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Dame Pat McGrath: Meet the Mother of All Make-up

FEATURE: Long Read
Words by: Nateisha Scott

“DARLING, PLEASE DO HAVE A PLAY!” says Pat McGrath to me. We’re perched on chairs in the Grand Piano Suite at Claridge’s, sitting next to her latest collection, which she is sharing with me like a personal photo album. As we talk, we swirl and swatch powders and creams with our fingers. I can see straight away why her calm; warm-hearted demeanour has earned her the nickname ‘Mother’ from peers in the beauty industry. While now based in New York, McGrath always enjoys returning to the UK, and this time, it’s to celebrate Pat McGrath Labs at H beauty and on harrods.com.

Pat McGrath Labs Launching in H beauty

“Each product I’ve either made for myself, my friends or my community, and that’s why launching in H beauty means everything to me,” she says. “It’s a beauty playground that is incredibly creative, just like our collections – it’s a match made in heaven.”

An Accolade-worthy Beauty Career

McGrath is one of the most influential make-up artists in beauty. Her career spans three decades; in 2017, she received a CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Founder’s Award; two years later, she was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list; and in 2021, she became the first-ever make-up artist to receive a damehood. Born and raised in Northampton, McGrath had no formal fashion or make-up-artistry training, but often cites her Jamaican mother – an avid follower of fashion, who worked as a dressmaker – as one of her biggest influences. Her breakthrough came when she was invited to work on shoots for The Face and i-D magazines; she was duly asked to tour with Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler, which led to a permanent position as beauty director at i-D alongside Edward Enninful.

 

An Accolade-worthy Beauty Career

An Accolade-worthy Beauty Career

Some of McGrath’s defining career highlights to date include creating shapeshifting make-up looks with designers such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and an internet-breaking make-up collaboration with streetwear brand Supreme that, on launch, sold out in a record 8.2 seconds. Other key moments include making masks from 1,500 Swarovski crystals at Givenchy’s SS14 show; Maison Margiela SS16, where, among homages to the late David Bowie, McGrath adopted the use of star-shaped appliqués; and long, feathered lashes fluttering from overtly lined eyes for Valentino’s SS19 couture show.

It was at these shows (equipped with no fewer than 60 cases brimming with glitters, sequins, feathers and make-up) that McGrath turned beauty into an otherworldly spectacle that first sowed the seeds for her own brand. “I’d be working with products that were difficult,” she explains. “Matte eyeshadows were never comfortable; they’d constantly crease and were difficult to see on all skin tones. A gold eyeshadow was impossible to use, especially one that would reflect as gold. You really had to be a fine artist, constantly sculpting, playing, mixing, and matching pigments for the perfect shades. So, I had to create it all. [Backstage,] I’d have to work across 72 faces, so the product had to work fast and have excellent quality.”

Pat McGrath on Beauty

Recently, McGrath has taken on skincare, debuting with Divine Skin: Rose 001 The Essence. “It’s skincare that isn’t heavy but is dewy and healing,” she says. “Beauty must be for everyone and not just suiting skin tones (referring to make-up), but skin types and I’ll spend time creating the perfect products for both.” But she didn’t rush into it. “After years of mastering the formula, I still made the team hold out on the release while I sent it to my friends to try. I gave a bottle to my manicurist, and when I saw her almost four weeks later and asked why her skin was so radiant, she told me it was the essence. That’s when I called the team and said it’s ready to launch.”

Pat’s lightweight approach isn’t just appealing backstage but a purity that she considers in her own routine. With radiant skin herself she explains her own beauty routine. “I’ll cleanse my skin with something secret (a light sparkle hits her eye) and then hydrate with the essence before prepping with the Sublime Perfection Primer and a light layer of the Sublime Perfection Foundation and Sublime Perfection Concealer. To finish my base, I’ll dust the Sublime Perfection Blurring Under-Eye Powder under the eyes,” she explains. “On the lashes, it’s our Pat McGrath Labs Dark Star Mascara and I’ll line my eyes using the Perma Precision Liquid Eyeliner in either Xtreme black or Xtreme BLK Coffee and often add some colour to the cheeks with the Paradise Venus blush”.

So, what’s next on the agenda for this beauty trailblazer? At the mention of a new year, she turns coy. “I’ve always got to keep my secrets,” she says, with a smile. “But fasten your seatbelts for a fantastic ride.”

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