Pro Talk: Celebrity Makeup Artist Pati Dubroff
“I was 10 years old and I distinctly remember sitting in front of my mother’s makeup mirror and I being totally intrigued by what was going on — the packages, the colors, the textures, the transformational abilities, the womanly mystique of what that whole area was all about. I remember thinking, I want to do this when I grow up. I didn’t really know what “this” was and kids now are so savvy and really have an understanding of what happens behind the scenes and in front of the scenes, and I didn’t put it together that women in magazines and women in film were being painted by makeup artists. It was something I discovered later, in my teens. I was always the girl whose house you would come to to get ready to go to a party or any kind of school function. It was always the girl time that I remember, having more fun getting ready than actually being out. It was inevitable. I love that sense of camaraderie that happened in the getting-ready stages. So, I was always the go-to girl in school and I remained very focused on that.
After I left high school in New Jersey, I moved to Manhattan and I searched out my first makeup job. My first job as a makeup artist was at Bergdorf Goodman at the Yves Saint Laurent counter. I was very young and I think I might have lied to get the job. I was in heaven. I was doing makeup all day long, on all different kinds of faces, and working with a brand that was incredibly prestigious and very makeup driven. I learned a lot about application during that time and I also started to dabble in testing, assisting, and seeing what it would take to do makeup in other environments, other than a department store. I remember I assisted Bobbi Brown, very early on, on a show she was doing and then I had the opportunity to work at MTV as a freelancer. This was during the VJ era, when they were a big deal. Will Smith was a VJ, it was a fun time! So, I was in the studio part-time working with the VJs, like John Levitt. It was such a cool place to be. I was also working on no-budget music videos for Malcolm McLaren and just really cool stuff. I also started to cast, meeting with modeling agencies and hair and makeup agencies, because I was looking to do more. Then I had an opportunity to assist Francois Nars on a big fashion show. He had 15 or 20 assistants, and after the show, he came up to me and asked a little about me. It was a time when his full-time assistant was moving on, and he asked if I wanted to come and work with him. Right away I was his number one assistant. I stayed with him for a year and half and he definitely was my greatest mentor. It was a time when he was doing every single fashion show. We would go to Milan, Paris and New York, and we would also do the Couture. We did everything from Prada, to Gucci, to Valentino, to Calvin, to lots of Versace, and I was on-site with him working with the masters, including [Richard] Avedon and Irving Penn. We would work with the stars of the day — all of the supermodels and also Madonna. It was an incredible training ground and he was such a generous teacher. I still think he should be opening up a makeup school and every time I see him, I ask him when that school is opening because he’s a master teacher. I feel like everything I learned, I learned from him, in regards to technique, set etiquette, and practical things like where to do makeup. It sounds so simple but people don’t know that if they do their makeup in an area where the lighting isn’t ideal, the makeup isn’t going to look good anywhere. Things like that. I learned everything from him.
After a year and half with him, I decided to move to Paris to work on my own career. It was really fortunate that a lot of the people I met through Francois — editors and photographers we worked with, like Peter Lindbergh — were willing to give me a chance to be me. Peter Lindbergh was definitely one of the greatest influences on the style of makeup that I enjoyed doing and the type of women I enjoyed creating. The way Peter likes to capture a woman, and the type of woman Peter is known for capturing so well, is very much in line with my aesthetic. With Peter, he very much likes to see the texture of the skin — it shouldn’t be powdered, it shouldn’t be perfect. It should be very real and vibrant. Not grainy, because there’s a polish and a beauty to it, but it’s not about untouchable. It’s almost so alive, that you feel you can touch it. That’s what I like. I like the skin to look like skin. Even if there’s foundation there, you don’t know it’s there. I like the eyes to draw you in and a sultriness around the eye, and it doesn’t necessarily involve powders. One thing I learned from Francois was to be very good and fast and what I learned from Peter, is that you don’t need to be powder-perfect to be beautiful. He was a great influence and the fact that he was one of the first major photographers that I got to work with on my own, was a really big deal. It continues to be, even after 20 years working with him. Every time I get booked with him, I have the biggest smile on my face.
