The woman, the myth, the legend, Pat McGrath is an undisputed makeup icon. With decades of experience in the beauty industry and the admiration of the biggest names in makeup and fashion, McGrath is a creative genius who has single-handedly changed the game at every level. Whether it’s on the runway, in magazines, on television, or on social media, if there’s makeup involved, chances are McGrath has had a hand in it in some way.
But McGrath wasn’t born with lipstick in one hand and an eyelash curler in the other. Rather, McGrath is a Black woman who was raised by a fierce single mother, overcoming any obstacle that was placed in her way with sheer creative inspiration (via British Vogue). And now, looking back, McGrath has done makeup for nearly 200,000 models, contributed to over 500 magazine covers, and stood backstage at over 3,300 fashion shows — and she’s not done (via British Vogue).
So what else is there to know about McGrath? How did she become interested in makeup and who inspired her along the way? And does McGrath really love makeup that much? This is the untold truth of Pat McGrath.
Pat McGrath is the "mother" of makeup
Pat McGrath has been working in the beauty industry for a long time. In fact, she got her start back in the mid-’90s, which shows you just how enduring her staying power is. It’s not surprising, then, that McGrath is referred to as the “mother” of makeup, a name that was bestowed upon her due to her nurturing tendencies. “I was just always like a mother hen back in those early days of working on shoots,” McGrath recalled in an interview with British Vogue. “I would be the one to go and get food and drinks for everyone — shoots weren’t catered then — and I would be the one telling everyone, ‘Oh no darling, we don’t do the Tube.'”
Additionally, as far as acclaimed designer Marc Jacobs tells it, there’s another reason McGrath is everyone’s mother. “We’ve all called her Mother for so long, I can’t even remember when that started,” he explained to Allure. “To me, it’s a ball thing.” Given that the title “mother” commands respect in ball culture, that’s all you need to know.
Yes, Pat McGrath really does carry tons of trunks around with her
If you’re familiar with Pat McGrath’s many makeup creations — which range from pink and gold studded eyes to classic bold lips to otherworldly sparkled ensembles — you know that the artist needs a lot of tools and supplies when she’s working her magic. To that end, it’s no surprise that McGrath became known for hauling around 87 trunks with her to shoots, as her inspiration demanded it. “Much of what they contain is not makeup,” she explained to Elle. “You’ll find Swarovski crystals, masks, gemstones, feathers, fabric, even gold splinters. My kits are a menagerie of obscure objects.” We’d love to get a peak inside!
While McGrath really did haul all of those containers around for a long time, in recent years, she says she’s cut it down to a mere 67 trunks — “but that’s down from 87,” she exclaimed in a chat with British Vogue. Hey, if an artist needs her tools, she needs her tools!
This is what Pat McGrath originally wanted to be when she grew up
While Pat McGrath is a world-renowned makeup artist — and we couldn’t imagine her doing anything else — she had other ambitions when she was a youngster. Of course, it was another creative endeavor that had McGrath’s heart. “I really wanted to be an opera singer growing up,” she revealed in an interview with British Vogue. “That was it for me.” Who would have thought?
Indeed McGrath was serious about that dream, so she took lessons in her pursuit of it. “I remember coming down to London to have proper vocal training and everything, and I had the ability,” she continued. “But my coach told me that I was very young and should enjoy life a bit more first.” And that she did, dancing in nightclubs and perusing galleries and museums, as well as meeting all kinds of cool people. That’s also when McGrath fell in love with London, with its myriad of things to do and explore.
Pat McGrath fell in love with makeup and beauty at an early age
It’s clear perusing Pat McGrath’s Instagram page that she’s obsessed with makeup and the world of beauty. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that McGrath has been fascinated by eye shadows and foundations from an early age, thanks to her mother’s example. “I mean, really, my earliest memory was watching my mother do her makeup,” McGrath explained to Time. “She was obsessed with beauty and collected makeup and experimented with it.” That had to feel so glamorous!
If that felt super familiar to you, or reminded you of your own childhood, you’re not alone, as McGrath believes those experiences to be seminal for a lot of people. “I think it’s a lot of young men and women’s experiences, growing up, watching the ritual of what their mothers would do,” she continued. That’s definitely how we got obsessed with lipstick and perfume!
It’s pretty incredible that a childhood experimenting with eyeliner and blush turned into an insanely successful career for McGrath, and we’re 100 percent here for it.
