Several years ago I had the pleasure to work with iconic makeup maestro Chris King, on a variety of photo shoots while I was an art director with a skincare company. Chris was and remains, a consummate professional, bringing so much energy, creativity and joy to shoots. As a team, we always got fantastic results when working together. I wanted to feature Chris, because he is such an incredible talent, and we are blessed to have an artist of his calibre working here in Australia.
The now Sydney based makeup artist Chris King started out in London working for Max Factor and quickly rose to the top of the London beauty and fashion scene, his work gracing the pages of all of the major magazines at the time.Chris returned to Australia in the 1980’s and continued to refine his artistry as well as becoming an educator.
Now, with more than 40 years of working in makeup, Chris King is arguably beauty industry royalty.
Q: (Diane Kennedy} What was it that led to your decision to start out as a makeup artist with Max Factor in London in 1976?
A:(Chris King) A working holiday to London, found me in Harvey Nichols general toiletries working as a sales assistant. One thing led to another and I applied to Max Factor for a position as a cosmetic consultant. The reason I wanted to work with Factor, was because of the history they had in the cosmetic industry. Max Factor designed cosmetics for the Hollywood stars, to begin with, then he created a range for the public. The company had such a huge story.
In 1976 there were few men in cosmetic departments if any. But I wanted to become a make-up artist and thought this was the best place to start. It was a gamble but they employed me and I started my first job with them in Selfridges cosmetic department.
Q: Who was your greatest teacher?
A: That is such a hard question. My first teacher was a beautiful Irish woman named Myla Hamill, she taught me the basics for Max Factor, then the incredible Evan David, Max Factors Hollywood make-up artist. But the next company I worked for was May Quant. Two totally different styles. So really WHAT was my greatest teacher? Not one person, but being in London at that time, the 70’s and working with two iconic ranges, with thousands of women.
Q: Being involved in the London fashion and beauty scene must have been incredible. Can you describe what living through that time was like?
A: I was just so privileged to be in London, mid 70’s. Here I was, a young guy from Kempsey, a country town Mid North Coast of NSW, in London of the Mid 1970’s. It was almost surreal. I met stars I had seen on TV when I was a kid, everything was exciting. It was just a different time, and I was able to drink it all in and really learn. Of course, it was not all rainbows and unicorns. But London in the 70’s was the most incredible school you could imagine.
Q: What prompted you to return to Australia? How was Australia different to London as a makeup artist?
A: Family, I’m from a large family, and my Mother died. I was really homesick. I wanted to come home. One weekend I went with my friend to Paris for the weekend, on return I was given just three months on my visa. So destiny took care of that one. But boy, what a ride.
Well, London was just a bigger industry wise, creativity was encouraged, it was like a playground. But it didn’t really take long to get into the same groove here. Sydney in the early 80’s was AMAZING, so much was happening, the industry was buzzing, and the models were fabulous. It was just a creative time, and really it was just simply a different location, with a lot of very talented photographers, fashion editors, and incredible magazines.
Q: Do you think that working in London helped your career here in Australia?
A: Oh yes it sure did, when I returned I had a portfolio that was full of beauty, covers and editorials, I had done some big advertising campaigns and had worked with well-known photographers. So it definitely opened the doors. It was just a different time, I’m eternally grateful, for the photographers and Fashion editors that opened the doors for me here. We must always appreciate the opportunities that are gifted to us, and return the favour.
Q: Can you name your favourite people to work with in the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s and why?
A: Favourite people mmmmm Diane that’s awkward. Let’s see:
1970’s Mary Quant, Trevor Sorbie (hair dresser), Catherine Baily (David Baily’s wife) Steve Strange,
1980’s Nancy Pilcher (Aust Vogue editor) Maggie Tabberer, Deborah Hutton, Guy Bourdin, Roxanne Wilson(model and incredible actress), Cameron Dias, Kate Cebrano, Nichol Kidman, Liz Hayes, Ita Buttrose, Christie Brinkley, Jeanie Little, Max Dupaine.
1990’s Paloma Picasso, Lauren Hutton, Marcia Hines, Anita Keating, Sarah (O’Hare) Murdoch, Niki Taylor.
2000’s Anna Sui, Jane Birkin, Heather Small, Ken Arthur, Tony Potts.
Q: Name three people who epitomise style for you:
A: Paloma Picasso / Sarah Murdoch / Maggie Tabberer.
Q: What products in the following categories are iconic and stand out for you: chemist/supermarket, /mid-range pro and high-end luxury?
Chemist/supermarket: Maybelline Great Lash Mascara.
Mid-range: Makeup Store Cake Eyeliner
High-end: La Prairie Foundation.
Q: Do you prefer to use one range or a bit of everything in your kit?
A. Definitely a mix of different products, colours vary from range to range. As an artist, it is about colour and texture.
Q: What are your favourite makeup brands?
Q: You recently worked with Jane Fonda, when she visited Australia. Can you tell me what that was like?
A: To start with, it was a privilege to work with a Hollywood icon. Joh Bailey did the hair, and I did her makeup. Miss Fonda definitely directed her image, and we were expected to be vigilant every minute. Ultimately it was a privilege to get the chance to work with Jane Fonda.
Q: What was the weirdest makeup assignment you have ever done?
