Makeup artist Francesca Tolot has been working with Beyoncé for more than a decade. From her debut as a solo artist to her Grammys performance just a few weeks ago, Tolot's been behind the singer's most iconic looks. "Icon"—we have a rule at ITG that we don't use that word on the site unless we're talking real, bona fide legends. While Francesca's might not be a household name, she's worked arm-in-arm with her fair share of human Trivial Pursuit topics. For example, Elizabeth Taylor, who was her most loyal client prior to Bey, and Helmut Newton, who used to personally request her for projects. She just mentioned these things off-the-cuff, like it was no big deal! She's quite charming, you'll find.
ITG: Beyoncé's makeup artist...How does one land a job like this?
Francesca Tolot: We met on the "Crazy In Love" set back in 2003 [1-3]. She was very nice; she's a very approachable and warm person. We hit it off from the beginning. Right away I felt very comfortable, and very appreciated, too, because she loved everything we did. The makeup is barely there for some of the shots; that was a new look for her. But then we transitioned to a very beautiful, glamorous, strong look.
ITG: Before we move on, I should know what Beyoncé's no-makeup look actually consists of.
FT: It’s so easy. She is beautiful, first of all, so even if we have to do a bare look —like for "If I Were A Boy"—there was really practically no makeup there . For that, I use moisturizer and maybe a little bit of concealer and lip balm. I like Amazing Concealer. It’s very intense, very rich. It really covers a big problem if you need it to, and I like that. Otherwise, I really love La Mer The Radiant Concealer. It’s nice—enough coverage, but it’s very moisturizing and it doesn’t dry or crease. Believe it or not, one of the hardest looks to do was for Cadillac Records when she looked so distressed . Can you imagine—because, you know how beautiful she is—to make her look like that? Somebody with perfect skin, beautiful almond-shaped eyes, very luminous and happy and full of joy—to make her look so bad? Also, it’s not like she was supposed to have no makeup, no. She was supposed to have some makeup on, because in the scene she got drunk and drugged out and overdosed the night before. I don’t know how I did it; it was very, very hard to make her look like that. But you know what? I think she looked so cute. It’s like you wanna grab and hug her and say, 'It’s OK baby!' [Laughs]
ITG: Are you considered a full-time employee?
FT: I just try to be available as much as I can. I’ve been around the world with her, I just go with the flow. Sometimes projects are scheduled ahead of time, and sometimes they happen overnight. So yes, I'm just ready to go whenever they call me, because I love being with her and working with her. It’s weird because I love traveling and my time on the plane. Take me anywhere, I live to see new places. Well, maybe the most difficult job, and the one I enjoyed the least, was Nigeria. She was there for a special concert. It was scary—we had armed guards by each door. Not because of Beyoncé, but because that’s the way they live there. Think about it—you walk out of your room and you have a military guard with a rifle. That’s probably the only job I haven't enjoyed.
ITG: What were you doing prior to working with her?
FT: I did start by taking a makeup class. It wasn’t a school, it was a six-month program in Italy from a very well-known makeup artist at the time. Then I worked in Milan before moving to America. Milan, especially at that time, was the center of fashion. So that’s what I did—fashion shows and magazine editorials. Zero celebrities.
ITG: And suddenly you're doing music videos. I wonder if you can explain the relationship between music videos and baby oil.
FT: In the "1+1" video in particular—that’s an extreme use of baby oil . Again, no makeup on the skin because it would be gone in two seconds. But the ultimate use of baby oil, yes. After you shoot, you just wipe it off with a towel and your skin is so nice and smooth and soft, so it’s actually really good, you know? And sometimes I mix in some shimmer to the oil or moisturizer. I also like the Nars Body Glow. But do you know this product RCK Luminous Body Glow? It’s a body shimmer that comes in three colors, and it dries, so it doesn’t bleed into the clothes. But the "Single Ladies" video—I’ll never forget that day—it was the hottest day in New York and the studio's air conditioning broke down . So as you can imagine, dancing in the heat like that, the glow was all natural. [Laughs] It was tough for the girls, but they did it.
