One of our favourite makeup artists tells GTG about her long and winding road to career fulfilment
When I interviewed Florrie White, there were no more rooms available within the hotel suite, so she suggested we move to the bath. And why on earth not? As Florrie (middle name ‘fun’) herself told me, rules are there to be broken. How very rock’n’roll.
You came to makeup artistry quite late - when and why did you decide to quit the day job and follow your dream?
I was 29 when I did a makeup course at Glauca Rossi , but I’d always been fascinated by makeup since watching my mother apply it when I was little. I remember sticking my fingers into little pots of Biba lipgloss and getting told off. When I grew up I was breathless over Vogue covers featuring Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista. I went to a Scottish boarding school so had no idea how anyone would get into makeup artistry - my natural journey was to follow education, so I went onto university to study French and Spanish for four years. During summer breaks I worked in a bikini shop in Ibiza, which was frequented by John Casablancas (American model scout) and top supermodels. Once Linda Evangelista and Karen Mulder just strolled right in!
My fascination continued when I moved back to London. I worked on reception at the Groucho club as I’d read in Elle magazine that it was ‘the’ place to be. After that I worked as a PA to the special advisor of the Sultan of Oman, which was incredibly glamorous.
Then I worked at a production company called Done+Dusted, who film everything from Victoria’s Secret shows to Olympic ceremonies. Everyone who starts with them as PAs or runners generally end up as producers and production managers, so my peers all got promotions, but I didn’t. My boss told me that I wasn’t promoted as I clearly wasn’t interested - he’d noticed that I spent a lot of my time reading magazines and trying on lipsticks. He asked me what I really wanted to do and I burst into tears and told him I wanted to be a makeup artist. He told me just to do it, and that he’d help me in anyway he could, but he wouldn’t promote me as he knew it would make me unhappy. He was right! So I went to Glauca Rossi and worked part-time in Space NK.
What was your big break in the industry?
From my time in Ibiza I’d gotten to know Charlotte Tilbury and her family. I became Charlotte’s PA, and when her assistant Hannah Murray left, I filled her shoes. I was a late starter in the industry but my language skills, production experience and aptitude as a PA came together to make me a good assistant. I was quite good at sorting out missed flights!
My biggest break was probably on a British Vogue shoot with Jessica Stam. My now agent, Emma Bryant, called me up when I was on a bus in Kensal Rise and told me that the job had become available but I would need to give Vogue my passport details within the hour. I jumped into a taxi and just about made it to my house in Brixton. Before I knew it I was on a cruise liner from Vancouver to Alaska! I got signed after that.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really do enjoy everything, even washing my brushes! I rarely use an assistant and I really appreciate my success as I came to the industry fairly late. I love beauty, women and the unknown. The spontaneity and the element of never knowing where you’ll be next, or who with, is so exciting. I’m also a product junkie.
MORE GLOSS: GTG Expert Florrie White
Your job must take you on some adventures - do any briefs particularly stick in your mind?
The cruise liner definitely counts among them! At one point we were shooting Jessica on a glacier from a helicopter. Very James Bond. I probably would never have gone to Alaska otherwise. Particularly memorable trips include jobs in Argentina with Harper’s Bazaar and a trip to Turkey with photographer Boo George and Vogue. This year I seem to be on the Mel Bles (photographer) World Tour, so far this year I’ve been to Santa Cruz, Lanzarote and Athens to name a few.
Are there any aspects of your job that you find tough?
It was tough when I stopped assisting, as I never knew where the next job was coming from. It takes a while to earn money in this industry, even if you’re earning on paper it can be slow to come in. One reason I was able to continue was thanks to the support of my lovely friends and caring siblings and family. I’ve paid them all back since! I take them all out for nice lunches. Other rough aspects? Dragging suitcases around, but that’s nothing a few yoga sessions and trips to the osteopath can’t fix.
What advice would you give to budding makeup artists?
Try to assist someone before you do your makeup course. That way you’ll see what it’s like to be on a shoot and appreciate that it’s not all glamour! There’s quite a bit of standing around involved and it’s never about the makeup artist, so leave your egos at home. Do a course and then work in a shop or on a makeup counter. It’s such valuable experience and you’ll learn how to work with different face shapes. You’ve got to put the hours in and progression won’t necessarily be quick, but be patient. Success will come! There’s lots of different avenues into this industry, but this is the approach that’s worked for me.
