My Life In Beauty: A-List Make-Up Artist Wendy Rowe
My Life In Beauty: A-List Make-Up Artist Wendy Rowe

My Life In Beauty: A-List Make-Up Artist Wendy Rowe

Wendy Rowe is one of the make-up industry’s most-respected names. With an A-list clientele and decades of experience, she knows all there is to know about beauty. We sat down with her to discuss her top lessons and advice – from the importance of finding your niche to the wide-ranging benefits of waterproof mascara.
By Rebecca Hull

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Your childhood informs your future. At least that’s what someone told me at a dinner party once, and there’s definitely truth in it. When I was a kid, I used to make rose perfume in my mum’s garden. I would put what I made into little bottles then give it to my teachers – I thought I had made one hell of a concoction back then. My point is, I always made things. My mum was crafty too, and I enjoyed making things and experimenting with them. In other words, I knew I’d end up doing something creative.

The punk era was a big influence on me. I’m not someone who was inspired by my mum applying make-up – I was much more into being a rebel, and though I just missed the punk era, it influenced me heavily. I wanted to experiment with disruptive make-up and shave my head. I wasn’t allowed to do any of this, though, so I played with fun colour pens from my Girl World doll and went to school with a maroon fringe. I’ve always wanted to break the mould.

Music and films have long been my points of reference. When I grew up, I loved watching bands, obsessing over their looks. I remember when Grease came out and how much I loved Olivia Newton John’s rebel transformation. Moments like this made me realise I wanted to be involved in this energetic and fun industry. I loved the clothes, the songs, the whole vibe. I knew I couldn’t sing, I wasn’t tall enough to be a model, but I had to get into showbiz somehow – I never knew it would be make-up.

It was a TOUGH INDUSTRY TO CRACK, but I KEPT GOING AS I HAD SO MUCH FUN. I never came into this thinking about the celebrity aspect. I did it – and worked hard for it – because I TRULY ENJOY IT.

I didn’t find it easy to break into. When I was getting started, access was an issue. Unless you had lots of money to go to make-up school, there was no easy way in, and I didn’t come from an affluent background. Most people I knew back then had rich parents or knew someone in the industry – it was a very closed set. You were easily pushed out if you couldn’t afford to work for nothing, but I managed to hang on because I was on the dole for years. It was tough, but I kept going as I had so much fun. I never came into this thinking about the celebrity aspect. I did it – and worked hard for it – because I truly enjoy it. 

To succeed in this business, make-up needs to be your passion. It’s important you get into it for the right reasons and not because someone else has been successful at it. I am never going to be like another artist, nor they me. You can be inspired, of course, but you can’t try to do what others are. Creative jobs like make-up need to feel honest. It’s like driving a car – eventually you don’t think about it, it should just come naturally. 

Finding your niche is key. By the way, that can take years and often it’s a case of trial and error. But it’s important you do find something that sets you apart. Often, it’s a mishmash of things that work altogether and they become what makes you, you.


My big break took a bit of time to materialise. The first job I worked on was a poster for the royal ballet with Darcey Bussell. The whole experience was amazing, and I loved the creativity of it. I then had my first major job working on a Prada campaign. I thought that would be the job that  would change everything for me, but it didn’t. I had to wait a little longer for my real big break, which was my career at Burberry Beauty. Christopher Bailey took a chance on me following a recommendation from his creative consultant Elliott Smedley. Elliott and I worked together on a Dutch magazine, and he knew Christopher was looking to build a new team. 

Being at Burberry was my ‘peak’ moment. I worked with the team there for 16 years, so it was a huge chapter for me. I went from working backstage at the shows to becoming the artistic director for the make-up. They put their trust in me to create the product ranges and I learnt so much. I was given a lot of freedom to come up with new things that didn’t exist. 