A: Probably the weirdest assignment I’ve done was for the men’s clothing range Van Gils campaign, in London. It was 1980. There were three different Images, each featured men’s clothing naturally. One was in a Submarine with a model dressed as Pop eye the sailor, another in an abandoned mansion in Banbury Cross, with a beautiful model looking like a ghost, and another in a very old theatre, with a model dressed as Brun Hilda. It was really good fun.
Q: What was the most glamorous makeup assignment you’ve ever done?
A: Ah how do I decide, I’ve been so fortunate. There were so many. Probably with Christy Brinkley for Australian Vogue.
Q: Do you have one piece of advice for regular people on looking beautiful in the following age groups: Teens, 20 – 30, 40 – 50, 60’s – 80+?
A: I believe that defining beauty into age groups is less relevant in today’s world. It is important for women of all ages to have a good beauty regime. Taking makeup off before bed is an absolute must and nurture your skin. Makeup is an accessory after all. You don’t go to bed wearing sunglasses and heels.
Makeup is a form of style, it is an expression of the woman you wish to project.
Just enjoy self-expression. I love to see mature women just pushing it, with bold colour and accessories. After all, fashion [including makeup] is ultimately about self-expression, isn’t it?
Q: Who would you describe as a beauty in the following age groups? 20’s / 40’s / 60’s+
A: 20’s: Emma Watson / 40’s: Sarah Murdoch / 60’s: Christy Brinkley.
Q: What 3 products are essential at any shoot?
A: Maybelline Great Lash Mascara / La Prairie Foundation / Makeup Store Tri Set Brow Colours.
Q: Would you recommend studying makeup to become a makeup artist or learning on the job as an assistant?
A: Di, this is such a loaded question. Today it seems to be necessary to have a diploma, in fact some workplaces require it. My experience began in the cosmetic industry, learning on the job. I did photo test shoots to build up a set of good shots to present. That really helps [makeup artists starting out]. You can’t teach someone to be a makeup artist, but you can teach someone to do makeup.
To be an artist, one needs to feel it, and be inspired. If you live and breathe it, and are driven with a burning passion yes, you are an artist. If I’m teaching someone who wants to be a makeup artist, and they ask “what colour was that”, “what brand” and so on, I have to say that you really need to get the mechanics, find what works for you, and create your own style. It is not about recreating, rather it is about creating.
Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration through your career?
A: I can’t pin it down to one person. Working with Guy Bourdin for Paris Vogue was really inspirational. Creating with my friend Ken Arthur is amazing, and I really must say my childhood friend Gail Hall. Gail has been working with cosmetics for as long as I have. I go home [to Kempsey] once a year and do a week of makeovers in Raymond’s Chemist with her. Gail has always been a good support for me and I will always be there for her. Inspiration comes from the people around you.
Q: What is your favourite celebrity quote?
A: “Sweetie, if you’re going to be two faced, at least make one of them pretty.” – Marilyn Monroe.
Q: Have you ever been starstruck working with a celebrity? Who and why?
A: Yes, for the first few minutes working with Paloma Picasso. I had always admired her, her style and I loved the work of her Father Pablo Picasso. But after a few minutes, I was ok.
Q: What advice would you give to a person looking to become a makeup artist?
A: Do it because you are passionate, not because you think it is glamorous. Be prepared to work hard, be a team player, and leave the ego at the door. If there is a room full of egos, one more is a crowd.
Q: What has been the best thing about being a makeup artist now?
A: I love to make people feel beautiful. It is very rewarding. Makeup is a huge creative release, but it also lets people radiate confidence.
Q: What trends can you see in makeup and beauty right now?
A. The smoky eye has found its place today, along with eyeliner and contouring.
Q: Do you have one last piece of advice for readers?
A: My advice is to always use a good foundation. The backbone of any good makeup is a quality foundation.
[Di Kennedy] – thank you so much, Chris, for your time and insight. It is such a privilege to be able to feature you and your work here.
Last thoughts from Chris King:
“Our lives in today’s world are so busy; very few people take the time to smell the roses. How is it possible to see the beauty all around us, if we don’t live in the moment? There are distractions everywhere, slow down and simply breathe. Beauty is everywhere, but we can find it in the present.
Colour is one thing that can yank me back to the present. Colour definitely triggers emotion. Everyone has an opinion on colour.
With cosmetics, a lot of impulse purchases are with lipsticks and nail colours. These two particular items are the items that sit gathering dust in so many bathroom vanity units.
Colour is the best way to make a statement, so choose what you want to project carefully.
Recently I went home to my home town, Kempsey on the Mid North Coast of NSW. While I was there I helped a friend Sarah Duffy, who owns a beautiful little boutique shop in Gladstone, 15 minutes out of Kempsey, on the road to South West Rocks. The shop was originally painted Red, but Sarah wanted to change to a new colour. Immediately my head filled with ideas. Now The Gladstone Hub is a vibrant and eye-catching boutique store. Sarah has mentioned to me she loves it, but it has certainly caused some a dialogue with a few. Colour is emotional, some will love certain shades, and others will hate them.
So to me, whether it is an eye shadow, lipstick, nail colour, or the colour of a building let colour bring you back to the moment, and just enjoy the beauty, Beauty is seen when we are present in the moment.”