Dominic Skinner, the legendary MUA in a YASS confession

Dominic Skinner has been in the beauty industry for more than 20 years. He is one of the most famous makeup artists in the UK and has worked with all the big names in the beauty business. In 2019, Skinner became a judge on the BBC TV series Glow Up, a competition for make-up artists. He is head judge alongside Val Garland.

His love for makeup and his passion for excellence have made him stand out, but we cannot deny that he is also known for his vibrant sweaters and cardigans, many of which he has auctioned off for charity. YASS met Dominic just before the beginning of the new season of Glow Up and this is what he had to say.

Did you always wat to become a makeup artist?

It was kind of a happy accident. Makeup was always in the background of my life. I have two older brothers and, when I was around 5, they did not want to play with me. So, I was always with my mum, who loves makeup and she wore a full-face just to take the milk from the front step. One of the games we used to play was “Making up mummy”. So, mum would lay on the sofa, get her makeup brushes out, and I would just brush her face. As an adult, I realised that the reason why she wanted us to play the game was to fall asleep. She wanted to sleep for like half an hour, have a little nap, but she couldn’t have a nap with a six-year-old in the house. So, it was like, “If I nap, and my six year old is brushing and painting my face, then I know where they are, and I can just sleep and be aware that they’re still there”. So, makeup was always sort of like in the background, but it was never really an idea of a career.

How did your career start?

I got a place at London College of Fashion doing men’s work, which I didn’t end up going to. Instead, I transferred to makeup. But at the same time, I was working, I had just completed an art course where you kind of do lots of different sort of art mediums, and one of them was photography where I was using makeup. And, I was really enjoying the makeup process. At the same time, I was working part-time in a body shop, where they had a makeup line. I found working with makeup quite easy, and, that’s not to sound arrogant. I had spent eight years studying art and painting, and I found it easy to transition from fine art to working with makeup. So that’s kind of where it all kind of led to.

my career really sort of started whilst I was at college. I moved from menswear to, makeup at London College of Fashion. Interestingly, I realised very early on that I’m going to learn a lot of a lot of tricks and techniques and application hacks. Also, I realised that I was in a college where they were producing the next big photographers, the next big stylists, the next big fashion designers. So, I thought that what I needed was to grab this opportunity and I just started working with every photographer I could in college. Because they were going to be the people that would make it; and that would then take me with them. That was the idea. And it kind of worked! I realised at that point that career is not defined by the talent you’ve got, but by the opportunities you make. And that’s the key. You need to take every opportunity possible.

Would you imagine you would become one of the top makeup artists in the UK?

It’s so bizarre when you even say that because I don’t see that, but I know it and I hear it. I just love makeup. I’m just surrounded by makeup all the time. I love the colours, the textures, the packaging, the industry, everything. And I love the problem-solving aspects of the industry. I remember years ago when I was assisting makeup artists (and assisting can be quite difficult because you know you aren’t the main makeup artist), people recognised very early that I was very good within a team, and also at problem solving. I remember working on a show where we needed to bronze people up with this sort of mixture. So, I just automatically made a bucket load of this mixture so we could have the same consistency. People considered it so clever, and it was those moments that I think established that I was the right person to go to for mixing colours. I know within the industry that I am recognised, and that’s lovely.

If you had to choose the most iconic moments in your career, which ones would you pick?

It’s been so many. One of them is being able to work with Jean-Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, and Jeremy Scott. I have worked in the four fashion capitals of the world. I have had the chance to work with the biggest and most iconic makeup artists in the industry. There’s nothing better than doing what you love for a living. If you do what you love, then you you’re living a full life, and you’re not wasting it.

Do social media platforms make it different for people who aspire to be makeup artists nowadays? Do you think the new generation has more opportunities to address to a bigger audience? Or do you think there is a lot of competition that makes things more difficult for them?

Everything you just said! When I first started in the industry I did not know where I could go to study makeup. There was no internet and no information. I went to a place called “Citizens Advice Bureau”, which was like a “real-life Google”. But, now, people who are makeup artists have never experienced that, because all they’ve known is makeup within the brains of social media. Also, when I started, very few people were makeup artists, whereas now, everybody is or wants to be a makeup artist. But, the flip side is that there is a huge amount of competition. And, so, the trouble is, for these young people, how do they stand out and how do they become the person that gets picked? There are two things that happen. You need luck, and, you need skill. And, my advice to any young person that wants to be a makeup artist, is to diversify, as much as possible.

Who is behind the outfits you wear in the show? Is it true that you are involved in this process?

Yes, it is! I have a big interest in men’s fashion and in design. I like to customise things and to play with the clothes a little bit.  Like, when I added 100 pompons to a jumper for an episode. Or, when I added googly eyes to a top for another episode. It’s nice to wear something that you know no one else has got. I would rather wear one thing that people are going to stop and stare, even if they laugh at it, than wear something that fades into the background.