Pat McGrath was inspired by her mother's resourcefulness
In addition to being totally inspired by her mother’s makeup regimen and exploits growing up, Pat McGrath was also introduced to and shepherded through a makeup industry that was overwhelmingly white by her mother. “My mother really was not going to let a lack of availability of make-up for dark skin in Northampton stop her from having fun,” she recalled in an interview with British Vogue. “Every Friday she would drag me out to the shops and we would get the one or two darker shade foundations that were left.” After that, they’d hit the fabric aisle and look for pieces that could be repurposed for makeup looks.
Additionally, McGrath’s mother found a way to uplift and celebrate Blackness in general, rather than let racism ruin everything. “I think my mother focused more on the beauty of her color and also on all of the amazing Black people who were beautiful representations in culture,” she shared with Allure. “She acknowledged the existence of racism but she didn’t let that deprive her from having experiences she felt she deserved.”
Pat McGrath made the makeup industry more diverse and inclusive
When Pat McGrath became an in-demand and highly respected makeup artist back in the ’90s, the world of beauty, fashion, and makeup wasn’t exactly teeming with diversity. However, once she became an insider, McGrath felt that she was among the first of many to turn the tide. “Before people like me didn’t exist in the industry, but I knew it was going to change,” she revealed in an interview with Glamour UK. “I felt it had to happen.” And indeed it has, as there’s more diversity now in the industry than ever before.
McGrath being a Black woman in the industry was in and of itself groundbreaking, but she also made it a point to intentionally work with people who were underrepresented. “I knew I was making a difference and helping create a new standard of beauty by using a new cast of girls [in the campaigns]. Young models like Slick, Duckie, Paloma,” she continued. “I knew that was a different ideal and that people would enjoy themselves.”
This is how Pat McGrath realized her calling
After high school, Pat McGrath headed to London to further her educational endeavors. However, that didn’t mean she was a bookworm — quite the opposite. In fact, McGrath was hungry for the experiences that Europe had to offer, which led her to make some friends in high places. “When I started working toward a degree in fashion, I would go clubbing in London and sneak into the Paris ready-to-wear shows,” she told I-D. “It was through this whole scene that I met Caron Wheeler, the lead singer of the then-huge group Soul II Soul.” That had to be amazing!
It gets better though, as it was Wheeler who made McGrath realize that she was called to be a makeup artist. “She asked me to do the make-up on her Japanese tour,” she continued. “From then I realized I’d found the job I was obsessed with doing.”
That led to McGrath dropping out of college, as it’s tough to go on tour in Japan and do homework at the same time. But that honestly didn’t matter, as McGrath was just beginning her ascension in the beauty industry (via Vogue Italia).
Who are Pat McGrath's beauty icons?
Being a makeup artist, Pat McGrath uses the human face as a canvas, which isn’t exactly a blank slate; each visage is unique. So naturally, McGrath has a number of beauty muses who inspire her in a variety of ways. “They’re infinite! From Kim [Kardashian West] to Naomi [Campbell] to Paloma [Elsesser] to Duckie [Thot], Miss Fame, I love them all,” she gushed in a chat with Time. “All [these] beautiful, formidable, strong, courageous women and men of all colors and sizes.”
Additionally, McGrath loves these models as their diversity shows just how expansive beauty can be. “They are my personal icons,” she continued, “and they are gorgeous proof that beauty has nothing to do with one’s age, gender, body size, socio-economic status, race, religion or culture.”
As for who McGrath’s style icons were growing up, they run the gamut. In an interview with i-D, she listed Debbie Harry, David Bowie, and Andy Warhol as influences. McGrath also loves the stars from the golden age of Hollywood, as well as artists like Man Ray and Cindy Sherman.
Pat McGrath has won some seriously impressive awards
Surprising to exactly no one, Pat McGrath has won some seriously impressive awards over the years. For starters, she was honored with the Isabella Blow Award in 2017 for “her invaluable contribution to the global fashion and beauty industry,” as noted by i-D. That same year, McGrath snagged the Founder’s Award in honor of Eleanor Lambert, which was bestowed upon her by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This made her the first makeup artist to earn the honor.
