Variety will toast five Hollywood makeup artists (Alex Babsky, Kathy Jeung, Kelsey Deenihan Fisher, Allan Avendaño and Cedric Jolivet) known for setting red carpet beauty trends with staying power at the annual — and lively — Makeup Artistry Dinner on March 9 at Ardor Restaurant. But before the festivities, we sat down with each creator on Variety’s “Red Carpet Ready,” presented by Armani Beauty, to share behind-the-scenes moments, surprising inspirations and secret industry beauty tricks you won’t find on TikTok.
Self-taught Alex Babsky studied fashion at Central Saint Martins in his native London before pivoting to makeup artistry for its accessibility and immediacy. His instinct to match a beauty aesthetic to an actor’s personality works for clients Tessa Thompson, Florence Pugh and Jodie Comer.
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What was your breakout moment as a makeup artist?
Alex Babsky: Naomi Campbell and I worked together quite prolifically for 16 years. Naomi is so iconic and she has such a specific look. For the first time, I became aware of my work being associated with someone’s image. My time with Naomi opened doors for me and I am very grateful to her.
Tell us about Tessa Thompson’s look for the “Creed II” premiere in London in 2018.
Tessa wore a fabulously voluminous Valentino gown in a sumptuous bright green that reminded me of the famous Tamara de Lempicka painting “Young Lady With Gloves.” I looked to the image for inspiration and chose this orange-red lip for Tessa that created a dynamism between those two vivid colors. Now, I always think of a red carpet look as a lasting image.
For the “Creed III” premiere, you completely switched up her look.
Tessa wore a similarly structured dress, but in a silver color that felt modern and kind of spacey. So we did a whole new take on the beauty look. Much less vintage and more futuristic.
Name the makeup trend that really works for everyone.
An elevated, elongated eye. To me, it’s the most flattering and timeless look. It might be lashes or a cat eye. It really depends on the shape of the eye. But you lift and lengthen the eye. Think of Sophia Loren: the focus was always on her eyes. She looks fabulous, but it’s always, no matter what she’s doing, it’s always the eye that’s pulled out and has that kind of frilly bit underneath. That’s quite an extreme example, but that overall effect and shape is pretty much one that I’m always looking to recreate on whatever the eye I’m making up.
Tell us about working with Florence Pugh at the “Don’t Worry Darling” premiere at Venice?
I do a lot of prep work before doing a red carpet makeup, so we generally know where we’re headed and it can change a little, it’s not necessarily set in stone. We generally have a good idea of where it’s going to end up. So although I knew what I was doing makeup wise, some kind of magic happened that day. I don’t know what it was, once we saw it with the outfit with the hair, and the fact that we were in Venice and the light was beautiful and it’s such a photogenic place and she had such a great time on the red carpet. All those things happened together and the look became greater than the sum of its parts somehow. The makeup itself was a classic. It wasn’t an out there makeup, it was pretty straightforward, classic makeup. But yes, somehow all those elements coalesced in a way that we hadn’t foreseen and it became a real moment.
The dress was pretty wow already, in that kind of scenario I find we don’t add too much unless the look needs it. So it wasn’t my intention to add a makeup statement just to make Florence look as spectacular as she could really.
How about a look we should all leave behind?
I am surprised at the amount of makeup that I see on people on Instagram. I’m all for creativity and bold expression, but you can achieve that without so much product. I would like to see a return to a simpler approach to making up the face.
What makeup trend are you tired of?
Too many steps. You don’t need to use a primer, a foundation, a concealer and then contour. Keep it simple.
What’s the one thing everyone should have in their bag?
I find a really useful thing to have is some kind of emollient thing. Some kind of moister stick or one that’s got a slight shimmer to it, just to perk everything up sometimes. You can put it in the obvious places on top of your cheek bones, down the center of your nose, on your eyelids, on your cupids. Sometimes when makeup has looked a bit kind of tired throughout the day, you just need some element of freshness to it. To me that’s the quickest way to achieve that.
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