Val Garland is a beauty legend. The British make-up artist has worked her magic across the prosthetics on Lady Gaga's Born This Way album to Alexander McQueen as a red-eyed zombie on the cover of The Face, and most recently, bejeweling the face of Caroline Brasch Neilson for The Future Fashion Issue of i-D.
To most women beauty is all about looking good; to Val Garland looking phenomenal is not enough. Drawing imaginatively on beautiful faces, adding prosthetics and blurring the lines between fashion and art, fashion icon Val is Lady Gaga and Nick Knight’s go to make-up artist of choice. Falling in love age twenty-something, eloping to Australia with her then boyfriend and beginning work as a hair stylist, Val’s initiation into the world of beauty was unusual. Never overly enamoured by her own reflection, Val used to decorate her face in pictures, drawing outside the lines and clashing colours to create a new character for herself each day. Quickly pinpointed as a rare talent, friends in the industry pushed her to experiment with face painting professionally. Moving back to London, the rest is history. Today Val is the chosen make-up artist of Vivienne Westwood, Tim Walker and Mario Testino and the looks she creates are completely original. Drawing from a career of rich experiences, Val’s capacity to reinvent both a natural and avant-garde aesthetic is breathtaking. Working with flawlessly clean skin as her base and preferring a bold lip, she cites Dot Cotton and the Queen as her poster girls for timeless elegance. i-D took time out with the blonde godmother of cosmetics to find out more about who she sees when she peers through the looking glass.
You say you used to wear a lot of make-up, who influenced your look when you were younger?
When I was younger, I didn’t think I was terribly attractive, so I thought I would just pile it all on and allow the make-up to speak for itself. I used to draw pictures on my face; it was the New Romantic era, we were all face painting! I’d paint my lips slightly left of centre… I must have looked extremely ugly. I’d use green eye shadow and draw on really thick, black eyebrows. I loved make-up. Everyday my look would be different.
At what age have you felt the most beautiful?
Probably in my twenties, yeah, that was a good age.
How do you feel when you look in the mirror now?
It’s fine, I’m happy. You know, this face tells a story. It’s been a long story, but it’s been a great story!
Why do you think the world is so in love with Cara at the moment?
Because she’s got a personality! She’s got something to say and she likes making faces. She’s not trying to say, "Look at me, I’m beautiful, I’m untouchable." She’s reaching out and going, "Here I am." And she’s a great girl.
Does beauty ever evoke feelings of jealousy in you?
No, I don’t feel that way. I usually think, "Oh that’s a good look… doesn’t she look good?" It’s funny when we’re doing a shoot and I have a model there, we all just say, "Oh, doesn’t she look good?" on the screen. Like, all of a sudden, the model is there too looking at herself in the third person.
How did you first come to work with Lady Gaga?
I had no idea who she was! I’d seen pictures of her but I wasn’t aware of her. Nick Knight said, "We’re going to shoot this cover of this young pop star, she’s called Lady Gaga. We’re doing it on Sunday." And I was like, "Okay, yeah okay, fine." When I walked in she was so mesmerising because she had such belief in herself. So young, and she knew exactly what she wanted. She knew exactly how she wanted the lighting, how she wanted to appear. Yeah, it was a great ride.
Creatively, how did the two of you vibe?
It’s fantastic because she lets me be free. Just after the shows in Milan, I was with Sam McKnight and we’d been called to do a shoot with Lady Gaga. I was talking with her about needing to do something different, something new, for the album cover. I said, "Let’s get rid of the eyebrows, let’s just use black, no mascara, let’s go for a very strong punky, defined black eye and throw in some prosthetics." I got two bits of paper and made them into two aeroplanes, very quickly, because we only had fifteen minutes with her. I placed them on her cheekbones, shoulders and her forehead and she photographed the look on her iPhone. Six months later we got a prosthetic team involved and Nick shot the Born This Way album cover.
What is the most iconic look you’ve created in your career?
I think Alexander McQueen, with a bald cap, on the front cover of The Face magazine was pretty iconic. There was a shoot that I did with Sølve Sundsbø of Karen Elson, where she’s got this red lip, green eye and smoke coming out of her mouth. I think that was a pretty iconic moment too. As was the Kate Moss cover for W magazine, with Steven Klein. And Keira Knightley for W!
What’s your earliest memory of working for i-D?
It was with Juergen Teller. We shot a dark haired model out in the countryside dressed up in Mickey Mouse ears. I painted the end of her nose black!