Interview: Star Makeup Artist Gregory Arlt for Blond-It
By Elizabeth Sobieski
When you see flawlessly dewy-skinned Gwen Stefani on stage, television, magazine covers, and in music videos and floating upon the red carpet, you should be aware that Gregory Arlt is the man behind all her fabulous and transformative looks. And you may have noticed the esteemed LA-based makeup artist on various talk shows or in person, his Marcelled blond hair a trademark. Gregory heads makeup teams for fashion weeks in Paris, Milan, and New York and is the director of makeup artistry for M.A.C. He frequently lectures, demonstrates and instructs others on the art of creating extraordinary looks on bare canvases of skin. Gregory Arlt is known for making his celebrity clientele appear absolutely radiant. Last year’s magnificent and clean Vanity Fair cover of Angelina Jolie was from Gregory’s talented hands. Such fearless beauties as Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham, Shania Twain, Minnie Driver, Danai Gurira, Dita von Teese, Sonequa Martin-Green, Fran Drescher, and Cher have all been beholden to Gregory for their satin skin and gorgeous eyes and lips at notable events. As the Oscars approach and invitations to various galas arrive, I ask Gregory how we can all access red carpet beauty.
Elizabeth Sobieski: Are there any new colors or products that you would recommend for grabbing the spotlight in 2019?
Gregory Arlt: It truly is all about skin! We’ve seen skin trending heavily for the last number of seasons and this year is no exception. Foundations come in a variety of textures and I recommend treating it like skincare; if your skin is oily, use a more matte finish. Drier skins would benefit from more hydrating foundations. The MAC “Hyper Real Glow Palette” is a must have in my kit for the red carpet to effect a perfect glow. Most powder highlighters can sometimes have a heavy amount of pearl, looking a bit chunky on the skin. This palette gives a true sheen, where it looks like the light is coming from within. As well, MAC has come out with a revolutionary lipstick formula called “Powder Kiss”. It’s literally a sheer matte lipstick which has been a difficult effect to get using conventional lipsticks. It gives a soft, blown out look to the lips which is the perfect “throw and go” color to put on running out the door!
ES: When do you think someone should hire a professional rather than doing her own makeup? What changes from everyday cosmetic application would you recommend for the red carpet or special galas and events?
GA: I would always recommend hiring a professional or going to a makeup counter for special events such as weddings (especially if you’re the bride!), office parties, and the always nerve-wracking high school reunion! You always want to look like the “A+” version of yourself whenever possible, especially when photos will be taken. If you’re a little intimidated to glam yourself up, come see one of us!
ES: Do you have any rules for doing makeup differently for the red carpet versus editorial, the stage, film, or video?
GA: Red carpet makeup for me is all about “polishing the pearl”; allowing the client to look like the best possible version of herself. I make sure to use primers and long-wear makeup for the long hours one will be wearing the makeup as well as looking perfect for photos. Editorial makeup is usually much, much lighter as it usually is complementing the clothing and we as makeup artists can step in throughout the shoot for touchups.
ES: Was there any particular woman who was your inspiration when you first decided to enter the field as a professional makeup artist during the 1980s?
GA: The great irony here is that I was obsessed with Boy George! The way he wore his makeup in such a colorful, gender-bending way truly woke me up to the fact that makeup is a very powerful tool when it comes to an overall look. Of course I was also a huge fan of all of the new wave women of the time; Siouxsie Sioux, Strawberry Switchblade, The Go-Go’s, Grace Jones, and the legendary Nina Hagen. They were all my makeup icons and had their posters plastered on my walls!
ES: How did your relationship with M.A.C. begin and evolve?
GA: I’d started buying M.A.C. as a makeup artist in the early 90s when I first discovered it at Fred Segal in Santa Monica. At that point I’d been dabbling in makeup since 1989, doing test shoots on models and any friend who was going out. I’d met many people who are now lifelong friends who worked for MAC and in early 1993 I dared greatly and applied for a job. I was hired instantly as a traveling makeup artist and that’s when I truly LEARNED the art of makeup; doing it on real women, day in and day out, of all races, ages, and genders. I went to the each location that carried MAC, doing makeup on customers. The position then evolved into becoming a trainer, training all the new and existing MAC artists and then a senior makeup artist, traveling to the major fashion markets for fashion week. Currently I hold the title of Director Of Makeup Artistry, acting as a spokesperson for the brand. I get to travel the world doing press tours, photoshoots, master classes, and work closely with Product Development on new, innovative products. It truly is a dream job!
