Rising star and one of the nicest people in the industry Crystabel Riley has mastered a signature style that is described as ‘harmonious make-up’. A former FDA Make-up for Fashion and Editorial student (now BA (Hons) Hair and Make-up for Fashion), Crystabel has created a buzz for herself by combining her love of music and make-up together, working with artists like Lion Babe, Eliza Doolittle, Conor Maynard and Miles Kane. A true skincare specialist with great insight into the craftsmanship of her industry, Crystabel has built an incredibly impressive reputation and resume. We discuss her evolution from working at her mother’s hair salon to styling internationally famed musicians.
Hi Crystabel, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into fashion?
From the age of 14, I helped my mum as a fairly socially inept Saturday girl in her hair salon. She suggested that I go into make-up but I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the idea of touching other people’s faces, I wanted to paint pictures and read history books. It wasn’t until I was helping out some stylish friends as a dresser on a show that I saw the make-up artists quietly working away in their own world painting faces with their large sets of brushes that I had an epiphany. From then on I regularly painted my boyfriends’ and girlfriends’ faces and I loved that it was more about fantasy at that point and less about ‘beautification’.
Did you know you always wanted to be a Make-Up Artist or was there a defining moment for you?
Layering colours and playing with contours in 2D was an early preoccupation of mine. I didn’t really notice until recently looking back on my early school work. I spent most of my youth focusing on portraiture using pencil and oil paints. I found that basic human engagement through the face interesting, and humorous when it went wrong or a bit odd. I strangely ended up studying History and Politics but later realised it very much links to the stories that we tell and have been told visually and ideologically, from the pre-beauty stone age sculptures, depicting lumps of feminine flesh to the birth of ‘beauty’ as we know it through the Apollonian sky-cults to the neo-Victorian steampunks.
How would you describe your job and daily schedule?
Very varied. For example, I’ll receive a call sheet and from there consider the model, the limitations, intrigues of the face and the feel of the person as a whole. I consider the photographer/stylist/client and think of what I can bring to the situation. I’m not afraid to push limits neither am I afraid to pull back completely. Nothing is a given with make-up apart from a tailored skincare regime. Pack up. Go home. Clean kit. Think about next shoot. In my down time I have become obsessed with logging ingredients lists and trying to decipher the nasties and why they are there. I’ve recently become inspired by make-up artists such as Linda Ohrstrom and Lou Dartford who promote cleaner, non-toxic products. A lot of my time and energy is consumed by making my kit as clean as possible.
Was studying at LCF always part of the plan?
As soon as I decided I wanted to be a make-up artist I became fixated on going to LCF, pouring everything into a fresh portfolio of work. I was working two jobs at the time, desperately saving money, so I worked through the night on my new portfolio.
Reflecting back on your time at university, what were the two most important things you learnt?
Firstly, the extent to which make-up and adornment relate to power and social history. Secondly and most importantly, I met Lucy Wearing who taught on the FDA at the time. She has such an elegant style of make-up and a great spirit and still to this day is a pool of inspiration and has remained a holistic mentor for life!
What do you love about your job?
I love that I get to work on a living, breathing, fleshy mass that projects energy at me and who I give energy back to.
You have an incredible CV. What commission are you most proud of?
I recently shot the cover of Replica Man magazine with Ben Toms and Robbie Spencer and my friend Adam Christianson was modelling so it was extra special. I love the story, especially as it features Adam’s text messages and fan art by Janina Pedan. And of course, metallic purple lip liner!
Clients, editorial, photographers and musicians. Do you have a different look in mind depending on the project?
Yes, I think make-up is a piece of a puzzle so you have to make it fit. However, I like to make sure we explore that piece of the puzzle as much as we can while ensuring it still fits. There are also technical differences, such as the difference between makeup under 150 photographers flashing at the same time and a daylight shoot with an analogue camera or even an underwater shoot.
What look do you most enjoy creating – do you have a design aesthetic?
I’m currently leaning towards designs that are quite fast to apply. I think it looks better when it’s quite fresh and not too precious. Whip on, then whip off. I also love ‘flattening’ eyebrows. It can be something done dramatically or subtly but I keep sneaking it in there. I’m also currently enjoying describing my aesthetic as GCSE, which I know sounds like a strange thing to say!
Is there a magazine, model or musician you’ve always wanted to work with?
What do you always carry in your Make-Up bag?
A lip crayon called Valor by Axiology. It’s jojoba oil and shea butter based (so I could eat it!) as well as use it as eyeshadow, blusher etc. Also, Skin Food by Weleda which I use as an emergency moisturiser and highlighter on cheeks and lips. It also doubles as an anti-bacterial as it has such potent levels of lavender oils. I also have a mascara by W3ll People which I wear occasionally. A jojoba oil-based eye pencil by Alima is currently always with me. But it’s a bit of a conveyor-belt of products.
Crystabel Riley || Make Up Artist Crystabel Riley (@crystabelmakeup) has perfected a signature style she describes as harmonious makeup. It’s fitting that she has paired her twin loves of makeup and music to great success. She honed her talent on tour buses and has worked with artists such as Lion Babe (@lionbabe), Eliza Doolittle, Conor Maynard (@conormaynard) and Miles Kane (@mileskane). Crystabel creates a delicate look that plays with the ideas of layering and freshness. It is built upon a solid understanding of the intricacies of skincare, skin tone and sculpture. Her insight into the craftsmanship of the beauty industry started with time spent around her mother’s hair salon. She continued her learning more formally by studying editorial makeup at London College of Fashion (@london_college_of_fashion).
Where and what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would love to really understand every single ingredient in every product that I use and work towards helping to create an industry where everyone can strive for the same. A hippy vision of empowered consumers and make-up artists so we can to choose cleaner products. I genuinely feel we make look back at this as a time when people put lead on their faces. My ambitions feel quite communal rather than personal in this regard. Also I would also like to stay alive!
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