Charlotte Tilbury is the founder of the fastest growing make-up brand of all time. Stylist’s Joanna McGarry meets a woman who means business
To say that Charlotte Tilbury is the saviour of make-up is no more an exaggeration than it is to say that David Cameron is the Prime Minister. A modern-day beauty powerhouse, Tilbury has spent the past 24 years as the fashion world’s foremost make-up artist, painting the faces of Gisele Bündchen, Penelope Cruz and Kate Moss. The latter many, many times over. In fact, it was Tilbury who Moss entrusted with her wedding day make-up, such is her ability to make every woman she paints look like themselves – only better. Much better.
She is renowned in beauty circles for her sultry, hyper-feminine make-up aesthetic, so chances are that if you’ve ever experimented with a smoky winged eye, or a sculpted cheekbone, it’ll have Tilbury’s name stamped all over it.
But while her work with über-photographers Mario Testino and Mert & Marcus has graced every glossy fashion magazine and fashion campaign under the sun, it’s her foray onto beauty counters – through the launch of her self-named cosmetics and skincare line – that has rocketed Tilbury to the frontline of beauty and into women’s make-up bags across the globe. Hers is a brand that has managed to garner critical acclaim (her Rock’n’Kohl nude Eyeliner Pencil has made me look wide awake after many a late night), as well as an almighty dose of public adoration since launching in 2013. All of which has earned it the title of fastest growing make-up brand of all time.
Her whip-smart business nous saw Tilbury nominated for this year’s Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award having already banked a mammoth 56 beauty awards for her 49-strong product line to date. More than that, though, Tilbury is a total riot to have a chat with. Speaking ten to the dozen with an energy akin to a Duracell bunny, she’s a true British eccentric who is just as much at home dancing under the stars in Fuerteventura as she is debating beauty business at 11 Downing Street.
Here, she opens up to Stylist about the tenacity and control-freakery that has propelled her stratospheric rise to become the most influential force in the beauty world today.
You’re well established as a make-up artist, so what made you want to enter the world of beauty retail?
I remember being at school when I was 13 and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could open a make-up shop – a place where you could go in and be told what colours suited you, which would make your eyes sparkle, or what lipstick would suit your colouring.’ Since then I’ve had women coming to me after seeing the covers I’ve done for Vogue or Vanity Fair, or campaigns for Louis Vuitton or Gucci and saying, “Oh my god, I love those colours that you used on that model!” And I just saw a massive white space in the marketplace.
There’s such a blinding amount of choice in beauty today – were you nervous about finding a niche?
Having worked with some of the biggest laboratories and brands in the world, I knew that whatever I did had to be a revolution in make-up. It had to be better than something that was already out there. So I came up with a different concept. Someone tells you what top goes with what skirt, but this is about teaching you how to put a face together, from The Bombshell to The Rock Chick [Tilbury’s range allows you to choose from 10 make-up looks, each with its own wardrobe and products]. Beauty – like fashion – is cyclical, so whether it’s the Sophia Loren of the past or the Penelope Cruz of today, it’s always a Dolce Vita [the name of a Charlotte Tilbury collection] woman. I’m giving you a make-up wardrobe; making it easy to understand; and I’m making you feel safe because you’re with an expert. People want to go to an expert, they don’t want a faceless conglomerate telling them what to do.
Your range is known for providing solutions to age-old make-up problems [her Eyes To Mesmerise Cream Eye Shadow stays on without falling into creases]. Was that intentional?
There are things that I still don’t have in my line, which we’ve been working on longer than Magic Foundation – which was five years in the making. Unless I can get them right, unless I know this is a peerless product, I just won’t do it. Take Mini Miracle Eye Wand, for example… Everyone down to my five-year-old son is knackered and we needed something with both an eye serum to tighten and lift, but also this amazing light reflector which is another breakthrough because it doesn’t sit in the lines. Another thing I’ve seen having had a massive effect since I launched is language. I’ve changed the way the industry speaks. I really believe in the power of positivity. Whether it’s ‘beautiful’, whether it’s ‘glowing’, ‘magical’, or ‘miracle’, the industry wasn’t speaking to women like that when I started this brand. It was all very negative.
Make-up is such an emotional thing for some women – why do you think that is?
