There reaches a point after I blow through a full TV series in mere days where I feel like I’ve already watched every program I might ever want to watch. For a couple weeks I’ll click aimlessly through carousels jaded with every category and bored of all the offerings. And then, without fail, someone tells me about this really great show, and I haven’t seen it yet, and I begin the binge cycle of infatuation all over again. You too? Well if you haven’t watched Glow Up, the UK makeup competition reality show, here’s your sign to. The second season (which is where I started—my roommate had watched season one on her own time) was just released on Netflix this summer.
The show is judged by Global Senior Artist for MAC Dominic Skinner and legendary makeup artist Val Garland, who doles out excited cries of “ding dong” whenever a contestant achieves a truly incredible look. Why “ding dong”? Who’s to say! It’s silly, but Garland’s pedigree is not: she covered Bjork in rhinestones for Alexander McQueen, painted penis tattoos for Vivienne Westwood, dipped models in iridescent glitter for Giambattista Valli, started the “snogged lip” trend at Preen, and sculpted Gaga’s pointed cheekbones for Born This Way.
Garland’s radically experimental body of work fine-tuned ugly pretty before the mainstream accepted it, and certainly before makeup was considered the art form it is today. She’s probably the best person BBC Three could have found to host the reality competition, which asks makeup artists to whip up high fantasy in weekly challenges. “My work’s always been a bit dark, a bit romantic,” Garland told ITG in her 2017 Top Shelf. “For me, it’s about telling a great story. I mean, I do glamorous makeup. I can do that…[but] I get so bored.” In front of the Glow Up mirrors, prosthetics (professional and DIY), colored contacts, and bald caps are the norm. And though the sudden death Face Offs stress basic technical know-how, if you came to learn how to master your natural glow, you’re in the wrong place.
Now, you should probably stop reading if you don’t want the results of the competition to be spoiled. The trouble in the first few episodes is that the casting team seems to have pulled most of the artists from YouTube. Don’t get me wrong, YouTube makeup artists are fantastic, but their work tends to have a certain perfectionist quality not necessarily suited to editorial work. Some artists struggle to get out of their comfort zone—Kezia, used to doing makeup looks at home in her bedroom, can’t work with the time restraints and takes criticism poorly. Jake boxes himself into Instagram’s 608 by 1080 pixel screen by failing to drop the sexiness and is swiftly eliminated. But as the show progresses, the looks get weirder and the contestants get better at understanding the task at hand. It’s just as much about skill as it is about taste—they can essentially do whatever they want to their models. But should they?
Here’s the spoiler: Ophelia wins. The Hong Kong-born fashion student turned makeup artist has technical skill up the wazoo (you’ve got to watch just to see her negative space Q-tip technique, which floors the judges in the very first episode). More importantly, though, she anchors each look with luminous skin and knows when to leave well enough alone. It's a little reminiscent of Garland's work, in that way. Another parallel? Both women draw fresh creativity from an outsider’s perspective—because she was trained in hairstyling, Garland maintains a flexible scrappiness that’s led to some of her most creative projects. (Like how, at a recent Gareth Pugh show, she covered models’ heads in stockings and painted new, Anime-esque faces on top.) Ophelia’s winning look drew on her fashion training, as she glued on netting like a veil over her model’s eyes and hand-embroidered crystals into it. It was easy to imagine the detail complementing runway couture—maybe for Sarah Burton’s McQueen? A yet to be designed Westwood show?
Since her win, Ophelia’s been active on Instagram with a mix of wearable gothic glam and over-the-top editorial. And while it’s so much fun scrolling through her digital lookbook, it’s even better watching the looks come together in real time. So here’s my proposal: you watch the show, take some notes, and let’s meet back here to discuss. Who was your favorite? Which look was underrated? Overrated? Who was robbed? In the meantime, I’m going back to season one.
Photo via Netflix