Not only has Pat worked backstage to create the coveted backstage beauty looks for top designers including Valentino, Prada and Versace (think stand-out crystal eyes and lips, feather lashes and supermodel skin), she also took the beauty world by social storm with the launch of Pat McGrath Labs – a unique collection of uber-pigmented lipsticks, eyeshadows and highlighters that are every makeup lover’s dream.
The brand hit the billion dollar valuation mark ahead of beauty billionaires Kylie and Rihanna. On hearing the news Pat reveals: “I screamed, jumped up and down for a minute. Then got straight back to work. I knew I’ve still got lots of work to do.”
Pat McGrath is the British MUA who has been on a mission to take over our makeup bags and change our outlook on beauty to an all-inclusive ideal.
As she gets set to take the UK by storm with her debut European store in Selfridges, we chatted to the ultimate beauty boss about her challenges, inspirations and fearless makeup mantras.
Yet she says it wasn’t always easy, starting out in an industry with little representation she could relate to, let alone products that worked for her skin tone.
She reveals her mum used to mix cocoa powder into products, explaining: “There was no makeup, nothing. We had one colour a month and it was mainly accidental when someone made a product that had too much pigment. When something doesn’t fit, when there’s no colour for you, you are like, ‘I’m going to find the right colours for me.’ It made me make-up obsessed. I’m the same with shoes.”
Her view? You’ve got to be in it to win it. “Before this, someone like me didn’t exist in the industry, and now look where I am. If I’m here, anyone can be.” And here’s how she aimed for – and reached – the lipstick pinnacle….
Were you always entrepreneurial?
I feel like I was. My mum was like, ‘You’re not going to be good in a full time job Cinderella, you’re creative, you have to do something creative.’ I was like, ‘What does she mean?’ She said something so good, ‘Be an artist because no one can ever really tell you you’re wrong. It’s your vision.’ I don’t know why she said that either, but I took it on board
What did your career’s adviser recommend you to do?
I won a local newspaper colouring competition as a kid so when I went to a careers day, where you sit and express yourself. I was like, ‘I love mixing colours and I love the written word, so if not something with colour I think I’d like to be a journalist. He went, ‘Great – be a librarian.’ Of all my wishes and dreams, he saw librarian. It was really funny.
Do you see make-up as an empowering tool?
Course, absolutely. Our [Pat McGrath Labs] mantra is, ‘Use without caution’. It is about empowerment. You can do what you want with make-up, it’s fearless beauty. It’s so funny because when I started make-up 25 or more years ago that was my whole thing. Make a mark; make a shape; use a nail; add powerful colour; it’s now fun to see this generation really embracing that.
What product is the most personally empowering for you?
I love everything, any kind of powerful pigment. I love strength through colour whether it be powerful shimmers or a beautiful matte lipstick. Powerful pigment and colour is what gets me.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I do look at myself as being empowered, it’s important. It is about the empowerment of the individual. That’s what make-ups is about as well. I think that’s what life is about too. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to feel empowered and strong. I’ve always been free in my mind. I’ve never looked at myself as if I’m constrained. Good luck if anyone tries that!
Was it always your mission to help change beauty ideals to be more inclusive and diverse?
Yes absolutely. Before people like me didn’t exist in the industry, but I knew it was going to change. I felt it had to happen.
What’s amazing now is to see so much diversity. Men and women of all shapes, sizes, everything, seeing that difference today is empowering, genius.
I knew I was making a difference and helping create a new standard of beauty by using a new cast of girls [in the campaigns]. Young models like Slick, Duckie, Paloma. I knew that was a different ideal and that people would enjoy themselves. I think when people thought such an insider in fashion does a makeup brand, it was going to be filled with models of one size, one colour, one everything, but no.
What was your personal game-changing moment?
You might always know you’re different, but you should never worry about that and it’s a real game-changing moment when you realise that.
A lot of people have their opinions or maybe try to bring you down and I remember being a bit younger and being slightly affected by that. Then you reach a point where you go, ‘You can have your opinion, but I know what I’m doing and I’m happy doing it.’ That’s their opinion, it’s not my life, so onwards and upwards. I know that’s what gives me that empowerment and strength.
Another game changer was creating the gold pigment that launched the brand, and so many genius [catwalk] show moments. I feel very lucky to be a make-up artist in this industry. I know all my friends I work with and we’re having a blast.
How do you overcome the challenges?
I am a bit of a weirdo in the way that if someone challenges me, or if I’ve got 10,000 jobs I’ve got to do, I look at it as I’ve got no choice but to overcome it. In a way it’s like, ‘Bring it!’. I’m never one of those people that looks at the meaning. Those challenges just make me stronger and then you can rise above it easily. I thrive on challenge.
Do you ever feel the pressure to come up with new looks every season?
I thrive on that. I mean I’m there looking at the most exquisite clothing, bags, and working with the best designers. It’s the ultimate inspiration. It’s not like you’re sitting there looking at nothing, with no inspiration. It’s over stimulating.
How has social media changed the game for you?
I love it, as before [social media] it was like you were in the industry but working alone other than the hairdressers, a couple of other make-up artists. You definitely felt like you a team of people that were quite isolated from the world. You thought nobody knew us. [Social] gives you the connection to people that are fans of beauty, sharing tips, tricks and them sending you gorgeous make-up they’ve done themselves recreating your work, and sharing comments. It’s really exciting to have that community feeling. Finding new talent as well.
Do you still think of yourself as a creative or a businesswoman?
A mix of the two. Everything at all times. But that’s fine, I’m a Gemini.
Who have you looked up to in your career?
So many…Grace Jones, Prince, David Bowie, Debbie Harry, [photographer] Steven Meisel. I always look up to him, he’s the best.
What are your top 3 catwalk looks of all time?
I could never pick, it’s like picking a favourite child. And you know it changes. You were my favourite, but not today this one’s overtaken. I love them all.
What would you have been if you weren’t a make-up artist?
An Opera singer. I used to be able to copy every opera singer as a child.