Lesley Keane’s 20-year journey from window-dressing to MAC Senior make-up artist

This month marks Lesley Keane’s 20th year as a MAC Senior Artist. She gives Corina Gaffey the lowdown on working with celebs like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell — plus she reveals her top make-up tips.

Lesley Keane’s 20-year journey from window-dressing to MAC Senior make-up artist

Lesley Keane laughs as she recalls an interaction with a famous French actress.

“She was presenting an award and she wouldn’t let me to do any make-up on her face, all she wanted was Vaseline on her skin. She was pretty rude, it was horrendous at the time.”

Did she send, said celebrity, off out shiny face and all?

“Yes, I kept suggesting and she was like no, that was her thing. There was nothing I could do. I find it funny looking back because you can’t take it personally, you can’t take anything personally in this business. It would drive you insane!”

Keane is not scared of doing things, of pushing herself, of starting again. She’s passionate about her work and not precious about it. But luckily for Keane, she’s been blessed with a mainly diva-free celebrity clientele. Maybe it’s her incredibly likeable character, or her varied skill set, whatever it is, you can tell that the celebrities are in for a treat when they get a chance to sit in her make-up chair.

Even when she painted the face of the ultimate supermodels Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, both went off without a hitch. “I did Naomi Campbell’s make-up backstage at a Julien MacDonald show years ago, she didn’t say much but she was really pleasant. She told me what she wanted and I just knew very clearly not to steer outside those boundaries, plus I just knew I had to be really quick!” laughs Keane.

With Kate it was a matter of working with what she got: “It was quite daunting at the time but she knew what she wanted and her look is so iconic, it’s the same look all the time and she has that bone structure so there’s very little wrong you can do to that face as it all just hangs off these perfect cheekbones.”

Putting it down to confidence, Keane explains the process involved in celebrity make-up artistry. “Having done celebrity make-up for years, I’ve learnt confidence is key. You could walk into an interaction with a celebrity and they control the situation and you become their puppet. But I’ve found they prefer you to take control. You tell them what they need and they learn something from you. So you need to take charge. I know the questions to ask and I know the way to be to get the person and me to where we need to go.”

And that’s exactly what Keane did when television personality and glamour model Katie Price sat down in her make-up chair backstage at Naomi Campbell’s Fashion for Relief fashion show in February of this year.

“I was doing her make-up and I was like ‘okay, I’m not going to do what you normally do, we are going to do something completely different’. So I paled down her skin and gave her a red lip and just naturally filled in her brows. She walked down the runway in this androgynous tux and it just instantly blew up on social media. It garnered so much interest because she was so beautiful, pared-back. It was so much fun for me to work on.”

Preferring a more classical beauty aesthetic, Keane loves to do make-up on a more mature skin. Even though she’s worked on countless fresh faces, including Kendall Jenner, who she describes as a “natural beauty, really clued in and a lovely girl with a great face to do make-up on”, there’s a real technique to doing over-40s make-up which she thrives on.

Believing in the empowerment of her craft and using make-up as a tool to enhance not transform, she thinks that a face that is more lived-in looks beautiful and is more interesting to work with. That love of ageless make-up developed from working with no other than Hollywood legend Goldie Hawn. “If someone asked me before who would you like to do make-up on, I would say Goldie Hawn. She has been one of my favourite beauty and film icons, she is just so amazing. I spent two days in Dubai, at the Dubai Film Festival.”

And did the screen legend live up to Keane’s expectations?

“She was so funny, she looked at me and said ‘The way you do your eyeshadow is the way I liked to do mine’, which is using golden browns and metallics. I learnt so much from her and we got on like a house on fire. She taught me about not winging the eye at the side, lifting the eye with make-up and she was big into contouring. How to do an ageless make-up, that’s really what she taught me and that’s where my passion for doing ageless, like women over 40 years of age, make-up came from.”

So what are Keane’s top tips for creating the perfect ageless look? Firstly, start developing your own signature style as you grow older, experiment with your look and don’t be afraid to express yourself, but most importantly get back to basics.

“Good skincare in the form of a great primer that will even out texture and soften the skin is key and it’s a lot about highlighting and contouring in a really subtle way. When women get to a certain age, they’ve plucked out most of their brows and they don’t how to start reshaping them again.

“Brows structure the face, so invest in the perfect eyebrow pencil. For me it’s like putting a dress on a good hanger, it evens out all the creases and makes everything look structured, but if you put it on a wire hanger it just looks bad. It’s the same thing with make-up. it’s about starting from the beginning.”

Having always wanted a career in beauty, Keane left a job window dressing in Vero Moda to start with MAC when it first opened its doors in Brown Thomas on Grafton St. That was 20 years ago this month. The appeal of the fashion-forward company struck a chord.

“I just loved the whole idea, it was such a cool company, everyone was dressing in black, with tattoos, and piercings. At the time I had a mohawk and I thought this is somewhere I can slot into very nicely.”

A lifelong make-up lover of make-up with a relentless attention to detail, Keane would watch her mum do her make-up and then she would go upstairs and put on her mum’s fur coat and try to recreate the look.

