Last Tuesday, we profiled Yadim, who rather famously went from being Pat McGrath's first assistant to one of most sought-after makeup artists around the world, in what feels like no time at all. Which got us thinking: Who's next? So on the eve of New York Fashion Week, here are three of the artists right behind some of the greats. They've worked with the likes of Tom Pecheux (who does Chanel's shows), Diane Kendal (Alexander Wang, Jason Wu), and yes, Yadim—not to mention clocking their fair share of solo work as well. Here's a bit about their career paths—part How To Be A First Assistant, part Branching Out On Your Own Path. Keep an eye out for these names in a few years time...
"Currently, I don’t have an agent, but I work with Peter Philips for all of his shows, and I’m on Diane Kendal’s core team. I also do Tom Pecheux’s shows. Before that, I was Benjamin Puckey’s first assistant for about a year, so I’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of people in a lot of different capacities. It's really easy to get hooked on assistant work—you get used to getting that paycheck...but I try to balance it with my own stuff more and more. Recently, I’ve done editorial work for L’Officiel and French Elle. I also do makeup for e-commerce shoots at Urban Outfitters out of Philadelphia. I’ll get assistants for that kind of work. It’s so weird to be on the other side of that relationship now.
Before I moved to New York four years ago, I was working behind a makeup counter in LA. Eventually, I decided I wanted to go freelance and do makeup for shoots and shows, so my boyfriend and I came here. It was a surprisingly easy transition, actually—a friend of mine knew an agent that gave me some small jobs right away. The, the first big show I worked on was with Diane Kendal, and it was like an epiphany for me. We were working with Lancôme for Jason Wu, and I was so nervous that’d I’d mess up in front of her because she’s such a legend…but then, oddly enough, when I met her, it came naturally to me. We got along really well.
Shows are chaos everywhere for like, four hours, and then it's over. A lot of people don’t like it because they kind of enjoy the calmness of an isolated shoot—whereas before a show, there's anxiety-driven craziness. But surprisingly, for how mellow I am, it came naturally to me and I got it. My favorite backstage by far is the Chanel show—I do that one with Tom. It’s really different from the rest of the shows because they don’t let press backstage, and it’s the last show of the season for most people, and everyone’s really happy and excited to be there.
From my experience, success in this industry is a combination of luck and seizing that opportunity. Things happen very quickly because all of a sudden you get a last minute chance to work with this person, and then you take it, and while you’re doing it and in that moment, you just have to be the best. That’s the best way I can say it. And if an artist notices you, they’ll ask for you again, and you build a relationship with them over time. The point is you do your job really well to make their job easier. But there are other artists who need to know they’ll get along with you personally and that the energy is synched. In my experience, it’s been 50/50. You kind of have to mold with their personality as well as do the work.”
"I’ve been in New York for four years. I grew up in Lyon, France, and went to makeup school there. Fashion isn’t really a part of that city, so I started working with a theatre troupe and doing makeup for the opera. Once I moved to Paris, I started assisting Linda Cantello—I was her right hand person for three or four years, and I still do shows with her these days. It’s funny because my agency in Paris started to represent her when she was looking for an assistant, and I was already working on my own and getting proud, so I didn’t know if it’d work out. But I gave it a try and there was a very good connection between us!
My first show with her was Armani in Milan. After that, I shot all the campaigns and editorials with her…it’s really a personality thing with us. I’m a little reserved, and I think she appreciated that. I was always behind her and ready to help her with anything. It’s more like reactivity and if the personality works. You want to already know what brush she is going to want before she needs it.
This season, I’m just doing the Armani shows in Milan, but I used to do a lot more. For a while, I worked with Pat McGrath, which was very intense. She is so creative and the makeup is always very interesting, but the feeling of the team is very different than it is with someone like Linda. She fosters this competitiveness and tension, but for the best—it’s what works for her!
Even so, these days, I’m more excited about editorial shoots than shows. There’s less stress and rushing. Recently, I’ve done some editorials on my own— Elle in the US and Germany and Italy, Vanity Fair in Germany, Teen Vogue, Dazed…I don’t do really ‘perfect’ makeup. I prefer to go fast with my fingers so it looks a bit messy, but with more emotion. It’s rare that you get to do a beauty shoot, but those are always the best. I did one for a magazine called Editorialist with Joshua Jordan and Alison Nix. I hope to do more of those. Actually, tomorrow, I’m going to London and lead a perfume shoot for Emporio Armani. Linda’s given me some advice, and of course, I try to listen. She’s very ‘mommy’—it’s in her nature to be encouraging and give positive energy. She’ll tell me not to obsess over the industry too much.
The best advice I can give is to find someone to assist and stick with them. I was thinking at first I didn’t want that, but I understand that it’s a path to get into the industry. You meet so many people and you see how big production works and get used to that and feel more comfortable as well. All the big girls are there as well. I think it’s very important. You learn more than you do at school.”
"Now I’m Yadim’s first assistant, but I met him when he was still working with Pat [McGrath]. I got my start with her team after I moved to New York when I was 19. I was in a restaurant and recognized one of Pat’s assistants there—who’s also Japanese—and I just went up to her and told her how excited I was to see her. A few months later she asked me to prepare one of Pat’s shows, and I started doing a kind of internship, because I was still on student visa. That was hard—I had to leave the team to work on getting my artist’s visa, which is what I have now.
After that, I worked with a number of artists—Mark Carrasquillo, Aaron de Mey—but I was most comfortable with Yadim. He trusts me with everything—one time, he was supposed to do a Vogue cover with Blake Lively but he wasn’t able to make it, and so I led the makeup for the shoot with Mario [Testino] and Tonne Goodman. Blake was very sweet. She’s the one who asked them to put my name in the credits, which they ended up doing. A few people started contacting me for work after that, but I didn’t take them up on anything…I prefer to work with people who I know and who know my work. Not people who are just interested because of the big cover.
A lot of people ask me if it’s important to be a first assistant to get into the industry. That’s what people want to do, but I actually don’t think it’s super necessary…I obviously enjoy it, but I think it’s better first to work with a lot of artists and see who you fit with. It’s really fun to see the difference in styles. Be flexible! That goes for how you should do makeup, too. Be on set and see the hair and clothes and maybe change what you planned or don’t be afraid to take it off and start again. To be an assistant should be all about change. In the future, I want to do everything, but I like what I'm doing now—I'm not bored yet.”
—as told to ITG
Artists photographed by Tom Newton. Instagram photos courtesy of the artists.