All things considered, I know a lot about makeup. When I was two years old and could barely speak, my brother asked me on camera what I wanted for Christmas from Santa that year and my response was a stuttered, "Make. Up. And a purple frisbee." The frisbee thing didn't last, but I've loved makeup since I could form interests and eventually pursued a career covering the topic as a beauty editor.
Still, despite my passion and skill level, there's always been a gap for me when it comes to upping the ante. I'm great at doing my makeup for daily life and the average Friday night outing–even New Year's Eve (throw some glitter on it)–but when it comes to events like a fancy wedding, my normal looks and routine don't cut it. Two to three hours into the evening, I'm the girl glancing at glamorous guests with crisp red lips and seemingly airbrushed skin–women who you can tell knew what they were doing when they got ready–while feeling a little worse for the wear (cat-eye corner has smudged, blemishes are starting to peek through, skin looks dry). I wanted to know how to do more impactful makeup for a fun occasion.
Emily and I chatted about this shared knowledge gap, which she experienced when she had the opportunity to attend a Golden Globes party recently. She told me: "I wanted my makeup to be special and found myself pondering a ton of questions: How could I ensure my skin looked glowy without looking greasy? How do you mattify oilyness without looking flat/dry? How can you make your lip color last all night?" Since we were both seeking the same thing, we decided to bring in the experts at Violet Grey, the premier authority in Hollywood on red carpet beauty.
To give you a little background, Violet Grey's business is A-list beauty. They tap celebrities (who have been made-up their entire careers and have learned a lot at shoots/on set), along with the industry's top experts (whose very job is to make these human beings look maximally beautiful for high-profile events). Through excellent interviews and a rigorous product-vetting process, Violet Grey presents the best of the best insider insight.
My day at their Melrose Place boutique (which boasts a gorgeous private makeup studio) involved a three-hour conversation (and shorter transformation) with one of their lead makeup artists and assistant store director, Lori Young. I asked her all the questions Emily and I had–and then some–for anyone who wants a bit more information on how to do next-level makeup. Sure, we may not be Angelina Jolie going to the Academy Awards, but the next best thing is learning how the artists* who prep celebs like Jolie actually do it, so we can apply those tips to our next wedding/event look.
*As an interesting aside: They call their staff "artists" (without the makeup modifier), because the work they're doing truly is artistry. (Just check this out for proof). Young actually is a painter/artist, and made a lot of comparisons between the technique and skill you learn (mainly: a light, soft hand) and her work as a makeup artist. As she applied makeup to my face, she worked with painterly strokes, whether filling in a brow, applying lip color, or drawing eyeliner across the lid.
Hope you enjoy this in-depth piece!
Alina Gonzalez with Cupcakes and Cashmere: So what's the very first thing people should start with when doing their makeup for a fancy event?
Lori Young with Violet Grey: Great-looking makeup is all about being proactive with your skincare. Prepping the skin is so important. It ensures your makeup goes on smoothly and wears beautifully throughout the day/evening/event.
I always recommend beginning the process with a leave-on mask. For special events, leave one on for 15 minutes before you begin your makeup, then tissue it off. I'd actually recommend using a mask a couple times in the week leading up to the event to help with dehydration and plumping, especially if you haven’t slept enough or you've been traveling. Applying a hydration mask can work wonders for fighting fatigue and lack-luster skin. The Sisley Flower Gel mask is fantastic for plumping up the skin with moisture and giving your skin that red carpet glow.
After tissuing off your hydrating mask, prep the face with a basic moisturizer as well as an eye cream. For moisturizer, I love the Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre. It’s a French pharmacy product that's a staple in a lot of makeup artists' kits. It's great for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and is a fabulous formula for the value. It leaves the skin dewy and very smooth.
In general, I recommend eye cream twice a day (morning and night) in order to get the most benefits. For makeup application, you've got to keep the eye area hydrated because the skin there is very thin, more so than other areas on the face. In order for eye makeup to go on more natural-looking and smooth there, you need to keep it moisturized.