When I moved back to New York, a lot of the bookings I would get were actor-related, more than model-related. My boyfriend, and now husband, lived in Los Angeles and I lived in New York, and I was really resistant to being an “LA makeup artist”. I had a lot of pride in my New York fashion existence but, for love I started to look more and more into California and practically speaking, I was being booked more for actors. It started to dawn on me that actors were also becoming cover models and why not go to the source, so to speak, and also where my relationship was? I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and I was on the airplane making my big, official move when I get a phone call from my agent at the time, saying, “Call me right away”. I call back and I remember standing at baggage and they said, “You’ve just been booked for the Vanity Fair Hollywood cover with Annie Leibovitz. It was my first time working with Annie, it was my first time working on a Vanity Fair cover, and I just remember being floored, thinking, “Okay, this is God speaking. I made the right choice.” Here I am, just landed, and I’ve just been booked for this Hollywood cover. I definitely believe in looking for signs and that was a huge sign that I had made the right choice. That was in 2001 and I’m going onto 12 years being in California and it was definitely the wisest choice — for my health, well-being, my life, and my career.
I’ve come into my own, in a way, and working with actors, it’s all about making this one woman her most beautiful version of herself, for whatever the situation is. Whereas with fashion, it’s more about creating a trend. Sometimes the circus of fashion would turn me off a bit, because it wasn’t my thing; whereas working with a celebrity, we can all relate to wanting to look our absolute best. There are some celebrities that I have long-term relationships with, like Kate Bosworth who I’ve been working with since her Blue Crush days. It’s amazing with her, because I’ve watched her grow into this incredibly beautiful, stylish, and smart woman. She’s so inspiring on so many levels and she’s my favorite Barbie, where I can do anything with. I’ve also had long-term relationships with Kirsten Dunst and Julianne Moore. I love the loyal, evolving relationships I have with these really talented women. It’s also really fun to meet new people. I just spent, almost two months of my life, with Charlize [Theron] doing all kinds of press tours, photo shoots, and really enjoying every second of her and making her more beautiful. I’m really inspired by her as a woman and as a talent.
Doing makeup for celebrities, you have to think about the theme and the scenario. Is it day-time, is it evening; is it natural light, is it a studio; what’s the movie about, what is the feel of the movie? If it’s dark and gritty, maybe you don’t want them to look dark and gritty. You need to know what the parameters are, feeling the environment out, and then making choices. Most obviously, what are they wearing and you also need to think what they’ll be most comfortable in all day. Some people don’t like a lipstick on all day. Sometimes for a red carpet event, a woman won’t want to be responsible for maintenance, so you want to do makeup that they don’t have to think about. Other people don’t mind having a really strong look, like Kate Bosworth for the Met Ball, where she would have to make sure that blackberry lipstick wasn’t all over teeth and her face all night. There’s all these different factors in play, but for me it’s about (a). making their skin looking juicy, gorgeous, and natural; and (b). what’s the vibe? Something playful with color? And you don’t need to be young to play with color. For example, Julianne [Moore], I can do a really bright teal eyeliner on her, that I would also use on someone who is 20, but done appropriately to who she is and where she is in her life.
I’ve worked with a few cosmetic brands as a spokesperson and I’ve dabbled in product development with those brands. I’m definitely interested in the world of product development, putting together a brand, and I’ve been in development on my own brand. I naively thought it was going to be something quick and easy, and a few years in, it’s really hard work. Almost like giving birth, but it’s the longest pregnancy I’ve ever had. I hope all the pieces with come into place and it will come to fruition. If that particular concept doesn’t, I know there will be another concept, whether it’s with an existing brand and I’m working with them doing some kind of product development, as an Artistic Director, for example. I love that and that’s what I really want to do next. I love doing makeup day-to-day, but I know I have so much more to offer because it’s really easy for me to communicate to a consumer, to a reader, how to do their makeup, how to feel their best, and how to be empowered by their beauty. I want to continue to educate and inspire using my voice through a brand that makes sense.” – Celebrity Makeup Artist Pati Dubroff
*top image: Pati Dubroff and Ginnifer Goodwin; bottom image: Pati Dubroff