Meet the Makeup Artist Behind Maybelline New York’s Fiercest Faces

by Tangie Silva

As Maybelline New York’s global makeup artist, Grace Lee is a fixture at New York Fashion Week. She keys numerous shows, and also preps supermodel Adriana Lima for public appearances. We tracked her down to get the latest scoop on the brand’s new products, her Fashion Week survival tips, and more!

Grace Lee

Tell us about Maybelline New York’s new Made For All line.
Makeup artists hear a lot of women asking for the perfect shades of red and nude, so Maybelline came out with seven lipstick shades that look universally good on every skin tone. They tested the line on more than 50 different skin tones and over thousands of different women. In the red color, for example, the pigments are balanced, so it’s never too pink or orange.

You used it for the first time at Cushnie last season. Did it really work to use the same shade for every model?
It really did. As a key makeup artist, we’ll say, “Okay, this is the lipstick that I’m using, but on the dark skin tones maybe you’re going to need to darken it, or on Asian girls, you might need to put a tad more orange. [At Cushnie], I was very specific, and I told the team not to alter the color whatsoever. Carly Cushnie also casted so many different skin tones that it was almost a perfect way to display the lipstick. Look at the photos — it really does look good on every skin tone.

It’s really exciting to see so much diversity on the runways and in the beauty world.
Maybelline New York has 40 shades of foundation. Women no longer have to buy three different shades of foundation to mix to get the right color. It used to be a struggle.

(Maybelline New York)

In addition to Cushnie, you’re keying Jonathan Simkhai and Rebecca Minkoff this season. When do you do your makeup tests?
Our tests happen one or two days before. You know, it’s fashion. Everything’s kind of put together in — I don’t want to say five minutes, but…

At Daily speed!

What’s the hardest part of NYFW for a makeup artist?
Luckily, because I’m branded with Maybelline, they provide all the makeup for us. That’s not usually the struggle. It’s more of a struggle to get makeup done on 50 models. Sometimes, 10 are still missing from a show — stuck in traffic, running from another show—about 30 minutes before it’s supposed to start, and so we have to transform them very quickly. There’s a lot of stress when you’re dealing with factors you can’t control.

How do you get the models ready so quickly?
Makeup wipes are a godsend! We use makeup removers, too.

What are your thoughts on using wipes for everyday removal of makeup?
Save them for when you need to remove it quickly and effectively. I wouldn’t recommend them for your everyday evening regime.

What’s your opinion of the new micellar waters?
I feel like they work—they’re like makeup removers with added minerals or vitamins that I guess can help. I’m not 100 percent sure how effective they are, though.

What’s in your personal NYFW survival kit?
Coffee. I’m a Starbucks junkie. I have to have a certain amount of caffeine in the morning, and I try to stay hydrated with water. That’s important—and lots of vitamin C, because I don’t want to get sick.

Who are your beauty icons these days?
I’m not just saying this, but I think Adriana Lima is just one of those beautiful women, and she’s aged so well. People always ask me how old she is, and they don’t even believe me when I tell them. It’s not fair, but sometimes I’m just like, “I can’t even believe it!” when I’m doing her makeup. She’s just timeless. It’s pretty incredible.

Is there a certain look that you created for Adriana that you absolutely love?
Adriana went to a Harper’s Bazaar event in a gold Vivienne Westwood dress, and she looked like a bronze goddess. She always looks good in a red lip, but there was something about pairing that with a bronzy – gold eye and straight Cleopatra hair.… She looked really good. It’s a look she doesn’t normally do a lot, and so it really stood out for me.

You also host MasterClasses. Which beauty trends and techniques are your students really into?
I’ve been doing makeup for 20 years, and I would go to a MasterClass if I had the time. The smoky eye is one of those trends, and a cat eye is another. I feel like students are always asking me about looks that they normally wouldn’t do on a regular basis, but I always find practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you’re going to get.

Which trends are you completely over?
I’m not into overly contouring and highlighting the face so that you can see it from outer space. That kind of makeup that’s done for Instagram that makes you gasp when you see it in broad daylight…no one should look like that, I’m sorry.

That being said, have makeup artists had to adjust their techniques to keep pace with the advancements in digital photo technology?
Not necessarily, because I wouldn’t do that kind of makeup. If there’s more lighting, obviously yes, you do need to add more, but I’m still all pro. If it looks good in person, it’ll look good on camera. Maybe it’s also because I do a lot of press junkets for celebrities. They have to look good in person, and when they look good in person, they will still look good on camera. About half of those Instagram makeup looks are blown up by a crazy amount of lighting as well. It’s just not realistic.

What are your thoughts on makeup apps?
They’re fun. It’s a cool way to see what a red lipstick would look like on you, but I still think testing out colors and playing with makeup firsthand is the best bet.

We heard that you’re going to appear on Project Runway.
We’ve finished taping, and it was amazing. Maybelline New York is the title sponsor for makeup, so I’m basically the person talking about makeup when the models are getting done up in their challenge. It’s such an iconic show. I grew up watching it, and I was obsessed with it. So the whole reboot and revamp is really exciting.

What are the go-to products in your kit these days?
I love Maybelline’s Lash Sensational mascara. It comes in a pink tube. I swear, all the editors love it, too. It’s a very good mascara. It doesn’t clump, it’s clean, and it has a curved brush. There’s another formulation called Snapscara that just came out. That one is also awesome. It comes off with warm water. The more I use it, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh!” It goes on almost like an oil, but there’s no wax in it. I also love Maybelline Baby Lips — it’s a really versatile formulation for guys and girls. It’s a standard lip balm, and I also use it on my cuticles when I’m traveling. It also works as a highlighter on cheekbones if you want more of a dewy finish.

(Maybelline New York)

Inquiring minds want to know…how often should we be throwing out our makeup?
If a product is still sealed, and you haven’t opened it for awhile, it’s fine to use. But once you open something, and you let air get in, use it within three to six months, especially if it’s an emollient product. If it’s a powder – based product, use it within six months to a year.

We asked GRACE Lee to weigh in on some of today’s most pressing beauty issues…

Matte or Gloss — Gloss

Colorful or Nude — Colorful

Minimal Brow or Full Thick Brow — Full brow

Faux Lashes or Just Mascara — Just mascara

Strong eye or Strong lips — Man, that’s like asking someone to name their favorite child! I would say strong lip.

Doing makeup for shows or doing makeup for editorial shoots — They’re still very different… I’d say show.

Glitter or Highlighter — Highlighter

Dramatic or Natural — Dramatic

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