Q+A with Celebrity Makeup Artist Fiona Stiles
Fiona Stiles on the synergistic relationship between makeup, hair, and styling teams, the beautiful simplicity of a minimalist '90s look, and more.
Fiona Stiles is an Emmy nominated makeup artist whose impressive client list includes Natalie Portman, Lily Collins, and Jessica Chastain, among several others. Aside from creating beautiful looks for red carpets and events, Fiona's work can also be seen in top publications like Harper's Bazaar and ELLE, as well as for brands like Fendi and Cartier. Throughout her years in the industry, Fiona has grown to appreciate the intimacy that her career has to offer, and works best with those she cares deeply about — across the entire collaborative effort of clients, hair teams, and styling teams. Read on to learn more about this thoughtful perspective on the industry, and much more!
Q: How would you describe your style as a makeup artist?
I think I’m a very flexible artist. I can do most anything, but my favorite looks lean towards classic beauty, sometimes with a twist. I do love a minimalist ‘90s face — not the ‘90s face that everyone is referencing at the moment — but more makeup vibes of the David Sims and Craig McDean shoots from the late ’90s and the work of Pat McGrath, Dick Page, Lucia Pieroni, and Diane Kendal, who are still my idols to this day. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t add versus what you add.
I really do my best work with people I care deeply about. I think as someone who touches people for a living, that transfer of energy is palpable. When you have a good relationship with someone, and you really connect with someone, you pass that love through your hands. When it’s not a good fit with someone, you feel more guarded, insecure, and tend to hold back subconsciously. I’ve been working long enough now that if I know it’s not a good fit, or someone is relentlessly micromanaging me while I’m working, that we’re not going to be good partners. And I don't mean making suggestions — I fully respect that someone knows their face better than me and they may have certain tricks that work wonders for them. I love it when a client says, “My brows are better like this” or "I like a little shading here”. I get to benefit from their years of experience and from them sitting in the chair of dozens of makeup artists before me who have helped them work it all out. I think that’s a gift.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
I love that every day is different and that I get to keep working on the same faces for years and years. It creates this wonderful intimacy that I cherish, and you’re always trying to find new ways to interpret their features. I love the collaboration and being part of a synergistic relationship, and the shorthand that develops between the hair, makeup, and styling teams. It’s so satisfying when it all comes together. I love working with my hands and the intimacy of my job. That was the hardest part of COVID for me, not being able to touch people and having a deep fear of touching people. It shook me to my core and made me realize what really defines a makeup artist in an intense, tangible way. Being a makeup artist isn’t just the act of putting makeup on someone, it’s the physical exchange of energy, creativity, and love. The loss of intimacy for those first 6 months was traumatizing for makeup artists in a way that I don’t think anyone else can understand.
Q: From where, and from whom, do you find inspiration?
I truly think most of my inspiration comes from the bank of references in my head that I’ve accumulated over the decades from perusing magazines obsessively and collecting art books. Also from movies, art galleries, 'zines, and of course from Instagram. There’s a wealth of old references to be found on the platform, although it can sometimes feel like you’re drowning in content. I also find that imagery stays with me longer when I see it in a tangible form, like a book or magazine, versus on a phone. Or maybe it’s because my brain had more storage space back then!
Q: What are some essential products you always keep in your kit?
There’s a pretty lengthy list of products that I reach for on the regular. I can’t work without the Beautyblender, Real Techniques brushes, Heir Atelier Eye Primer, Surratt Liquid Liner in Chat Noir, Tom Ford Men’s Brow Defining Gel, Chanel Inimitable Mascara, Tom Ford Emotionproof cream eyeshadows, Beauty Pie Contour Gel, Lisa Eldridge matte lipsticks, Vanderohe Serum No. 1, SUQQU concealers, Fenty Bronzers, and Pat McGrath loose powders. I mean, really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but would just break out into a cold sweat if any of those weren’t in my kit.
Q: Can you walk us through what you’ve been using for your nighttime skincare routine as of late?
Q: Can share with us one of your favorite looks you’ve created, and tell us a bit about why you love it?
I have to say that it was Lily Collins at the Heavenly Bodies-themed Met Ball. It felt like the most authentic makeup I’ve ever done. I got to get all “art school” in my thinking about it and really leaned into it. It was actually very simple makeup — not a ton of products — it was just the application that made them feel special. It’s a luxury to be able to have that much time to marinate over a look; we usually don’t get to do that. It’s one of the things that makes the Met Gala so incredibly special.
Q: If you could've given yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your journey in the beauty industry, what would it be? Why?
I’m very content with my journey. I have a good work/life balance (even before COVID) and I think that’s the hardest aspect of the job to manage. Maybe I would tell myself not to buy all of those fancy shoes, save that money, and buy some investment properties. It’s very easy to get caught up in the fancy aspects of the job and to fill your emotional voids with things. I’ve been good about my money, but if I could do it again I would have bought more real estate. So my advice to people coming up is: save your pennies, get into real estate early, and if you need something fancy get it on the Real Real. No one cares if you have the latest bag. Seriously.
Q: What makeup trends do you foresee being big in spring/summer 2021? Are there any specific ones you’re excited to try yourself and on your clients?
Oh, I really hate talking about trends. I have no idea...I try to just do makeup that resonates with me and not focus on what’s happening with trends. I find that if I am focusing on what other people are doing, my makeup feels less authentic. That said, I am so glad to see makeup looking a bit less drag than it was a few years ago, and I hope that aesthetic continues to develop.
Rapid Fire Round
Q: Hairstylist partner in crime:
Gregory Russell. We work together with Lily Collins. He’s always up for something creative and the man knows his references!
Q: Product you can’t leave home without:
Portland Bee lip balm. It’s matte, has great slip, and feels great on the lips. Plus, it’s a very small company and I love to support small businesses.
Q: Favorite drugstore or budget find:
The nude & neutral lip liners from NYX are my absolute favorite. The colors are great, and I love that they’re a traditional wood pencil and that they’re wildly affordable.
Q: Worth the splurge:
Literally anything from Buly 1803.
Q: Recent discovery:
The bronzer from La Bouche Rouge Paris. It’s such a lovely tone and finish, the packaging is incredible, and they are committed to sustainability while also committed to luxury beauty.
Q: Brand you wish more people knew about:
Beauty Pie. I believe you have to become a member, but the prices are insanely low and the products are all made by the labs that do all of the big brands. I love their Contour Gel and glossy lipsticks.
Q: Favorite lipstick:
Any shade of the Velvet Lipsticks from Lisa Eldridge.
Q: Your last beauty empty:
Oh wow, I rarely finish anything because I’m always trying out new products. My last skincare empty was the Lord Jones Barrier Repair Cream. My last beauty empty was a tube of Portland Bee lip balm. I go through those like wildfire and order them by the dozen.
For more of Fiona's favorite products, check out her shop!