Mara Capps is a New York make-up artist who has worked with numerous celebrities. You’ll also find her working backstage at SA Fashion Week.
Where were you born?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York and went to High School in New Jersey. I went to college in Virginia for six years. Bought a house and restored it and worked for a carpenter and handyman while still at school. I thought I’d end up in a career for fine arts which I kind of did. After I graduated at college I went to a make-up school.
Your worked with your hands doing woodwork. Did that carry through into your make up?
Absolutely – hair and make up are sculpting and painting, only on a moving surface. My whole family are good with their hands and I think that skill is transferable from one craft to another. So if you’re creative and good with your hands, you can do anything with that.
How did your journey into make-up start?
I started building music sets in the art department and I hated it because it felt like decorating most of the time. The particular film I was working on was a horror film and they were doing some pretty intense special effects. I thought how cool this was and went back to school just for that. They also taught make-up for fashion there and I fell in love with it totally by chance. I was always interested in make-up, digging in my Mom’s make up bag and doing make-overs on her friends.
Did you formally study make-up and where?
Yes, at the Make-Up Artist Studio. A lot of women in the US go the route of becoming consultants in shopping centres or mall’s as opposed to getting a formal education. They’ll work for a brand like Mac and be trained by that brand. But the school was great because it started me with a kit, and provided models for us. It threw us right into the mix and I started doing shoots with Wilhelmina for their models. We went on to the sets and shoots and did everything while we were learning, so I got extremely comfortable in that environment.
I guess that most people don’t think of movies first when they think of make-up?
No they don’t, but it’s really the most lucrative way to be a make-up artist in the US. In the fashion world you have to be at the very top in order to make good money doing make-up, but in film you can make a career out of it much more quickly. I got all my celebrity clients through film work. I do fashion and film, but film is really my bread and butter.
What was the most exciting shoot that you did and who was it with?
The most exciting shoots for me are always when I get to travel. I once did this project called the 24 Hour Climate reality campaign with Al Gore and I got to do his make up. It was just grooming, but it was on this person that I totally admire for what he’s doing for our planet. And it was a crazy shoot because it was literally over in 24 hours. We did it in shifts. It was insane, but doing things for campaigns that you actually feel part of, something bigger, is very exciting.
When dealing with celebrities is there much interaction between you? Are they talkative and forthcoming?
I’d say 90% of the time, the make-up artist turns into an onset therapist, the person who can relax people before they have to go into these uncomfortable situations or the glare of publicity. I’ve ended up becoming friends with a lot of my clients because it’s an intimate relationship. You’re seeing someone looking their worst most of the time, so they’re already in a vulnerable position.
You have to make feel comfortable with that and help them get a little confidence, it’s actually really wonderful because you get to see the real person behind the person you’re publicly presented with.
Where do your ideas come from?
Everything really. Any artist will say this because your environment is your influence. In fashion you do have some guidelines that people like to follow, such as what’s trending. Travel is a big influence because I can see crafts and colours that are specific to an area. I can be at a museum looking at artwork and think “wouldn’t that be interesting to try for my make-up.” Vogue magazine is an influence and seeing the runway shows they showcase makes me want to try different things. Sometimes a brand experiments with colour and I feel I’d like to try something similar in make-up. You’re constantly experimenting and playing and have to absorb it all the time.
You also do make-up for New York Fashion Week?
Each brand has their head make-up artist and they hire their friends and make-up artists they trust to do the shows for them. There’s a director for each show and some make-up artists do multiple shows but it’s on a much, much bigger scale than here. There’s Pat McGrath, and other women of that calibre who have the say of what’s trending.
How closely do the designers work with you to help portray an image that matches their clothing?
Very closely. That’s the biggest part of making and creating continuity. It has to work together – it can’t be in conflict. We get tons of reference photos, review their inspiration boards and see the clothes before the shows. We sometimes get a week or two or a couple of months before a show to prepare. I work closely with Albertus Swanepoel and usually know what he’s thinking as soon as he’s thinking it.
And there’s certain people you like working with?
I’ve got to the point where I will only work with people I like to work with. I prefer to work in film and television because it’s so less dramatic and it’s a friendlier environment. If there’s a designer or photographer that I love to work with, then you can’t get much better than that. They give you lots of creative licence.
What’s the best and worst thing about working in this profession?
The best is simply being able to have a career that’s creative. How many people actually have this and are able to live off it? I don’t have a desk job and that’s the best part of my job. I get to travel and I get to make people happy. I get to make new, beautiful things and sometimes disgusting new things – with special effects, for example. It’s always changing and I never get bored. The worst is the hours, especially in film and at Fashion Week. I can be on set for 16-18 hours.
How do you think trends are spread from the work you do on the runway?
In the internet age, it’s just so viral. People will come and see the show, they’ll photograph it, write about it on their blogs, post pictures to Instagram or Facebook and it’s like wildfire. It’s making the world a lot more uniform in that way, people are catching on in more remote areas. It’s incredible to be able to reach so many people so quickly.
Make-up isn’t pronounced or as heavy as it used to be. How do you keep it important, while less visible?
That is true of base make-up but people are still very into eyes and lips. Your skin should look like your skin and it’s really what women and men who wear make-up have always wanted – to look perfect on its own. Tinted moisturisers help your skin look its best, rather than covering it up, are amazing. I just posted a picture of myself on Instagram with absolutely no make-up and a challenge to all my followers to go without a stitch of make-up for a week – to help re-discover your face.
Why is it so important to use it correctly? Do you think brands are giving enough guidance on how to wear make up properly?
Brands have tried to take the mystery out of it recently because they realize it sells better when you do that. If people know how to use your product properly they’ll buy it again. My favourite brand, Laura Mercier, has always promoted natural beauty which is now finally catching on.
Do you think women still feel the need to put make-up on everyday?
I think they do and that has a lot to do with culture and expectation over the years. I think we really do need to be responsible, as make-up artists and brands, in delivering a message that make-up is for fun, and not a necessity. It’s no longer about that 1950s attitude of “never leave the house without make-up.”
What do you think about the fashion at SA Fashion Week?
There was a lot of stuff that I loved. When people ask me about South Africa I say it’s like a pot that’s getting ready to overflow, there’s so much creative energy here. It’s a little like New York in the 60’s’ and 70’s. You see so much more insanity here and I love that.