Make-up is a very scary word for a lot of people – 50% of women in England do not engage with make-up because they don’t know what to use. When I look at women, I think, ‘I could change your life’. I’ve had people cry, I’ve had people tell me, “You’ve changed my life!”, or women with birthmarks across their face who suddenly don’t have them because Magic Foundation totally changes their skin. Just by putting yourself together well, people will pay you more money, they will trust you or fancy you more. But it all starts with you. If you look in the mirror and you feel confident and empowered then you will go on to give that to so many people around you. As humans, we’re a very visual species. The more we can do to make ourselves feel more alive and look more vibrant, it has a huge effect psychologically.
Have you experienced any inherent prejudices in the business world?
Is there a gender prejudice in the business world? Yes, 100%. Is the business world dominated by men? Yes, 100% it is. I would love to see more women in business. Part of my revolutionary spirit is – I don’t care if it’s men or not – if I believe in something, I will be heard, because I know that it’ll make money, and I know that it’ll be successful. I understand what women want and there is a need for this. There’s a great old saying: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ I have a strong personality, I’m very passionate and I will stand my ground. I never feel intimidated by anybody. But everything in life always has to be a win-win, so I win, but the other person has got to win too, and that’s how I operate. It’s never for selfish reasons. It’s a two-way street.
Where did you get your affinity for business? Is it something you had to work at?
My father’s an artist, I come from a very artistic background [Tilbury was raised in Ibiza, then moved to England at 13 to attend boarding school] and so I have an eye for colour and shape that comes to me naturally. Working with the laboratory and speaking their language is second nature to me. And I think I’m a natural marketeer. I understand, really weirdly, the flow of traffic [in a store] so when I’m designing a counter – because trust me, I’m the kind of control freak who is designing every table leg of every counter – I understand the flow of whether women turn right or left. Where they will purchase, where there are sweet spots. I just understand that viscerally, and I understand how to turn a lightbulb on in someone’s head.
When will you feel you can sit back and say, “OK, I’ve done it”?
I’m basically building a baby. I’m giving my DNA to the world. I’m creating it, evolving it and developing a team of people to think and behave like me. Taking the right amount of time to select your team is really key in making your business dreams your reality. Go with your gut instinct and find people you really trust, who complement your skills and share your passion and dedication. I have geniuses working for me. There’s a lot of pressure and I do get high off it, but I think there will be a point where it won’t be as intense. My mother always says redheads have more energy, so I can go longer than other people, but I’m not superhuman. But if you’ve got a creative mind, you don’t ever stop working. Whether I’m going to a museum or walking down the street, whether I’m at someone’s house, or looking at paintings, I’m constantly thinking.
Are you one of those people who gets most of her work done at 5am?
No, I am not a morning person. I’ll still be up at 5am. I don’t like mornings but I’ve got children. I always pretend that I’m not really up, but I am. There are times when I’m exhausted, but the fulfilment I get from doing these incredible things – breaking every record in the history of Selfridges, winning four CEW [Cosmetic Executive Women] awards – energises me. I really believe in alternative medicine, I’m a huge champion of homeopathy. It’s amazing. I do acupuncture and I do a thing called Body Talk [an alternative healing body treatment to promote health] and I do all of that every single week. But it’s that feel-good factor that you get high on. It’s unbelievable.
What advice would you give to women looking to get businesses off the ground?
Never limit yourself. I’m a big believer in creative visualisation, and my motto is, “Dare to dream it, dare to think it, dare to believe it and dare to do it.” People don’t dare to dream big enough. We could change our whole consciousness, if we all believed bigger. We are brought up to think in a limited way – “You can only do this,” and, “You can only go this far because you’ve only trained to do this so you couldn’t possibly do that.” Its all, “I can’t,” or, “I couldn’t.” Well, actually, why not? That’s the thing, I’m never afraid to say, “Why couldn’t I do it?” It’s about challenging the way people think and sometimes it’s difficult. I really believe you can visualise your goal, write it down in an action plan and manifest it.
You talk about empowering women, what are you doing within your business to enforce that?
We are collaborating with Women For Women for the Hot Lips collection – they’re an international charity creating centres all over the world to empower women who have been used as weapons of war. They’re rehabilitating them and teaching them life skills. It’s all about female empowerment. Forget the money, forget everything, that’s what it’s all about.
Ultimately, what do women want from make-up today?
I have spent a lot of time really understanding what women genuinely need and want when it comes to make-up. More than anything women want solutions to their problems. Ultimately I want them to feel empowered, and when I say, “Give a woman the right make-up and she can conquer the world,” what I really mean is, whatever your world is, you can conquer it.
Photography: Rex Features