James Molloy has a distinct style and ambition to spare.
Once an artist, always an artist. This became clear to us when we caught up with the U.K.’s James Molloy while he was on holiday. Now the global make-up ambassador for Rimmel London, Molloy originally studied art and worked in visual merchandising before launching into a make-up career. His make-ups have graced the pages of publications including Vogue, L’Officiel and Harper’s Bazaar, and his celebrity clients include Dita Von Teese, Emma Watson and Kanye West. Read on to see what he has to say about his style and career, his make-up school and his tools and accessories brand, MyKitCo.
Make-Up Artist: What town in the North of England are you from? Are you currently based in Stockport near the MyKitCo HUB?
James Molloy: I’m originally from Stokesley, a small market town in North Yorkshire. I left there when was 18 and moved to Manchester, which has always been a truly vibrant city. I remember visiting in my early teens, when the Haçienda was still happening, and falling in love with the city. I currently spend my time between Stockport, where MyKitCo and my school are based, and London, where my agency, Premier, is based.
MA: Take me back to the beginning. What made you want to become a make-up artist?
JM: I honestly didn’t realize that being a make-up artist was a career choice until I left my home town. I’d always had a fascination with beauty and art—my dream was to be a comic book illustrator. I’ve always sketched, painted, made things from scraps of material; I’m very hands-on, if a little lacking in patience!
I grew up listening to icons such as Madonna, Boy George and Debbie Harry, and watching movies like Barbarella with Jane Fonda, and I was obsessed by their style.
I first discovered make-up on a trip to Manchester, where I passed by the city’s first M.A.C. counter. I was taken aback by the make-up application, black uniform and the fact that there were guys doing make-up! It felt like I belonged behind that counter with them.
MA: How did you learn to do make-up? Who was the first person you put make-up on?
JM: I think my love of art and slight obsession with beauty icons helped me learn the basics of beauty pretty quickly. I landed a full-time position at M.A.C., having never done make-up before. I was so eager to learn, and the training was the best in the business. I was lucky enough to have my basic M.A.C. training with Terry Barber, who taught me that make-up doesn’t have to equal pretty; it can be androgynous, tough, playful—anything you want it to be, and that it’s just as much about a feeling as a great application.
MA: How did you get your start in the industry?
JM: I guess my big break was being promoted to the M.A.C. senior artist team. I’d been with the brand for three years when the opportunity came along. This opened up the world of backstage beauty and the international shows, where I really fine-tuned my skills.
MA: What did your position with M.A.C. entail?
JM: After 10 years with M.A.C. in the U.K., I moved to Hong Kong as the director for make-up artistry for Asia Pacific. My region had 12 countries, including Korea, Japan, China and Australia. As well as press representing the brand, I also developed artistry programs and mentored the regions’ senior artist team.
MA: What/when was your first major industry job? Who did you work on and for what?
JM: I’d recently moved to Hong Kong and was asked to key the Moschino show in Shanghai. The production was huge: 60 models and a ton of press. I think it showed people that I could key a big show and handle the pressure, as well as turn out a beautiful look.
MA: In your early years, what did you struggle with make-up-wise?
JM: One of my biggest challenges early on was to define my own style: what I like, what I don’t like and how I present that to the industry.
MA: Tell me about your role with Rimmel London. What is your official title and how did you end up there? What does this job entail?
JM: I’m the global make-up ambassador for Rimmel London, which I still can’t quite believe! I grew up with Rimmel products around—it’s synonymous with British make-up. I work closely with the marketing and product development teams to help develop new products, as well as creating looks for advertising. It’s the dream role for me, as I get to use all of my experience in not only make-up application but trend forecasting and education with a brand I love.
MA: Tell me about a make-up job that stands out in particular.
JM: I was booked to do make-up for the late, great Isabella Blow at her hotel in Paris. This will always stay with me, as I’ve never met such an incredible woman. Her room was filled with the couture dresses she had to choose from for her event. She sat among them as I did her make-up and spent the entire time asking me about my family, background, life, etcetera. When we’d finished, she filled my kit with gifts for my mum! Such a generous and beautiful soul.
MA: Who is your most memorable client?
JM: I love working with Rita [Ora] for Rimmel. You know you’re in for a great shoot, as she always brings the energy and is a dream to make up!
MA: Tell me about your make-up school and studio. When/how did it start?
JM: I’d always wanted my own school. I love sharing my knowledge, and when we found our HUB, which is a huge loft-style space in an old mill, I knew I had the right location. The school is now two years old.
MA: Do you teach all of the classes yourself or do you have assistant teachers?
