To describe beauty powerhouse Mary Greenwell as a 'fountain of knowledge' would be an understatement. As one of the makeup world's most revered figures, even the term 'legend' does her a disservice.
Mary Greenwell's extensive back catalogue speaks for itself. Her handiwork contributed to some of the industry's most iconic images – from the milky complexions of Vivienne Westwood's Elizabethan-inspired Café Society girls and Cindy Crawford's pram-pushing vixen to Meghan Markle's pre-engagement freckled ingénue cover girl moment on Vanity Fair and her longtime client Princess Diana's Versace-clad unadulterated polish for Harper's Bazaar.
Makeup artist to the stars, Mary Greenwell - Photo credit: Damon Baker
"When I was with her [Diana] just one-to-one in Kensington Palace, just her and I, we’d talk about colours, about this, that and the other, and we’d just talk it through. It was just fun," Greenwell tells Hello! Fashion in the weeks leading up to London Fashion Week.
It’s not hard to comprehend how the MUA has enraptured an impressive 144k following on Instagram, her delectable spirit and candy pink locks are arresting, as is her razor-sharp insight, amassed from four decades of industry experience.
Mary showed signs of an artistic eye from a young age. Her mother, whom Mary recalls as being "super glamorous", granted her free rein to arrange flowers for the drawing room and paint throughout her childhood. "My mother had extremely good taste and I was surrounded by extremely good taste," Mary explains, "I love the fact that she trusted me to do that."
Feeling stifled by her well-to-do upbringing, she moved to the US in the early 1972 – or rather stayed. She had been travelling there with her family, and at age 18 made the characteristically bold decision to hitchhike to Los Angeles over returning to England. "Literally the first morning I arrived in Hollywood I had breakfast with Clint Eastwood," Mary recalls. "I was very used to celebrities… I was not brought up to be intimidated by anybody because of my upbringing."
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After a string of service jobs, Mary was thrust into the world of makeup via a friend. He thought she'd be perfect to represent Fiorucci, which was about to open a makeup counter, despite of her lack of experience. "'Well hold on, this face has never worn makeup in its life!'" Mary recalls, "And he said, 'Never mind, we can pretend you did Biba makeup in London.'"
She then went to New York and over the course of a fortnight cut her teeth under makeup artist Ilana Harkavi, founder of trailblazing brand Il Makiage. Mary created her first-ever magazine cover look – or full makeup look for that matter – on none other than Brooke Shields. "Ilana came and said 'I think you should do the makeup today,'" Mary explains. "So I was like 'Oh my goodness, I’ve never done makeup, full makeup on anyone before!' and Brooke was only fourteen. I did her makeup and nervously went out an hour later to Ilana and said 'She's ready.' And she said 'Okay, bring her out.' So I brought her out to Ilana and she said 'Great, thank you Mary.' And I literally burst into tears."
Mary honed her craft and by the mid 1980s found herself in Paris, playing a part in the genesis of the supermodel era which launched names like Naomi Campbell into the stratosphere. "I was suddenly in my milieu, I was doing something I loved doing and found myself being appreciated and just having my confidence growing," Mary says. "When these girls arrived, the original five [supermodels], it was so special I can’t tell you."
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Eventually her client list expanded to include royal beauty Princess Diana, whom she first met in 1991 on a shoot for the December issue of British Vogue. "In walked this gorgeous, smiley, beautiful, elegant young thing with these incredible limbs," Mary recalls. "So friendly and so lovely, we just had the most amazing day."
Mary went on to help the princess refine her approach towards makeup, which included encouraging her to embrace a "fresher" look by ditching her signature blue eyeliner (which she famously wore on her waterlines) in favour of a more tonally flattering palette. "I find blue liners and green liners, all of those, quite ageing in eyes, and very unnatural. Great for a makeup look in a magazine, but not so great for every day," Mary advises. "Best to go with contrasting colours and browns and taupes, colours that are much softer."
As Mary reflects on her time spent with Princess Diana, it is abundantly clear that the pair built up a sense of intimacy. "I think I taught her everything. I taught her how to apply her foundation properly, how to make herself look polished and gorgeous," Mary says.
Makeup artistry can deliver an impact that goes way beyond an enhanced visage; physical touch possesses the power to transcend into something heartfelt and, in the hands of an expert, utterly blissful. "I work only with my fingers, I don’t work with sponges or brushes much. I think the touch is really important," Mary muses, "You’re building up trust and love, the feeling that you’re really there for them [her clients], that they are the most important thing. I am not. They are."
It's no surprise that her client list still brims with modern beauty muses – think Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and Amanda Seyfried to name but a few of Mary's celebrity disciples. And they're not alone, her Instagram following remains transfixed by her sporadic video content, with some frequently begging her to post more often, proving that Mary is still very much at the top of her game. Suffice to say, 'legendary' doesn’t even begin to cut it.
Mary Greenwell's top makeup tips:
1. It's all about the base
"The most important thing is skincare and good skin. If you have good skin you can literally wear a bit of mascara and that’s it," Mary says, "I match the base to my skin tone always. That’s very important so you don’t have a line down your neck."
2. Use concealer in a shade slightly lighter than your foundation
"I would use the stick foundation by Tom Ford under my eyes. I will then use on top of that Armani’s Luminous Silk Concealer. I love those two together because even though a stick foundation is quite like a cream, a concealer works really well over that," Mary says. "Then use a concealer definitely one or two tones paler and you just spread out your face out with concealer so that you get more of a luminous effect."
Luminous Silk Concealer, £37, Armani Beauty
3. Create a contrast
"If you have blue eyes, why use a blue liner inside your eye when all it does it take away from the blue of your eyes? What is most important with makeup is contrast, not trying to match something," Mary explains. Instead, she advises using contrasting shades and soft browns and taupes to enhance the natural beauty of the eye.
4. Avoid anything too harsh
"I don’t really like black makeup, black eyeliner, black eyeshadows, after a certain age because they won’t be becoming. Go with taupe colours, dark browns, of course, chocolate browns, really, colours that are more aligned with the skin tone."
5. Tubing mascaras are best for durability
When it comes to mascara staying power, Mary finds that tubing formulas reign supreme. She loves Sensai’s Lash Volumiser 38°C because it will "never, ever budge". "It won’t fall down your eyes, you won’t have halfway through the day a dark circle under our eye where mascara has hit the lowest part of your lower eye."
Sensai Lash Volumiser 38°C, £31, Harrods
6. The power of powder
"I think that powder is still really important around the T-zone, just a really lovely matting powder that will get rid of the shine around your nose and on your forehead," she advises. "A little bit of powder softens everything; it will blur things…it will diffuse and beautify your face." Mary’s weapons of choice include Sensai’s Translucent Loose Powder and Charlotte Tilbury’s Airbrush Flawless Finish Powder compact.
Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish, £38, Cult Beauty
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