I like to support queer artists. I make sure to know all the designers that I wear. I go to certain designers that I’m obsessed with, and I don’t just borrow the clothes, but I buy them because they are all works of art. I know this sounds very boozy, but I don’t really buy a lot of clothes. I buy two or three key pieces each season. You don’t need five bags of clothes for the winter.

When you meet someone new, are you the kind of person who spots pays attention to their makeup first thing and spots mistakes?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice. That would be, like, a builder coming into your home, and noticing walls that aren’t straight. It’s not like I judge, I wouldn’t judge anyone. But, I kind of look and think “What would I do to that face”? You know, would I do a different eyeliner? Would I use a different lipstick colour? It’s my job, it is what I’ve done for 20 plus years, so it happens just naturally.

What is the secret behind being a good MUA?

I think, to be a good makeup artist it is not necessarily about the skills. It’s about being a people person. You need to know how to adapt. You can’t be a bull in a china shop, because you’re going to come up against someone who just doesn’t like it. Sometimes I’ve been in jobs where I’ve had to be forceful, but there’s other times, where you have to sit back and listen.

When I worked with Winnie Harlow, it was not my position to sit there and dictate what she should have. I had to sit back, and I had to listen and appreciate that she has had her makeup done many times badly. And, so, she wants to tell you how to do it, and you need to listen. So, there’s times where you have to force, but there are other times you have to sit back and allow someone else to take charge. A good makeup artist is someone who is adaptable to different people. And never takes anything personally.

How is working with Val Garland?

Oh my God! It is an absolute dream. I’ve been very lucky that I was actually the head makeup artist on the very first show she ever did at London Fashion Week. That was around 18 years ago, and I’ve then worked almost consistently with her pretty much every season. Probably, about eight years ago, I started working with her a lot more, to the point where I was literally working in every show that she did with MAC Cosmetics. I would be with her every step of the way, and we just built such a respectful relationship. I think because we’ve worked together so long, we just clicked. I am standing next to an icon in the industry. She truly is the ultimate makeup artist. I’m not there to compete with her, my job is to be a judge on the show, standing next to Val Garland as equal. We have so much fun. She’s got the most amazing stories and every time she tells me a new story that I’ve never heard of, I keep saying to her to put it in a book. Honestly, the day Val brings out an autobiography is the day the heavens are going to open because it is just going to be the best read ever. We have a really good team. There’s no egos whatsoever.

We’ve never done TV before GlowUp, so this was really the first thing we’ve done so. We both have the same thought process which is to tell the truth, as painful or as hard as it might be to hear. We need to tell the truth.  It’s not just a TV show, it’s not just about

people doing a competition with a bit of drama and creativity. We have got an incredible responsibility. These are makeup artists who are trying to carve a career out of the industry that is already saturated, so it is our responsibility to give them the feedback they need to hear. Yes, they may not like what we have to say, but the feedback we give is always constructive, direct, and educational.

You have worked both with Stacey Dooley and Maya Jama. Do you have a personal favourite?

Both Stacy and Maya have my heart equally. It was an absolute blessing having Stacey for season one and season two. In season one, Stacey was on Strictly Comes Dancing and it was crazy the level of commitment, she gave. Both Val and I have really strong work ethics and we work hard. It’s part of the industry. Stacey has exactly the same work ethics, and, it was really lovely to work with someone who was just as committed as we were. She really helped us understand who all these people are on set, and , also helped those viewers who had never seen a makeup show before, to learn a lot of stuff and engage with the industry. Then, Maya turned up in season three, and she just bought a completely different vibe to the show. After the first five minutes of our first meeting, we would be already talking about makeup tricks and bodily functions. She wants to learn and understand about the industry and, also, she has always been a fan of the show.

Is there going to be a Glow Up Season Four?

Yes, there is going to be a Glow Up Season Four and  we’re really looking forward to it. We’re in the process of preparing the new season which will air soon. And what’s really interesting is that the makeup industry is so massive that there is just so much to cover, from TV and theatre to fashion. The industry loves our show and really respects it, and as a result, we now have more and more doors opening to us we’ve got bigger and better and more exciting jobs coming up. And this season we’re going to be covering so much! So, stay tuned!

How is life, how’s life for you at the moment?

Life is good. Life is always good. It is all about finding the positivity, the pleasures and the joys in everyday and doing what you love. I live with my husband, we have got two gorgeous cats, I love Lego and I am growing my chilies, at the moment.

What are your future plans?

Future plans include a holiday. That’s what I would really love; a holiday in the sun! My job can be sporadic and random, so I can say that my future is not necessarily planned out, but I know that whatever it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be fun.

More of Dominic Skinner here:

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