How long should you wait to apply makeup after you moisturize the face + eyes?
You don’t need to wait very long. Just give it a couple of minutes to settle in. After you apply your mask + moisturizer + eye cream, you can grab whatever products you need and set them up. By the time you've done that, your skincare will have settled in perfectly.
I also love hydration sprays. They are great on a daily basis as part of your skincare regimen, but they're also helpful for prepping skin before makeup. They fight dehydration and give you an instant pick me up. When applied at the end of a makeup application, they also seal the whole look. So if you have one on hand, you can do one spray right before applying makeup, and then one at the very end to seal in more hydration.
Is a hydration spray the same thing as a setting spray?
Some sprays are for specifically for waterproofing makeup, whereas some sprays are for giving more hydration. Hydration sprays are what translate to that glow you see on actresses on the red carpet–the luminescence.
I see! We'll come back to that at the end. Okay so what's next?
Smokey eyes are easier to achieve for people doing their own makeup for fancy events, because a cat-eye is higher risk—you have to be more careful with it. Smokey eyes are supposed to look smudged and imperfect–a little undone–so there's less pressure than with a perfectly-drawn cat eye.
When going for a sultry smokey eye, do your eyes first, before your foundation or concealer. Pigments will tend to fall below the eye when using darker shadows, so it will save you time to do your eye makeup first, and concealer afterwards.
Before applying any eyeshadows, you always want to do a water-resistant eye shadow base, especially for any kind of event where it will be humid.
Is that the same thing as a primer?
Yes, the eyeshadow base is, in essence, like a primer for the eye lid. It brightens up the eye and ensures the eyeshadow will stay put, especially in humid climates.
If you're working with a smokey eye shadow palette, you can just use whatever the lightest color in that palette is as the all-over wash on the lid to create this brightening base (for example the top left shade in the quadrant below).
A general rule of thumb for creating a soft smokey eye is to apply the shadow in layers, applying the light and medium shades to the eye first, to create a smooth base; then popping the darker shades in the outer corner of the eyes and along the lash line, while keeping the inner area of your eye lighter. Be sure to blend well so it doesn't look choppy.
I recommend the Utowa #13 eyeshadow brush to create a base on the lid with the light and medium tones, and the Utowa #10 eyeshadow brush for accenting with the darker colors in the outer corner of the eye. And remember: Blend, blend, blend!
What is the trick to blending well?
You can use the "window-washer" approach. You just go back and forth, back and forth, with your eyeshadow brush like windshield wipers. It’s a little trick that ensures the shadows are blended well and keeps everything looking soft.
For an even smokier, more sultry look, you can also smudge a little bit of the darker shadows on the lower lash line. Using shadow here, instead of a pencil, will look a little more subtle and undone. Q-tips are great in a pinch to help smudge the lower lash line if you get a little heavy-handed with the shadow.
After doing one round of smokey eye application/blending, it helps to take a few minutes and come back to it. I don’t go too heavy-handed on anything because it’s easy to add, but hard to take away.
So next I do eyebrows. A filled-in brow makes such a difference on your face for special events. I like pencils versus powders for brows because you can actually draw in the little hairs. Use a really light touch. You don't want to be aggressive with the pencil because you want it to look natural–just use small, light strokes to create the look of little hairs. Then you want to brush the brows up, using a clear brow gel.
If your brow gel is too thick or goopy, you can pick up more of a sheer application by dipping a clean mascara wand into it. Brushing the hairs up and out opens the eye up, and creates a dramatic look.
Before you move on to eyeliner, now is a good time to apply a lip mask to prep your lips. Doing so before you apply foundation is key since the mask extends beyond your lips to areas you'll be applying foundation to. People often neglect the lip area, and the KNC lip masks are fantastic for giving you an instant plumping effect while smoothing out fine lines and hydrating the lip area. Apply the mask for 10 minutes while you apply eyeliner and fake lashes, and your lips will be full and plumped.