ITG: Any other favorite products to use on Beyoncé?
FT: One that I find myself using on her a lot is MAC In Extreme Dimension Mascara. To me, it's the best mascara right now, so that’s kind of a constant. My other favorite mascara is L’Oreal Voluminous Million Lashes. Definitely that one. Let’s see… Eyelashes. Whenever I use eyelashes—not only on Beyoncé—I get them at the drugstore. I think they’re Ardell. But I don’t use lashes a lot on Beyoncé anymore. Except for that look in the "Blow" video, when we went for a really ‘70s look . But we stopped using lashes quite a few years ago. At one point I brought up the fact that I feel that false eyelashes are dated, unless you're going for the retro look. So I talked to her about that, and she totally agreed.
ITG: What are some other beauty looks you try to avoid?
FT: There isn't really a look she doesn’t like. She’s very smart—whatever we do is her project. It’s her. Usually there’s a message in the song, which influences the way it’s going to be filmed, and the wardrobe, and the choreography. That's all information that I have beforehand, and that will inspire the look for the makeup. She trusts me, and we even have the same kind of taste, which makes it very easy.
ITG: So I'm guessing she actually bleached her brows for the '4' album?
FT: We bleached it absolutely. Yes, yes, yes. I loved doing that to her. The look was very ‘70s-inspired. So I was referencing a very famous singer in Italy back in the ‘70s named Mina—she used to do that, or even shave the eyebrows. Beyoncé's eyebrows were bleached on the W cover, too, because that happened at the same time . She had so much going on, shooting the video and the images and such. She tried to keep them bleached for as long as she could. I’m telling you, she is very professional and she feels confident. She's good with herself, so she’s not afraid of what somebody else would think. If it’s needed for the project, then she’ll do it. But it’s hard to go around with no eyebrows in real life. It was good for the time, we got some good images, then I guess we moved on. [Laughs] And in 'Video Phone,' we used the whole wax and glue technique to cover the outside part of the eyebrows, and drew them in a different way . It was so clearly Bettie Page—I love that look; it’s one of my favorites.
ITG: What have been some of your other favorite looks over the years?
FT: I worked with her on Dreamgirls [6, 7]. That’s what I call the 'dream job' for me, absolutely. I was actually so scared stepping into it because I’m not good at going into the same place every day and spending so much time with the same person, in a way. But the freedom of creativity was spectacular. The director gave us the freedom to create each look.
ITG: And then you worked very closely with her over the past year on the visual album. It's crazy how it dropped so unexpectedly and nothing leaked beforehand. Was that a concern?
FT: I believe in privacy, and if somebody has a project, it’s their business to talk about, not mine. That’s what makes our team a good one. And I guess she appreciates that we are on her side no matter what, because she is a very, very loyal person. So I return that. And obviously in the past few years Beyoncé has kept me very busy.
ITG: So busy—you did almost a dozen videos in one year, for one album. What was that like, creatively?
FT: Helmut Newton's images were a huge inspiration in this last project. His images are so iconic, and he always represents a very powerful woman, a very strong woman, but sexy at the same time. Like the 'Haunted' video for example, it’s Helmut Newton but, you know, adapted to today and to Beyoncé. And, by the way, I used to work with him a lot. So a lot of images in his books and stuff, I’ve worked on. Including that iconic picture of Elizabeth Taylor in the pool—it was for a Vanity Fair shoot, but they didn't use it, so it ended up being the cover of one of his books . He was the one who requested me for that, because we used to work together in Milan for Italian Vogue. So he brought me to that photo shoot, and I met Elizabeth there for the first time. And she was probably my most loyal client next to Beyoncé. From that day, I worked with her for over 20 years.
ITG: And now you can relax?
FT: Actually, I’m not really taking it easy. I’ve always worked on other projects between her things. I have a book that’s going to come out soon. It's a coffee table book—not celebrity-driven, not instruction—just a beautiful book with beautiful images of the work that I've done through the years with my husband—Alberto Tolot. He's an amazing photographer. [Ed. note: Scroll through some examples of his work if you haven't yet met your daily fill of...icons.]