When Warpaint Magazine spoke with Tracey Gray Mann we knew we’d found a real artist. Measured and calm, she exudes a confidence and professionalism honed through years of working with some of the top photographers and magazines. Read on to her about her experiences with Helmut Newton, working with Vogue and exploring China with supermodels.
WP: What first sparked your interest in make-up?
TM: I was working in skincare before I started doing make-up. It was in a salon called Leonards of Mayfair in New York and we sold Chanel make-up products there. Most professional women didn’t want to go back to work after a facial without anything on their skin, so I started suggesting lip colours and helping them choose make-up products post-treatment. I’ve always liked colours, and painting, but it wasn’t really anything I thought too much about. I had two older sisters and I shared a room with one, and I used to hide under the vanity and watch her do her make-up – I was fascinated by it from an early age, it just took a while to get there.
After the salon I worked as a booker for an agency in New York who represented photographers, hair stylists and make-up artists and learned how that side of the business worked. Until then I didn’t really know that there was a job to be an MUA, the only people who I knew that worked with make-up sold it in a shop. I also worked in fashion for a year in a designer store on Madison Avenue. Around that time I saw an editorial in Vogue Magazine shot by Alex Chatelain and I was so inspired, I knew I wanted to be a make-up artist.
WP: Where did you train? What are your thoughts on traditional training programmes now compared to when you first started?
TM: I did a six week photographic make-up course at a school called Complections in London, which has now closed. I moved to Paris and started testing with young photographers, models and hairdressers to build a portfolio. Then I began assisting on the fashion shows. I think it’s important to have practical experience and an understanding of make-up but for me 6 weeks was enough, the rest I learned assisting and on the job.
TM: I was very determined, young and fearless. I knew one photographer and one hairdresser when I moved to Paris and I built up a network from there. I used to spend ages doing my make-up and getting dressed before meetings with a photographer or a magazine, and even though my portfolio wasn’t very strong at the time, I always told them I could do the job.
WP: What do you think is your speciality? Or, contrary to that, is your versatility your greatest asset?
TM: People say I’m good with colour and strong pigment, and a lot of people ask me for very graphic, strong and stylish make-up.
WP: You’ve seen and worked on so many different types of shoots and environments. Do any projects stick out in your memory as particular favourites or simply memorable?
TM: Yes, I was very excited to work with Helmut Newton as I was a big fan of his photography before I even started doing make-up. My first British Vogue cover with Mario Testino felt like I had reached a real goal, as I had grown up in London looking at Vogue Magazine. The 75th anniversary edition of French Vogue was both challenging and rewarding as we had the same model (Nadja Auermann) on the cover twice. I did her makeup in a 30’s retro look and also in a modern contemporary look. Some of the travelling, and the trips as well – I’ve been very privileged. One in particular really stands out, when I was invited to China for Bloomingdales with iconic photographer, Herb Ritts. The models were Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford and that was an incredible trip, so decadent. They closed the Forbidden City for us exclusively for 3 days, the Chinese Opera came to perform for us and we also got to shoot at the Teracotta Army in Xian.
WP: What are your top kit essentials? Which products do you hate to be without?
TM: I love Manuka Secrets skincare because they are all natural, the Manuka Honey has all sorts of benefits – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. I love Glo & Ray eyeliners with their wide range of colours and textures. Shu Uemura have great colours, brushes and tools, and I like the Barely Cosmetics sponges a lot. The products are always changing but I have been on so many trips where my luggage hasn’t arrived so you have to learn to be flexible, use anything you can get your hands on – I’ve even used dirt on occasion. Once I left my brushes at home after washing them the night before so I just used my fingers instead. No one even noticed! When the worst does happen, and your kit doesn’t arrive, I usually run out and buy some more products or beg, borrow and steal some. Try and cover the basics with something like an eyeliner, a concealer and a lipstick.
WP: What has been your favourite decade/era for make-up and why?
TM: It would have to be the ‘90s. There was an excitement leading up to the millennium. Every decade has its iconic looks, it’s knowing how and when to apply them. We take inspiration from each decade and give it a modern twist, that’s what makes it different. Products are constantly changing and textures are evolving. I still love to mix things myself; on my last job I used glitter lip gloss on the eyelids and cream eyeshadow as blush. It’s all about finding the colour and texture I want and not necessarily using products where they are supposed to be used. I’m not recommending everyone should do this, it’s just good to sometimes think outside the box.
WP: What are your thoughts on the rise of social media and its effect on the industry? Are you in favour of the community aspect or against the stereotypical beauty ‘look’ which seems to have arisen?
TM: Social media has had a big impact on the industry. It’s a powerful tool. It’s taken the exclusive aura away from fashion and made everything more mainstream and accessible. I’m not against it, I think change is good – I just hope that casting directors continue to base their choices on beauty and not how many followers one has on Instagram, although I understand the temptation of having exposure to a larger audience. I don’t really like the overly contoured make-up look which is so prevalent at the moment. In real life they look scary, they look like they have dirt on their face; there is a time and a place for contouring, but it’s not every day. It looks so overdone.
WP: Who, or what, inspires you when you’re feeling stuck in a rut?
TM: I’m inspired by nature and colours. It could be a green tomato or a flower in my garden. Travelling stimulates me, meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. Cities and architecture inspire me. Creative people motivate me, whether they’re artists, designers or actors. Children inspire me with their naivety and honesty. Music is important, that can really move me, as do films, photography, books and dreams. My French bulldog also inspires me because he’s so loving and loyal.
WP: With such a long list of achievements and experiences, do you still have anything you’d like to tick off on your career wish list?
TM: Yes, I’d like to work with a brand, creating, developing and marketing their products.
WP: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed over the years you’ve been working, either within the industry or the make-up itself?
TM: I think one of the things I’ve noticed is that people are a lot more aware of ingredients, and what they’re putting on their skin. People are looking for more natural products. Even if you go back to say the 17th Century, people were using face powder with lead in it which gave them sores – so we’ve come a long way from there. Even though we have more choice in textures and colours with make-up, I think people are becoming aware of ingredients in particular.
WP: What advice do you have for prospective make-up artists or students? What can they do to stand out from the crowd?
TM: I think it’s important in the beginning to remember to look at the image as a whole; it’s not always about the make-up. Sometimes if the hair is very elaborate or the clothes are colourful or complicated, it can be better to tone down the make-up and find a balance – otherwise it will look like a really bad test. When you get your chance to shine, make sure you use it wisely. Be decisive, fast and efficient. You also need to be flexible, there can be many different opinions on a job! Always be professional, believe in yourself, work hard and enjoy the ride.
WP: What, in your opinion, makes a good assistant?
TM: Somebody who is attentive and passionate about make-up. Somebody who can work, and learn, and be discreet in situations. Someone who can anticipate what I need before I need it; the ideal person is someone who can propose different colours and textures while I’m working.