how val garland became one of fashion’s most requested make-up artists
her new book, ‘Validated’, charts the make-up mastermind’s 25-year career
From Validated, courtesy of Val Garland
Regarded as one of the most important make-up artists of our time, Val Garland has spent the last 25 years creating era-defining images with some of this generation’s greatest creatives. Her boundary-pushing artistry has seen her shoot with photographers such as Nick Knight, Corinne Day and Miles Aldridge and worked for agenda-setting fashion titles, including i-D and The Face. She’s the make-up artist of choice for designers including John Galliano, Gareth Pugh and Phoebe Philo, and spent years working closely with Alexander McQueen. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an influential creative that Garland hasn’t collaborated with.
And now, after a quarter of a century painting faces to international acclaim, she’s decided it’s about time she took a minute to look back on her epic career. The result of this archival exploration? Validated, a new book that illustrates her career through a series of her most seminal images. The anthology doesn’t just chart the evolution of beauty over the last few decades, but narrated by Garland’s personal anecdotes, it builds a picture of the vibrant fashion scene of the 80s, 90s and 00s.
It took two years to pull together, but Validated finally went on sale this week. We sat down with the master make-up artist to discover more about how she carved out a career in beauty, and how she remains relevant in our social media-driven times.
Growing up, what were your creative outlets?
Well I think when I was a child, we’d just go and play on the railways. I always had a vivid imagination, so we’d make up some amazing story using sticks and stones and that kind of thing. I was always looking for treasure, but we didn’t have loads of money, so treasure was just things you would find on the street, pebbles and bottle tops and things like that.
When I got older, I got into music. I could get lost in music and musicians and singers became the new icons. It was the 80s, so we’d moved through the punk and it was more about the new romantics and everybody was painting their faces. I loved Toyah Willcox, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Debbie Harry, Lene Lovich. It never occurred to me try to look attractive or like a glamorous, sexual being. I just wanted to be noticed, to be a character. I wanted people to go ‘wow, who is that person in head to toe newspaper with newspaper print all over her face? What is she?’ That’s how I my love of make-up started.
You started out in hair but then made the change to do make-up. What was the trigger that sparked that change?
When I had Garland and Garland [the salon she ran with then husband, Terry Garland] we would do seminars and shows, and I would always do the make-up. I wore a lot of make-up myself. Then, I’d started to do session work, styling hair on photoshoots and the photographers I worked with kept telling me I should do make-up. I never thought I wanted to enter that world but it just kind of happened, and I started doing hair and make-up in Sydney. My eureka moment didn’t come until I decided to divorce my then husband and move back to England, and that was when I vowed I would never do hair again, I was now a make-up artist.
It’s funny, I remember talking to a friend of mine who was an assistant to one of the stylists I worked with at my leaving party, and coincidentally, she told me she was also moving away, to Los Angeles to become an actress. Anyway, cut to the chase, 15 years later, my agent tells me I’ve been requested for a job doing an actress’s make-up for her press junket. I didn’t normally do that thing, so I said ‘Well who is it?” And it transpires it was Naomi Watts, my friend from all those years ago. I rocked up to the Covent Garden Hotel, she answers her door and says ‘G’day mate’ and I say ‘G’day mate’ and it felt like finally, she had her dream, and I had mine.
What would you count as your big break in beauty?
Being introduced to the likes of Nick Knight and Alexander McQueen. Big breaks sort of happen gradually, it isn’t like a switch. It’s about the people you start working with, your gang, and you come up together. I started out at the Evening Standard and the Observer magazine with the likes of Karl Plewka who then went on to work with Corinne Day and Katy England who introduced me to Alexander McQueen, and there the story began.
You’ve collaborated with some of the most seminal image-makers of our time. If you were putting together a shoot today, who would you want — past or present — on your team?
I think somewhere in the mix there’d be Andy Warhol, he’d be there. Lee Bowery would be there. Nick Knight would shoot it. Obviously Sam McKnight’s got to do the hair, but there would probably be two hairstylists, the other one being Anthony Turner, who I really like. It would be a whole host of people appearing in a transformative, eclectic moment. Katy England would be there. So would T. Rex. Michael Hutchence would be there for sure. Lene Lovich, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood. It would be this magic moment where we all meet in another universe at the peak of everyone’s careers. That would be pretty amazing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given from your peers in the industry?This sounds boring, but I’d say ‘have an opinion but don’t be opinionated'. You know, put your point across but understand that they make not like it.
