EFM Exclusive Story - Celebrity Makeup Artist Mary Greenwell




xtraordinaire, influential, powerful, and a pioneer is how I would describe celebrity makeup artist, Mary Greenwell.  During our interview in February, I had never encountered such a woman who is as strong and confident; which comes across as elegant and quite charming.  She has held her high status in the beauty and fashion industry to the fullest and is second to none.  Starting her career in the 1970's, Greenwell has sustained a well-built career for three decades.  She is known for being Princess Diana's ‘go to’ makeup artist in the early 90’s; and other celebrities such as, Cate Blachett and Kate Moss, just to name a few.  Before her success and way before being called a ‘legend makeup artist’, she turns down the radio, which she listens to the news every morning before starting out her day.  Greenwell candidly tells me in detail how her career started.  “I was living in L.A. in the 70’s and I started representing a makeup line called IL MAKIAGE; it’s a New York artist makeup line.  Ilana Harkavi, was the first person to do makeup artist makeup line.  People like, myself, was using all of her fantastic colors.  She was like a mini MAC-It’s quite a sweet story;” she says. “I never did makeup in my life.”  The person she was working with says to Greenwell, 'you would be perfect to represent the makeup line.’  “I went; hold on, look at this face, I have never worn makeup;” ‘No, no I want you to do this.’  “She sent me to New York and I worked with Ilana for like a month studying the product in the shop which was really fun” she says.  Ilana took Greenwell down to her room the first day she arrived and did her makeup.  “I had never worn makeup, it was like,” ‘wooo this is transforming’, she says, after Ilana put makeup on her.  “Only one time Ilana did my makeup, then I was kind of left on my own.  It was a very natural thing; as a child I was very artistic and quite dreamy; I was drawing things, painting flowers, doing little things like that.  I never had an idea of being a big artist.”

She uses different makeup products and love to try new shades and colors on clients.  When I asked her what’s her favorite lip color, she replied, “I like nude and berry colors.  Three tones darker than my natural lip color.  I personally look real tacky with color lip sticks.  I like slightly berry tone colors, I think it looks very becoming.  It enhances the mouth.”


She doesn’t work on fashion shows anymore.  “I’ve been there-done that.”  she says.  Her typical day is working on advertising, red carpet, and editorials with celebrities.  “I’m mostly celebrity based now.”  I asked how did that come about only working with celebrities, she says; “by choice.”


Greenwell speaks highly of the late Princess Diana and shared with me some memories of working with her, describing her radiance.   I asked Greenwell what has been some highlights from her career; “I think I’ve had so many highlights in my career.  I mean I have to say meeting Princess Diana for the first time was pretty exciting and wonderful.  I think that’s pretty enormous!  I consider my career to be very blessed and although that was a wonderful thing to do, it’s not necessarily a highlight.  It was just another one of those steps that you take to get the reputation you have.  As we know having an excellent reputation is everything.  She continues, “I would say, my highlight-the little fun bits was going to the Himalayas for two weeks and working with Patrick Demarchelier for British Vogue.  We worked for two days, and 10 days in the Himalayas just checking it out.  You don’t do that anymore, people don’t do that anymore, there’s no time, and everyone is on such a deadline,” said Greenwell.  “Between social media and these great big extraordinary expensive advertising campaigns, no one could afford to do that,” she continues.  So off we went with British Vogue, the assistant photographer, makeup, hair, Cindy Crawford, and the stylist, and that was it.  We had the most amazing time.”  

Greenwell has the most amazing fun and exciting trips working in the industry.  She points out the industry has become more work than having the balance of work and fun.  “I remember going to Colorado for British Vogue with Sam McKnight (whom they’ve collaborated together for many years) we giggled and all we did was giggle and take a pictures once in a while.  I had the most amazing experience within my career.  When in the 80’s it was so much freer when there weren’t these great big budgets, it was much more easy and laid back, it really changed in the 80’s everyone got greedier-I didn’t think about money.  I’m a very poor makeup artist compared to a lot of people because we didn’t think about money,” she says.  “We were having so much fun.  Our lives were a combination of work and what you really enjoyed and what you loved doing and being with the most fun wonderful friends in the world.”


The industry has changed over the last 20 years, Greenwell says.  “There was time for us to go out and have fun-no time to have fun any longer.  This is just a general feeling that I have towards what has happened.  This is not just me; all of us who’ve been around for many years feel this way.” She continues, “also another thing that I feel really sorry about, it’s become unbelievably competitive.  I came in a time where there were five makeup artists, five hair stylists, five stylists and five photographers, that was it.  We were flown around the world; Concord, First Class, here, and there, everywhere. It was a very small industry.  Now the industry is absolutely huge and I could think of nothing worse than being like an assistant makeup artist, and praying that I get recognized as a great makeup artist and hanging in there and competing.”

