Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Makeup Artist of the Month: Celebrity Makeup Artist Billy B.
*Warning: This is a lengthy post but you'll be happy you read it!
Before I knew it, Sunday morning came around and I was on the phone chatting with Billy B. from his home in California. I had called right on time at 12 pm EST which was 9 am his time. Apparently Billy was just getting out of bed - maybe I was a little too eager?? lol Instead of my normal Q&A layout I've decided to write the interview as a story because our chat ended up being more than just a bunch of questions and simple answers. Billy warned me that, "my answers to questions aren't typical...", which to me is more interesting than a flat answer.
In the land of Hollywood and the beauty and fashion industry, you name it Billy's done it. Whether he's beautifying A-listers like Sharon Stone or speaking to makeup artists at seminars he is Billy B.: inspiring, honest, and full of life. Coming from a little town in Mississippi and not coming from an well-educated background, Billy is proud of everything he's accomplished on a creative tip. Among many of his accomplishments, he is proud of the work he did on Missy Elliot's "She's A Bitch" music video. "...she was bald and painted black with Swarovski crystals on her face...they submerged her under water and when she came out that was the shot...I'm not a SFX makeup artist and was self-taught; everything I do is by the seat of my pants...". If that's by the seat of his pants then he is truly gifted! Billy is proud of achieving anything beyond beauty makeup and has amazed even himself. "I didn't buckle and I just go for it".
When asked about success an overall theme took over the conversation. Billy talks about his humble beginnings starting out in the business and attributed his success to a series of opportunities that presented themselves to him that he took advantage of. "Don't waste your life aspiring to be me or to have my career. Everyone has their own career path, but you have to be "awake" enough to see the possibilities for yourself in your life by God, the universe, whatever you believe in...sounds like super Oprah but it's the truth...". Oprah or not, Billy gives incredible and honest advice.
"I was a terrible student, dyslexic...and I grew up thinking I was dumb or lazy...I think my creative side blossomed because I didn't have choice...I became aware of my talent based on survival". Billy moved to NY to flee from the small town he grew up in and wanted to reinvent himself. He knew he had to have a job to survive in NY so he lied to get a job at a makeup counter in Macy's. "I had no experience and they put me on the main floor doing makeup on real women. It was either I figure it out or be fired."
Billy knew he was meant for greater things and he decided to quit the makeup counter to free up his days to test. At night he worked at nightclubs as a bar back in Tribeca. "If I had to choose one person out of many that changed my path it would have been a photographer that rented out the space to shoot...I was asked to stay past 4 am for the shoot and they were late. I was exhausted and basically told him 'fuck you I'm going home'. The photographer said, 'Oh come on, you can't do this to me'. I told him I was a makeup artist and I knew what it was like but sorry...". This caught the photographer's attention and he proposed to Billy, "...what if I hire you to do makeup - it's only men's grooming but you'll get a tearsheet...". Billy went home, got his stuff and did the job. "I was discovered by a photographer, one of the most successful photographers in NY at the time...his name is Ken Nahoum...after that shoot I worked with him everyday and was able to quit my job...he dug me and liked how I played hard-ball with him...". This was just one of many experiences that presented themselves to Billy and it worked. "You can make good decisions but you can't force it to happen".
What happened to Billy isn't available to everyone even with all the resources that are out there now for makeup artists. "Aspire it and dream it, but be aware of what's presented to you...everyone lives different situations...if you live in a tiny community and want to be an artist and the only thing available to you is weddings then be the best makeup artist you can be...that's success...". He believes that people stand in their own way because they think they're supposed to be doing something else with their lives. "When you stop wondering or comparing yourself to other makeup artists it's amazing how your life will change. I used to do the same thing and wasted so much energy worrying about someone else...you're missing opportunities for yourself...".
As broad as Billy is in the business from doing editorial, red carpet, commercials, music videos, to television (and that's just the tip of it), his success in all of these is because he truly is passionate about what he does. "...you have to be so passionate which goes with anything...the most successful are the ones that are passionate about what they do...it's not just a job or about being famous, about the world knowing who you are or being in the presence of celebrities...you should have the same passion whether it is Sharon Stone or a customer for a wedding...".
