There are some makeup artists who I just connect with immediately. Keri Blair, one of the Senior Makeup Artists for M.A.C, is one of them. After corresponding for months over Twitter, we finally met this past Fashion Week -- and I'm so glad we did! Keri's unbelievable knowledge of all things M.A.C, not to mention a wealth of fabulous makeup tips and a delightfully effervescent personality, make her one of my favorite people to talk to. Over Pinkberry a few weeks ago (one of our shared obsessions), she sat down with me to share how she got started in the makeup business, some of her favorite products and where she gets her inspiration. Read on to find out more.
How did you first get into makeup?
I started collecting makeup when I was 9. My mother and I went to this English town market in New Jersey and I bought this white compact with one eyeshadow in it, this plum brown eyeshadow. That was my first eyeshadow I ever bought. It's interesting as an adult -- how I talk about makeup and what inspires me about makeup -- is where women learn to put it on originally. Whether it’s from your mom, your sister, your aunt, your grandma -- and what habits as adults we still hold on to today. I can’t really give a specific answer because my mother didn’t wear a lot of makeup. But I was that kid in the grocery store that would look at all the candy, and if it was out of place I would line up all the candy so it was in all the right bins! I’m not a super-anal person but I’m very OCD! I don’t know how that relates back to makeup -- only that I realized the connection as an adult that I love things like how Target is marketed, the same image circa Andy Warhol, pop culture, pop color, all those things really inspired me.
At one point in my career with M.A.C I worked with Cyndi Lauper, and it was many years ago. I did 3 concert days with her and I remember watching her put her makeup on -- because she really didn’t want me to do her makeup, she wanted me to hang out with her while she did her makeup! So I did a little bit on her, but most of it was kind of assisting her. And I remember telling her that I had this insane epiphany that I’ve always talked about where women learn to put their makeup on, and where I learned to put makeup on was from you! From the She's So Unusual album, and watching [her] on TV. And she looked at me halfway into her eyeshadow and was like, “SCARY!”
I feel like I’ve always been a true 80’s girl in the sense that I love color, I would match my mascara to my shirt. I grew up on Garanimals in the 70s, it evolved into the 80's of loving color, and playing with color, and mixing textures. I feel like it really translates as an artist who works on skin as my canvas. It’s a little bit all over the place and kind of Mad Hatter! I’m obsessed with chemistry, I’m obsessed with mixing things together to see what color combinations I can get. I respect the color wheel in the sense that I trust it, and I just hope for the best when I mix color. I try not to disrupt Mother Nature too much.
How did you become a makeup artist?
I wanted to be a chemist. I really wanted to work developing color for Revlon or L'Oreal, I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time and M.A.C wasn’t even around yet. As a girl who’s 17 years old, living in a very small town in Maryland, is it even feasible to think you could become a makeup artist? Is that something you do for a living? I didn’t know. So going to New York and fulfilling my dream didn’t really seem like a reality. I tried to do chemistry, I had an A in lab and I was failing lecture! So instead I went to school for communications, which in some weird way has circled back around. I public speak for a living, I’m on camera, I do all this really great stuff for M.A.C. In the 14 years that I’ve been with the brand, it’s allowed me to evolve into the person I was supposed to become.
How did you first get involved with M.A.C?
I was really into makeup and hair in high school. I did everybody’s hair and makeup, they would come into my lair! My poor best friend, she had more stuff slathered on her ... I collected and collected and collected, and my grandmother would take me makeup shopping. I went to college and wore makeup for the first year and a half that I was there, and then I joined a sorority.
After that I had no time to put makeup on, and I stopped wearing makeup! I got kind of into the grunge scene, I was a grip, I moved lights around, I had jean shorts and hiking boots and flannels -- it was the 90's!
I started to get a little bit back into makeup and got reinspired by it in 1993. I had just graduated from college and I was at a nail salon with my mom in Maryland, and these 3 women were talking about this new makeup line at Nordstrom called M.A.C. And everyone wore black, and had flare pants on, and plaform shoes, and white ruffled shirts with black vests. I perked up, we went to Nordstrom and I went to the counter. They had one little tiny bay and this woman named Nancy helped me. I bought a graphite cream liner, a #25 brush and a black mascara, and that was how it started. They had no M.A.C in north Carolina where I was living, so every time I went home, I would try to go to the counter and there would be lines around the counter. And I would be like, "Can I get a Freeze lipstick, can I get Ecstasy lipstick?” You could not get helped to save your life, it was a mob scene!
I worked on a film in 1995 and the makeup artist really opened my eyes back up to it. I made a decision that I wanted to work in makeup, and I went to the M.A.C counter and I applied, and I interviewed, and I got the job. Nordstrom was really interested in my customer service background, and I had an art background, which M.A.C was interested in, and the rest is history. I went to school for aesthetics my first year, and that’s it!
After a year being at the company in Maryland, I became a trainer, and I was a trainer for about a year and a half. Then I moved to Atlanta and was a trainer for 2 years there, became a Senior Artist in 2000, then moved to New York as a Senior Artist, then I moved to Chicago and was the director of training, then I moved back to New York two years ago. So my 14-year anniversary was on the 22nd of march.
Check back tomorrow for the next installment of my interview with Keri Blair. To follow her on Twitter, click here.