Like a child genius who’s stumbled into her mother’s old makeup bag and is madly painting her Barbie dolls, British makeup artist Pat McGrath uses colour and unusual techniques in ways that have challenged and delighted the fashion world for years.
Heavily influenced by the Blitz Kids of 1980s London, her looks achieve what few have dared to attempt: misplaced colours and jeweled lips, smudged eyes and bleached eyebrows. Silvers, golds; mismatches which under her magic eye become glorious, enviable displays of hideous beauty.
Now the Global Creative Director of Procter & Gamble, one of the most lucrative jobs in the industry and certainly one of the highest profile creative gigs in the world, McGrath’s work is daring, but the most striking thing about her might be that she has risen to the very pinnacle of her industry on pure talent and drive alone. She has no formal training, but has benefitted from a string of opportunities and an innovative spirit that set her apart from the beginning.
Building on a strong creative force which she says was inspired by her mother, McGrath knew how to put herself into the right places at the right times. It was when she was hanging out in The King’s Road in London, chasing the coat tails of the legendarily cutting-edge Blitz Kids in the late ‘80s, that stylist Kim Bowen, at the centre of the scene famous for its bizarre makeup and costumes, adopted her and brought her along on shoots for The Face and i-D magazines. Her big break came when she was called on to do Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul’s makeup in Japan. Then, she became friends with Edward Enninful, fashion director of i-D, where she started working and later became the beauty director (which she still is).
Bursting on to the scene with a bold display of creativity, McGrath’s courageous debut at i-D helped bring international attention to the magazine and to herself.
Since then, she has continued to be inspired and to inspire alike, with unorthodox techniques such as using fingers as tools, and her ability to evoke the bizarre while maintaining an aesthetic standard that somehow never crosses the line into clownish—even with full faces of coloured makeup, models look exotic, and her looks have earned their right on the catwalks.
McGrath’s lack of formal training could be the key to her astounding success. She isn’t limited by rules, and there was no study to shape her vision. Since the early ‘90s, she has climbed the ranks, working prolifically with the biggest names in the fashion world. Louis Vuitton, Prada, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Yves Saint Laurent have all enlisted her services; McGrath has graced the backstages of countless catwalk shows with her larger-than-life presence.
Proctor & Gamble’s faith in a self-taught girl from Northampton to command their multinational image is a testament to McGrath’s legendary work ethic and her confident, keen eye for the flamboyant yet marketable. Her magic lies not only in her ability to bring whimsy to the catwalk, but to conjure fantasy using pure uncompromising creativity.