M·A·C was founded in 1984 with the mandate of bringing professional-grade cosmetics to the masses. Here, eleven makeup artists tell us about the first time they fell for the brand.
Photo By DIMITRI NEWMAN
Art Direction By KATIE LADD
Prop Styling By LAURIE RABB
Close your eyes and picture the contents of your 14-year-old self’s makeup bag. Chances are, among the body glitter and fragrance testers, there are a few matte black, clean-lined compacts from M·A·C. Some of these items—Lipglass, Wedge shadow, Ruby Woo lipstick, Spice lipliner—may even still be among your daily staples. In many ways, we’re living in a golden age of beauty in which tips, tricks, and innovative new products are discoverable in the space of a few clicks and scrolls. Yet, for so many beauty junkies, M·A·C was their first love. The brand (short for Makeup Art Cosmetics) was founded in 1984 as a repository of professional-grade, heavily pigmented formulations for working artists—it went wide when fans like Madonna, Naomi Campbell and Princes Diana wouldn’t stop talking about it.
M·A·C always had a forward-looking ethos. It staffed its counters with artists who subscribed to the more-is-more aesthetic that prevails on Instagram today. Foundations and concealers were offered in shades darker than “medium beige.” Fifteen years before Drag Race, they hired RuPaul to front their Viva Glam campaign (which has raised over $400 million for AIDS research to-date). But above all else, M·A·C has always celebrated outsiders—the kind of people who love beauty for its boundary-pushing, experimental possibilities. To celebrate the relaunch of M·A·C on VIOLET GREY, we asked 10 artists—including Pati Dubroff, Sir John, and M·A·C’s own Gregory Arlt—to reminisce about the products that launched their love affair with the beauty brand.
I worked at Fred Segal in Santa Monica from 1989–1993 in the makeup, skin care, and fragrance department. Each department was a privately owned store, and I remember that a competing department was carrying M·A·C. I was extremely curious to know what this new line from Canada was all about—I'd heard it was started by makeup artists and [designed] for makeup artists. I hurried down to check it out. Naturally, I gravitated right to the red lipsticks and picked up the brightest, most matte one in the bunch. The salesgirl told me that it was Russian Red, and that Madonna loved it. I bought it right then and there and never looked back!
M·A·C really is the reason I started doing makeup. Growing up in Canada, M·A·C was a big deal. I would see the counter people and think they were so cool wearing all black. My first product was Silver Dusk Powder, an iridescent sparkly powder I saw in Elle was being used in a lot of runway shows that season. Something compelled me to buy it, so I had someone pick it up for me when they went to the nearest city. After that I was hooked! Next came Lipmix (a kit staple to this day), and then I started ordering every new collection before it came out. M·A·C will always have a special place in my heart.
I was living in New York when M·A·C first came to the U.S. in 1984. I was so excited because there was huge buzz around this makeup line from Toronto. It truly was the first “makeup artist” makeup line, and I had the opportunity to work in the shop on 60th and Park in 1985. They had—and still have—a fantastic line of colors that inspired so many other brands.
It was around 1990 or 1991, and I was working backstage at fashion weeks in New York City, Milan, and Paris. The one essential item every makeup artist needed in their kit was M·A·C Spice Lipliner. We would hand it to the supermodels—the OG supermodels!—to line their lips. Or, if we were lucky, they’d let us do the lipliner.
My love affair with M·A·C started the first time I saw [it on the] beauty counter: clean, matte black packaging with every color imaginable enclosed inside. I think my heart literally skipped a beat. I paused to truly absorb it all. M·A·C stood for the idea that anything was possible. There were no limits, no rules—nothing could stop you except your own inner limitations. It was a safe place to let your freak flag fly. Those artists were the coolest people I had ever seen. I used to save up every penny from babysitting to be able to buy a lipstick and a lip liner, or one eyeshadow.
I first discovered M·A·C when I was living in Australia, where it arrived a little later than it did in the states. I went into the store with my mum when I was about 17 or 18 years old and told her I needed everything!!! We left that day with bags and bags of product. Since then I have never left a M·A·C store with less than a full bag of amazing makeup.
My first experience with M·A·C was the Studio Fix Powder Foundation—and it changed my world! At that time, M·A·C was just coming into popularity and I was just starting out on my makeup journey. This product helped me develop a fundamental understanding of undertones and skin color by embracing all undertones and skin colors in a shade system that was as simple as it was genius. It was a quantum leap for me as an artist!
I went to the M·A·C counter for the first time because everyone wore black and looked goth. There was an artist there named Tiffany—who I believe still works for the company—and I wanted to be just like her. I loved everything she had on her face. It was unique, edgy, bold, but still really beautiful. They all had tattoos and piercings and for some reason that made me trust them that much more. They were artists!
I believe I purchased Lipliner in Spice (I still wear it to this day, almost every day); Nylon Eyeshadow that I used on the brow bone as a highlighter; and the perfect coral pink lipstick named Rizzo. I used to mix so many lipsticks and foundations to get that same color. So when I came across an actual lipstick in that shade, I nearly lost my mind. And who can forget Electric Eel? It was the perfect shade of the bright blue. I eventually worked for the brand and was able to create bold looks that other brands didn’t really do at the time. They had all the coolest shades.
My first experience with M·A·C was landing my first job [in one of their retail stores] when I was 18. I gave 10 years of my life to them. They were my first educators. Sixty to 80 women came through the doors daily. It gave me a vast knowledge of makeup. [The clients] would come from all over the world and walk in with various needs. This made me move quickly to address those needs and helped me stay in touch with the consumer.