Make Up Artist
Astrid Kearney is the epitome of the beauty industry polymath, with a career that has spanned decades and has seen her work alongside style icons Lenny Kravitz and Grace Jones.
Astrid’s flamboyant and fabulous approach to beauty is achingly apparent through her own personal and unique style. We were delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with Astrid and and take a deep dive into what has been a varied and illustrious career so far. Here's what she had to say...
Solstice: What was it that inspired you to become a makeup artist, and how did you get into the industry?
Astrid: When I was little I remember I had a passion for all things beauty, skin and hair. My earliest memory when I was small was sitting watching my neighbour Mrs Dooley do her French plait totally transfixed by her hands with long pins, creating the perfect smooth roll. I made face masks in the blender and used my poor brother as my guinea pig.
By the age of 20 I had lived in Paris, London and Miami alone. It was incredible. I worked in the theatre arts department in a high school in Miami. I studied makeup in London, hair in Ireland and joined all the leading makeup and skincare brands such as Chanel, Givenchy, Shiseido, Lancôme in stores all over London. I settled with Clarins and trained as a skincare specialist and started creating their displays which was my outlet for creativity.
I joined ITV [one of England’s main TV stations] and ran the department for the team but I missed the creativity as it was purely straight look makeup and hair. This enabled me to get my portfolio together at weekends and I started working on shoots with the models at Models One modelling agency.
My first big gig was working with Lenny Kravitz and Catatonia. From there I landed an agent who I stayed with for 5 years. After this, I left to work on commercials and drama documentaries in Morocco, Tunisia and all over the world. I LOVED this as it incorporated all the elements. Now I definitely love to layer my work, loving London Fashion Week: planning, writing and developing courses and being the creative director of editorial and fashion shoots.
Solstice: How has social media changed your profession and are there any special factors that you need to consider when creating a look that’s Instagram ready?
Astrid: I see social media platforms such as Instagram as a viewing platform of a small snapshot of what I encompass. What I love most about social media is that it is a window into our lives creatively. This can be a negative also as it can draw people into a sense they are not enough. When developing looks for Instagram it all depends on if you are working micro shoots, film, advertising campaigns or sharing a little piece of you that you wish to express to the public. Instagram can be very staged and plastic, we are so fortunate to be able to see so many incredible artists out there who are sharing their life differently and more authentically. During lockdown a lot of doors opened with advertising companies who needed assistance with contacting their public in a more creative way. This was a different way to what we had been used to.
Solstice: Apart from social media, how has the fashion industry changed in the time you’ve been a makeup artist?
Astrid: Starting out all those years ago, all I had was my ‘A-Z’ and a list of potential connections. This involved pounding the pavement, face to face contact, handing over my CV and portfolio along with my business card. I worked around the clock, making connections, getting my name and face out there. Evenings and weekends were taken up creating looks and shoots to build my portfolio. Before the internet and social media, everything was about personal connections and personal interactions. Although the dynamics have changed, the essence of communication remains the same.
Solstice: Your work encompasses runway, fashion editorial, advertising and celebrity. Do you have a preference and what specific challenges do each of these different formats pose?
Astrid: As a makeup designer and creative director, my passion is project-led briefs which encompass all of the above. I have a passion for skin work so working alongside the photographer is still a thrill for me and playing with the light. On some gigs the photographer and client has a very clear vision of what they want, so it is important to enter their brain flow sensitively. Advertising and commercials are incredible as the team is often large. The dynamics of all the different talents: sparks, gaffers, producers and directors. When working with celebrities there are layers you need to navigate: the entourage, agencies and etiquette. I am so lucky to be able to work internationally.
Solstice: You teach and lecture the next generation of aspiring makeup artists. What advice would you give to them and what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
Astrid: My biggest piece of advice to my students is to work on themselves emotionally as well as their craft. In the studio I tell them you are surrounded now by fellow ‘inmates’ but when this is all over you will need to push yourself and do the daily hard work. I teach them about work and play balance and always keep up the training. The best piece of advice that I've been given was from my mother Ingrid: “Be yourself and do your best.” The very last words my dad ever said to me before he passed were “Don't let the bastards get you down.” That’s all the advice I’ve ever needed in life.
