I first read about her in the fall 2007 issue of US Vogue. Even though finding articles among allll the ads that packed out that humongous edition was a chore (840 pages! It hurt my wrists just to hold it up) I had to delve into it to find out who was the person that Vogue declared to be “the most powerful woman in beauty.”
Imagine my surprise when I saw this round-faced, unassuming brown lady – Pat McGrath, hailed by Vogue as being “in a class by herself… literally a star”.
The beauty industry has often ignored or not been empathetic to the needs of brown women over the years so it was surprising to me that one of us would have risen to the top. Not only that, she is an islandista – her mother Jean McGrath is described by Vogue as a “single mother from Jamaica who is a Jehovah’s Witness obsessed with fashion and makeup.”
Pat says she took her example from her mother, who was often compelled by lack of choice to mix her own make-up.
“Obviously, there weren’t that many colours for us at the time, so Mother made her own, mixing powders together.”
Vogue noticeably doesn’t say who ‘us’ is but islandistas, we know, don’t we? We’ve been there, done that, especially when we’ve lived in places that were outside of the northern urban mainstream and didn’t have many products for brown folk in the stores. Pat grew up in Northampton in the UK – need we say more?
She started out in the flamboyant British club scene of the 1980s, where individuality and outrageous looks ruled the day and actually got her first break when she met the fashion editor of Blitz magazine while out at the WAG Club in soho one night.
Not being a trained make-up artist worked to her advantage as she has admitted, saying:
“I broke every rule because I didn’t know what the rules were. And that’s how you learn and come up with new things.”
And how… McGrath became known for her out-there collaborations with John Galliano at Christian Dior and for her wide range of influences from club culture to Japanese Kabuki theatre. Check out one of her fantastical creations below.
(photo credit: Time Style & Design/Christopher Moore Ltd.)
She has become a close partner of top-level photographer Stephen Meisel and is the global creative-design director for Procter & Gamble’s cosmetics which includes brands such as Cover Girl and Max Factor.
This has put her in an even stronger position to determine the direction of fashion. For instance, at least two seasons before the trend for bright colours (especially eye shadows) that has now swept the globe, Pat was on it and convinced Max Factor to include a small section of pop-out-at-you green, blue and yellow eye shadow to their collection.
No wonder Vogue declared McGrath to be “at the tip-top of fashion’s power pyramid, the one makeup artist who belongs to the tiny elite of designers, photographers, stylists and image-makers who actually determine how fashion will look.”