It's British Week right now on ITG. Why? Well, why not! But also to celebrate the UK launch of Glossier. Consider this a warm, editorial welcome to all our new friends over in Blighty. Starting with Victoria Beckham, we'll be sharing stories from our favorite Brits—plus a few discoveries we've made ourselves. Stay tuned... Cheerio!
"I was a strange kid. Bit of a loner, always off living in my head. I would cut my hair myself and wear lots of makeup. I told my mum it was because I didn’t care about being beautiful—I just wanted to be noticed. Luckily, I grew up in a time when there were lots of movements, you know, the New Romantics, punks, all of that. I sucked it up like a sponge. My sister was very glamorous and very beautiful, and she was a hairdresser. She was very good. I thought, ‘No, I’m going to be different.’ I never thought I’d be a hairdresser. I come from a working-class background and I remember saying to my dad that I wanted to go to University. And he said, ‘No, you need to go out and get a job.’ At school I remember I had the careers talk, and the counselor said that he could help me pass my levels if I was a good girl. And that just incensed me—bit of an Irish temper. I just went, ‘Fuck you, fuck school!’ lifted up the table, and walked out. So I’m walking home thinking, ‘Shit, I need a job.’ I walked past this salon and there was an ad in the window, so I went in and said, ‘Look, I want to be a hairdresser.’ I had the balls—I was very upfront. They gave me a job. Started hairdressing, and I hated it. Absolutely loathed it. I wanted to see the world and I wanted to make money.
Now, this is the ‘70s—nobody had heard of a cut and blow-dry salon in suburban Bristol. Nobody at my salon could cut hair—we were just stylists. One day I went to my boss and I said ‘You know I can cut hair, and I can blowdry.’ He said, ‘Oh, really?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, my sister’s a hairdresser.’ And so he said ‘OK, let’s get some models in and you can show us what you know, and perhaps you can teach the rest of us.’ I’m like 15 at the time. They get me a model, and I think, ‘How hard can it be?’ So I did this performance of cutting hair, made a big song and dance about it. I managed to get it straight. And I just sort of picked up the blow-dryer to dry it. And when I took the gown off, I saw her crewneck jumper flapping in the wind. Not only had I cut her hair…I’d cut her jumper as well. I just grabbed her coat and put it on and said, ‘There will be no charge today, thank you!’
About the age of 16 then, I was doing hair, and one day I’m like, hair’s boring. Everywhere you looked in the newspapers there were these tiny little ads saying, ‘Computer Programmer Wanted.’ I thought, that’s the future—computers are the future, so I’m gonna get into computers. I go for this job as a programmer at the British Gas Cooperation. I’m there copying numbers and on my coffee break I sort of realized I wasn’t going to get paid for four weeks. There on my first day, I put my notice in. After that I went to work for Rolls Royce, which was the British Aircraft Cooperation, as a receptionist. There, I met a drummer in a band who became the boyfriend who became the husband. He sort of said, ‘oh, you should get back in to hair, I know somebody with a salon.’ I went to see them, got a job, and then I started doing seminars, teaching…started making really good money.
OK, so then, it was a Friday night and Terry didn’t have a gig. We’d gone out to get some food, and we’re walking around Bristol. We were both quite punk-y—he had like navy blue hair, really short, spiky. I don’t know what color my hair was at the time, it was possibly yellow. We sort of looked like Sid and Nancy walking around. Terry goes, ‘I’m bored,’ and I go, ‘I’m bored, too.’ And he says, ‘I think we should go somewhere.’ I thought he was going to say let’s go to Paris, or New York—London, even. He said, ‘Let’s go to Australia.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah…what?’ Three months later we found ourselves in Perth. Fourteen months after that I had my own salon, did that for quite a few years, then started doing session work as a hairdresser. I had a good life as a hairdresser—all the ‘cool’ people worked for me. If you wanted to work for me, you couldn’t be ordinary. You had to be extraordinary, and you had to look weird. Like you were going clubbing. That was the criteria. [Laughs]
But I was getting pretty bored with hair again—I’m a pretty impulsive person—and a lot of my friends who came to the salon were photographers, so I said, ‘I want to do makeup.’ It was sort of a natural thing. I sold my salon, divorced the husband, and decided to go back to London. I remember I did say goodbye to hair in Australia because I was having this party, and there was this stylist’s assistant there. I remember saying to her, ‘I’m going to London, and I will never do hair again. I’m going to be a makeup artist.’ And she said, ‘I’m leaving too—I’m going to LA, and I’m going to be an actress.’ Fifteen years go by and an agent calls me. He says, ‘You’ve been asked to do this junket, you and Sam McKnight. It’s with an actress in Covent Garden, I don’t know if you want to do it. It’s Naomi Watts.’ And I’m like, ‘Naomi—yeah I’ll do it!’ It was so funny because she had fulfilled her dream, and I’d fulfilled mine. She’s a lovely woman.