Solstice: Shows like “Glow Up” have introduced a whole new audience to the world of the makeup artist. Has that had any impact on the numbers and/or demographic of those applying to join your courses?
Astrid: Everybody loves the fabulous creativity and eccentricity of the Glow Up team. They inspire people and people aspire to become part of the same network of incredible makeup artists.With all the academies I lecture at and create courses for, the students love to chat about the latest episodes and looks. The diversity of students is noticeable now and the courses are attracting those just finished school to those changing a career. Everyone is welcome.
Solstice: You’ve created runway looks for some iconic designers, including Julia Clancey. How does that collaborative process work to achieve symmetry with the clothes, makeup and hair?
Astrid: Julia and I have worked together since meeting on shoot for The Guardian many years ago. We really understand each other’s drive and passion. With any designer it is individual, so that first connection is crucial. The ‘This is Icon’ show featuring the incredible Grace Jones was a huge endeavour. We were working with dancers, models and performers with individual looks but we still wanted to have a cohesive energy and together tell part of the same story. For this show I created bespoke lashes in a variety of colours: Julia and I worked alongside each other to ensure the looks I created fused with her vision and unique outfits.
I still get excited all these years later and have nerves the night before a show or shoot because I care and love my work.
Solstice: How important to you is the transformational and empowering nature of makeup and how do you want the person you’ve created a look for to feel about themselves?
Astrid: From the moment you meet a client, to the first phone call or email, you gain a real personal insight into their lives. This is a privilege and as such, should be treated with great respect. For some artists, it's just about creating a persona, a look for a particular publication or televised event. For others, they need that link that will help them feel more confident in themselves and connect them to their fabulousness. For me it is so important that I nurture and guide that transformation with respect and passion.
Solstice: How important is the rise of sustainable makeup companies?
Astrid: This is hugely important for the future of both the industry and our planet. Great skin care products should be created with an underpinning. It is important for companies not just to jump on the bandwagon because it’s a buzz word or agenda. This should filter down to the ethos of the company: from working conditions and fair pay of their staff to the bigger global issues.
Solstice: Astrid, your own personal style is flamboyant and exuberant. Who has a style that has inspired you?
Astrid: I aspire to the adage of Iris Apfel that fashion can be bought but style is something else. I love placing together designer pieces with vintage, sometimes wearing clothes back to front, adding or wrapping fabric and jewels. It’s all about self-expression. The vision of my mother, Ingrid, dressing in Yves Saint Laurent at the airport when she first moved to Ireland from Norway. Her dazzling evening wear in ruby colours was also a great influence in my life. I remember watching in awe at the top of the stairs as a child as our guests arrived to dinner in all their finery, my eyes ablaze
Solstice: What do you see as the key makeup trends that will take us into winter and on into 2023?
Astrid: Skin will be major as we move into the chill of the winter season [In the northern hemisphere]. Home treatments, electrical innovations to plump, shape and hydrate will become more common. I am always fascinated by the filtering and transitioning from runway or editorial to the public. Make up is linked to our common experience and mood at the moment. After our time behind the mask, we are ready to emerge with some bold accents. Lips donning hot pink a la Bodyography Lip Lava in ‘Candy’ or for a matt finish, a vibrant red in Regal. A stained lip or gloss will remain strong while skin is glowing and radiant.
From convent school to catwalk, Astrid’s bold and experimental aesthetic is one which connects the Golden Age of Hollywood glamour with the realities of twenty-first century living. In this post-pandemic world which has highlighted the importance of self-care, Astrid shows us that beauty is not simply skin-deep, but encapsulates our very essence. Her commitment to a philosophy of self-care is one that she feels as passionately about as the beguiling looks which she creates for her myriad of admirers. It is this holistic approach which has secured Astrid a place at the forefront of a fast-paced and constantly evolving industry, meshing creativity with the health and happiness we all desire. Hers is an authentic advocacy which leaves us all awaiting her future innovations.
By Brian James & Dolly Devally