Artist Profile: Kate Lee
How Yorkshire-born Kate Lee became one of Hollywood’s go-to makeup artists.
- Written By
- JESS BASSER SANDERS
“I was one of those irritating kids who always knew exactly what she wanted to do,” says Los Angeles–based, UK-born makeup maven Kate Lee. And what Kate Lee wants, Kate Lee gets. After working her way up in film and backstage at the European fashion shows, Lee has become one of the most wanted editorial artists for magazines like Vogue and Purple; has spent almost ten years as a Chanel celebrity makeup artist; and is the go-to for many of the red carpet’s biggest stars, including Keira Knightley, Anne Hathaway, Rooney Mara, and Rose Byrne.
For Lee, flying close to the sun seems to be second nature. Growing up in Yorkshire in the 1980s, she was transfixed by the makeup she saw on rock album covers, and passed hours in her bedroom gazing at them. Her early schoolyard attempts to mimic Toyah Willcox’s Ziggy Stardust–esque makeup—complete with a flock of birds winging across her forehead—were perhaps a little too successful. “I was sent home from school on a regular basis for re-creating this look on myself during lunch break,” she recalls. Later, when studying makeup at the prestigious London College of Fashion (which shares a campus with Central Saint Martins), those avant-garde proclivities became assets, and caught the attention of very good company. “I was fortunate to be at school with some great visionaries. Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, and Lee [Alexander] McQueen were all at CSM the same year as me, so I saw a lot of fashion people take their first steps.”
Upon graduation, Lee’s career took off. She started collaborating on editorials for Dazed & Confused, assisting legendary makeup artist Val Garland, and working backstage on runway shows for Givenchy, McQueen, and Lanvin. But it was a chance meeting on a magazine shoot with up-and-coming starlet Kate Winslet that led to Lee’s big-screen breakthrough. The two established a rapport and started working together, and when Titanic catapulted Winslet into superstardom, Lee went with her.
Lee’s own star has been rising ever since. Her relationship with Winslet led to more red carpet work with fellow English beauties Rachel Weisz and Rosamund Pike, and eventually a move to Los Angeles, where she began tending to the beauty looks of Hathaway, Mara, et al. “When you are a freelance makeup artist, loyalty and trust are not only the greatest compliment professionally, but also the lifeblood of your career,” Lee says of her relationship with her high-wattage clients. “What I aim for,” she says, “and what I hope is apparent in my work, is that the eye is drawn to the beauty of my clients and not just their makeup. It’s a privilege to watch their careers soar.”
Kate Lee on why she never leaves the house without a new powder puff, the secret to beauty (hint: it’s not makeup), and the perks of having a hairstylist for a husband.
Name: Kate Lee | @kateleemakeup
Known For: Natural beauty, elevated; classic glamour.
Where to Find Her: Los Angeles
Clients: Keira Knightley, Rooney Mara, Anne Hathaway, Rosie Huntington Whiteley
Years in the Industry: 22
Beauty Essential: Chanel Hydra Beauty Micro Serum
I do not work without a new, clean powder puff. It is my little finger buddy that allows me to remove shine and rest on the skin as I work. I order white velour puffs with silk ribbons, and I throw them away once I am done. I never reuse my puffs. It’s decadent but necessary.
Charlotte Rampling. She is unconventional in her beauty but always elegant. I love her slightly hooded eyes and androgyny.
I fly through Burt’s Bees Sensitive Facial Wipes. They are so gentle and smell great.
Jessica at Jackie’s Nails on Fairfax. She has done my nails for years. I am so particular with my shape that going to just any random nail salon isn’t really something I do. She is amazing—the best paint in the west!
Sascha Breuer. He has an incredible technique for cutting invisible layers that make your hair move without looking layered. He’s also my husband, so that helps with appointments!
I go to Lena at Carasoin Day Spa on Robertson. She is very gentle, skilled, and knowledgeable. I emerge practically reborn! She has many different options, and I get a bit of everything depending on what my skin needs.
My favorite florist in L.A. is Hollyflora. They make beautiful, slightly chaotic arrangements and their roses are always incredible. In NYC, I like Taylor at Fox Fodder Farm. I love roses and anemones, but honestly, I just love any florals and always have fresh flowers at home.
Astier de Villatte incense or candles in Aoyama and Quatre Roses incense are constantly burning at my place. I like to be surrounded by great fragrance when I am at home—and a really cold glass of Prosecco!
I just take really good care of myself, my diet, and my skin. I would rather look well and rested than tweaked and textureless. I have embraced my laugh lines and my gray hair. I just want to look good in relation to my age, not turn back time.
CAN’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT
My Chanel Hydra Beauty Micro Serum. I use it on every client, regardless of skin type, age, or ethnicity. It is the perfect dose of hydration with minimum residue, and great to use before makeup.
Cate Blanchett, because she has such scope in her beauty and talent. She is my ultimate face, my ultimate client.
BEST NIGHT EVER
One that springs to mind was at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. Adir Abergel [hairstylist] and I had just finished a grueling three-week world press tour for G.I. Joe with Sienna Miller, and we were ready to let off some serious steam! It was just fun, fun, fun—we danced ’til the early hours in one of the bungalows with a really great bunch of folks. I woke up on the sofa the next morning wearing the same clothes as the night before and did the walk of shame back to my car. A hangover to remember.
Confidence. Every great beauty has it or appears as though she does! It is what makes a person alluring and has you wanting to know more about them. It’s also one of the more challenging parts of being a woman.
DO YOU SEE THE PERFUME BOTTLE AS HALF-EMPTY OR HALF-FULL?
Oh, my bottles are always half-full. I feel so incredibly lucky to have so many—thank you Chanel! Seriously, though, I am grateful that I recognized my opportunities and found the strength to go for it. I truly love being a makeup artist.
THE FIRST THING I NOTICE WHEN I MEET A NEW PERSON
Anyone who knows me or follows me on Instagram will know that the answer is eyebrows! They are the framework of the face and have the power to change someone’s appearance greatly.