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We are beyond excited for our interview where Hollywood meets London, as we are interviewing super talent Mai Quynh this week. Mai has been in the industry for more than 16 years and is a top makeup artist in Hollywood. Her celebrity clients include Chloe Grace Moretz, Sandra Oh, Jessica Chastain, Saoirse Ronan, Camila Mendes, Reese Witherspoon… and the list continues. Keep reading below as she takes us behind the scenes on the Oscars red carpet, discover the unexpected source of her big break and her top beauty tips.
Thanks so much for your time Mai! Our first question is normally around how you started your career, but let’s start first with how you are doing? How has lockdown been for you, besides personally challenging as for everyone, your industry must have made it professionally challenging as well?
Lockdown has made me have to rethink everything in life. The way I work...I really miss working so much. It gave me a sense of purpose. I feel really bad for everyone, we are all effected by this pandemic in some way. My industry is starting up again but not nearly like it was before covid. I think we’re all just waiting it out still.
To start delving into your career, could you tell us what made you think ‘I want to become a makeup artist’?
I always enjoyed painting and drawing as well as anything makeup or skin care related, so after high school, I knew I wanted to pursue art in some capacity. Makeup was not on my radar, I had no idea it was a possible career choice, but my dad told me to do something that I enjoyed and loved, and the money would come after, he was right.
You started your career at the counter in MAC until you decided to take the plunge to go freelance. Then you got your big break from an unexpected source… Britney Spears herself?! Can you tell us more about that time, the hustle as a freelancer and then the call?
Honestly, I dabbled with freelancing while I was working at MAC. I started assisting on music videos and I got to see how it was to be on set and churn out dancers and background girls for these videos, it was like a factory! We’d swap out between hair and makeup and sometimes had to double team because we were so pressed for time, but also, there were so many girls! I did that for a couple of years and eventually I started assisting celebrity makeup artists on photo shoots and red carpets and that was when I first met Britney. She was always so sweet to me and I think that’s how I was able to work with her on my own later.
Fast forward a few years and you are one of the top makeup artists in Hollywood, making up Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Chastain, Sandra Oh and Chloe Grace Moretz! Last year (in a pre-COVID world) you did Sandra Oh’s red carpet look for the Oscars. Can you give us some inside scoop in what an Oscars day looks like?
I know it feels like ages ago but it was technically still this year. A typical Oscars day for me varies because it depends on how many people I’m working with that are actually going to the ceremony. I try to do only one person for the ceremony because everyone has to get there at the same time. So depending on the person, not everyone wants to go earlier, which I understand because everyone wants their makeup to be fresh. Although I have gotten some people ready earlier because they hold up well or they are just super loyal to me and they can manage their own touchups. So with that in mind, I’ll do 1 to 2 people for the ceremony and then I’m kind of working throughout the rest of the day/night because the parties are all at night so I’m able to do like maybe 5 to 6 total people in one day. It’s a very busy day for me, I just try to hold it together and make sure I eat enough between clients.
You’ve also done cover and editorial work for all the big titles: Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, etc. What are the biggest differences in applying makeup between red carpet vs editorial? What are the things you specifically pay attention to?
Makeup is very different for a red carpet versus an editorial because for photo shoots the lighting is controlled and sometimes depending on the photographer, the lighting can be really moody and shadowy so the make up translates differently. So if I’m doing a dark eye makeup and the lighting is shadowy, then it might make her eye makeup look even darker than in real life. The beauty is having a monitor to look at while you’re shooting so you can adjust the makeup when needed.
For red carpets, it also can be tricky because I always look at the time of day when the carpet is happening, is it indoor or outdoor? Sometimes if it’s daytime, there might not be flash being used, because people just think oh it’s daytime, the sun is out but not having flash sometimes there can be shadows underneath the eyes or just anywhere on the face, so I always have to consider all these things.
How do you keep on trend with the latest makeup trends or are you not really a trend follower? Where do you find most of your inspiration?
I look for inspiration everywhere I go, in fashion, especially runway shows. I also find it when I travel, in art, music, movies, nature. I appreciate trends, I may not always agree with them but I do look at them and maybe have my own spin on them if I feel the urge to go there.
You’ve been working for many years, are there any hero products that you swear by that have been in your kit for years?
Yes I am a diehard Armani beauty luminous silk foundation fan. I’ve been using it for so many years and it’s just super reliable and consistent and just gives my clients perfect skin.
For anyone reading this who wants to make it in Hollywood, what advice would you give them?
Be persistent. Think outside of the box. And by that I mean don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. You have to go out of your (safe zone) way and procure them. When I first started we didn’t have smart phones, I don’t even think we had craigslist so I had to find different ways to build my book. I went to art schools and put up fliers in the photography department asking if anyone needs makeup for their models for their homework shoots, to have them please call me. It’s important to find new resources and connections to be able to build and network.
Finally, which Loella brushes can we find in your kit?
I love the Femme Fatale Collection. The brushes are gorgeous and they feel like cotton candy on the skin-so airy and soft.
You can find more about Mai on her website and make sure to follow her on Instagram @storyofmailife.
Click here to check out the Femme Fatale collection.