icture the scene: an internationally renowned make-up artist with cascading red-hair, killer cheekbones and signature smoky eyes, pitching to investment bankers that high-flying businesswomen and socialites simply cannot live without her brand’s ‘Goddess Look’ cosmetic set. The situation sounds absurd, but Charlotte Tillbury’s 20 years of painting the best faces in fashion, music and film taught her a thing or two about utilising the UK’s £17 billion beauty industry to her advantage. This is a woman whose personal mantra is “give the woman the right make-up and she can conquer the world”; doubters and backward-thinkers need not dabble.
For an industry that is widely criticised for making women feel inadequate, Tilbury has built her empire based on the complete opposite school of thought, through a sheer joy of “making women look the most beautiful version of themselves”. The transformative power of make-up was something Tilbury realised as a teenager, being “fair with pale lashes” and discovering the power of mascara aged 13. “Overnight, everyone from seven to seventy reacted to me in a very different way…I felt more confident”. It’s this elated level of self-love that Tilbury integrated into her work as a make-up artist at London, Paris and New York fashion weeks, before working at every notable award ceremony in Hollywood and juggling consultancy roles at MAC, Tom Ford and Helena Rubinstein. Whilst most make-up artists would focus on producing the look for the moment, Tilbury made a name for herself in passing on the tips and tricks that she used, customised to each model or celebrity’s face; realising the power of beauty and how it translated into an internal sense of confidence.
What made Tilbury a beauty icon was her ability banish the seemingly ‘vain’ stigma of taking an interest in make-up and instead, market her brand towards intelligent and educated women who took pride in their appearance. Launched in 2013 with an exclusive deal with Selfridges, Tilbury’s eponymous label broke every beauty sales record ever set in the industry, the biggest launch ever seen in Selfridges’ 100-year history. Although the range offered the classic separates including products for skin, eyes, lips and cheeks, it was the aforementioned ‘Looks’ that elevated the brand to beauty-icon status. Offering a comprehensive range of products, instructions and online tutorials on how to apply the make-up yourself, Tilbury’s ‘faces’ offer the perfect balance between efficient make-up application and the indulgence of pampering oneself, making the professional and air-brushed finish a possibility for working women on the go. Finished with indulgent, self-affirming names like ‘The Vintage Vamp’, ‘The Dolce Vita’ and ‘The Sophisticate’, Tilbury’s looks were a turning point in cosmetic marketing as it moved away from the frivolous branding that often targeted teenagers, and instead told her customers to “captivate and conquer” in their moments of confidence. Considering the two-thirds of women who use cosmetics to further their careers, it’s good news all-round.
Working at the heart of an industry in which the majority of customers are female, Tilbury is no stranger to the importance of empowering women. Her recently launched ‘Hot Lips’ lipstick line was produced in conjunction with war victims support charity Women for Women International, with proceeds from each sale going directly to the charity. “Lipstick is that thing that pulls you together, makes you feel like a woman - it gives you confidence and makes you feel powerful" Tilbury told British Vogue, "That's why I've called on all of my friends, these beautiful and inspirational women, to help me spread this message as much as we can." Likewise, executive director Brita Fernandez Schmidt stressed that “building confidence is one of the most important aspects of our work with survivors of war. When I meet women who have participated in our programme, I see they stand taller and they tell me they now feel confident to speak up for themselves at home and in their communities.”
Although the Charlotte Tilbury brand does not release profit records, the accelerated expansion from Selfridges beauty counter to own-website, debut Covent Garden store and online deals with Net-a-Porter, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and Nordstrom speaks volumes about the company’s progress. Now with her debut fragrance, ‘Scent of a Dream’, due to drop August 2016, Tilbury is showing no signs of slowing down or deviating from her belief that beauty equals confidence and a love of cosmetics is nothing to be ashamed of. “I’ve had all sorts of women in my chair. A 60-year-old who never knew she had the most beautiful green eyes [until she made them up] and she cried when she looked in the mirror”. As her brand expands, the message remains clear; beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but women have just as much of a right to feel good on their own accord. “It’s about empowering women by enhancing the natural beauty that’s already there” she said, “to help them become the most beautiful versions of themselves.”
Career Golden Nuggets
On ambition: “I’m not afraid to be ambitious. Why should people limit themselves? There’s always somewhere else to go, isn’t there?”
On motivation: “It's no surprise I am where I am. I've worked bloody hard. If you put the work in and have a vision, you can achieve whatever you want.”
On elevating other women: “When you look good, you feel good, and the world reacts to you in a different way. What really drives me is sharing this power with every woman. Beauty is not an exclusive club.”