To add to his already busy schedule, Billy is gearing up for his American Beauty Tour in which he'll be touring all across the US doing a series of seminars. "I don't consider myself a speaker at all...I'm just myself and I speak honestly no matter what...no one is perfect and it's far more intriguing for someone to be honest about their life experiences instead of some surreal story...if someone asks 'What is the ugliest thing you've ever done?', I answer because it's part of the career...". At his seminar people will get to see what he does and points out that his makeup techniques are how he does makeup. You can be sure there will be valuable information. "Everyone will get something different out of it, but I can't say that everyone will gain another level of expertise...but what I hope is that everyone will come away with maybe thinking a little different which I promise will change your career".
Another project that's he's been working on and is close to his heart is a docu-drama series called "The Beauty Foundation" (the Bravo Network is interested in his project). Years ago Billy fled his little hometown in Mississippi and years later he's gone back to save it. "I'm from a tiny town in Mississippi which was very rich in the 1800's. My mom is still there. It has about 1000 little cottages and houses and 2500 structures of historic places...the town is beautiful and is being lost by neglect...it's a poor state with no industry there. I was watching the town die and the beauty fade. Houses were being lost so I started buying them and saving them." Billy amazingly owns 17 houses and has saved 20!
"Now this is another situation that presented itself. I was doing a job in Santa Monica with Rosario Dawson and the beauty editor there chatted with me for maybe 5 minutes. I referenced I was going there (Mississippi) and she asked what I was doing...2 months later she calls and can't stop thinking about it and is very intrigued...my story ended up on the cover of the New York Times Home and Garden! Television producers started calling...". And "The Beauty Foundation" was born.
I'll admit that I had no idea that this project had anything to do with houses and thought it was all about the beauty industry. Billy explains, "Beauty Foundation is a take on words; it's like the transformation I do as a makeup artist only I'm doing it with a town...foundation meaning house...". I naturally asked what happens to the houses after they've been saved and transformed. "There is no resolve...it's not like Flip This House...small town America is struggling...I started a non-profit organization so if people that have historical property are in financial debt they can donate and I will take responsibility for the house...it has inspired them and woke them up...".
Listening to Billy talk about something other than makeup is equally as engaging because you can hear and feel the passion he has for these houses. It's a side I never knew of him. We delve into his other passions in life which are all creative. "I'm passionate about houses. The transformation process is as intriguing as makeup. When I look at a house it is the same as someone's face...I love a challenge and real women have real issues...I love the illusion of a face lift and not seeing it's limitations...seeing the possibilities. I love gardening and watching things grow...I like change...". All of the things he loves have something in common; they all have the ability to transform.
Billy and I get into some makeup talk and I ask what is an important beauty tip he can share. "This is a complicated question too. I don't really like to impose makeup rules on people because there aren't rules. That's what is amazing about what we do. There are a million ways to achieve a smoky eye and every makeup artist has a different way about achieving it...for my American Beauty Tour I'm going to do makeup but it's only for people to see how I do it". Billy makes a good point when he tells me that everyone's style is different just like my story will be different from a million others interviews about him. But there's got to be something you can give us?? "Beauty tip: never ever be too confidant because you will miss out on a learning opportunity". Such a profound beauty tip!
I laugh when he tells me that picking a top beauty product is a tough question. It really is a tough question if you're a makeup junkie! Billy's pick: L'oreal's Volumizing mascara in Carbon. "It's the blackest mascara...consistency is great and gives lots of coverage". But does it work for Asian lashes? "Of course it works for Asian lashes but you have to curl them to death first...". It's true! I curl the hell out of them! I got the inside scoop that Billy is coming out with his very own eyelash curler to add to his amazing brush collection which I will talk about more later. "I love silicone based foundation but I don't like to say which is my favourite because I haven't tried all of them". I tell him about how I just received Face Atelier's whole line of Pro Ultra Foundations which are silicone based. Ladies, it is the most amazing foundation you'll ever try! It just makes the skin look amazing but more on that when I do my beauty review.
Now that Billy has a top selling brush collection and an eyelash curler on the way will there be a Billy B. makeup line to follow? "Never say never. I never saw myself doing this stuff, I really didn't which brings it back to the theme of this interview; it presented itself to me. I was just excited to be in the NY Times then TV producers started calling and now book deals (he is coming out with a coffee table book!)...it would be silly for me not to see the opportunity...". Billy came out with a brush collection because he had a hard time finding brushes he liked working with. His frequent traveling schedule also had something to do with it. "...tools are everything. They can be the secret to taking your work to another level...every ounce counts in your kit - length, weight, size of handle in your hand. Consumers don't think about that but makeup artists do". Another inside scoop: more will be added to his brush collection!