While receiving just one of those awards is a huge accomplishment, McGrath had been honored by Queen Elizabeth II herself three years prior. That’s when she was given a coveted MBE award, so you can officially call McGrath Dame — the first makeup artist to receive the title. “It was a complete shock,” she revealed in an interview with Vogue, noting, “It was really fun.” We can only imagine!
This is how Pat McGrath Labs was born
For a long, long time, Pat McGrath worked in the beauty industry without her own makeup line; she worked in collaboration with Giorgio Armani on his products and then was a creative director at Procter & Gamble. But one day, all of that changed when McGrath made something that changed the game. “Then, in the late spring of 2015, I was working in a private lab when somehow I formulated the most divine gold pigment I had ever laid eyes on,” she explained in a chat with i-D. “Even now I remember the giddy excitement of sliding it into my handbag and stepping out to phone my New York team to say, ‘Let’s go.'” It was time for McGrath to strike out on her own.
Shortly thereafter, McGrath got to work launching her own makeup brand, Pat McGrath Labs. “With no more than a skeleton crew, we launched Pat McGrath Labs on September 30 in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris,” she continued. “Gold 001 sold out in a matter of minutes, and it changed everything.” We love to see it!
Pat McGrath Labs is worth over a billion dollars
Clearly the world was hungry for Pat McGrath’s own product line, given how quickly her first product sold out. But that was only the beginning, as McGrath’s company was destined for greatness and success.
Before either Kylie Jenner or Rihanna hit the billion-dollar milestone with their makeup lines, Pat McGrath watched as her company, starting with only a small crew of workers, became a billionaire business. Naturally, McGrath was over the moon — but it didn’t cause her to sit back or rest on her laurels. “I screamed, jumped up and down for a minute,” she told Glamour UK. “Then got straight back to work. I knew I’ve still got lots of work to do.”
Of course, the enormity of the situation isn’t lost on McGrath, especially considering she’s a Black woman. “Before this, someone like me didn’t exist in the industry, and now look where I am,” she continued. “If I’m here, anyone can be.”
This is Pat McGrath's No. 1 makeup trick
Given that Pat McGrath has worked in the beauty industry for decades and is indeed herself the “mother” of makeup, you know she has to have some good makeup tips. But when she was asked about a tip that everyone should know about, her answer was surprising. “The fingertips are everything,” she revealed to Elle. “That’s my ultimate trick behind each of my signature looks.” Wait, what?
If you looked over to your sponge and brush collection with furrowed brows (as we did), here’s the reason McGrath swears by using her fingers over anything else. “The heat from your hands helps blend foundation, giving it a natural, translucent finish that’s impossible to achieve using sponges or brushes,” she continued. “I also recommend using the fingers if you want to create a stain effect on the lips or for seamless application.” She added that fingertips give eyeshadow a “gilded, sensual effect.” Excuse us while we throw out half of our makeup tools.
Pat McGrath believes makeup is a tool of empowerment
For some people, putting on makeup every morning is a simple thing — perhaps a splash of mascara or a quick red lip — without much thought or consideration. But for others, putting on makeup is akin to applying war paint, rendering us ready to take on the world. As for which camp Pat McGrath is in, she believes that makeup is indeed a powerful tool. “Our [Pat McGrath Labs] mantra is, ‘Use without caution,'” she shared in an interview with Glamour UK. “It is about empowerment. You can do what you want with make-up, it’s fearless beauty.” We are so here for this approach!
While some of us may be new to this sort of philosophy, it’s something that’s always been an inherent aspect of McGrath’s artistry. “It’s so funny because when I started make-up 25 or more years ago that was my whole thing,” she continued. “Make a mark; make a shape; use a nail; add powerful color; it’s now fun to see this generation really embracing that.”
Pat McGrath wants to leave behind a legacy
With everything that Pat McGrath has accomplished, whether it’s winning prestigious awards or making insane amounts of money, you might be tempted to think that she’s lost touch with her humble roots. But that couldn’t be farther from the case. In fact, McGrath to this day wants to be seen as someone who brings joy and beauty into the world. “I want people to see me and know that anything is possible,” she proclaimed in an interview with British Vogue. “The fashion industry is really not all full of snotty, awful people, we are joyful and we have a laugh.” That’s what we like to hear!
And when it comes to how McGrath wants to be remembered, it’s about as wholesome as you would expect from the “mother” of makeup. “I want my legacy to be one of change and positivity,” she continued. “I really believe in that.” As if we could love her any more!
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