Ahead of a busy 2021 of launches, British make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury chats about her bestselling product and why creating new solutions remains her focus
I met Charlotte Tilbury for the first time at Selfridges London in 2015, during a demo of her Eyes To Mesmerise collection. The ground floor of the luxury department store had women and men crowding around the golden Charlotte Tilbury gondolas and vanities known as Beauty Wonderlands. Amid the dozens of bent heads was a shock of red — Tilbury herself.
The founder of the award-winning make-up brand kept an eagle-eye on her make-up artists as they engaged eager customers about the ‘moussey’ jewel-toned eyeshadows that have graced the lids of Amal Clooney, Kate Moss and Priyanka Chopra.
Tilbury, who calls everyone ‘darling’, spoke openly about how decades of being a make-up artist also entailed years of formulation research. I knew then, this make-up artist and her gold-encased products would linger in my mind — and on my vanity — for years to come.
Fast forward five years and, amid India enjoying a luxury beauty renaissance, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, which is worth around £1.2 billion, finally made a home in the country through e-commerce platform Nykaa last November. Tilbury, who has long been “fascinated by Bollywood glamour and its magnetism”, has deeply special memories of India from when she would travel for shoots, including ‘Role Play’, one of her favourites where she worked with photographer Mario Testino for Vogue India with Dutch model Marjan Jonkman and Moroccan-British model Nora Attal in Samode, Jaipur. “India has rich and vibrant culture, full of history, enchanting colour and the most beautiful people who love makeup and skincare as much as I do,” she says, in an email interview with The Hindu Weekend.
Tilbury felt Nykaa was a good fit for her products being “a disruptive and visionary company” and praises founder Falguni Nayar. Currently, the top-selling products on the platform are the Magic Cream Treat & Transform moisturiser and the Pillow Talk lipstick. Tilbury knows she is a disruptor, and she does not hide it. “Make-up is confidence bottled, and I want to share that magic with the world,” she says.
Charlotte Tilbury Beauty has its fair share of bestsellers such as the Air-Brush Flawless Finish skin-perfecting micro-powder, the Light Wonder Foundation, the Magic Cream Treat & Transform moisturiser, and her Pillow Talk range from which products sell every four minutes globally. Her approach is all about mindful diversity and she insists that even if a product takes years to perfect, she will not release it until it is 100% up to standard.
“When it comes to the creation process for new products, from lipsticks to foundations to highlighters, I always conduct in-depth research into shades, colours and skin tones to make sure we have the perfect match for everyone,” she avers. “When I created my award-winning Airbrush Flawless Foundation, I looked at the undertones and overtones of skin tone to create my 44-shade range of colour matches. I conducted a study on real people with fair, medium, tan and deep skin overtones and all their underlying undertones, exploring their individual issues and needs, to ensure we catered for all.”
Memories of Ibiza
When Tilbury was 13 years old, she discovered a pot of mascara; being a redhead with fair eyelashes, she remembered how it changed her life. Growing up on the Spanish island of Ibiza, the walls of her bedroom were plastered with images of the likes of Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe, and the deep-rooted love began with her “incredible, glamorous mother Patsy” who introduced her to the power of make-up.
A shade for the Queen
- In November 2018, Tilbury was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her work in the beauty and creative arts industries. She has called it the “most magical day” of her life. A self-proclaimed fan of the Queen, Tilbury says she has “studied all the vintage pictures of her and the lipsticks she used to wear — bright, bold colours — and I actually created lipsticks [one of which is called ‘The Queen’] in homage to her”.
Ibiza seems like an odd backdrop for any childhood but for Tilbury, spotting figures like Grace Jones and James Brown at nightclubs, when she was eight, was the norm. But celebrity was not the pull factor, rather what they wore, given it was the 80s. Models in attendance would wear cone bras teamed with outrageous make-up — the vibes of which continue to influence Tilbury in her brand today. Some of her products are named after Ibiza beach names, too.
Speaking of beaches, one of her first make-up jobs dates back to when she was just 11, assisting another make-up icon, Mary Greenwell — who often did the late Princess Diana’s make-up — during a magazine shoot.
All in the family
Now 48, the business luminary resides in London with her filmmaker husband George Waud — who is yet to see her without make-up even at bedtime, according to a 2013 interview with Into The Gloss — and their young son.
Having a family-fronted business remains the core ethos for Tilbury, no matter how flashy or off-the-cuff her products may seem. “My family means everything to me and I’m incredibly lucky that we are all so close. As an homage to her mother’s “always perfectly painted red lips and nails”, she even created the brand’s Patsy Red lipstick (part of the Hot Lips 2 collection).
Her sister Leah works closely with Tilbury in developing campaign ideas. “We have the same mind and are so in sync with each other so she’s an incredible sound board! My niece Sofia is a great make-up artist, content creator and she helps me dream up our next big beauty innovations, and my niece Bella, a model who has starred in some of our campaigns, works with my Global Marketing team too.”
Turning negatives to positives
Tilbury’s signature products are not just make-up or just skincare, but hybrids. While most make-up artists were singularly focussed on their clients, Tilbury was also identifying gaps in the beauty market in the hopes of creating solutions.
Her first baby is the brand-maker Magic Cream which “cocoons the skin in moisture” thanks to the rosehip oil, camellia oil, and bioNymph peptide complex. “I used to mix it by hand to create the perfect formula that would instantly turn around and transform the appearance of models’ skin backstage during fashion month because as a make-up artist, you don’t have 28 days, you have 28 seconds.” Tilbury elaborates, “I have created a positive beauty brand that’s changed the frequency of people’s lives. It’s the psychology of makeup — when you look good, you feel good and the world reacts to you in a powerful, positive way!”
This drive continues to push her in the strangest of times. The pandemic was tough on the beauty industry but Tilbury, who launched her Hyaluronic Happikiss and Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial this month, rounded up her team of researchers and artists to keep things moving. “I believe in turning every negative into a positive and seeking opportunity in the challenge. It is how you engage with challenges, that makes you win,” she insists, adding, “Throughout the pandemic, it has been my mission to spread positivity, happiness and love to everyone around the world through the power of make-up and skincare by launching incredible new innovations.”