she has acted as a consultant for the likes of brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and often works for the advertising campaigns of Gucci, Versace, Prada or Louis Vuitton. Why you would wonder? Because she is one of the rare makeup artist mastering the art of foundation on ANY type of skin. “She never puts a lot of foundation on you,” says Naomi Campbell in an interview for The Cut. “That’s the art of it. She makes sure you always see the skin, and that’s not easy to do.”And no one knows her secret for this to the point that even her assistants admit it takes up to three years to learn the formula.

McGrath is also renowned for her use of colours and fabrics like no one. She started making it her trademark in the 90s when the motto for makeup was to be invisible. Just like a painter, she can create an infinite palette with fantastic nuances. And hairstylist Guido Palau is on point when he says, “she has 30 different ways of doing red. Matte, gloss, sequins, velvety, dark on the bottom and light on top. There’s no end.”

She didn’t say no for granted

This said, being an expert in your field doesn’t mean people want to invest in you. Above all, if like McGrath, you work behind the scenes. It took her 15 years to create Pat McGrath Labs – her beauty line. Each time she would suggest it to a makeup executive she would meet rejection because no one believed her business plan – that is selling products people would use to recreate catwalks beauty looks – could work. But instead of listening to them, she observed the reactions of her followers on Instagram and built her brand starting with the social media platform. And guess what? Her unique product, the gold pigment powder Gold 001, applicable on the eye and the lips, was sold in six minutes!

Her first item wasn’t some foundation or a lipstick like some brands would have begun with. The choice for this product was led by the fact that McGrath followers are, just like her, makeup junkies who like trying new things.  Ah, did we mention that she self-funded the brand first?

Her understanding of the digital and offline worlds

When she launched her brand in the USA, McGrath teamed up with Sephora, one of the biggest beauty retailer in the world. A choice that could seem paradoxical when Pat McGrath Labs is everything but a brand made for everyone. But her choice might have been driven by the fact that nowadays, people interested in beauty are nothing but amateurs thanks to social media where they can find from the simplest to the more complex beauty tutorial. So the Sephora customer can be someone who doesn’t know much about makeup just like a total pro.

If you enjoyed this article of our Beauty Boss Profile and you know cosmetic brands led by women please shoot us an email at emmanuelle@glamobserver.com or let us know in the comments below!

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