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COVER STORY:

CHARLOTTE
TILBURY

The makeup artist and entrepreneur bringing glamour, innovation
and trade secrets to the masses.


Written By JACK SUNNUCKS

Photography By NAJ JAMAÏ

Makeup ByCHARLOTTE TILBURY

Hair BySIOBHAN BENSON


In a new series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to the makeup artist who used twenty plus years of industry experience to found her own empire.  

“My Mother always said of me, ‘She’s a redhead, darling, and they’ve got loads of energy,” laughs the saucy, auburn-maned British makeup artist and entrepreneur, Charlotte Tilbury.  Her mother was right. Tilbury, who is all brains and beauty and fabulousness, is not only one of the most sought after artists in her field, she is also the mastermind behind her eponymous beauty brand, which launched in 2013.  She’s a wife and mother of two and well, God-bless her stamina because its what fuels her ever-expanding empire.

Tilbury - whose portfolio includes myriad Vogue covers, campaigns for Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford, among others, and countless red carpet looks (Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Penelope Cruz) explains why on Earth she endeavored to join an already oversaturated marketplace.  “I saw a white space - and it was really about [learning how to] bring out your best features.  [Growing up], I was this red headed girl with fair eyelashes, and I looked a bit like Boris Becker without any makeup on,” she chortles.  “I can remember sitting [at make-up counters] in department stores when I was younger and wishing that the Number One makeup artist in the world would come to me and say, ‘You know what? For your eyes, for your hair color…”

When she was thirteen years old, her whole world changed.  “I returned to boarding school, after having discovered mascara, and everyone - from 7 years old to 70 years old, was like, ‘Oh my God, you weren’t that attractive before, but now you’re really attractive.’”  “I thought to myself, you know what, I’m going to run with this because I’ve become more popular, and I’m having a better time. If it takes a tube of mascara, then that’s what it takes!  Make-up changed my life.”  



Tilbury began her career assisting U.K.-based makeup artist Mary Greenwell. “I wanted to do my time, earn my stripes, and hone my [skills],” she explains.  When she branched out on her own, she quickly established herself as one of the most talented young makeup artists, and went on to work with fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen and myriad celebrities, cementing her reputation as a creative chameleon.

Additionally, she understood her audience.  “I realized that people didn’t know what to choose or how to use,” she says. “And 50% of women in England did not engage with makeup. It’s less in America but still around 40%.”  She introduced a collection of looks – based on beauty archetypes – from Rock Chick to Ingénue– that customers would find easy to grasp.  (These looks sit prominently at the top of her website.) Her instructions make it easy to morph into a more glamorous version of oneself in only a few steps and are in line with her ethos of democratization and demystification. “If I was working with Gisele, it’s always that beach-y gorgeous look. Or Kate, a feline flick, rock chick eye, beige lip. Then you’d work with Penelope Cruz or Kim Kardashian, and do a bronze, smoky eye, contoured skin… These social archetypes really exist. They update themselves a bit, but they don’t ever go out of fashion.”

I returned to boarding school, after having discovered mascara, and everyone – from 7 years old to 70 years old, was like, ‘Oh my God, you weren’t that attractive before, but now you’re really attractive.’

— CHARLOTTE TILBURY

Glamour and ease are a winning combination, yet one that most brands have a hard time exploiting. Tilbury seems uniquely tuned into what women actually want, perhaps due to two decades of touching women’s faces and talking to them.“They were disempowered because the product wasn’t good enough. So as an expert I knew how to create, say, eye shadows. Go to the number one powder lab in the world. And now you’ll get an eye shadow that smooths over your crepe-y eyelids. Some people go, ‘No I can’t wear it- I’m too old.’ But no, it’s the product that’s not right.”

One of Tilbury’s products that has got it most right is her Magic Cream, a super rich moisturizer that’s raved over as being, well, magic. It’s also got the kind of industry pedigree that her fans love. “The Magic Cream was something I was mixing up backstage, and the models called it Super Magic Cream.” A lot of her formulas started out this way – the nude lipstick made popular by Kate Moss was initially a mix of concealers she’d put on her friend for shoots. Her thinking has always been something along the lines of “I’m going to give away all my secret tips and tricks, which as a makeup artist is the reason you get booked. You hold all that secrecy. And I’m going to empower women to become their own makeup artist, and effectively do myself out of a job.”


I admire Helena Rubenstein, Estée Lauder, Chanel, they revolutionized the space at that point in the beauty industry. And really when I talk about the white space that’s what I wanted to do.

— CHARLOTTE TILBURY


Tilbury’s other magic secret is her total mastery of social media – her 1.2 million Instagram followers get to be called ‘Darlings’ at the beginning of every post (true to her real life mode of communication), and a mix of behind the scenes access and empowering how-to’s. “It’s been so fabulous launching my brand during the digital era,” she exclaims. “I’m the most Googled makeup artist in the world, can you believe that? I got an award,” she says, unable to stop laughing, “From Google! Literally who knew.”? Watching her Facebook lives, it’s easy to see why – she has a way that’s both chummy and commanding as she expertly applies a cat eye. Warming to her theme, she continues, “We film quite a lot. A lot of celebrities tell me they go online and watch my YouTube! I’m teaching them!”

Tilbury, who is expanding her brand worldwide (she’s just returned from launching in Berlin), has 900 employees, with whom she communicates and keeps up to snuff via monthly satellite presentations. She’s just come out with a dry sheet mask, the first of it’s kind, and they’re working on a slate of new products. “Being ahead of the curve, all the time, excites me,” she says of the development process. Of her next steps, Tilbury concludes in customary rousing style “Everything interests me. You just have to see where life takes you and never say never - to anything. I’m a great believer in creative visualization and following the signs. I have a really strong vision for this brand. The people I admire, Helena Rubenstein, Estée Lauder, Chanel, they revolutionized the space at that point in the beauty industry.   And really when I talk about the white space that’s what I wanted to do.” Speech over, she smiles and affixes me with her unmistakably smoky eyes. “I never think small,” she laughs. “I always think quite big.”