The last time we saw Charlotte Tilbury, she was hosting an event at Nordstrom in Los Angeles, and the line of people waiting to meet her wrapped around the block—we’ve seen celebrities draw in smaller crowds. Which isn’t surprising, considering Tilbury is a celebrity in her own right—or perhaps the term “makeup royalty” is more fitting. With clients (and close friends) like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Sienna Miller, a hugely popular makeup and skincare and legions of adoring fans who look to her for beauty guidance, Tilbury is the definition of someone who has turned her passion into a burgeoning, blossoming business.
We caught up with the beauty guru and asked her everything we wanted to know about her career path—from her first job, to how exactly she started her business, and all the lessons she learned along the way. Keep scrolling to learn Charlotte Tilbury’s secrets to success!
BYRDIE: Growing up, was makeup always a passion? What was your first-ever memory of using makeup?
CHARLOTTE TILBURY: I discovered makeup when I was 13, and it changed my life. I started wearing mascara, and overnight, people reacted to me in a very different way. I was more popular and noticed—and I felt more confident. While at first it seemed like a depressing realization, I soon realized that makeup is powerful—it’s every woman’s secret weapon. Makeup can give you the confidence to change your job, move abroad, get a pay raise, get that man you’ve always wanted. It’s what I call the psychology of makeup: If you look at your best, you will feel and perform at your best. Why not put your best face forward in life?
BYRDIE: So makeup equals power?
CT: I was always fascinated by the power a beautiful woman has as she enters a room. There’s something entrancing and intoxicating about her power. I used to study the faces of famous beauties like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Sophia Loren to understand what gave them their power—the symmetry, features, shapes and colors. Ever since then, no one has ever seen me without makeup on! I definitely wouldn’t have the life and career I have without it.
BYRDIE: No one?!
CT: It’s the face that I want to present to the world. Keep the mystery alive.
BYRDIE: How did you first start doing makeup?
CT: After I discovered makeup, I spent my school years testing and trialling it out on all of my friends—I was a makeup artist back then too! I used to do makeovers on my friends, matching their hairstyle to their makeup. I’ve always loved the transformational effect makeup has on women.
BYRDIE: When did your formal training begin?
CT: My first job was assisting Mary Greenwell, who was an amazing mentor. We met in Ibiza through my parents—this was before I even knew that makeup artistry was a profession. She encouraged me to train at the Glauca Rossi School of Makeup. I started my career with her during that iconic ’80s and ’90s “supermodel era” of Linda, Naomi, Cindy and Christy—it was an incredible time to start in the industry. My world was filled with Amazonian beauties who really understood the power of makeup to create allure, influence and sex appeal.
BYRDIE: So would you say assisting Mary was your foot in the door?
CT: I had to work hard for my first break into the industry—I would call the magazines and meet as many people as possible to be given an opportunity. It was tough, but I never gave up—it was a real-life lesson. To make it in this industry, you have to have an incredible work ethic, self-belief and determination.
BYRDIE: Did you ever have a “big break,” or did things just progress naturally?
CT: It really all started for me when I met the genius photographers Mert and Marcus in Ibiza and started working with Mario Testino during the ’90s—this really kick-started my fashion career. We were all part of this collective in the fashion industry that was creating a new look. At that time, it was all about deconstructed fashion and grunge—I started creating this sort of makeup look and made it all about flawless, glowing, glossy skin. It was also a time when I really started to experiment with my artistry by exploring different artistic influences and creating bold looks. We started creating an “anti-grunge” look—it was glossier and more aspirational, photo shoots and makeup that took you to a different world.
BYRDIE: Is this “anti-grunge” period when your career really started flourishing?
CT: Yes, I started working on Vogue cover shoots as well as Vanity Fair Hollywood issues, W magazine, Pop, Visionnaire and Allure, to name a few. This is when I started creating the glossy, glamourous makeup looks that I am now known for.
BYRDIE: You met some of your muses during this period, right?
CT: Kate Moss and I first met when we were both 19 on a shoot—for her, I created the iconic feline flick look. I met Penélope Cruz on a makeup campaign shoot, and we bonded over Spanish and our similar lifestyle—for her, I created the Dolce Vita smoky eye look with Penelope Pink lips. I also met Jennifer Lopez on a Mert and Marcus shoot and created for her the golden, glowing contoured look, which you can now re-create with my Filmstar Bronze & Glow palette.
BYRDIE: Is this also the period when you started thinking about starting your own line?
CT: Yes—I started leading fashion shows through my partnership with MAC Cosmetics and started getting campaign shoots for the likes of Missoni, Cavalli, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, and Louis Vuitton. Also, throughout my 20 years as a makeup artist, I have done creative product development for many high-end brands like Helena Rubenstein, MAC, Armani, MyFace, Chanel, and Tom Ford.
I was working with the best VIP formulas before they came to market. I learned an incredible amount through these experiences—and that’s when I knew that I wanted to start my own makeup collection.
BYRDIE: The first step is sometimes the hardest—at what point did you know you were ready to step out and start your own line?
CT: I started learning about formulations and active ingredients—what formats and formulas worked to make application easy and blendable, how to mix colors, and such. I knew I could take everything I learned about formula but revolutionize the industry with it. I wanted to take everything I knew about application, color matching and formulations and condense this for everyone in an easy-to-use, easy-to-choose collection so that everyone could be their own best makeup artist. It’s like having a virtual consultation with me—I’m basically doing myself out of a job!
BYRDIE: What would you say was the main inspiration for your line?
CT: Throughout my work, I realized that there was no difference between real women and the celebrities and models I worked with; it’s just that celebrities and models understand the power of makeup to maximize their assets. I often witness celebrities who come in with the same problems as all of us (tired skin, bags, pimples), but when their makeup is complete, they have that metamorphose moment of finding themselves again in the mirror: “There she is!”
When you look good, you feel good, and the world reacts to you in a different way. What really drives me is sharing this power with every woman. Beauty is not an exclusive club—there are no unattractive women, just some that don’t know they can be beautiful. They don’t understand the power of makeup and how it can transform their outer beauty but also their inner confidence.
BYRDIE: You are a social media superstar with almost 1.6 million Instagram followers and 170,000 Twitter followers—how would you say social media played a part in growing your business?
CT: Social media is an incredibly powerful tool in engaging your consumer in a deeper relationship than is possible at a counter in a store and also for expressing your brand DNA, giving instant access to behind-the-scenes content, sharing artistry and expertise, and a customer service tool, too. In today’s world, social media is king and the key to connecting to people from every generation. It allows you to create buzz, engage in a dialogue with your consumers and reach millions of people instantly. I will never forget when I first reached 20,000 followers on Instagram and realized that I literally was communicating with an entire football stadium of people in the palm of my hand—it was really powerful!
BYRDIE: Are there other social platforms you like to use?
CT: I use YouTube to share my knowledge and expertise and give access to everyone. It’s become one of my most powerful tools—not only can I educate, but it also helps me to build my profile and “celebrity”—my red hair is very distinctive and instantly recognizable. But Instagram is my favorite channel because it allows you to be creative and visual—it’s the perfect home for fashion and beauty. It allows me to share my inspirations, breaking brand news, share my world with my followers and create a back-and-forth rapport with them.
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This post originally appeared on Byrdie U.S. on March 23, 2015.
Opening image: David M Bennett/Getty