Maybelline’s Erin Parsons on the Wonder and Insanity of Working on Jean Paul Gaultier’s Final Show

by Tangie Silva

Makeup isn’t just a profession for Maybelline New York global artist Erin Parsons. It’s spawned a self-described addiction to collecting vintage makeup and ads for old-school products. Parsons fills us in on the glam obsession, working on Jean Paul Gaultier’s sublime final show, the no-makeup look, and her thoughts on faux freckles bringing “realness” to skin.

You started out working at makeup counters, then ended up as an assistant to Pat McGrath, right?
I really learned how to do makeup on every skin tone, age, and personality by working at counters. That prepped me for the world of fashion because sometimes you’re on set with 100 people! You have to really come in with a lot of knowledge. When I worked with Pat on shows, she booked me on an Italian Vogue shoot and it was this photo shoot with 50 models. I worked in retail for so long and loved wearing makeup myself, so I came in already knowing how to do makeup.

What sort of sage advice did Pat give you?
She never had to say it, because you can learn it just from being around Pat. She’s really funny and outgoing. She’s such a people person. So on top of being super talented, creative, and a fearless makeup artist, she also has this amazing personality. I think when you team up all of those assets, that is how you become successful in this industry. It’s hard to be successful if you’re a wallflower. What I learned from her was, if a client says “We don’t like that,” You don’t say, “Why? I love that!” You just happily change it because the clients have their vision, and you’re trying to fulfill that vision. I found you have to be agreeable, have fun, and keep people comfortable.

Is that your approach to tackling campaign shoots?
I love working with Maybelline. Everybody is so fun. They just give 100 percent to everything that they do. By the day of the shoot, I’ve already had a call at least three days before. We’ve gone through everything—styling, hair, the models, the products, the looks. Sometimes we get a product where we have to do trial and error until we see what works; then it looks amazing in the end.

Speaking of products, what are your current Maybelline New York favorites?
I feel like I can’t live without the TattooStudio eyeliner pencils! I love using them as a lay down for shadows, so I’ll blend them, or use them as eyeliner. They’re so pigmented, and when they’re on, they don’t move, so you don’t have to worry about creasing or touching up. Most Maybelline products are like that; they’re just not going to budge. I love the new Cheek Heat Gel-Cream blush, too. It’s a really gorgeous, sheer, seamless cheek color that you cannot mess up. I love when products are for the everyday person, versus just a makeup artist–type tool. One of my new favorites is The Falsies Lash Lift mascara. I love when mascara doesn’t drop your curl because I have really straight eyelashes. So you curl the lash, you put this mascara on, it keeps the curl up. I want it in my kit forever! And there’s a new product coming out that I can’t talk about but have been using on myself. It’s so cool. Nobody has anything like it. It’s different; almost a nonmakeup item. When it comes out it’ll definitely be the product I’m talking about.

The “no-makeup makeup” look is definitely trending…
Oh, yeah! Influencers or people on YouTube who do full coverage beatdowns on Instagram, it’s so cool looking, in the right light, with a filter. But in daylight, you see a different thing. Now, meet-and-greets are happening; before it was just a social media thing. People are starting to go, “Maybe layering on three pounds of concealer, foundation, powder, and then highlighter is not really making the skin look as good as we thought it does.” It’s still great. It’s just great for a certain time and place. For daytime, people just want to make their skin look luminous—less foundation, powder, and concealer, and a lot of moisturizer and cream highlighter. It’s more about looking healthy and full of life, versus deadening the skin by putting on too much matte product.

Faux freckles seem popular now too, like at the Jean Paul Gaultier couture show you just worked on.
If you put on a lot of foundation, to bring back [the appearance of] your skin, you can add “freckles.” I know major models who do this. It brings realness back to skin. It’s also becoming a more artistic thing. Now people are doing it with jewels and other stuff. I did that years ago, with glitter and jewels. It’s finding new ways to be artistic with your face; it’s not just about eyes and lips! You can play over the nose, or on the forehead maximizing space on the face.

Coco Rocha at the Jean Paul Gaultier show (Getty Images)

Tell us about Gaultier’s final show!
It was pretty nuts. I was doing a photo shoot with Issa Lish in Paris, and she left the shoot to go to Gaultier for a fitting, he was like, “Oh, my God, I love your makeup! Who did your makeup?” How insane is that? That never happens. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I did one of his shows and brought this crazy chrome product and he was like, “Whoa, I love it!” He said, “I’ll see you next season.” Then I found out it was his last show! I was heartbroken because we just started working together, and I love working with him. He’s such a fun, joyous person with so much energy. We had such an amazing time. I developed a lot of looks for him, but the models might have three outfits, so the look might not work in every outfit. I was figuring it out on the day of the show.

On the day of?!
That’s why a lot of girls might’ve just had a red lip or they have the natural look or the speckle freckle look. It was tough; it was an intense day, and we were there for hours. There were a lot of celebrities, and a lot of other makeup artists working on them. That dropped down my count from 120 to maybe 110 or 105. And when I’m doing shows, running around, I have to focus on all my assistants and everything they’re doing. It’s quite difficult because then you really have to make sure that everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do. And that their books get approved. I think I had more than 40, maybe 45 assistants. It’s understanding that you have to be a director and you can’t always do all the makeup. You can just do a little bit here and there, and you have to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing, feels confident, and that the model in the seat is confident with her artist.

Let’s talk about you! Anything you’re obsessed with?
I collect vintage makeup. I always said if I’m ever able to make money one day—I’ve been pretty poor my whole life—I was going to do it. I’ve come into times the past few years where I can afford to do this. I also wanted to have a Vogue collection. I have from 1897 all the way to 1997, not every single issue, but I have thousands of issues and I do try to complete full years when I can. I started seeing these old ads for makeup in my Vogue issues and was like, “Oh, my God, that’s so good.” Then I read Lisa Eldridge’s book, Face Paint, on the history of makeup and I was so fascinated. I started reading more history books and going through my collection and thinking, “Hmm, where can I find some of this stuff?” I started looking online and found so much of it. Now, it’s out of control. It’s an addiction! My ultimate goal is to have some type of atelier where I can display everything and people can come see it all, like a museum.

Have you ever tried out a vintage beauty product?
An eye shadow from 1920. I needed to see what it looked like on me. It’s always some type of greasepaint formula and I go, “Oh, my God. Jean Harlow possibly wore this color! How crazy is that?” There was an auction where I won some of Mae West’s makeup, and Elizabeth Taylor’s, too. Now it’s a whole other collection starting for me. That’s why I haven’t shared too much online because I’m afraid a lot of people will start bidding. This is a real mania. But there’s a sort of a thrill when you’re bidding online at an auction and you win. I mean it’s kind of a rush. A rush to the bank account for sure!

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