Insider Interviews: Mary Greenwell, Make-Up Artist

The globally renowned expert shares her top make-up tips, how her career began & the experts she sees.

by Amy Wilson Wyles
  • Job Title: Make-Up Artist

  • Location: London & Worldwide

  • Famous For: Being one of the world’s most sought after make-up artists

  • Clients/Fans Include: From the supermodels of the 80s to the late Princess Diana & some of the world’s most famous faces including Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, Amanda Seyfried, Uma Thurman, Lily Collins, Felicity Jones & Gemma Arterton.

  • Years in the Industry: Three decades

The Backstory

I actually didn’t wear make-up at all until I was 23 when I was offered an amazing job that changed my life. It was like an angel stepped in and showed me what I wanted to become. In the mid 70s, I was living in LA and Fiorucci was about to open and my boyfriend at the time suggested I represent the make-up counter and I was like, “but I’ve never worn make-up in my life!” So he sent me to New York to work with Ilana Harkavi who had Il Makiage, which was one of the first professional make-up artist lines – she had every colour under the sun. Her beautiful little shop was on 68th and Park and she took me down to her make-up room and did my make-up. I watched everything that she did and was like, “ok, ok, ok this is amazing.” I stayed and worked in her shop for two weeks before opening up Fiorucci in LA.

The first big name I ever did make-up for was when I was with Ilana Harkavi and I’d only had one make-up lesson. I went with her to a shoot and Brooke Shields walked in.  For some reason Ilana who liked me and trusted me – I’d proved that I could sell make-up in the shop and had a good sense of colour – said, “I think you should do the make-up today.” I came out of the room really nervously and said, “she’s ready” and then once they were shooting I went back into the room on my own and burst into tears with relief.

While it’s hard to whittle down my top career highlight, the one that really stands out is working with Princess Diana. That, for anybody who got to work with her, was a really important moment.

The Supermodels changed everything. The industry didn’t really exist when I first started – there were very few make-up artists, very few hair stylists. The supermodels were the first to go from catwalk, to beauty to fashion shoots and because of their incredible influence and their power and their beauty, made it a wonderful job that everyone wanted to go into. It suddenly became super and they made it a sensation on every level. Linda, Christy, Naomi, Cindy, Stephanie – the whole group, I worked with all of them. It was a pivotal moment in the history of fashion and beauty.

There are no rules with make-up at all anymore. I love all trends and for me there are no mistakes. I think the period we’re going through now – the really heavy, gorgeous reference to Kim Kardashian is great. In the same breath I also think the reference on the catwalk with models looking like they’ve got no make-up on at all is also fabulous. The 30s, the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s they all had their set looks. The 80s started to blur, the 90s started to completely blur and now there are no rules at all.  There has never been so much make-up around until now. In the early eras there was Max Factor and that was about it. Now there’s a new range everyday. The choice is extraordinary.

The Advice

My Ultimate Make-Up Tips

  1. I’m a finger person – that’s my thing. I’m very loath to use brushes. They are a fantastic tool but I’m not as good with them as I am with my hands. My hands are my tool so that’s my trick and what I do.
  2. Do your foundation first – some people do the eyes then the foundation but I do the foundation first.
  3. Follow this with the eyes, blusher/bronzer, and then always do the mouth last.
  4. Remember that the easiest way to transform your look is with the lips. So you might look and think I’d like a red lip, or I’d like a nude lip. They have the power to completely change a look and make it what you want it to be.

The Kit

Chanel Les Beiges Water Fresh Tint – this is my personal go-to foundation. Everyone layers skincare now and this product is like the last layer. It’s a water tint that is SO light. I think there’s a big move away from heavy make-up and this for me is the most extraordinary foundation. I rub it in like moisturizer and it completely evens out my skin tone and makes it look divine. Because it’s a water tint it dries – it doesn’t leave skin feeling oily or greasy. Instead it makes the skin look amazing without looking made up at all. Plus, you can also build it.

Armani Power Fabric Concealer – it is unbelievable and it takes everything away. It’s incredibly fine and not drying at all and no matter what your age it doesn’t settle into fine lines around the eyes. They have a really good colour range so you can find the perfect colour.

Sensai 38° Mascara – so called because you take it off with warm water that’s over 38 degrees, which has the added bonus of meaning you are gently soaking your eyes every night, which is something opticians advise. I love it.

Surratt & Guerlain Eye Palettes – I love both Surratt and Guerlain make-up and I always have their eye palettes with me. Singles annoy me: you always want another colour.

MAC’s Crème in Your Coffee Lipstick – I’ve been using it for years and it’s the most incredible dark nude to enhance your natural lip colour. It’s my personal favourite but I also love using it on other people as it suits pretty much everyone.

The Experts

Hairdresser:  Joel at John Frieda, he’s the best cutter in the world and also really fun. He’s like an angel and I love the freedom he gives me – we often do my hair together. When you’re with him you feel like you’re in the safest hands in the world.

Hair Colourist:  Nicola Clarke at John Frieda, I’ve known her forever and would trust her with my life.

Facialist: Joanna Evans in Notting Hill, although with work I don’t go to see her enough. I also see Lord Gavin from Intraceuticals when he’s over and I simply adore him.

Skin Doctors: For Botox I see Yannis Alexandrides at 111 Skin in Harley Street for Botox, he never overdoes it and does just the right amount. Dr Wassim Taktouk in Queensgate is also lovely – I had Profhilo with him the other day – I love Profhilo. I also did a Thread Lift last year with River Aesthetics. With all these skin doctors they have to understand your face and not do too much so you look like someone different. I don’t want to look changed, it’s about looking a few years younger, improving skin quality and getting rid of a little bit of tiredness.

Workout Spot: I go to OPUS, I love David who owns it, he’s adorable so I go there.

Manicurist/Pedicurist: I never get a manicure as I need my nails short and clean for work. If I want a really good pedicure then I go to Margaret Dabbs in Space NK, they’re amazing.

Masseuse: Jill Daaman is brilliant and I love that she comes to me. She doesn’t have a website but you can email her on 

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