British makeup artist Pat McGrath has been called the fashion world’s most important makeup artist. She rose to prominence in the early 1990s and has since collaborated with a number of top brands and photographers, including Steven Meisel and Christian Dior, for whom she has crafted runway beauty looks for many seasons. Proctor and Gamble called on her expertise in 2004 and named her the creative design director for its cosmetics lines, including Cover Girl and Max Factor.
Born and raised in Northampton, England, McGrath credits her Jamaican immigrant mother Jean for introducing her to the world of hair, makeup, and fashion. “She trained me, basically, to do the shows, right there... look at the pattern, check the fabrics, look for the make-up and begin,” she told journalist Sarah Mower in Vogue UK in 2007. Time magazine also reported that McGrath’s mother would mix the pigments for her own makeup, as there were few options for dark skin at the time.
She has never been formally trained in fashion or makeup artistry, having only completed a foundation course in art at Northampton College. Her breakthrough came in the early 1990s, when she worked with stylist Edward Enninful, then fashion director of i-D magazine, on shoots for the youth magazine, working fluidly with her hands (she prefers them to brushes) and her keen eye for bold hues. McGrath has also developed a reputation for material experimentation, often attaching petals, feathers, pearls, and other ornaments on models.
Through the decades, she has predominantly worked with labels like Jil Sander, Prada, Armani, and John Galliano. She oversaw runway beauty for brands Prada and Miu Miu for a decade. In 1999, she designed Giorgio Armani’s beauty line – the designer said he was “struck by by the way she interpreted colour and by her ideas about beauty and femininity,” as he told Vogue.
Despite having to create unique beauty looks for upwards of 35 runway shows a season, McGrath remains inspired by the process, telling Vogue UK, “I’m influenced a lot by the fabrics I see, the colours that are in the collections and the girl's faces. It's always a challenge but that's the key - to make it different every time.”
Similarly, her wide range and seemingly boundless creativity has also lent her staying power. Her longtime friend and collaborator Edward Enninful has praised her for her versatility and ability to do looks that range from couture to club kid scene. She is known for her ability to weave a dreamy, fantastical atmosphere into photoshoots and advertising campaigns, and for showing up with up to 20 boxes with which to work her magic.