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The Violet Files

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The artist behind your favorite pop star’s makeup on what inspires him, and the constantly evolving process that is self-expression.

Written By:
Tanner Riley
michael anthony

In celebration of diversity, individuality, love, gender expansiveness, self expression, and Pride, VIOLET GREY spotlights the LGBTQIA+ creatives and activists who inspire us.

Michael Anthony, makeup artist and esteemed member of VIOLET GREY’s Committee of Industry Experts, first discovered beauty at a young age through a family member’s Mary Kay stash. Now the genius behind many of Katy Perry’s most glamorous moments, not to mention Ariana Grande’s unforgettable galactic sparkle. Always evolving, Anthony values the insight of a new generation of creatives and continues to push his own boundaries through constant experimentation.

  • 01

    VIOLET GREY: How would you describe your relationship to beauty products and the idea of beauty growing up?

    MICHAEL ANTHONY: I was mesmerized by the characters in my life that used very specific makeup products. I’ll never forget my nanny who would apply her mascara in the mirror before she left work at the end of the day. I always wondered why she waited until she was leaving to go through this transformation, however, looking back it makes all the sense in the world.
    I’ve grown up considering makeup and the ability to enhance your beauty as a wonderful gift we are given—freedom to choose to accentuate or diminish different features is so powerful and I recognized that at an early age. I also had an aunt who sold Mary Kay, so I was always around testers and training material on color theory and application techniques. It has always been an enchanting component of my life!

  • 02

    VG: Did you always feel like you could fully express yourself? Style, gender-expression, verbally, and otherwise?

    MA: I’ve been cutting up my jeans and T-shirts since I was a kid. I would draw on my jeans and attach studs in random patterns. I remember someone’s parents asking me if I fell into a tank of piranhas. I also wore my mom’s green jelly sandals to my first day of third grade, which wasn’t received very well. I think as kids we are so free and joyful and then the world kind of forces us into an archetype of what society deems appropriate without considering how the individual actually feels. But, yes, I have always been very expressive and animated.
    It wasn’t until I moved to New York and found my tribe that I really started experimenting with my personal look and how I present myself to the world. I had a supportive—or maybe just “unbothered”—family that accepted me so I felt able to express myself, but I’m always evolving and that feels possible due to the journey I’ve had so far.

  • 03

    VG: Can you recall a look where you really felt like yourself? What was it and where were you going?

    MA: I never enjoyed wearing formal clothes and felt best in a tan loose t-shirt that matched my skin tone—all you would see were my tattoos and a smile. Recently, I have loved how it feels to be in a suit. I went to Elton John’s Oscar party in a tuxedo and bow tie without a hat and I felt so cool! I'm just coming off a gig in the U.K. at Windsor Castle, and I must say, a fitted black suit jacket and button down are very sharp and appropriate for castles, I suppose.

  • 04

    VG: How do you use beauty products and styling to express yourself or feel most like yourself?

    MA: Personally, I am very low maintenance and minimal unless I am being photographed. Then I have a very simple grooming routine that involves some self tanner, mattifying powder, and eyebrow gel. I do love a fluffy, expressive brow and I have a good amount of skin care products that I use regularly. These days, I am investing more in the texture and tone of my skin and have leaned into lasers like Clear + Brilliant. I also have a fair amount of tattoos and jewelry that are like permanent accessories, so I tend to keep the rest very minimal.

  • 05

    VG: How do you think representation and diversity have changed in the beauty industry since you were young?

    MA: It has changed a lot as far as public-facing elements like models and castings in order to engage more consumers, but I don’t have that much insight into the behind-the-scenes world as far as financing and big corporate decisions. I imagine that hasn’t changed as much as we would like to believe. Not all of that is bad though, a lot of these relationships have existed for decades, and they have earned and worked very hard for them. The good thing is that a new generation will inevitably replace the former and that means new ideas and new values.

  • 06

    VG: What do you think the beauty industry could do better?

    MA: I think there is an opportunity to foster younger talent. I remember when I was starting out, I had to work so hard and not make very much money in order to convince people I had what it takes. I don’t think people should necessarily have to suffer in order to be successful. The industry is becoming more transparent about their product testing practices and the diversity in brand partnerships. It’s actually quite lovely to see!

  • 07

    VG: Is beauty/makeup (or the absence of it) important to you for gender euphoria or expression

    MA: What’s most important to me I think, is having the choice! As is the case with so many important issues we are facing as a society these days.