There have been a few pitfalls in my career, too. This industry can be unkind – less so now, but it was a hard one at the start. I’ve learnt you have to find a way out of difficult and unhappy situations and really forge your own path. In life, you will go through uncomfortable moments and possibly be humiliated, so you must learn to push forward and zone out the noise as much as you can.

Dick Page is someone I learnt a lot from. I realised that he didn’t follow any rules; his make-up kit was small, he mixed colours up and he taught me to experiment and let loose. Kevyn Aucoin didn’t necessarily teach me anything new, but he did help me understand the benefits of layering products underneath foundation to softly sculpt the skin. They call it underpainting now, but I call it sculpting – and never contouring. 

My own artistry is what I call ‘dishevelled luxury’. Even when I do a bolder look, I always like to keep one area looking a bit undone. I never do everything at once. A strong graphic eye with natural, bare lids is the perfect example – a bit of juxtaposition is cool.


Working on your skin routine pays off. A good glow is only achievable if your skin is in a good place. When I was learning at college, we didn’t know about cleansing or toning. I used to have problematic skin, so I started paying attention and taking care of it. You need to prep skin, tone it and cleanse it properly so that when it comes to make-up, you only need to use the minimal amount. 

Brushes are a great tool if precision is what you’re after. I’m often asked whether fingers or brushes are best – the answer is it depends on what you’re doing. For a seamless finish, brushes are best, but there’s nothing wrong with using your fingers and I often mix it up. In terms of the best brands, I love M·A·C, MyKitCo and Shu Uemura – Japanese brushes are so beautiful.

Make-up artist brands are some of the best. We know how to create products and textures better than anyone, so you trust an MUA range will be good. I love RMS Beauty. Rose-Marie Swift was ahead of her time, and she worked so hard to get that brand off the ground. I love Bakeup Beauty by Jo Baker, too. She’s from LA and creates these tiny palettes that are so fun. They’re designed for a younger market, but there are some lovely, neutral and suits-all tones in that range.

It's important you do FIND SOMETHING THAT SETS YOU APART. Often, it’s a MISHMASH OF THINGS THAT WORK ALTOGETHER and they become what makes you, you.

I have a handful of products I am never without. That includes my M·A·C Blotting Powder – if I don’t have this, I panic. I also love Victoria Beckham’s Lip Liner in shade ‘No. 2’, and ‘No. 4’ for darker skin tones. I always keep Bobbi Brown’s No Smudge Mascara nearby as it doesn’t move or drop like some do. Merit is always in my kit too – I am really enjoying that brand. Gucci Westman’s Contour Stick is unrivalled. If you’ve not tried it before, I recommend Nudestix too – the sticks are so creamy. I love having a few of the Chanel Les Beiges Eyeshadow Palettes in my kit as well, and finally, I only recently used Charlotte Tilbury’s ‘Pillow Talk’ lipstick. It really is the best colour for all skin tones.

Waterproof mascara shouldn’t be ignored. So many people are scared to use it as they think it’s hard to get off, but they’re probably just removing it wrong. You want an oil-based remover – like the one from Lancôme that’s dedicated to eyes – which dissolves the formula gently. You just push the formula side to side on the lashes of closed eyes – you don’t need to tug at the skin. My favourite waterproof formula is either Bobbi Brown’s or Max Factor’s 2000 Calorie. Applying a waterproof mascara on the lower lashes can be particularly helpful.

Moisturiser is my desert island product. I can go without shoes, but not my moisturiser. Sarah Chapman’s Comfort Cream is my go-to but I love Augustinus Bader’s Light Cream too – it’s so good for prepping skin. I’d try and sneak some of Joëlle Ciocco’s skincare away with me too if I could. If you’ve never tried her range, trust me, it’s worth it.

The one product everyone should own is a tinted moisturiser. If your skin looks healthy, smooth and glow-y, there really is little else you need. For me, few skin tints beat Laura Mercier’s. It’s still my favourite to this day.

For more beauty inspiration, tips & advice, follow @WendyRowe



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