Last Friday, I took to the Illamasqua School of Make-up Art at our Flagship store, 20 Beak St, London for a very special event. As invited make-up artists began taking their seats, they seemed somehow more like super-fans than make-up artists; you see, we were about to get an exclusive insight into the hair and make-up behind the scenes at the UKs ITV show Downton Abbey. Guest speakers Magi Vaughan (make-up designer) and Vanya Pell (make-up supervisor) welcomed an intimate crowd for a no-holds-barred account of what it is really like to be a part of Britain’s most famous estate.
To begin with, the ladies offered some general tips for aspiring MUAs. Magi suggested a book called ‘Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain’; apparently it exercises the left side of the brain (your creative side) and has helped her to develop an ambidextrous style of artistry. Art, it would appear, is quite synonymous with her make-up artistry. When offering advice for beginning a make-up design, she suggests, “Imagine the production as a painting; decide whether you would paint it in oil, acrylic or watercolour. Downton would be watercolour because it is so delicate.”
After a brief discussion about their backgrounds, we got onto the eagerly awaited topic of Downton. Vanya began with a who’s who of the wig-wearers. It transpired that all of the ladies in the cast had “something or another” (Lady Mary, for example, wears a small piece) and that eight members wore a full wig. The character of Rose had a particularly tricky wig scenario; a natural brunette, they had to give her a bald cap to cover her own hair before placing the blonde she wore as the character.
Beginning to discuss the styling techniques, Vanya resumed a demonstration as Magi continued taking questions. Her make-up technique is simple; “eyes, then airbrush, then concealer.” She uses Dinair airbrush to ensure that foundation is very natural and warns, “when you see it – stop!” Her most challenging make-up look was capturing Sybil before she died. In preparation, the team researched this condition with medical specialised advice. They paid tremendous attention to detail; a certain vein had to be accentuated and a blue added to her lips. This had to happen over a gradual period of time to create a believable look.
As Magi resumed a make-up demonstration, Vanya got back onto the subject of hair, talking us through the technique to getting those sculpted Downton waves. First, she tells us, add some curls to the hair. She created tight ringlets and brushed them out, finding wavy hair easier to work with. Then, she created her waves and gripped them into place – “this way they’ll last all day.” She tells us that they also had to teach the actresses playing servants how to create these looks so when dressing hair on screen they would look believable.
The hero products on set were surprisingly daring ones considering the bare-faced beauty of the cast members. They were three of our Powder Eye Shadows in striking pink shades – Dizzy, Toxic and Truth. A dusting of these across the eyelid was just the thing to add some natural warmth and fluster to an otherwise alabaster complexion. “That’s the thing about that period,” Magi notes. “You need that porcelain skin.”
Leaving us with a few parting pieces of advice, the session was complete. Want the Downton look? “Never powder,” Magi advises. “I don’t like powder, I think it deadens.” And if you’re working with HD? “There’s no room for error,” Vanya reminds us. “Always strive for perfection.”
The Christmas special of Downton Abbey will be aired on Christmas Day on ITV.