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The artist behind the A-list

Sarah Tierney chats to make-up artist Mary Greenwell about her celebrity clients and the launch of her new fragrance

Published on January 5th 2011.

The artist behind the A-list

PRINCESS Diana, David Bowie, Kate Moss, Helena Christensen, Audrey Tautou... a scan through Mary Greenwell's client list is like a round-up of the most iconic faces of the last three decades.

When you're dealing with somebody like that, who was to be the future queen of England, you're never going to stamp a make-up 'look' on her. You want to make her look as beautiful as possible. Which is pretty easy really.

Mary made her name in the mid-1980s during the era of the supermodel and has continued to be the go-to girl for red carpet and runway looks. She's worked with photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey and Mario Testino, creating classic images for everything from Vogue covers to Versace shows. So the nature of her new venture – an understated, chic fragrance named Plum – is unexpected. We met her at House of Fraser to talk about her side-step into scent and the best bits about working with some of the world's most beautiful women.

Can you pick a highlight from your career?
It sounds a bit of a cliché but probably my highlight was meeting Princess Diana the first time. She was gorgeous and so young, she had been married six months. It was such a joy to meet her.

Did she have a sense of what kind of image she wanted to project?
No, because she was so young. When you're dealing with somebody like that, who was to be the future queen of England, you're never going to stamp a make-up 'look' on her. You want to make her look as beautiful as possible. Which is pretty easy really.

Is there a celebrity who you particularly like working with?
It isn't a question of what look I like best. I have a few real friends in the business and they're the ones I enjoy working with the most. They're Cate Blanchett, Uma Thurman and Christy Turlington. They're good friends. True friends. All very smart and very beautiful. And I do find them all drop dead gorgeous.

Why do you think you are a popular choice with celebrities?
When I started in the industry, which was now a long time ago, we didn't have the training that people have now. We all dived into the deep end and there was a group of five of us who all came out at the same time as the supermodels.

I think my angels allowed me to be there at exactly the right place at the right time. It's nothing to do with me being more fabulous or my make-up being better, it's simply timing. And then being gifted with being able to apply make-up quite well. Otherwise it's all luck.

Is there a habit or trend in make-up that you don't particularly like?
No because I think everything has its moment. I think that some things do not look good on certain people. But youth is a wonderful thing and most celebrities are quite young, so there's nothing you can't do to them.

What I'm not particularly keen on is fantasy make-up. I much prefer bringing out the real beauty in a woman and making her look like herself. I like the truth in make-up.

Why did you decide to launch a fragrance rather than a make-up line?
I didn't want to do what was expected of me. It was so out of the box, and you can't really be judged on a fragrance. People either like it or they don't. I like the freedom in that because I'm scared like the rest of us. I didn't want to be put in a position where I felt my reputation was on-the-line. But what is on-the-line is my personality. The fragrance is such a personality-revealing product.

How would you describe Plum?
I think it's very feminine and I think it's quite unusual, even though some people say, 'Hmm it reminds me of something'. Of course it's going to remind you of something. There are only a certain amount of fragrances and combinations – it's like a song. One note of a song might remind you of another song but it's not the same song. So in a fragrance one note might remind you of something else but in fact it's a very individual scent.

Do you see perfume as working together with make-up?
Completely. I see everything from foot cream to the conditioner you put on your hair, and everything in between, as to do with the revelation of one's self and one's personality. And your fragrance will say as much about you as whether you're wearing a red lipstick or a pale lipstick or whether you have smoky eyes or liner. It's all part of your personality.

Plum by Mary Greenwell is available now at House of Fraser from £25-£70.

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