ES: You have created so many different images for Gwen, moving from doe eyes to velvet eyes to cat eyes to winged eyes to Cleopatra eyes, and lips from pale pink to Schiaparelli pink and from peach to crimson, in looks that have been retro, girl-next-door, fantasy woman, and even futuristic. Do you have a favorite for Gwen? How did you first meet?
GA: We actually met in a very funny way! In early 1995, when I was a traveling makeup artist for MAC, one of the stores I would go into was Nordstrom in Woodland Hills, CA. I had a client who worked on a record label and one of their acts was No Doubt. This was when they were a local band, playing clubs around Southern California. My client told me that I HAD to meet the lead singer Gwen, so she sent her in to have me do her makeup! We hit it off, and she handed me “Tragic Kingdom”, the CD that would ultimately put them on the map, before it came out. We lost touch until we reconnected in 2011 when I was called in to work with her on press for “Push And Shove” which came out in 2012. It was a reunion of the ages! We’ve done so many looks it’s literally countless. It’s hard to name a favorite as I’ve loved each look we’ve created. That said, it’s always fun to do a classic 1960s look, creating a strong eye with loads of lashes, liner, and a pale lip.
ES: What is strobing?
GA: “Strobing” is just another name for highlighting! The term was born from “Strobe Cream” by MAC which is an illuminating moisturizer that you can use all over your face, strategically to highlight the high planes of the face, or mix into your foundation for added luminosity. I also love it over the shoulders and legs for a hyper real glow!
ES: Do you recommend liquid liner or pencil for the red carpet?
GA: Either! I feel that liquid is a bit longer lasting, but pencil can give a softer look.
ES: In 2018, you had your very own lipstick collection in the M.A.C. stores. Any plans for more Gregory Arlt products for 2019?
GA: Your lips to the makeup gods’ ears! It was a huge honor to be asked to create a red carpet capsule collection, and I hope to do more with- and for- MAC in the future!
ES: What is the best way to hide less than perfect skin?
GA: There are so many factors with respect to ‘imperfect’ skin. If it discoloration that is a concern, try to use color correctors just where needed after applying foundation. If it’s texture you’re trying to conceal (blemishes, scarring, etc), focus on the ‘problem’ areas only. Apply your foundation as needed, then come in with concealer. Most make the mistake of applying too much coverage all over to conceal what they’re not happy with. As well, use matte finish textures over problem skin. Anything with shine or sheen can exacerbate the issues, while matte tends to be more concealing.
ES: If highlighting, contouring, smoky eyes and a more complex and theatrical look are desired, do you recommend hiring a professional? And should there be a try-out before the big event?
GA: Yes, yes, and YES! If you’re planning on doing a more risky look, go see a professional. Online tutorials, while helpful, are done on other people and there’s no better way to see how a look will translate than on yourself. I definitely recommend hiring a professional and indeed doing a trial look to make sure it’s what you want.
ES: I have heard about using transparent tape when applying a face. How does this work?
GA: While I’ve personally not used this technique, many people will use tape on the outer corners of the eyes. They apply their shadows, then remove the tape, resulting in a very sharp line.
ES: What do you think of the no-makeup look as advocated by Alicia Keys and some others, who even appear bare-faced at awards events and on television?
GA: I’ve always been an advocate of expressing yourself however you see fit. I think the bare, stripped down faces we’ve seen are indeed refreshing. I think Alicia Keys looks radiant!
ES: I know you are a fan of brushes rather than other applicators or fingers. What brushes should we have at the ready?
GA: Brushes are the best tools to get the looks you want. Most women think they can get away with one brush, but I often ask- would you cook with one spatula? It takes a few tools to get the results you want. I would recommend five brushes: A powder brush, a blush brush, a flat shadow brush for overall application, a tapered blending brush for the eyes, and a sharp angle brush for brows, liner, and defining the eye.
ES: Matte or glossy lips? Cream or powder highlighter?
GA: All of the above! That said, I feel that powder highlighter is longer lasting that cream highlighters that need touching up throughout the day.
ES: Gregory, do you believe in less is more or more is more?
GA: I believe that makeup should reflect your mood. If you want to go the grocery store in full glam, do it! If you wish to pare down your look for a big event, do it!