Next comes eyeliner. For special events, I would go for black or dark brown on your upper lash line. Chocolate brown is beautiful, but going for black makes the lash line fuller and pop out.
What about liquid versus pencil for eyeliner?
This is personal preference, but a pencil is definitely more user-friendly and easier for beginners. You can sharpen it down to a nice point, and move the pencil in small sections across your upper lash line. If you find it’s not perfect, you can take a little blending brush and just kind of smudge over things. Two applications of the liner and it should wear very well for you. Then, for even more drama, apply a few coats of eyeliner in your water line, which will create a defined eye that pops. Opt for a long-wearing waterproof pencil because it wears really well.
What mistakes do people make with eye shadow and eyeliner?
With eye shadow and smokey eyes, it's not blending enough and not having the proper tools. You really do need at least one large, soft-bristle brush for doing an all-over wash of color in addition to a smaller, more compact brush for adding the darker details to the outer corner (and, ideally, a medium-size brush that helps with blending). If you don’t have the right tools, it’s impossible to create the look. It is just like being a painter.
In terms of eyeliner, people say they have a hard time with it because they try to just draw straight across. I work in little sections along the lash line. That way, the liner doesn't look too thick. And then you can take your blending brush to just go over it and smooth it out. The darker your features (brown eyes versus green eyes, say), the darker makeup you can do.
So mascara is next?
First, an eyelash curler is a must and I love the Utowa eyelash curler before applying mascara. It opens up the eyes and keeps the lashes lifted all day long. After curling, I like to use mascara before fake lashes. If you aren't comfortable with wearing fake lashes, I’d just do a few coats of really good mascara. I spend a little bit of extra time on mascara, really building at the ends of the lashes. Apply generously on top, and more sparingly on the bottom and then you can run back through the lashes with a clean mascara wand to get any clumps out.
After eyes are done, you're ready to do skin. If you need to wipe off any eyeshadow fallout fallout underneath your eyes, use a little bit of makeup remover and then add a little bit more eye cream to prep the area for concealer. Then remove your lip mask.
For primer and foundation, it's really important to pick out the proper one for your skin type. For oily skin, you want to go for an oil-free, oil-absorbing primer and more of a semi-matte finish foundation. If you’re on the dry side, you can skip primer and I would recommend illuminating foundation. And then everyone should set with powder, which sets your makeup to help it last even longer.
Perfect! I'm dry and never use primer, only luminous-skin foundation, so at least I've got one thing right. What about foundation shades?
For fancy events, I recommend erring on the side of a foundation that’s a little bit warmer than your natural skin tone so you don't look washed out. This can be tricky to determine without help, so you can go to a makeup counter and ask for assistance in picking out a foundation slightly warmer than your skin tone; or another option is to match your foundation to your exact skin tone and simply use bronzer to warm up the complexion.
Can you explain the warm versus cool thing?
It's really just about the color wheel–cool is a blue undertone and warm is a yellow undertone. You don't need to go an entire shade warmer than your skin tone, just something slightly so.
What's your foundation application method?
I like to "stipple" foundation on with a beauty blender. Stippling is a painting term, and it really describes how to apply foundation for the best results, because you are patting it on all over the face, rather than using strokes (which can often leave it looking streaky). The stippling ensures the foundation gets into all the tiny pores and fine lines.
Usually concealers have more coverage than foundations, so after applying foundation first, I’ll go in and say, “Where do I need additional coverage?”and I’ll use concealer for that.
After I've applied foundation and your basic, everyday hydrating concealer anywhere that needs it and under the eyes, I take a little Touche Éclat further down the under eye area to illuminate the whole midsection under the eyes. The Touche Éclat product doesn't really cover up dark circles (that's what the concealer base is for), but it brightens and highlights.
Exactly. Contouring will always take your look up a notch. First you contour with a powder bronzer, then you highlight with a highlighting cream.