Watching classic films for inspiration on what make-up look to create next, Keane learnt how to experiment with the latest trends from an early age.

“I was obsessed with make-up growing up and looking at movies and trying to recreate the look, I remember Wendy James from Transvision Vamp was really big at the time and I tried recreate that chalky pink lip she wore and I used to make make-up with chalks.”

That experimenting is still clear in her work today when I ask her what her biggest beauty secret. “I love using lip pencils on the eyes to get a more rustic shade and lived-in look. My favourite is MAC Spice or Chestnut lip pencil on the eyes, wrapping it around and buffing it out.”

As a kid she would also dole out make-up advice to anyone would listen, first her aunties, then on to her college friends. Veering away from her first love, beauty, to study fashion in NCAD, it’s actually something that Keane attributes to her success and skills as a make-up artist.

“Studying fashion and art, has made me be able to do the job I do, referencing, researching, developing a brief, it’s basically what I do every day.

“You can be a make-up artist but unless you understand the history of fashion and make-up, where shapes and textures come from, I don’t think you can be a fashion make-up artist — you really need to understand the past, references, ingredients, and techniques and that’s hugely part of artistry.”

It’s that flair and command that she brings when she works with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the industry at fashion weeks across the globe.

But fashion week isn’t just a test of your skill as a make-up artist, it can be a test of your grit too — you have to be prepared for whatever a model, designer or key make-up artist has to throw at you.

“Fashion week can be so daunting, especially when you’re in a big fashion house, like testing for Elie Saab Couture. I find testing at fashion week more stressful than the show itself.”

For every fashion show there is always a hair and make-up test a couple of days beforehand.

“You are teamed with the key make-up artist for MAC on that show, for instance it could be Val Garland. Then there are assistants, hair-stylists, designers, stylists, and you’re all in one room and it could be from one hour to 10 hours.

“If I’m there with Val and she says to me ‘I have this idea in my head we’re going to do this glossy red lip’ I have to get everything that’s glossy and red from body paints, to lipsticks, and whatever she envisions I need to provide to her in product.

“And then we actually get to do the show I’ve to make sure I’ve enough product for all the team and brief the vision to the team, and you could probably have two to three shows a day.”

Thriving on time pressure and close quarters is the key to working in the challenging environment, especially when the models are running late.

“At Paul Smith’s show last year, the show was starting and we were still missing six models and it was big hair and a structured eye, so a more complicated look.

“We had six chairs laid out and were just waiting for these girls to show up and as the show was starting we were still getting the girls ready to send out.

“We always get it finished somehow.”

Exhilarating, chaotic, and exhausting, those dramatic fuelled backstage moments have lead to some particular memorable and inspiring highlights for Keane.

Working with amazing designers, including Vivienne Westwood, Mathew Williamson, and Nicole Farhi, is one of Keane’s favourite aspects of her job.

It’s a fact, that Keane has access to MAC’s newest products first, she helps translate the trends you see on the runway into accessible products, giving them the ultimate road test backstage at fashion week.

“At the moment we’ve got the strongest relationship with the artists and product development and they’re just coming out with these amazing products. It’s a great system, tested on models.

“Models’ skin by the end of fashion week is a great testing board,” laughs Keane.

Massively involved in the production of products, Keane’s passion for what she does comes through in everything she does, from her work to when she talks and her passion for the MAC product which she gives her honest feedback after meticulously testing it.

“We’re given a whole load of MAC products at the start of each fashion week and we test them all the way through.

“For instance a bronzing stick, if we’re using that, we advise the product development team and say it could be the wrong colour or it needs to be cooler or it needs to be more matte or it needs to be less sparkly, that’s an example of actual conversations we have.

“They really listen to us.”

So what’s next for Keane, what does the next 20 years hold for her?

“I’ve no idea! I don’t think I could ever not work in make-up, I would really miss it, I would miss the people and MAC the brand. The company has grown hugely in Ireland, we’ve just opened in Derry, I think I’d like to grow with the company and keep doing it. I honestly think we’re going to have a lot of 50- or 60-year-old MAC senior artists wandering around.”

LESLEY’S MUST-HAVE PRODUCTS

1. Lingering, Spiked and Fling from MAC are my top favourite brow pencils. I use them all the time.

2. Time Check by MAC, is a moisturiser with polymer technology that grasps the foundation and keeps it on.

3. I’m a big fan of the new MAC Amber times 9 palette which has all your matte staple eye colours and golden metallic shades in one handy palette.

4. My favourite red lipstick is MAC Ruby Woo  such a classic.

5. Nude lipsticks have darkened slightly or gone a bit peachy in tone so my picks are MAC Hug Me, Taupe or Peachstock.

6. MAC Spice or Whirl lipliner blended into the lips with a bit of lip conditioner is just fabulous.

7. Groundwork Paint Pot I use as a contour and a base for eyeshadows.

8. MAC Pro Long-wear concealer is a must have.

Favourite campaigns - Iris Alpfen, Sharon and Kelly Osbourne, Cinderella, and the new one for autumn winter Haute Dogs

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