What’s the one thing people wrongly assume about being a make-up artist?
That it’s glamorous. That you sit around all day sipping champagne and popping on a red lip, or a little bit of kajal in the eye. Much of the time you’re on a floor or up a mountain -- I remember once doing a shoot at the top of Mount Blanc and being taken to the set on one of those sleighs dragged by dogs. We were all freezing cold and joined together like mountaineers -- so if one of us fell down we’d be able to yank them back up. You have to work really, really hard. The hours are long. You’ve got to be strong. If you haven’t got a team of assistants or one person to help you, that is a really heavy bag to carry.
In the work that you do, you always manage to keep things feeling fresh. Where do you find inspiration?
I think as a creative person, regardless of what you do within this business, you are a magpie. You’re looking at anything and everything, everywhere all of the time. It could be a piece of celery. It could be a texture, a fabric. It might be out there in nature, or you could be in a hardware shop. You’ve always got to try and think of things for yourself, not look at what other people are doing. Do what feels interesting and fresh. The most important thing is to keep it relevant.
Has social media had an impact on your work?
Well, I think social media has had an impact on all our work. You do need a presence on social media, but the key is working out who you want to be and how you want to be seen. I didn’t want to just keep posting inane pictures of make-up just for the sake of it. I love reading and I love artists and looking at art, so I like to intersperse an arty edge through what I do. In terms of fashion week, I don’t think you have to post every show. You only post it if it’s interesting, or you’ve got a different angle otherwise you end up with a load of pictures of models with no make-up and a boy brow and you just think, is that really going to excite the editors? Probably not.
“There are loads of Insta make-up artists who probably have thousands more followers than I have and that’s great, but we are different. There’s a difference between putting make-up on yourself (that’s having a love of make-up) and actually being a professional make-up artist, who can put make-up on other people. You need to know how to touch somebody without invading their personal space. That’s a different skill. But there’s room for both of us and I just love the artistry of it all although I do get a little bit bored of the sort of idea that women should all do the same things, like an Insta-brow, a cut-crease, the liner, the lip. For me, I would rather see people be individual. Be wild. Why not?
What does it mean to be #Validated?
The idea for #Validated started a few years ago. Backstage at the shows, I noticed lots of artists would sellotape up their products and say ‘This is my magic cream but I’m not telling you what it is, it’s my secret.' I’ve always thought, especially as I’ve gotten older, that I want to give something back and actually tell people what I use.
So, one day I put up a picture of a Laura Mercier concealer on Instagram and wrote that it’s a great concealer that I keep in my kit because it works. I said ‘I validate it’. The next day, I was working with Marianne Newman and she said ‘That was really good, when you validated that product’, and even though I had never intended it to be a ‘thing’ I started to do it more. Around a year later, Sam McKnight told me that the beauty editors had told him if they saw a product I had ‘validated’ then they’d look at it, because they knew I wouldn’t talk about a crap product. So then, we had this 'validated' tape made that I’d use backstage and if a make-up artist on my team did a great job, they’d get a validated badge. So it was an obvious choice for the name of the book.
Which of the new up-and-coming make-up artists do you think are really changing the game?
I like what Isamaya Ffrench does, I think she’s cool and I like her approach. I think Lauren Parsons is really good and Laura Dominique is one to watch. Also, my first assistant, Joey Choy, she will have an incredible career. It’s easy to copy great make-up; there are copiers and then there are visionaries. Joey is a great visionary. She has a brilliant eye for colour, and does these amazing shoots, always in her own way.
Who or what encapsulates the meaning of beauty for you in 2018?
I think beauty has so many levels these days. I think Kate Moss’s daughter Lila Moss is incredibly beautiful. I think Stacey Dooley from Strictly Come Dancing is incredibly beautiful in a natural way. I love the beauty of Helen Mirren. For me, beauty is about women with confidence, confidence to be who they are. It’s more of a personality trait. If you feel good, you’ll look good.
What’s next for Val Garland?
Well, I’m now about to go on a book tour. I’m going to China and Russia. And after the book tour, I’ve just finished a TV programme so that’s really interesting, and that will come out in spring next year, but I’m sworn to secrecy on that one. That’s the next thing on the agenda and who knows after that?