6763_mario_testino_kate_moss © 2012 . All rights reserved.

How to become a MAKE-UP artist…?

I grew up in 70’s and 80’s West London amidst white, black, ‘other’, posh, middle, everyone else people in the final, blasting swansong of true British bohemia and heyday of gloriously unexploited sub-culture.

You could say it was a mix.

I received this era’s cultural dose of artsy, politically conscious TV, where investigative documentaries and maverick film ‘auteur’ film seasons along with un-p.c. comedy shows were commonplace. Yes there was a golden age of T.V, but perhaps now it would be dubbed as ‘elitist’.

Also, there was simply nothing else to watch so maybe you got cultured (or more perverse re the comedy) whether you wanted to or not.
The thing that unites most fashion people (I include myself here) is that we are all what could be called ‘odd-bods.’ We are people that didn’t quite fit in at school because we either weren’t interested in doing so or because we felt that no one (including ourselves) quite understood us. The future perks of non-conformity were yet unknown from the grim walls of our Victorian playgrounds.

I could blame my mum for the resistance I had to my teacher’s enthusiasm in promoting a potentially academic nature (she did give me the bumper September collections issue of Vogue when I was fourteen after all) but it was too late- the beauty nerd within was calling and I veered ‘off piste’ at sixteen, choosing mid-eighties London club-land as a vehicle for further education.

I would later find the same applied to pretty much all of my contemporaries. Is going to a club where most people looked like their own personal art installation (Leigh Bowery, Phillip Sallon, Princess Julia etc) amidst music that scratched and mixed the Jackson Five with the sound of the Burundi tribe more interesting than what I was learning at school? Kind of..

This decadent oasis was full of what my mother would call ‘colourful’ types, not a place where students who should have been revising (me) hung out.
It was through this tribe that I met the wonderfully indefinable Kate Garner from the band Haysi Fantayzee.
I’d never met a woman so original, stylish, free, beautiful and kind, all at the same time.
Soon after meeting me, she simply asked what I’d like to do.
At sixteen I’d only just gotten over not being Anabella Lewin from Bow-wow-wow or Debbie Harry.  That week I happened to settle on ‘make-up artist’.


She then said “go and see my friend Jamie Morgan, his studio’s around the corner” so I did. He fancied my friend Susan (now Mitzi Lorenz) and gave me my first job, the cover of The Face magazine with Nick Kamen, styled by the forever-influential men’s stylist- Ray Petri.

After my training ground with ‘Buffalo’ (Ray, Jamie Morgan, Nick Kamen, Mitzi Lorenz and more) I got my first agent-in Paris.
There I worked for the Iconic, yet underground Parisian 80’s style bible ‘Jill Magazine’ which was edited by Babette Dijan.
Peter Lindbergh, Jean Francis Lepage, Paolo Roversi, plus many more innovative fashion photographers, had total creative freedom within these pages and like most things that are truly free, it was short-lived.
Coming back to London, I decided I’d go with a very ‘straight’ agent, to balance out my bleached blonde club-kid thing as in those days; Conde Nast and clubland were not the symbiotic clique they are today, they knew nothing of each other.
Soon I was working for Harpers & Queen with Hamish Bowles, Amanda Grieves (now Harlech) with her pal John Galliano (who’d bring along some things he made) and Tatler when Michael Roberts (now fashion/style director of Vanity Fair) was fashion editor and it’s prominent photographer. I also worked a lot with an up and coming Peruvian photographer called Mario Testino for ‘Girl About Town’ and Over 21 magazine.
Lorraine Ashton (foremost a model agent) took me on and Sarah Doukas (now Ms Moss’s booker at Storm) was my booker and I worked (whilst boogying the nights away) non-stop throughout my late teens until I got my record deal with my friend Michele (Misty) Oldland and spent three years singing in our band Oldland Montano.
It was a beautiful, challenging experience to be able make records, be in the studio and perform.
It’s hard to find words to describe this time succinctly and I still process it to this day.
Despite the self-knowledge gleaned from opening myself up to the mic (and the audience) and overcoming stage fright, I felt too raw using my un-figured-out self as the vessel so I returned to my old job at twenty-three. I didn’t think I wanted to go back to make-up but I needed to earn a living and this, plus singing was the only way I knew.
I joined agent Kim Sion at her London agency Smile in the midst of the last recession and didn’t start back at the top as I’d naively imagined. After about a year of pretty humbling drudgery, Kim introduced me to her new protégé, a New Yorker named Mario Sorrenti, an ex-model who was dating a young model called Kate Moss.

Mario Sorrenti taught me so much about light. In those days (he was 21, I was 25) he had a non-corporate, art project approach, as well as choices of reference from all sides of life, rather than from the rarefied bubble of the fashion cognoscenti at that time, a world I did not wish to go back to frankly.
I worked consistently with Mario for some time, following him to N.Y. (where all the best work took us) and I ended up having an apartment in NY for 8 years.Aside from working on 90’s US Bazaar and Carine Roitfeld –era French Glamour, we shot numerous iconic ad campaigns together such as Obsession (that one with Kate), Escape (Amber Valetta), Lancome (Juliette Binoche), a GRUNGE Dolce & Gabbana campaign (oh how they freaked out!) but most of all, we had a blast.
I then began working with Mario Testino again, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Steven Klein, Glen Luchford, Craig Mc Dean, alas, never Avedon.
Due to this cycle of success, fashion became my entire life for years, I wasn’t happy and I felt guilty for not enjoying it. Although I had extraordinary experiences I’ll always treasure, once I figured out how it rolled, the industry was a bit like seeing behind the curtain in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’.

‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’ epiphanies aside, I’ve had the great fortune to have worked a few times with (had lunch in Monte Carlo with) true greats like Helmut Newton as well as many truly magical times spent working with Bruce Weber who never ceases to amaze and inspire. He makes all those who are invited into his fold feel an integral part of his wonderful world.

However, in the back down to earth world, to remain at this level you have to be content with flying from Tim-Buk-Tu and back weekly and remain kind, calm, generous and fabulous whilst never seeing your real friends, missing all their birthdays, break-ups and births and-as a woman, spending most of your time with women and gay men.
Not a life I wanted to live forever and after much soul-searching, and a lot of tearful turn-down-ing to manipulative agents, I managed to tweak the design of my career by doing more red carpet work which meant I could finally move back to London AND keep my career at the same level by exchanging the currency of high fashion with the currency of Hollywood.
Meanwhile I’ve always loved writing…
Apart from the long hours, flying and general assault on your immune system that the lifestyle of a jobbing MUA creates, one of the hardest aspects for me to cope with in fashion has been the lack of stimulating conversation.
I like fashion but…
It is not what I discuss with my friends and I don’t ‘read’ fashion magazines though I do enjoy wearing it.
By chance I got a gig via a friend to write a weekly beauty column for Britain’s The Daily Mail (Trojan horse-style, to my non-Brit readers, let’s just say said ‘news’paper is not known for it’s liberal, intelligent-mindedness).
I did this for nearly three years on top of my m-up work. A friend once said I should have the tagline: ‘Kay Montano, bringing the soul back to middle-England’.

Whilst searching for avenues to write more creatively and honestly, I realised that during my whole life and various careers, I was always trying to fit into someone else’s idea of myself. I was successful but only on the basis of living a life I didn’t want to, creative, but via someone else’s thought processes.
Every working day brings more experience, if your job does not reflect this, the untapped ‘growth’ just becomes a very heavy weight to carry around. My job was limiting me and I realised it had for many years.

So hello world wide web.
What I love about you www is that I now have my very own portal of unaffiliated freedom to attempt to deconstruct the multiple myths regarding beauty, fashion, fame and ‘celebrity’.
I can talk about make-up and style and my working world as a vehicle to revel in being a proud member of team anti-crass-media-culture.
Let’s explore that contradiction.

Featured Post Photo of Kate Moss by Mario Testino. Make-Up by KM

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  1. I loved this article :) really good read xx

  2. Ranelle

    I struggled to put into words what I love about this article but its mainly honesty! Not to mention Kay’s quirky rendition of her career so far…thanks for being so inspiring!xx

  3. LOVE this! What an inspiration! x

  4. Grace

    PLEASE may I have an Oldland Montano mixed tape?! Love this story xx

  5. Note to self: Youtube ‘Oldland Montano’ first thing tomorrow. What an amazing career! And now…. on to conquer the web…

  6. Bilma

    Very much enjoy this!!! And makes me think about my career too… being a lawyer when I dreamed to be a MUA. Too late now…..

  7. Laura

    What an effortlessly refreshing article on a beautifully presented blog. Lovely stuff x

  8. Fabulous writing, I’m hooked! x

  9. Val Garland

    Hello Kay, I just read your blog and was blown away by its honesty and truth, brilliant stuff! Truly wonderful insight to our world …………. Keep talking from your heart,
    Love Val Garland X

  10. I just discovered your blog! Love, love, love it! Am a fan of your work and will be looking forward to your updates!

  11. Michy Keates

    Love love love it. What a great blog.
    Here’s looking forward to the next installment.
    Much love
    Michy xxxxx
    P.S. pretty sure i still have a copy of your first record somewhere, will have to dig it out…

  12. Love the blog Kay the thing that bothers me about fashion now is the new world order that has turned great labels into boring designers looking at Westwood
    Prada etc in Westfield the boot the handbag whatever is designed for a Russian or Chinese / Eurotrash client big and shiny with a high heel I guess we are all client led including my self but I do miss the unique style of the past probably better going to Relik not sure exactly what this has to do with things but I love your writing.

  13. I remember that young girl, who walked into my studio, back in the day. She was shy, but at the same time strong. I said “you wanna be a make up artist well go on then put some make up on this model and i`ll shoot!” she was a little intimidated by my offer but went for it anyway. In those days you could be anything you wanted to be if you had the imagination and desire. The celebrity and designer culture was not part of our world we were our own designers and our own celebrities!! Go girl! Love Jamie J X

    • Kay

      Lovely Jamie, you & Kate were such amazing role models, I’m realising that more and more..it comes out in how I am towards the young ‘uns now! You gave me a chance and at the time I didn’t understand why at all! I’d never met ‘open’ people like you before. Thank you for teaching me so much. I will never forget your support and the great times we all had. xXx

  14. Finally the blog that gives true representation of the fashion world and says in a very intelligent and engaging way. Thanks for sharing xxx

  15. Ally

    I love your site!!! What are your favorite brushes?

  16. Elspbeth Hodgins

    I am studying to get my Cert II in make up this year, and I really wouldn’t be adverse to my career playing out as amazingly as yours has xo

  17. Hannah Murray

    A wonderfully written piece. I LOVE your website Kay and hope you continue to share with the World your inspiring thoughts on Beauty and Life x

  18. A MUST read for all MUA’s both young and old…………….your never stop learning and being inspired is what Kay does best.

  19. Inspired beyond words and love how in life sometimes things come full circle (career, cities, love, etc). Thanks for the candid tales.

  20. Jaimee

    Will second the must read for all MUA’s. Thanks so much for sharing your story, beautifully written to :) X

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  1. By "Kay Montano; The Interview" | Makeup Artist Blog | www.MascaraWars.com 18 May ’15 at 7:11 am

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