top flight:

book club

mothering sunday

Makeup artist and noted bookworm Val Garland shares her favorite books in her new column for The Violet Files. Her latest: a romantic novella set in
1920s England.

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 Mothering Sunday, a new novella by Graham Swift.


Mothering Sunday | Written by Graham Swift

Category: Historical Fiction

Key Subjects: Romance, England, class, affair, writers, 1920s, fate


By Val Garland

A story of class, romance, chance, motivation, and memories, Mothering Sunday jumps between the past and present in the life of Jane Fairchild, a maidservant who works in an English country house and later becomes a best-selling author. The touchpoint for the story is March 30—or “Mothering Sunday” [the UK equivalent of Mother’s Day]—in 1924, when Jane, who has no mother to visit, goes to what she believes to be the last encounter of her secret affair with Paul Sheringham, the heir to a neighbor’s house. It’s a story about becoming a woman, and having a parallel life that exists deep within the memory—your own personal fairy tale. 



It was recommended by the ladies of the West London Book Club I’ve belonged to for the past ten years. We meet once a month at a hotel—sometimes the Soho House, or it could be at the Ham Yard Hotel or the Mondrian or sometimes at the Tate Modern.


In the library or in a bedroom filled with sunlight. This will put you in the spirit of the story’s main settings, although I happened to read it poolside while vacationing at the W hotel in Barcelona

“It was about being true to the very stuff of LIFE, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being ALIVE. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the FACT, the one thing only followed from the other, that MANY things in life; oh so many more than we think; can never be explained at all.”



If I was casting a film adaptation, my picks would be...

Keira Knightley as Jane Fairchild:

Keira is perfect for the role because she has that classic, made-in-England look that we all love to see in a period drama like Mothering Sunday. She’s excellent at portraying a beautiful, enigmatic lady who seems to keep a lot of secrets.

Xavier Samuel as Paul Sheringham: 

He has the right look for a young, handsome heir to a rich family who is unruly and reckless.


Jane comes from a very modest background as an orphan, a maidservant, and a mistress. I can imagine her being very humble in her style even though she became an internationally acclaimed writer in her later years. YSL Baby Doll Kiss & Blush, 3 Rose Libre is a natural pink matte lipstick that is perfect for giving Jane a hint of lip color but not too intimidating or overly sensual. (At the time when the drama is set, she probably would have used some sort of food-related method—like eating berries—to enhance her lip color, which the YSL Baby Doll mimics perfectly.) And it’s worth noting that in the 1920s, the trend in lip texture was definitely matte.


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. 

with VAL

In another installment of Val’s Book Club, discover a glamorous love story set in 1950s Italy.