Style Beauty

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Secrets of the glamour queens: Ireland's top make-up artists laid bare


Paula Callan of Callan & Co. Photo: Kip Carroll
Paula Callan of Callan & Co. Photo: Kip Carroll
Aimee Connolly. Photo: Kip Carroll
Michelle Regazzoli Stone. Photo: Kip Carroll
Aideen Kate Murphy. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dearbhla Keenan. Photo: Kip Carroll

Make-up artists are the new stars of the fashion and social-media scene. Chloe Brennan talks to six of Ireland’s best known and most successful MUAs to find out how they achieved success in what is a very competitive industry, and, of course, to discover their insider top tips

Paula Callan

I started my make-up career by chance. It wasn't a career that I'd had in mind. I've always loved art, it was my favourite subject in school, and Ms Kearns, my art teacher at the time, wanted me to become an art teacher. That was my plan for the future. In my last year of school, my career path totally changed.

I was in Brown Thomas one Saturday, and a woman came up and asked me if I'd ever thought of becoming a model - I hadn't! I modelled for about a year, and soon discovered it wasn't for me. But I did love being in the fashion industry, and something that stood out for me was doing make-up on other girls. My agent suggested that if I wasn't going to model, maybe I could be a make-up artist, as I seemed to have a natural flair.

I started working with an up-and-coming photographer and networked to get my name out there. It was hard to build up a clientele and learn the trade. I had never done any make-up courses. Back then, there was no internet to help - I was completely self-taught.

After a few years freelancing, the news broke that Mac was coming to Dublin. My sister created a CV and sent it off, resulting in a call-back. I started with Mac in 1997 - an incredible company to work for. I was soon promoted to senior artist for Ireland and the UK. This position brought me all over the world, working at fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris; teaching seminars and training new staff. I loved every minute of it.

I went on to open my own salon, Callan & Co, in 2016. Being a freelancer, I really wanted to have a base to work from, and I love working with a team. I'm inspired by other creative people, and I have incredibly talented hairstylists, make-up artists, nail technicians and brow experts at Callan & Co.

The journey of opening a salon was a challenge, to say the least. I had to find the right location and the perfect team. We fit Callan & Co into an old Georgian house in Ballsbridge. I wanted to restore it to its natural beauty, and keep it traditional with a modern twist.

It was a challenge, but I loved every moment. We want our customers to feel like they are coming into Callan & Co for an experience, and to leave feeling relaxed and beautified.

Having worked as a make-up artist for nearly 30 years, I have had amazing opportunities and I've met some incredible people. My most memorable to date was working with Nicole Scherzinger - so humble and kind - who was performing with Andrea Bocelli.

Being a make-up artist and business owner is quite difficult when you have a young family; my kids are still quite young, and my work hours are long, but I hope it will instil a good work ethic in them.

My dad always says: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life!" It's so true.


Aideen Kate Murphy

Aideen Kate Murphy. Photo: Kip Carroll

I studied beauty therapy in college and started my career around the same time, working in Inglot for about two-and-a-half years. The day I got my job in Inglot was hugely special to me. Looking back, it has led me to where I am today.

I have always been interested in YouTube. I love watching other people's make-up channels, and it was something that I wanted to get involved in. I have really started focusing on it this year, and I'm thrilled to have just hit 10,000 subscribers. The make-up industry is constantly changing, but in the last few years, it has definitely become more video-focused.

There are so many brands competing on the market at the moment, so it's hard to narrow it down and choose just one favourite. In saying that, I have been featured on the social-media pages of Anastasia Beverly Hills a couple of times now, which was a huge compliment.

I find that working for yourself has its perks, but you do need to set weekly goals to make sure you get all of your work done, and keep on track. I like to set aside two or three days each week to focus on filming make-up tutorials and creating content for my social-media pages. I normally take Mondays to catch up on emails; Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent filming and editing videos for YouTube. I try to edit and upload on the same day. I have definitely improved in managing my time when editing videos; it can take me up to three hours from start to finish. I sometimes ask my sister for approval - you can always rely on your family to be brutally honest.

Recently, I attended a make-up masterclass in London, taught by the well-known Kardashian-go-to make-up artist, Mario Dedivanovic. After the class, he shared one of the make-up looks that I had created on his social-media pages - a major pinch-myself moment.

I think, as with everything, there are good and bad sides to the job. When you post so much of your life online and put yourself out there, you are always going to have someone that doesn't like what you do. I am lucky enough that I don't get too much hate online. However, any time I do receive a nasty comment on my social-media pages, I either ignore it, or treat it as constructive criticism.

The Instagram page @bloggersunveiled definitely has both its pro and cons. I think some topics do need to be addressed, however, I feel the way people are reacting towards it is damaging. Nobody is made of stone, and once you write a nasty comment on the internet, it is there forever.



Dearbhla Keenan

Dearbhla Keenan. Photo: Kip Carroll

The make-up bug really kicked in when I used to accompany my sister, Sinead, on fashion shoots when I was 17. Sinead is a fashion stylist with a wealth of experience in the industry, and has worked with the best creatives. I started learning my trade as I put masking tape on shoe soles [so they stayed pristine] for her quietly in the background, while watching make-up artists create wonders. I've always been interested in make-up, but with Sinead and my other sister, Ciara, both working in fashion, I found myself wanting to be different, and so I focused more on film and prosthetic make-up.

I loved art in school, and I always envisioned a career in a creative vocation. My mam, Grainne, has always been a glamorous woman, whom I idolise. Growing up in a house full of women, she always taught me strength and confidence; to follow my own path. She encouraged creativity in my sisters and me. Some of my earliest memories in the 1980s are watching my mam perfectly apply bold colour to her eyes and coral cream blush to her cheeks, always with a smile. I loved playing in her make-up bag - case! - probably much to her dismay, but she never let on.

The two years I spent studying in IADT [Institute of Art, Design and Technology] will always stand out to me as an incredible stepping stone. It helped me understand the world I was entering. It's safe to say when I finished college I thought, 'That's it! I'm fully qualified', but I soon learned that you can never stop adding more strings to your bow and learning extra techniques.

I've been working for Brown Sugar for over 10 years, and it was here I realised that, for me, job satisfaction came from the feeling of making people feel good about themselves in a relaxed, private environment, and giving confidence to clients that might not have had that experience with make-up before.

The L'Oreal Colour Trophy in 2015 will always be a highlight of my career, as I was make-up creative director for the finale show, alongside Brown Sugar's Christian Shannon, who directed hair. Envisioning looks, and then watching them come to fruition by a team of talented make-up artists and stylists from Sugar Culture, was overwhelming. I also love working on TV productions, such as Operation Transformation and Ireland's Got Talent. They're always memorable days, working on set with Kathryn Thomas, Lucy Kennedy and talented crews. They get my adrenaline going, especially during live recordings.

I'm very lucky to be working in a high-end salon in the heart of Dublin, and I get to work with interesting people on a regular basis. This does not only include famous people, but also people at the top of their game in the corporate or media industry, who are flying in for meetings or interviews. Unexpectedly, I had the pleasure of looking after Ed Sheeran a few years back. It was a very brief encounter, but it stays with me.

My main goal, as always, is to consistently look after my clients, and to keep growing the salon services; offering our clients the level of professionalism and diversity they deserve.


Natasha Ray


I have always been quite an artistic person. Instead of taking notes in school, I was always doodling on my books. I knew when I finished school I wanted to have a career doing something creative. Growing up, I loved doing my mam's and auntie's make-up. They used to have so much in their make-up bags, and when I was allowed to play with their make-up, I was like a child in a sweet shop. I loved it. As I got older, I developed even more of an interest in make-up. I loved how it enhanced my appearance and made me feel beautiful. Looking back at old pictures though, I question my ability and skill level - thank god I decided to take up a career in make-up!

My first job was working on a short Irish film. I found it fascinating - the difference in beauty make-up versus make-up for film, and I learned some tips that I still use today. I moved on, and found myself working for Mac for over 10 years. Last year, I started my freelance career - it was always something that I had dreamed of doing, but never had the courage to do so. I was made redundant from Mac, and, at the time, it felt like my world had fallen apart. When I think back, it's what gave me the push I needed to go out on my own and start my freelance career - and I haven't looked back.

There is nothing more rewarding than working for yourself, and being your own boss. During peak season, April through to December, you need to make hay while the sun shines! I look forward to the down season too, and I'll use this time to make big plans for the year ahead.

I've had some memorable experiences. I was once backstage at a Moschino show at London Fashion Week, a really hectic show, with lots of models to get through. I had finished a couple of models and was waiting for my next model to sit down. Hailey Baldwin [model and daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin] sat in my seat; I recognised her face, but just thought I might have worked with her on a previous show. Oblivious to who she was, I did her make-up, and it wasn't until I checked her name with the backstage manager that I realised who she was. Definitely one for the books!

The McGregor family are really good clients of mine. Dee [Devlin, Conor's partner] and Aoife love subtle glam, while Erin loves full-face glam. They're the most down-to-earth people to work with, and I always leave with sore cheeks from laughing. They're a joy to be around.

My goal for the future is to set up a make-up academy, which I'm working on now. With my training background this is where my passion lies, I love nurturing new talent and seeing them grow and develop based on what I've taught them. I can't wait for the next chapter.



Michelle Regazzoli Stone

Michelle Regazzoli Stone. Photo: Kip Carroll

I finished school in 2003, and I studied theatrical and media make-up in Senior College Dun Laoghaire. Every day, I had to get two trains and a bus, but I adored it. One of the popular brands we discussed in college was Mac Cosmetics. I decided to get the best images of my work, and make a portfolio. I went into the Mac counter in Brown Thomas every Saturday and asked to speak to the manager and trainers to show them my work. I continued to do this, showing my determination, and, as a result, I started working with them in October of 2004, staying with them for nearly 10 years.

After having my second child, I left Mac, wanting to pursue a career with more flexible hours to suit my new family. I knew I was ready to venture out and take on my own projects, so with a push from my family, I went freelance. They had observed my client base and personal requests building quite quickly. Like many individuals and entrepreneurs, I wasn't entirely confident it would work out; however, I chose to live by my mantra of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. If we don't take risks, we would never accomplish our aspirations. I spent some free hours doing the odd make-up appointment at a make-up counter in a friend's salon while on maternity leave, and immediately I could see the interest and demand growing. Disposable income was booming back into the beauty industry since the recession.

One of the highlights of my career was flying to Ibiza to do Rosanna Davison's make-up for her wedding day. I will never forget how nervous I was doing her trial. My career changed dramatically after that, and demand grew at nearly an exponential rate after Rosanna posted her bridal make-up on social media. I received hundreds of emails overnight, and my freelance journey took a huge leap.

The only downside is the long hours that I spend on my own. I travel a lot, and driving all over the country can be tiring, even isolating at times. I have to try and stay on top of my social media every day, which is nearly a full-time job in itself. I don't feel vulnerable with what I put online, as I feel my followers know who I am, and I keep it real. I think once you are honest, people see it and appreciate it.

My goal for the rest of this year is to focus on more TV work. I've been a beauty contributor on the RTE Today Show, which has brought out my confidence immensely.

In 10 years, I see myself with more children; I have always wanted a big family. I hope to have progressed further into my MRS product development. When my MRS Make-up Academy is established and up and running, I may take a little breather then.


Aimee Connolly

My starting-out story is slightly different to what most expect, in the sense that it was actually after my two weeks' work experience that I was offered a part-time job with Urban Decay cosmetics, while I was still in school. I worked every weekend through fourth, fifth and sixth year, and then I moved to Mac Cosmetics for a year.

Once I had finished school, I went on to do a full-time four-year degree in commerce and French, but I kept up the make-up part-time. My own brand, Sculpted by Aimee Connolly, came into play once I graduated, and I could finally give it my full attention. It was a natural progression for me to start working for myself so young; I didn't even consider going in a different direction.

I did my research and development for nearly a year before I launched my original Sculpted by Aimee Connolly make-up palette in November 2016. I had always known in college that I wanted to mix make-up with business, I just needed to be sure about the direction I wanted to go.

A year-and-a-half later, I now have the original palette, the Essentials Brush Set and the Rose Gold Edition - all of which are flying. It has been the most stressful venture, but the most incredible thing I have ever done, and I hope to do it for the rest of my days.

I have serious expectations, so I'd put a lot of pressure on myself, but I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. I have hired an assistant, and we are soon to have a business operations manager join us.

I have been teaching make-up for just over five years. I'd always wanted to be a primary school teacher, but I chose business instead, so it's nice to be able to mix the two.

I've always wanted to take my teaching to the next level and offer qualified courses. Last year, I spent the year doing my teacher training, assessor certs and being approved by VTCT in order to be able to deliver certifiable make-up courses. In September, I launched my own make-up school, Sculpted - The Academy, offering courses to those who want to learn for themselves and those who want to pursue a career in make-up.

This year, I feel, or hope, will be the year that my brand really takes off. I have two or three products launching around September, which I have worked tirelessly on, and at times, it felt they were never coming. I also have the project with the Academy and big expansion plans for the brand, too. Fingers crossed all of my ambitions come true, but I continually visualise that happening. Seeing is believing.

Photography by Kip Carroll

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