In the late 80’s and 90’s supermodels had become huge superstars.  “It became very fashionable, thanks to the supermodels being recognized within the business,  says Greenwell.  “Everything changed for the supermodels-same girls on the runway-as there were on the advertising campaigns-as there were on the editorials.  So never before the girls on the runway 'skinny little things,' like Yves Saint Laurent models; they were much older and much more experienced, they did fantastic runway.”  She said.  “These beauties came along and the person who really changed it was Versace when he sent them all out on the catwalk at the same time, it was like, ‘wow,’ that was a moment of magic.  Everyone in the industry became makeup artist or a hair dresser, model, and photographer. Suddenly the industry became absolutely huge.  There is always room for new people to swim to the top;” says Greenwell.  “It’s a very, very big industry now which is slightly very competitive.”


“It’s extremely-hard work, it’s extremely stressful.  I know for these young kids- I feel sorry for a lot of them.  The older photographers-I was privileged enough to work with Irving Penn, but you know the other photographers, the ones who’ve been around forever in the beginning of my career like Patrick Demarchelier and Peter Lindbergh, they are all alive and really, really well and working really hard.  They’re not going to give up-they don’t have to give up because they are in high demand.  The baby photographers have to work really hard-they’re doing a lot for no money.  I just feel that the industry changed.  I think it’s an amazing industry if you work your way up and get there.  One of my assistants last week told me that she was giving up on makeup because she feels that she’s never going to make it-it broke my heart, you know.”



Greenwell says that she feels so blessed to still be working.  “I love what I do, I love, love, love, the people I’m with because now I find that I’m working with people who are almost, if not, friends, verging on being friends-I would say that I work with friends most of the time.  I’m talking about ‘real' friends, I’m not talking about superficial friends; some of them might be friends within the industry, some of them are life friends and that’s a wonderful thing too.  So I’m really blessed and love what I do.”




I asked Greenwell if she could tell me something that no one knows about her.  “I don’t think I can, because I’m such an open book and I don’t have any secrets.  But let me tell you something, when I got into makeup I was doubtful whether I should do this.  I’m giving up my life to it,” she says to herself.   “Of course I never had the baby, I would love to have that child, she says.  That is something you have to say and ask yourself, if you are working in top of the tree, you are always running around.  I didn’t think about this of course because I was having such fun, until it was probably too late, but I know many women who do think about it.  My advice to them, ‘just have the baby please,’ you can come back to your career, but you cannot come back to having babies'.”



When starting out in this industry it’s very important and basically crucial that you have a reputable agent to represent you if you really want to go far in your career.  “It is absolutely essential to have an agent,” says Greenwell.  “It’s very hard to negotiate yourself, like your fees.  If you’re working very hard your agent will organize your cars, and book your flights.  An agent is such an important part of your life and really helps to run your life.  You will have your personal assistant that would do your personal assistant stuff at home, like your banking, etc., but your agent is very much in control; they talk to the clients, but I do not talk to the clients until I’m on set, even though they might be a friend.”



Aspiring makeup artists can learn a great deal from Greenwell.  “Well indeed, of course they do, she says. Well first they’ll learn how to do makeup, that’s the big thing.  They also learn how to behave, and one has to show an enormous amount of respect for everyone around you, it’s a job, but you are surrounded by people you love.  Professionalism is really super important.  She adds, “Really hang in there.  Have all the faith in the world that you will make it.  Try to assist other brilliant makeup artists that you really admire; that’s very important.  Assisting is very important, you get to see how other people work, you get to see how people who are successful act around other clients, you learn the right way to approach people because they’ve been doing it for years, and don’t forget, you learn the protocol and the politics, if you're around other people who are working.”



Social Media plays a major part in how we all represent ourselves and has become a powerful tool to show your personal photos and your professional work.  Greenwell agrees.  “In the modern world social media is really important as a makeup artist.  It’s all about the social media.”  Greenwell enjoys sharing her recent work and some of her archives that isn’t “necessary in my agency book” on Instagram.  “It’s my personal tool to show and share with my friends, clients, and with other people.  Even for me, my Instagram becomes very personal and I absolutely love doing it, and I love for people to see what I am doing.”





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