JM: For the moment I teach all classes myself, with the help of my assistant Jess Bright. We like to keep it small and intimate. My One-to-One Sessions are the most popular; we’ve had attendees from Chile, New Zealand and Australia! Artists love these sessions, as I tailor them to their exact needs. We also have studio time to capture the work they create. I have plans to develop more workshops and build a team of artists whom I trust can deliver the style of make-up I am known for and also bring their unique style. I will always keep our class numbers small—this is very important to me.
MA: How often do you do master classes and where do you usually do them? I see you have some in Australia soon.
JM: I like to host three to four classes at the HUB which offer different topics, from beauty to exploring color. This year I’m excited to be back in Australia as well as Mexico City for a new concept class alongside some industry greats!
MA: Turning to MyKitCo, do you plan on expanding your product line? What can we expect to see in the future?
JM: Alex [Thompson] and I are constantly reviewing our range making sure MyKitCo products are practical, affordable and a stylish addition to anybody’s kit. We have some exciting new bags and a very special brush set in the works for 2019. As for the longer term, we are always planning new things and exploring potential opportunities, so absolutely watch this space.
MA: How did industry leaders like Val Garland and Vlada Haggerty get their hands on your products?
JM: I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Val many times, and when we launched MyKitCo Val was one of our biggest supporters. It’s heartwarming to see the support from the industry, especially when a fellow artist launches a brand. Also, we can’t ignore the power of social media and how an indie brand like ours can quickly get noticed by talent across the globe.
MA: You certainly have a lot of industry experience, from red carpet work to runway to teaching and product development. Tell me about the projects you’re currently working on.
JM: I’m working on some great things with Rimmel. Some of my favorite days are when I get to sit with the team and develop new products and concepts. My work with MyKitCo never stops; at any one time we have three to four new accessories in the pipeline, as well as new ideas for brushes and updates to our website. Alex and I design every product you see ourselves—it’s a true homegrown brand.
MA: How would you describe your style?
JM: I love polished beauty—the ’90s supermodel revisited—but I’m not scared to push a concept when needed. I love texture play and graphic shapes that enhance and distort the features; make-up that tells a story always excites me.
MA: Your make-ups often have an air of whimsy. Could you speak to that?
JM: I draw inspiration from so many areas. That can sound cliché as an artist but it’s true, and I feel this shows in my work. I spend a lot of time in Asia—Japan especially—where I immerse myself in their pop culture. I love the kitsch side of beauty; a lot of my work is quite playful and focuses on one feature. I like to follow illustrators and interiors on Instagram, as I find the composition and color play more interesting than real life. I often like to create a character when applying make-up.
MA: Your eyebrows are noticeably different to me. How would you describe this particular style?
JM: I always remember assisting Charlotte Tilbury at the shows, and she taught me the “supermodel brow.” Since then, I’ve developed my own take on this: a soft yet full brow that frames the face without dominating it.
MA: What sets you apart most from other make-up artists?
JM: I’m an idea person. I know artists who get writers block, which can affect all of us at times, but I always have a list of ideas I want to get on a face! I’ve always been fascinated with the commerce side of the industry, too, which has helped me to develop a brand with the artist at heart.
MA: How does your art background add to your style and technique?
JM: It’s always there in my style of drawing lines and understanding structure, as well as exploring unusual color combinations and textures. I hold my brushes really lightly, too. I like the color to wash over the face in sheer veils, which comes from my art background.
MA: Describe one make-up look you are most proud of.
JM: I posted a macro lash shot on my feed a couple of years ago. I’d dabbed lash glue on my model’s lashes then pressed on individual lashes; it was an intense, almost insect-like finish. The make-up took just a few minutes. I posted this image and it was the first time I’d experienced the “Marmite” effect—so much love and hate for something so simple. The look was never meant to be pretty, it was a statement on perfection and what our ideals are.
MA: What would you say was most influential to you and your career?
JM: At school in my small North East town, I knew I didn’t really fit in with the other kids; didn’t play football, liked to hang out with the girls, etcetera, and at times it was tough. When I moved to the city, I had a burning desire to do what I loved without feeling ashamed of who I was. This drive has helped shape my career and keep me motived.
MA: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
JM: Definitely MyKitCo is my biggest accomplishment to date. I came up with the name, drew the brush-head logo and even shot our first campaign. We started in our spare bedroom—just Alex and I—and have managed to build a loyal customer base who believe in our product in a sea of other brands. I feel very proud of our indie brand and also very thankful for the support from the industry.
MA: Do you have any big dreams for the future?
JM: I like to dream big. I want to continue sharing my knowledge around the world with more master classes and partnerships. We have only scratched the surface with MyKitCo and would love to see our brand available in more locations with a bigger lineup.
MA: What do you love most about being a make-up artist?
JM: I love seeing my ideas come to life, being backstage or in a studio and working with a creative team to make some magic. It never gets old.
For more on James Molloy, follow him on Instagram: @jamesmolloymakeupartist.