I guess you could say in my career as a makeup artist, I’m a child of the ‘90s. It was 1994 when I came back to England. It was a different landscape back then. The top of the tree for beauty was, in this country, Sam McKnight and Mary Greenwell. Nobody talked much about anyone else. But it was always, for me, about loving my job, working with great people, going out, and having a great time. I used to go to this bar in SoHo called Fred’s. Dick Page would be there. He was famous—he wouldn’t have spoken to somebody like myself. My booker at the time was good friends with Kate Moss and Jess Hallett, so we’d go clubbing together and go to bars and things. I started to get some jobs. One of my first was for the Evening Standard, which they now give out free. Some days I’d find myself on a job and Lisa Butler would be doing the makeup and I would be doing the hair. And other times, Eugene [Souleiman] would be doing hair and I’d be doing makeup. And Katy England was doing the styling. We started hanging out and working together, this pool of people. I remember Katy saying, ‘Somebody asked me to do a show, will you do it with me? His name’s Lee [McQueen].’ It was one of those things—I didn’t really know who he was. I just think I was in the right place at the right time. My first McQueen show was Spring/Summer 1995 ‘The Birds,’ and I remember Katy borrowed my shoes—I had these patent winklepickers that she wanted one of the boys to wear. And I remember going for the fitting with Eugene—we went to this tiny little unit, and there was Lee Alexander McQueen with his then-boyfriend. They were sewing the garments themselves. It was such a magical moment of growth with all these people.
By that time, I was totally makeup—no hair. I liked makeup because it was different. I have a low threshold for boredom. I just don’t like routine. With makeup, every face you do is different. I think hair’s more predictable. I enjoyed painting and making things, which was perfect because the ‘90s was this sort of grunge period. We’d already had the glamorous supermodels of the ‘80s—this was sort of grunge and a bit more natural. Then you had the music videos where people had something a bit funny, and then you had Dazed and Confused and Alexander McQueen, which was always more experimental. My work’s always been a bit dark, a bit romantic, and I think that’s what drew me to the likes of McQueen. For me, it’s about telling a great story, and painting a great picture. I mean, I do glamorous makeup. I can do that. But I love the visual. I get asked to do a lot of beauty stories, and I get so bored. I don’t want to do the conventional This Is An Eyeliner story. When I think of a beauty story, I like to think I could hang it on my wall.
The thing is, I have worked with a lot of celebrities—I just did Kate’s [Moss] makeup for her Calvin Klein launch. She looked beautiful, she had this Pat McGrath eyeshadow in her bag, so we used that on her eyes. But my career is not defined by who I mix with. It’s just one of those things that happens. I work with Nick Knight a lot, and he said he was doing an album cover shoot with Lady Gaga. I did the makeup. Gaga was just this great, cool girl that had come in. She was so young, but so together. When I met her, she wore four sets of eyelashes and a very strong brow. Lots of makeup. Between shows we were doing her for some program on TV, and we were doing her album cover and I just thought 'Well, we’ll get rid of her eyebrows for a start. We’ll get rid of the lashes, and let’s do a strong line, make it quite punk-y.' And she was going, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want.’ And I said, ‘Let’s change the shape of your face.’ I’ve always liked futurism—I do like a bit of an android. So that was the cover for Born This Way. We had a great relationship—we worked together for quite some time.
With people like Sam [McKnight] and Mario [Testino], I’ve had such great collaborations with them. Because, I think, we’re all team players—we’re all working together to get the best out of whatever we’re doing. That’s why you collaborate, because you want to see a great result. I look for people with enthusiasm, speed—they must move fast. I’m quite unpredictable. [Laughs]
Yes, I’ve always been business minded I think. I always wanted a good life. But I never thought about the money, not ever. You’ve got to just think about what you’re doing. Things just happened. People always want the new flavor, and I think back then, I was the new flavor. Now I’m like, the old one—that’s fine too. I also think that now we’re being herded into a sort of system of complete and utter normality, where everybody looks the same. We’re kind of prophesizing bots. The future is sameness, and I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, so I don’t do that. There are kids of 14 who know more about makeup than I do because they’ve done all the YouTube videos, but you know, for me, I want to be recognized as an artist. I can get paid to do makeup and it’s fine, but I like creating things that you remember. If I only did flushed, fresh skin, I’d be asleep...if I only did gorgeous glamazons, I’d be asleep. If I did the same thing every day I’d be bored shitless—I have to have the mix. That’s what I love about being a freelance makeup artist. I could be up a mountain on a glacier, being taken to set by 12 dogs pulling me in a sleigh—that actually happened for D&G fragrance with Mario [Testino]—the next moment I could be at a Vivienne Westwood show, throwing color everywhere. I just want to do whatever’s next."
—as told to ITG
Val Garland photographed by Tom Newton in London on June 23, 2017.