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Leslie Peck 

Make Up Artist
Feature Story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal
February 12, 2007

A Makeup Artist
Gets Her Big Break

Like many young people who move to New York, Leslie Peck arrived here in 2005 with a dream: to become a famous makeup artist. As a first step, she took a job behind a cosmetics counter at Bloomingdale's. While she applied makeup to customers and sold them foundation, lipstick and eye shadow, she dreamed about getting her big break.

On Sunday night, the 30-year-old Ms. Peck got her chance: a call to sit at the side of top makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury at British designer Matthew Williamson's show. For three hours, Ms. Peck worked backstage at the New York fashion week headquarters in Bryant Park and helped apply dark-green eye shadow with gold highlights to the faces of 22 top models.

"I didn't care what it took, I wanted to do well, really well," says Ms. Peck.

She joined all the other makeup artists thronging this week's New York fashion shows looking to break out of the pack. They're lured by the success of celebrity makeup artists like Pat McGrath, who now helps Procter & Gamble Co. develop new beauty-product concepts. "Fashion used to be a much smaller industry, but now it's huge with amazing growth -- and a lot more potential for makeup artists," Ms. McGrath says.

Ms. Peck grew up in rural Arizona, three hours from the nearest mall, but with makeup in her blood. Her grandmother owns a beauty salon called the Beauty Bar in Safford, Ariz. Ms. Peck hung out there as a kid.

In 2004, she went to work for Estée Lauder Cos.' MAC cosmetics line, which is sold in department stores and MAC stores. The MAC brand trains its salespeople to apply makeup for fashion shows, photo shoots and films, and arranges fashion-week gigs for its best artists.

Beginning as a part-time MAC artist at a Belk department store in Jacksonville, Fla., she took on extra shifts, and when a manager-in-training job opened up, she got it.

Meanwhile, she earned her MAC fashion-show certification, demonstrating that she can re-create a complicated look in a stressful environment under time pressure. "I started a budget to save money to get to New York," says Ms. Peck. She took jobs on the side teaching dance classes in order to save $6,000.

In New York, she took a job as a MAC counter artist at Bloomingdale's 59th Street flagship. After a promotion last year to counter manager at Bloomingdale's smaller SoHo store, she still teaches dance three nights a week to help pay for her one-bedroom apartment at the northern tip of Manhattan.

In New York, she signed up for more training. The MAC fashion-show workshop is designed to simulate the stress of a show.

"You have to do a smoky eye, a strong eyeliner, a dark lip, and perfect skin -- everything that could challenge you on a fashion show, and that obstacle course has to be done on a time limit," says Gordon Espinet, MAC's vice president of makeup artistry.

When the time for New York fashion week arrived last February, Ms. Peck was crestfallen not to be assigned by MAC to any shows. As a last-ditch effort, she called MAC's show coordinator to reiterate that she was available. She was offered a spot at a small show if she could get there in a few hours and work under the name of another artist who had canceled. She took the job. She got two more assignments, under her own name, at shows last fall.

Last Thursday, she found out she had made the big time with the Williamson show. A committee of MAC artists felt she was qualified enough to be the one beginner to work under Ms. Tilbury, a fixture on the fashion circuit who has done makeup for everybody from Giorgio Armani to Calvin Klein. "I was so happy," Ms. Peck says.

To prepare for the show, she put on a plain black cotton shirt and toned down her eye shadow, which she usually uses as a selling point at the store. "They told us this isn't our fashion show, so we shouldn't draw attention to ourselves," she explains.

Backstage, she waited to unpack her cosmetics, as she has been taught to do, until the head artist, in this case Ms. Tilbury, arrived and chose her own place in front of the mirrors.

The 22 models in the show would have dramatic dark-green eyes with gold highlighting, Ms. Tilbury told the artists. The skin would be natural with just a smudge of pink on the cheeks and lips. "I'm known for checking every single model myself before she goes out," says Ms. Tilbury. "I like perfect."

Many of the models hurried in from another show where they had heavy, raccoon-looking eyeliner and hair extensions that had to be removed. As she waited, Ms. Peck practiced brushing the loose, powdery eye shadow onto her hand. Ms. Peck is accustomed to applying it with her finger, but Ms. Tilbury uses a brush so Ms. Peck would have to do it that way.

Two more-experienced MAC artists looked on as Ms. Peck worked on a sullen model. "The eyes need more intensity," said MAC senior artist Chantel Miller, who does makeup for fashion shows in New York, Milan and Paris.

Twenty minutes later, Ms. Peck thought her model's face was ready for inspection. She and the model pushed through the crowd to find Ms. Tilbury. "That's gorgeous, gorgeous," she said, sternly nodding. "Thank you," Ms. Peck whispered, walking back to her station and exhaling.

By the time her second model arrived, time was short. Two hairstylists also worked on the model, pulling the young woman's head back as Ms. Peck tried to apply eye shadow without scattering it all over the model's cheeks.

MAC's Ms. Miller urgently told her that Ms. Tilbury had changed their marching orders and wanted the model's eyes darker and greener. A show coordinator rushed over and barked that they had to finish -- "Now!"

Ms. Tilbury, inspecting the work, said the eyes needed more green and gold and more mascara. After a few quick brush strokes by Ms. Peck, Ms. Tilbury gave her approval.

Ms. Peck then hurried to the dressing area, where she stood at the ready with two jars of eye shadow and two brushes. "Be careful around the clothes!" scolded a stylist.

After the designer took his bow, Ms. Peck finally had a chance to speak with Ms. Tilbury. "You did a great job," Ms. Tilbury told her. "I hardly had anything to say to you about your work."

Turning then to a MAC supervisor, Ms. Tilbury gestured toward Ms. Peck and said: "We'll work together again, no? You'll make that happen?"

Ms. Peck was elated but also realistic. After fashion week, she says, "even if Charlotte Tilbury doesn't remember my name, the people at MAC will, and maybe that will mean big things for next time."

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