She’s been called the most influential makeup artist of all time, but to her fashion designer, model, and photographer friends—among them Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Victoria Beckham, Steven Meisel, and the Hadids—Pat McGrath is simply “Mother.” The backstage moniker is fitting for a woman who is, unquestionably, a mother of invention: Since partnering with Alexander McQueen and John Galliano in the ’90s, the industry icon has dazzled runways with her dynamic looks, often featuring elaborate sequins or masks. In 2015, she launched her own boundary-pushing line, Pat McGrath Labs, with a gold pigment that sold out in six minutes. It remains a Sephora best-seller.
McGrath’s passion for her work is palpable: Unveiling three new eye shadow palettes at New York Fashion Week, she rattles off the inspirations behind every texture and shade (Grace Jones figures prominently). For Anna Sui, she created a graphic pink-and-purple eye; for Tom Ford, darkened lids with rock ’n’ roll kohl. “The addiction is real with me,” she says, revealing an arm striped from wrist to elbow with vibrant swatches. “Makeup has always brought me joy. When I was growing up, it was my mother’s and my escape from what was happening in our lives and in the world, a place we went together. That’s why beauty means so much to me. It’s something I can do 24 hours a day, because I truly love it.”
You’ve done a lot of shimmer at recent shows. What’s the best way to wear it in real life?
Pat McGrath: A touch of highlight on the cheekbone goes a long way toward achieving an angelic glow, but if you want to add a moment of scintillating shine, you can use a metallic pigment. Start softly, with a gentle wash, and then build it in layers to keep it from taking over your face.
What’s one makeup trick everyone should know?
The fingertips are everything. That’s my ultimate trick behind each of my signature looks. I love applying eye shadow with my fingers so it melts into the lids for a gilded, sensual effect. The heat from your hands helps blend foundation, giving it a natural, translucent finish that’s impossible to achieve using sponges or brushes. I also recommend using the fingers if you want to create a stain effect on the lips or for seamless application.
What sets your line apart from others?
Pat McGrath Labs products are to be used without caution. There have always been so many rules and restrictions—certain hues only being right for certain skin tones, and bold colors often eliciting fear or confusion.I want to eradicate all that and encourage everyone to feel limitless.
Does having your own products cut down the 87 trunks of makeup you famously travel with?
I think I’ve lost a quarter of a trunk. But much of what they contain is not makeup. You’ll find Swarovski crystals, masks, gemstones,feathers, fabric, even gold splinters. My kits are a menagerie of obscure objects.
What are your five nonnegotiable essentials?
How dare you make me choose just five! Shiseido eyelash curlers; Avène Thermal facial mist spray for prepping skin; my Skin Fetish 003, because it creates a legendary glow; RohtoZ! cooling eye drops for clear eyes; and SK-II masks to freshen up an early-morning—or late-night—face.
This article originally appears in the May 2018 issue of ELLE.