You're going to love Billy even more because his eyelash curler is going to be less expensive than the top brands currently on the market! "I don't understand a $36 eyelash curler because you know there are only a few great ones...I wanted to do one that was inexpensive, no bells or whistles. Just an eyelash curler that does the trick. I took elements of eyelash curlers I love...I'm not reinventing the wheel just making them less expensive...". Amen! Now please tell us where we can purchase your products? Online? Stores in Canada?? "There will be. Everything is so new and it's just me doing this. I'm waiting for the universe to show me what I'm supposed to do. I'm not even out there and astrological...I'm not that person but it's been the way my life has been...if it's meant to be in Sephora then it will be or in The Bay in Canada then it will be...it's available through my website though (www.billybbeauty.com)...I don't have a plan and I follow my gut...". Well, that's all anyone can do is to follow their gut and so far it's worked for Billy!
I get into makeup trends for Fall with Billy and we laugh about how trends always repeat themselves. "Oh that trend that happened 6 months ago?", and it's so true. "I don't believe in trends and believe in 'if it ain't broke then don't fix it'...I believe in things that work well for me and don't jump around a lot, but I'm open to trying new things...but if it really works well for me then 'why?'. After everything we've talked about I feel kind of silly ending the interview with fun facts, but like the true star that he is does not disappoint.
1. Favourite designer:
"I never dress up - I'm not fancy shmancy...Levi's and American Apparel! My two couture designers are Levi's and American Apparel!
2. Favourite fashion trend (men or women):
"I like someone that expresses their personal style and not looking like a cookie cutter asshole [I told you I would say it! lol - ed] like everybody else!"
3. Most valuable item you can't live without?
"Oh my God, many...I'm not going to lie I love things but I'm not very materialistic...I drive a 1995 Mustang I bought in Mississippi...I'm not like the makeup artist that would say "for sure it's my Louis Vuitton carry-on bag"...I couldn't give a flying fuck about stuff like that...the things I can't live without are the people in my life...". Awww...
4. What's on your coffee table?
"Right now? You want to know the truth? Sweet ice tea, bottle of Pledge Orange Oil because I was dusting in my house, a pack of Marlboro Lights, some thumbnails/photographs from my website update I'm about to do, 2 makeup pencil tops I don't know why and some double stick tape and I don't know why...isn't that glamourous??"
5. It's Sunday morning and you are:
"Almost guaranteed something work related with a dash of working in my yard...I work all the time".
I make a joke that he probably works 7 days a week. "I do. If you want a career like this it's a lifestyle not a job. You either love that lifestyle or you don't...I used to never make lists and I have a notebook and pen with me always. I'm constantly writing lists and making reminders...my career is always there...there's no such thing as a day off. I'm very driven about anything I'm passionate about...". Which explains why he's so successful!
Before the interview is about to end we talk a little more about his tour and whether he'll be coming to Toronto. "I woke up this morning to all these emails from Michael (Michael DeVellis, director of The Powder Group") and it was inspired by you." At this point, I'm trying to contain myself from whooping and hollering. "I'm not kidding because he forwarded your emails...and I know that you're in Canada and attached to that was "we're going to Canada!".
I'm in shock and touched at the same time. It's obvious that Billy has a huge fan base in Canada so why not take the tour here? A plea to the Canadian border: Will you please stop harassing and stopping him because he has tattoos on his hand?? I already apologized to Billy on behalf of the Canadian border. He's able to laugh it off and says, "No, no, that's just their job".
I look at the clock and can't believe I've been chatting with Billy B. for an hour! I thank Billy again for talking with me and tell him if he comes to Toronto I would love to meet him. "...I will definitely meet you in Toronto".
When I think the conversation is about to end Billy asks me if I'm a makeup artist. I tell him that I'm a makeup artist but have been concentrating on beauty writing at the moment. "Then you know what I'm talking about...don't ignore what's presenting itself right under your nose...the opportunities of being a writer is such a gift...don't let that go away. You should absolutely pursue both. You should do what you love. I'll tell you what you're doing right now being a mother is the greatest job...don't let any of it be a drag. You'll find your way. That would be my advice to you personally. You can do it. It'll present itself to you and you have to enjoy it". Well, Billy you've definitely made my writing career exciting and have really opened up my eyes to a lot of things! Thank you a million times Billy B. and I can't wait to meet you!
I'll keep you posted on dates for his Canadian Beauty Tour! To view some of his amazing work visit BillyBBeauty.com! For more info on The American Beauty Tour visit The Powder Group. The American Beauty Tour is sponsored by W Hotels and behindthechair.com.