Do you have a favourite look to create? Would you say that you have a signature style?
I’m fanatical about skincare and I never like to cover up the skin completely. If you perfect the skin then you can really play around with colour and makeup, as if you’re trying out a trend or look that isn’t really you, your skin will still look radiant and you’ll have a great base to work with. I’m quite classic really - I just love to make women look beautiful. I’m not particularly avant-garde in my approach (I studied drama, not art!) but I really appreciate designers letting me into their world at shows. I can be more artistic and break out of my comfort zone. It has to come naturally though, I never want to do a pastiche of something I’ve seen. You can’t force it.
What’s the most essential product in your kit?
My spatula! I never put my fingers into product. I squeal at models and actresses quite often if they dip their fingers into a Crème de la Mer lip balm. They all agree with me afterwards though; it’s all about hygiene. I use a cotton pad with a loop around my fingers too so that I never rest my hands against the skin. It terms of products, Blistex Lip Treatment , £2.59, is such a quick fix for chapped, dry areas. I adore skincare and experiment with lots of different brands. Decléor is a favourite and I love Cover FX CC Cream , £35- it’s the perfect skincare/makeup hybrid.
Any makeup no nos?!
I was against pink eyeshadow at one point but then I used it on a beautiful shoot for Style magazine sponsored by Burberry with Suki Waterhouse. That look was my favourite shot of the bunch! As soon as you restrict yourself there’s something innate if me that wants to break that rule. The rules are that there are no rules.
How do you approach your personal beauty regime?
I love skincare and have always collected products. At university people commented that my bathroom looked like a pharmacy! I now have the luxury of trying so many different products. I love moisturisers, serums, eye creams, night creams and my Sarah Chapman Facialift face massager, £25. I also can’t live without my Clarisonic , £155. In terms of makeup I use CC cream, eyelash curlers and liner. I’m quite into wearing bright orange or red lipstick too - a swipe of Yves Saint Laurent in number 15 (Extreme Coral) looks great. I talk differently with it on!
MORE GLOSS: Expert’s Top 5 - Florrie White
Who are your top people in health, fitness and beauty?
I go to see kinesiologist Francesca Topolski at The Life Centre . I also go for a proper, medical pedicure every month with chiropodist Erika Gibbins at the Beauchamp Foot and Body Clinic . This is essential for me as I’m on my feet so much! I love Strip in Soho for waxing and blag haircuts on shoots from George Northwood and Alex Brownsell. My favourite places for yoga are Yoga Point in Brixton and Jivamukti in Kensal Rise. I love to go on yoga retreats too - Silver Island in Greece is a favourite.
What’s coming up in your diary that you’re really excited about?
I’m excited about 10 days off! I’ve got jobs coming up with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for her M&S lingerie line, another trip with Mel Bles and ‘How To’ makeup tutorials with World Duty Free. They will be shown on huge screens in all lounges in the UK, Spain and Dusseldorf. I tried to go on a crash diet, but that didn’t work! Never mind. I’ve also got ‘How To's’ with Olay coming up and hopefully more editorial shoots with Elle and Harpers. I’m also looking forward to doing more red carpet work with Blake Lively and Jessica Brown Findlay. There will be new blood probably too, there’s nothing more exciting than a new celebrity! I never really know what’s coming next, but now I have a certain confidence that the work will come. I grab any time off I have! I take the opportunity to hit the gym (*sounds like ‘gin’ when she says it - she makes the most of both).
Finally, where do you go to get away from it all? Do you ever switch off and forget about makeup?
I either go to a yoga retreat in Europe or to our family holiday house in the Highlands. I go lobster fishing with my brothers and we take out a boat that’s about as big as this bath. I don’t wear any makeup for about ten days. I love the peace and quiet. I’m going on a yoga retreat in Spain this weekend but will probably run off one night to go to a discoteca. So switching off for me is somewhere between a yoga retreat, a Highland escape or a dancefloor!