How Charlotte Tilbury created a make up empire

In four short years Charlotte Tilbury has created nothing short of a beauty empire. When you speak to her, it’s easy to see why, says Vickie Maye.

The beauty industry is a tough one to crack. Newcomers try and fail, big brands with celebrity faces and inflated marketing budgets can see launches fall flat.

Yet in four short years Charlotte Tilbury has created nothing short of a beauty empire.

There are queues for her new lines — the Magic Foundation and Mini Miracle Eye Wand were sell outs; when her label debuted in 2013 there were queues around the block at Selfridges on Oxford Street.

And then there are the awards, over 80 globally in just three years, including winner of the WWD Beauty Inc Best Product of the Year Fragrance for Scent of a Dream.

Charlotte Tilbury, left, and with Kate Moss , who is godmother to her children. Tilbury is more than a make-up artist to the stars, she is also their friend and is more than happy to name-drop.

The people are voting for her too — she has just been announced Google’s top trending make-up artist for 2016.

I begin to understand her success when I sit at one of her counters and try the products for myself.

It is, quite frankly, genius. Tilbury spotted a gap in the market and boy has she nailed it.

Her look book is simple and sweet: 10 key looks, from Rock Star to Dolce Vita.

The same model, almost unrecognisable in each one, illustrates each trend and in an instant makes professional movie star make-up, so often so intimating for the regular girl on the street, seem immediately accessible.

Each look comes with a line of products from eye liner to lippie, gloss to blush, and at home you log on to Charlotte’s online tutorial on YouTube to see how it’s done. 

(Her products are foolproof; her eye palette shades, for example, are laid out in the order you use them.) 

And then there’s her by now, a mere four years on, iconic Wonder Cream, so named by the supermodels who would request Tilbury’s self-made magic concoction at Fashion Week.

Today it’s one of the most talked-about moisturisers on the market (Jennifer Aniston’s husband is a huge fan, Tilbury tells me).

That’s just the products (and I haven’t even touched on her staggeringly successful Scent of a Dream debut fragrance launch last year).

There are also the counters themselves.

Let’s be honest here, having make-up done in a department store can be a far from glam affair. Propped on a chair in full view of customers as a make-up artist cleanses your face leaves you feeling pretty exposed.

Tilbury’s counter is tucked away discretely in Brown Thomas Cork (it opened with much fanfare last summer).

There’s a little Art Deco vanity table for each client, complete with a light bulb framed mirror, just like the Hollywood movies of old. Tilbury tells me she wants us to feel like we are backstage with her, and really, I do.

The packaging is just as beautiful, deep, luscious wines and golds with more of that 1920s design. Her contouring palette is like something pulled from my memories of my grandmother’s dressing table.

Tilbury’s line is perfection.

So far the success makes sense. But it’s when I speak to Tilbury in person that I really understand how her brand went so mainstream in so little time. The jigsaw begins to fall into place.

I snatch time with her on the phone, she’s in a car en route to a conference in London.

I’m allocated 30 minutes; three quarters of a hour later she is still deep in conversation. She is bubbly, enthusiastic.

She calls me darling, the word peppered throughout our conversation. I can sense her almost permanent smile as speaks.

She’s warm, she’s lovely. She’s the kind of person you want to hang out with. And I understand immediately how she is more than just a make-up artist to Hollywood’s elite (Kristen Stewart, Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow among them) — she is also their friend.

Who else would secure Kate Moss to be godmother to her children. At the same time Tilbury is a business woman, and a very brilliant one.

She’s ambitious, utterly passionate. She barely takes a breath between sentences; I find have to work hard to push my questions out there. And there’s a lot I want to know.

I want to ask her about those famous faces she has painted. And Tilbury has the good sense to namedrop — she realises the value of celebrity. 

(Her lippie line was named after her celebrity client list, from Cindy Crawford to Salma Hayek — her sensational nude lippie, another Fashion Week self-made mish mash of concealers and shades, was named after Kate Moss.) 

The Kardashians, J-Lo — they all fall off the tongue. Yet it’s not in a bragging sort of way.

It’s simply the life of one of the world’s most in demand make-up artists.

We speak before Christmas, and Tilbury is looking forward to some downtime, no long-haul flights for once, home with her kids.

She needs that time, she tells me to prep for awards season — the Globes, the Oscars.

She can’t tell me who she will be working with, but later I learn she painted the face of Nicole Kidman at the Golden Globes.

Who knows who is on the cards for the Oscars in a few weeks’ time.

I’m blown away by this woman, by her drive, her vision, her determination, her success.

Her make-up career began, the story goes, when she met Diana’s make-up artists Mary Greenwell on a beach. She trained and went on to be Greenwell’s assistant.

“At boarding school I knew I wanted it,” says Tilbury simply. 

“Nothing happens by chance — it’s hard work, determination. I just knew I could have whatever I wanted.” It’s a work ethic, she maintains.

She talks a lot too about the science of her products, describing herself as an alchemist.

“We innovate, not intimidate,” she says, in the most beautiful of sound bites.

“The red carpet was the DNA, how I built the brand. I took the red carpet and made it a reality. There was nowhere to get the full look... We democratise make up, make women feel like the most beautiful version of themselves. They feel empowered.” 

Later I email her and her PR to thank them for their time. Usually, a name as big as Tilbury would never, ever send a personal response.

But two days later an email lands in my inbox:

“Darling, I am very EXCITED about the cover!!! Have a magical Christmas!!! Lots of love, Charlotte xxx”

And with that, the jigsaw is complete.

I realise that Charlotte Tilbury the label has taken the beauty world by storm because of Charlotte Tilbury the woman.

Two new limited edition lipsticks, Pillow Talk and Valentine, will be launched for Valentine’s Day.



Breaking Stories

Cork Film Festival launches 2018 programme of 250 films

How to make Prue Leith’s ‘almost Thai’ fish cakes

Could this be the most spiritual retreat in Vietnam?

What’s it like to stay in Richard Branson’s favourite Balearic retreat?

More From The Irish Examiner