top flight:

book club

A wild swan and other tales

Makeup artist and noted bookworm Val Garland shares her favorite books in her new column for The Violet Files. Her latest: a grown-up take on classic fairy tales.

Val Garland is a fashion industry icon in her own right. The UK-based makeup artist is the skilled hand behind scores of British Vogue cover stories and a constant presence backstage at fashion shows, creating extreme looks for Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh, as well as soft and natural ones for Giambattista Valli and Erdem. Whenever Garland has a spare moment between shots (or shows), you’ll find her with her nose in a book—and later posting the cover to her popular Instagram feed. In her new column for The Violet Files, Garland brings #valsbookclub to life. Below, she reviews A Wild Swan and Other Tales, a collection by Michael Cunningham.


A Wild Swan and Other Tales | Written by Michael Cunningham

Category: Fairy Tales

Key Subjects: Princesses, Witches, Opressive Society, Curses


By Val Garland

A Wild Swan and Other Tales is a reimagining of 10 classic fairy tales. Cunningham takes the essence of the characters, strips them of their idealized fantasy world, and puts them in a modern setting. A prince is only half-cured of his curse; a woman in her seventies can’t afford her rent, so builds her house in the forest with sugar and gumdrops; Rapunzel’s life continues in the aftermath of being rescued by the Prince. With the sharp and witty tone of Cunningham’s writing and the meticulous illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, this book is a bedtime story for adults.

“If you’re not a delirious
DREAM the gods are having, if your beauty doesn’t trouble the constellations, nobody’s going to cast a spell on YOU.”

— Michael Cunningham, A wild Swan and other tales


This book found me. I glanced it at a number of times in the Riverside Bookshop in London as I perused the many titles that were teasing me with their covers. And yet, I kept coming back and picking up A Wild Swan. Thus a purchase was made.


Late at night, in a dark and dimly lit bedroom.


A story a night, 10 nights in total.


If I was casting a film adaptation, my pick would be Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the Prince with a single swan wing. He has the right boy-next-door look, but in a slightly surreal way.


Sisley Phyto-lip Twist #16 for the Swan Prince, to keep his lips ever kissable.


Name: Val Garland

Known For: Spontaneity

Where to Find Her: London

Clients: Kate Moss, Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid, Vogue, I-D, Dazed & Confused, Giambattista Valli, Erdem, Gareth Pugh

Years in the Industry: 30

Instagram: @thevalgarland

Beauty Essential: Sisley-Paris Supremÿa at Night

Agent: Paula Jenner @ Streeters London

In the world of editorial beauty, Val Garland is queen bee. Her creativity is legend, having colored countless Vogue covers, advertising campaigns, and runway shows for the likes of Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen (late designer Lee McQueen was a close friend), and more. Many artists from VIOLET GREY’s community, Kate Lee included, cut their teeth assisting the brassy beauty boss. 

Garland came onto the scene in the 1980s, at a time when the world embraced experimentation. She did it all: made her own clothes, styled hair and makeup, even shot films. Her strategy when starting out was to say yes to everything, but “it was a natural progression for me to focus on the one thing that I was best at, and that was always makeup,” the autodidact recalls.  

At her best when under pressure, Garland says nothing compares to the adrenaline rush she feels backstage at a fashion show, when the stakes are high and everyone is just a bit crazed. “My approach to makeup is very spontaneous,” she explains. “Every time is different.”

And while this spontaneity makes it hard to define her specialty (“Some say my signature look is an eyeliner; others say it’s a lip”), Garland’s willingness to take chances is what consistently inspires the artist (and those around her) most. After all, who else could create brash, do-me-now pouts with the use of a concealer brush? Color us inspired. 


Should you desire more book advice from Val, this thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat.