Interview: Lauren Gollan, make-up artist

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Having perfected the complexions of everyone from Kate Moss to Lily Cole and Agyness Deyn, Lauren Gollan is now training a new generation of make-up artists in her Scottish academy

For decades they were consigned to the shadows. Dressed uniformly in black and armed with a mind-boggling arsenal of brushes, powders and paints, it was their job to turn spotty, hungover, bad-tempered, jet-lagged starlets and models into clear-skinned glamourpusses. No one knew their names. No one knew where they came from or how they achieved their results.

But all that has changed. Thanks to television shows such as America's Next Top Model, increasing brand-awareness and the inexorable desire to be connected – be it ever so tenuously – with fame, the age of the celebrity make-up artist has finally arrived.

Witness Michael Ashton. Friend and make-up artist for Adele for years, he shot into the spotlight after her triumphant Brits performance – all big hair, sex kitten eyes and English rose pout. Now everyone wants the look. Because, while fashion will always influence trends, says Ashton, “celebrity style is definitely a key influencer for how modern woman are putting together their looks.

“The interest in make-up artists and the styling teams that work with celebrities has become huge,” he adds. However, he doesn’t believe that makes them stars in their own right. “I don’t mind being recognised for the work I do and as an expert in my field, but the most important people are my clients and making sure they are looking their best when the spotlight is on them.”

“People always refer to a celebrity they want to look like,” says Lauren Gollan. “And right now everyone wants to look like Adele. What I also love is that her make-up artist was her friend for years and now they're getting publicity for the work – which is amazing.”

Gollan has worked with everyone from Lily Cole and Erin O'Connor to Kate Moss and Agyness Deyn. Her career has taken her to international fashion weeks and she has created the looks for Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller and Rihanna. She counts Pixie Lott as one of her personal friends. But she says, “I hate that part of the job.

“Don't get me wrong," she adds, “I really appreciate the experiences I've had and the fact that I can call myself a celebrity make-up artist, but I hate it to sound cheesy. Pixie is my friend and so is her family, but some people love to make more of their relationships with clients than there is. I want to be appreciated for myself and my skills. There are so many people out there hanging on to a brand or a celebrity to try and further their career. For me, I want my talents to get me there."

The 28-year-old, who is now training up the make-up names of the future at her fledgling Academy of Make-up Artistry in Edinburgh, says one or two students already stand out as ones to keep an eye on. “You notice them straight away," she says. "One of my colleagues asked, ‘Is there anyone we have to watch?', meaning is there anyone who could be competition. But I think that's good. I'd love to think there is someone who is reaching that top level. And there are a couple in each class who just get it. They get the trends, they are open-minded, they have the people skills – it comes as a package. But it's completely up to them where they go from here. They have to have the drive and motivation. You can always tell someone who wants to do it to meet celebrities. Then you have someone who has the passion and a genuine interest – they are the people I look to promote."

Maybe it could be Becky Murray, a 22-year-old administrator from Aberdeen, whose experiments with make-up were always getting her into trouble at school. “The dream would be to do editorial make-up on all the fashion weeks and runways,” she says. “High fashion is so different and out there. There are no boundaries.”

Or Brenda Flynn, a 44-year-old freelance artist and designer, who worked behind cosmetic counters for years but wanted to take that knowledge further. “I wanted to go more indepth,” she says. “It’s all about learning and furthering my career. You can always get better at something.” She cites the work of Alex Box as inspiration, another fine artist who uses the model’s face like a canvas.

Then there is Hazel MacInnes. The 34-year-old was on maternity leave from her council job when she decided to take a course “just for something that was a wee bit different, something for myself”. She is now set to launch her own bridal make-up business.

Born in Edinburgh, Gollan trained in beauty therapy and worked in a salon until she decided she wanted to focus on make-up. And since at the time there were no courses in Scotland concentrating on that side of the industry, she was largely self-taught until she became part of the Mac pro team, working on film and TV promotions and travelling the world’s catwalks.

Of Vivienne Westwood, she says, "She just knew what she was doing. Everybody always wanted to do her show. When you got your call sheet and your schedule, everyone was searching through because they wanted to do Westwood. It's pushing the boundaries of make-up, it's just totally different."

Models, on the other hand, sometimes need handled with kid gloves. “Are there divas? Yes, but I just treat them like a friend. You should just be yourself with them, and if you're professional you get the job done. Of course you come across dramatic outbursts or diva behaviour but most of them are very pleasant to work with. Kate Moss is someone I've loved for years – she was the one person I thought maybe I'd be a bit nervous about meeting. But she was just fine, dead laid-back. She was presenting a Stella McCartney show at Paris Couture Week and she was chatting away backstage about everyday things like her daughter. She made everyone much more comfortable and at ease. It was very relaxed.”

The biggest challenge, however, is turning sometimes exhausted, undernourished models into ethereal beauties. “They'll be run-down,” says Gollan. “There will have been air-conditioning on long-haul flights. They'll be jet-lagged. But even if they are looking really tired, they still always end up looking beautiful.

“I think people are surprised,” she adds, “having been used to seeing pretty girls in magazines, when they see real models. They can be a lot more edgy-looking. But I suppose that's what makes them unique.”

When we meet, she is immaculately made up, with her trademark black eyeliner topped off with false eyelashes and neutral lips. Still, she says that, backstage, the look of a make-up artist is very definitely less is more: bare face, scraped-back hair. “Designers like to see a blank canvas. Some people on fashion counters don't understand why it's so hard, and you have to be such a good artist to get to fashion week because they think you're not doing much. But it's being able to know when enough is enough, to adapt your style to whatever situation you're in.”

The focus, after all, is on the clothes. “The hair and make-up are just there to mesh everything together. But you have to be a very strong artist to be able to achieve that minimalist look. Skin has to look fresh, like real skin, not caked on.”

Having worked in the industry for 12 years, it was always her dream to launch her own academy. Until she opened in Edinburgh in September (a colleague has since launched a school in Glasgow), there was nothing specifically aimed at make-up, particularly editorial and high fashion make-up, in Scotland. “You really needed to go down to London, to the likes of Jemma Kidd, Greasepaint or London College of Fashion to learn these things.”

Her students come from all walks of life. Some work in retail, some in offices, some are hairdressers or stylists; others just want to learn how to do their own make-up better. “So many more people are interested in it now than when I started. It's a bigger industry. People are more aware, and there are so many more opportunities. But that also means it's becoming more competitive. There is much more interest from guys too. It's a great industry for them to get involved in because women are really drawn to them. Some of the most amazing make-up artists I've worked with and learned from have been men.”

The result of the academy is that aspiring make-up artists no longer need to be based in London to be successful. “You can be in Scotland and travel,” she says. “I do it. I know I have to go down to London and do Fashion Week if I want to be a step ahead up here. There is definitely a market for it, and there are so many exciting designers and brands up here to work with.”

She and her students will be presenting the spring/summer 2012 and autumn/winter 2013 trends at an exclusive fashion show in Edinburgh this month. It’s an opportunity to see the work of artists who could be making-up the faces of the future. n

The Lauren Gollan Academy of Make-up Artistry fashion show is on 26 March, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 7.30pm, £5 (