For contouring, you want to find your cheekbone. You can literally tap on your cheeks and feel where you hit hard bone. Then what you want to do is go for the hollow right underneath the cheekbone. You're going to pick up just a little bit of powder on your brush, and dust it right there on the hollow into the hairline, and sweep the brush lightly back and forth. For events you want to do more on the cheeks than you normally would, otherwise it doesn’t show up in photos as well. I am drawing a line with the powder on the brush, but I’m blending it–go back and forth, back and forth until it looks blended. Start out by layering so it doesn't ever look too intense.
If you want more of a sun-kissed look, you can dust the powder bronzer a little bit on the forehead, and ridge of the nose.
Then you’re going to take your highlighting cream and just dab it on top of the cheekbone near the orbital bone of your eye area, and blend it with your fingers. Highlighter can also be applied lightly on the forehead and bridge of the nose + cupid's bow; in essence, anywhere on the high points of your face. If you are oily, you can skip this step.
Finally, pop-in a little bit of blush on the apple of the cheek. You can smile and find the apple of the cheek really easily.
At this point, I like to evaluate the face. I’m going to go back in with a little bit more of the concealer, where I feel like the foundation settled a little bit and I want to give a little bit more coverage. I’d rather go sheer to start and then add more, rather than start out heavy, so your skin looks more natural. So just add a little bit of extra coverage with concealer where you need it.
And next are fake lashes?
Exactly. With lashes and events, applying a strip lash will add more drama and be easier to wield than individual lashes. When using strips, you should place the strip on your eyelid and see if it's too long for your eye–you can just trim them if they’re too long. Next you want to squeeze out the glue. I apply it right on the strip in a very thin layer and let it sit just for a minute so it gets tacky before I put it on, so that you don't run the risk of it not sticking.
Use tweezers to apply it and basically just hold the tweezers and set the strip flush with your lash line. After you've placed it, take the tweezers and press along the length of the strip into the lash line. If you get a little glue anywhere, take a Q-tip and use makeup remover. Full strips are kind of heavy at first so it takes a minute to adjust.
We're on to the final step: lips!
I like a bold, red lip for an event. It's glamorous and stands out. First, you want to fill in the whole lip with liner–not just the outline. And then you’re going to put lipstick on top so it lasts twice as long. I like to match the lip liner and the lipstick. A bold lip makes a statement, so pairing it with a liner ensures you achieve that clean, polished look.
Because you did the lip prep, this is going on so much smoother. You can always overdraw your lip just a tad if you want it to look a little bit more plump. You want red to be very precise and crisp, so that’s why liner is essential.
Everyone can wear red, it's just a matter of finding the right undertone that complements your complexion. NARS Jungle Red is that perfect classic red–a combination of blue and orange hues that looks great on many different skin tones.
So that's interesting because you hear that old rule about not doing an eye if you have a red lip and vice versa, but you can combine that smokey eye and red lip?
It's really about your comfort level. You can do a super soft smokey eye and the red lip, or you can do a red lip that's a bit more sheer to make it more palatable. There are always ways to play up or play down elements based on what you like when you look in the mirror.
What I recommend is doing your dramatic smokey eye and skin the same, and then switching up lips and hair for different events. There are two classic looks I bounce between: glamorous waves with a bold red lip (above); or you can sweep your hair up into a playful pony tail and do a more natural glossy nude lip (below).
The first is more of that Old Hollywood, '40s-glamor feel, while the pony tail with the soft lip has a sweet, girl-next-door vibe to it. One is classic and dramatic, while the other is fresh and flirty.
Lastly, dust a light translucent powder on the oily T-zone to mattify and ensure your look will last long, then spray with a hydration spray to lock in moisture. And you're good to go.
To stay looking fresh with touch-ups throughout the night, keep the following items in your bag:
You can shop all of the items mentioned in this post and used on Alina here, as well as in the gallery below, which you can click through.
I hope this piece was helpful–leave any comments or questions you have below, and I'll do my best to answer them! -Alina