Her client list reads like a paparazzo’s dream—Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bundchen, David Beckham—and her work appears all over the world in glossy fashion magazines, luscious music videos and towering billboards, but don’t call Gina Brooke a celebrity makeup artist—unless you want to make her cringe. “I’m just a makeup artist,” she says. “An artist who happens to work with makeup.”
And sometimes, with mink and diamonds. As Madonna’s personal makeup artist, Brooke collaborated with Shu Uemura (who passed away earlier this year) to create lush mink lashes that adorned the music icon’s famous face during her 2003 Reinvention tour. The collaboration led to Brooke’s appointment as Artistic Director for Shu Uemura USA—a first for the Japanese cosmetics company.
In 2006, Brooke handcrafted diamond lashes worn during the singer’s Confessions on a Dance Floor tour. One wonders what Brooke will conjure up for Madonna’s upcoming “Sticky & Sweet” tour kicking off in August.
I chatted with Brooke while she was in Los Angeles for photo shoots, before she jetted off to New York, Tokyo, Hawaii, then back to New York—all in the name of work.
Q. Are you working on the “Sticky & Sweet” tour now?
A. In July, we’ll start creating looks for Madonna’s tour. They’re in rehearsals right now, so I haven’t seen the entire show yet. But I’m working on a whole bunch of storyboards.
Q. How do you create ideas for a music tour?
A. There are so many things involved in terms of creating a look. I always have a million ideas, but they get narrowed down when the costumes are involved, and of course, the set, the background, and depending on what songs she’s choosing to sing.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. They come from everywhere. I could be walking down the street in New York and get an idea and start putting it into my Blackberry. That’s what happened with the diamond lashes on the last tour. And it’s not easy to reinvent someone who’s reinvented herself so many times like Madonna.
Q. Yeah, how do you do that?
A. You just do it. You don’t think about it. If you start thinking of all the obstacles in your way and all the looks, it can be a bit of a downer. So instead, I spend a lot of time in bookstores. I have an extensive art book collection and am constantly going through them for inspiration or I watch old movies.
Q. What else inspires you?
A. I’ve been a huge fan of the photographer, Sam Haskins, since the beginning of my career. He created these books and the makeup, hair and the styling are outrageous. So gorgeous and over-the-top. For years, I’ve been trying to get Madonna to do a Sam Haskins sort of photo shoot or vibe. Then we finally did a Sam Haskins-esque photo shoot for the cover of Elle. We wanted to take some aspects of the 1960s and apply it to Madonna without making it look conceptual, so we did a modern day version with a twist: heavy eyeliner, white eyeliner, really gorgeous skin, and glossy lips.
Q. Madonna looked amazing on the cover of the May issue of Elle Magazine with that big hat. What else have you been working on?
A. When you see the music video for her song,‘Give it 2 Me’ it’s so sexy and hot. It’s Madonna at her best. Everything from the hair and makeup to the styling is amazing. Between Tom Munro’s photography and lighting abilities and working with Nathan Rissman, who directed her Malawi documentary, ‘I Am Because We Are,” Madonna put this together and I have to tell you, I’m so proud of this video. It’s so sexy and so beautiful. It’s fun.
Q. Madonna seems to look better and better the older she gets.
A. As much as I’d love to take the credit for her beauty, she really is a beautiful woman. She defies age because she takes care of herself internally and externally. She eats the right foods. I never see Madonna eat sugar. Maybe sometimes she’ll eat licorice, but she’s not a person to eat tons of candy. Plus, she works out, so eating properly and taking care of her skin—she doesn’t wear makeup when she’s not working. She’ll put on lipstick and mascara, but that’s really it.
Q. How did you start working with Madonna?
A. I moved to Los Angeles from New York to see if I could break into working with celebrities. I had already been a makeup artist for six years, but the moving company lost a box filled with my portfolios, so I had to start all over again in L.A. For a year, I worked for free doing test shoots with a photographer named Brian Bowen Smith and got these amazing photographs, which are still on my website now.
An agent showed my book to Madonna, and by that time, I had gotten about 35 pictures. When Madonna saw my book, she didn’t know I was an established makeup artist. She thought I was this up and coming girl who didn’t have any tear sheets and was just starting out. She loved the work so she thought she’d give me a chance. She’s like that. She’s totally open to working with new people who don’t have a name in the business.
Q. What was it like meeting Madonna for the first time?
A. I thought, ‘hopefully she’ll like me and we’ll get to work with each other’. That was five years ago. When we met, we immediately liked each other. I wanted to do something with her that’s never been done before. She wasn’t wearing any lashes, and I told her, “You have to wear lashes.” Instead of foundation, I suggested we use only concealer and she looked at me like I was crazy. But, I explained to her, “You have a flawless complexion, why do you need to cover up your face with foundation? Let’s just start with concealer and I’ll do one side of your face and if you like it, I’ll do the other side.”
Q. How do you do her makeup differently?
A. Instead of contouring like most people do with her—going underneath the cheekbone to contour the entire face, I do the opposite and contour the face with highlighting. When you highlight the face, you actually create light on the face and enhance the bone structure with light instead of shade. It makes the face look softer instead of stronger. So I highlighted the whole face.
Q. What products do you use?
A. Years ago when I got my first job as a makeup artist, I immediately went to the Shu Uemura boutique in New York and spent whatever I had and bought as much makeup as I could possibly afford so that I was prepared on that job. Today, I still use Shu Uemura and Giorgio Armani.
Q. You did the David Beckham ad campaign for Armani. What was that like?
A. David is one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever met in this business. It’s incredible because he’s one of the most sought after celebrities in our time and to work with someone who’s so genuine and authentic and real, I’m so grateful to work with him; he’s just a great person.
Q. Do you like challenging yourself?
A. Oh, totally – I work best under pressure. You need to be talented in this industry, but I also believe you need to challenge yourself and work under pressure and have set etiquette. Anyone who has ever assisted me knows not to even think about bringing your cell phone or a magazine out on set. I need you to be staring at that person 24/7 until the job is over because that is what we’re hired to do. We’re not there to make friends. We’re there to do a job. And that job is 100% about the subject.
Q. What still drives you after all these years in the industry?
A. Even at this stage of my career, with a cosmetics contract and all these great things, I’m always interested in testing. I’ll buy feathers and think, hey, I can make a pair of lashes out of this. You can’t test on a photo shoot; there’s too much money involved. And that’s how my contract with Shu Uemura came into play because I started working with Madonna and I called Shu Uemura and said I would love to create a pair of lashes for Madonna and I wouldn’t go anywhere else in the world other than Shu Uemura because you have the best lashes in the business and I’ve always been obsessed with eyelashes.
Q. What was it like meeting Mr. Shu Uemura?
A. There’s something about him, his aura is so special and he’s so talented and incredible. He revolutionized the beauty industry and to meet him—he was a pioneer in the world of makeup! And to work with him and eventually get a cosmetics contract… I was really living my dream.
Q. What is your life like these days?
A. The last few years have been all work and no play. The pros are, I can live in two places, I own an apartment in New York, I love going back and forth and seeing my family, but I rarely see my friends or family. I spend a great deal of time working and traveling. I actually just got back from five days in Mexico and it was the first vacation I have taken in the last six and a half years. I’m embarrassed to say that, but in the last six years of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to do everything that I’ve ever dreamed of doing and I never wanted to miss it.
Gina Brooke’s website is at www.ginabrooke.com.
Photos courtesy of Ms. Brooke and the Fashion Spot forums.