The Belgian fashion designer turned artist and A Magazine N°1 curator posits the discipline of self-portraiture to be as open-ended as the man, the myth and the legend himself, in the series Self-Portraits on display at Eenwerk Gallery, Amsterdam.
Benedetta Piccioli in conversation with Pat McGrath
BENEDETTA PICCIOLI Did you love make-up when you were a child?
PAT MCGRATH Make-up was my first love that I inherited from my mother. She was obsessed by the fact that we couldn’t find any make-up for dark skin, and so she would mix and play until she’d created her ideal shade.
B What advice would you give to a young person to pursue their dreams?
P Don’t ever take anything personally! Also, always strive to be true to your vision. Be yourself and fear- lessly follow your dreams. Never be afraid to explore your ideas. When I started my career, I was obsessed with make-up and creativity in all its forms. They fuelled my irresistible urge to create. It never occurred to me to take another path. After three decades, I continue to feel so privileged that my love of make-up artistry has allowed me to encounter the most extraordinarily talented creatives of all time, and I know it’s because I pursued my dreams and stayed true to myself. Cultivate a sense of joy and fun and – most of all – to never give up.
B What is the part of your job that you love most?
P Being a make-up artist allows my inspirations, obsessions and addictions to make-up to have free rein, making it a perfect fit for my Gemini nature. Even as a child I was always very Gemini – constantly changing my mind. My mother made my brothers and sisters and I all learn to play instruments. Naturally, I changed instruments on the hour. My mother, she said to me, ‘I don’t think you could survive in an office. I think there’s one route for you: to be creative.’
B So you say your mother mixed several foundations to find her own shade. Nowadays, the number of brands which have many different shades for all the skin tones is fortunately increasing. What do you think about that?
P In the past, if I wanted something, like a foundation that perfectly matched my skin tone, and it did not exist, my mother taught me to create it. I am driven by endless possibilities, the dramatic potential of the unknown and a passion to create whatever sparks my imagination. My philosophy has always been that if I want a product and cannot find it, I make it. That is how Pat McGrath Labs was born, unlocking the history of my career to explore the artistry and alchemy that has defined my work for the past three decades.
B I am very proud when my father says: ‘Change the face and you change the per- ception, more than any slogan.’ What does this mean to you?
P In addition to being a legendary creative genius, your father is also a man of uncommon wisdom! I want people to know that anything is possible–my own life is proof of that. Fashion is a world, and there’s room for everyone who’s obsessed with beauty, make- up, fashion and culture, regardless of skin colour, size or sexuality.
B But people still say make-up is a mask. What do you think of this statement?
P Your father loves quotes, so here’s one of my favourites from Oscar Wilde: ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’ I think make-up is a mask that allows us to communicate our truth, the truth of inner desire, self-perception and the innate fantasy of self-presentation, redefining how the world sees us and, conversely, how we see ourselves.
B Do you think that there is still a climate of disrespect in fashion and beauty’s industry?
P I am very fortunate to only work with the true creatives and geniuses, people like your father, for example! When collaborating with the truly talented, disrespect is never a possibility–you’re both working toward the same goal, creating the ultimate image, moment or feeling. I always say what people miss in the cinematic depictions of fashion is the fun. Imagine, every day for the past 30 years, I have been blessed to go to work with my friends, do what I love and laugh all day long. There’s no room for disrespect when you’re having a great time!
B Is there anything you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
P There are a few occasions where beauty and fantasy have collided, creating moments that shine like diamonds. Launching my brand was a milestone in my three-decade career–I can’t begin to tell you how shook I felt! Then when I launched my permanent collection in 2017, it was wreckage totale. We kicked off Fashion Week with The Mothership Ball. So many icons, McGrath Muses, future legends–Cardi B, Naomi Campbell, Gwendoline Christie, Teyana Taylor, Tracee Ellis Ross…! I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it has been seeing Ballroom culture come into the mainstream, and how wonderful it feels to see all those talented individuals being celebrated.
B How does make-up help frame one’s self-identity?
P Whether someone is into make-up or not, colour shapes their experiences, moods and identity. Make-up is a form of self-expression and colour is its universal language. Colour is a subliminal, supernatural form of communication. Colour is light, shadow and power. In the current digital, selfie-obsessed era, make-up is a mode of radical self-expression.
This interview originally appeared in A Magazine N°20 Curated by Pierpaolo Piccioli, December 2019.
The Flemish artist and A Magazine N°3 Curated By Haider Ackermann contributor muses on the seminal body of work featured in a new monographic exhibition, currently on show at MO.CO. Montpellier Contemporain.
An exclusive portfolio of behind-the-scenes images from the SS2023 menswear collections in Paris, photographed by Adam Katz Sinding.