It's hard not to like Charlotte Tilbury. Make-up artist to the stars, instigator of countless make-up trends and, since 2013, founder of a much-loved, eponymous make-up brand, she is also a human whirlwind. Whether she's talking about lipstick, shoots in the desert or Jennifer Lopez's contouring, she is so enthusiastic and animated that it is impossible not to get swept along.
Anyone who has held even a passing interest in fashion magazines over the past 25 years will be familiar with Tilbury's work. A veteran of innumerable fashion shoots, she has worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry.
Mario Testino, Mert and Marcus, Kate Moss, Miranda Kerr, Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian are some of the names that trip off her tongue, but I am still taken aback to learn that she was the make-up artist behind a 2002 shoot entitled Castaway Kate in British Vogue that sparked my own interest in fashion.
It starred a young Moss, whose bronzed skin (from her lips to her eyelids to her arms) was so beautifully matte that it triggered a trend for nude lips and matte skin that exists to this day. "Back then, there were no tanning products," Tilbury says with a laugh. "To get the skin colour I wanted, I had to mix Ben Nye and Guerlain, and then I literally imprinted the mix onto her body with cotton wool. It took three hours. I wanted her to look naturally bronzed, gorgeous and natural. For her beige lip in the shoot, which I called Nude Kate, I was using concealer, a pinky lipstick and a bit of a brownish lipstick – it was a concoction. And it set off a massive trend. Afterwards, everyone was asking me: 'Can we get that lip?' So products were being born without me realising."
With an approach to make-up that she herself describes as "alchemy", Tilbury happily mixes products to get the precise colour or texture she is looking for. "Make-up artists have secrets and tricks that we keep to ourselves, and it's part of the reason we are booked. Magic Cream is where it all started for me. I was working with a lot of celebrities, and they would come off planes, exhausted and dehydrated. How do I make them look gorgeous in under an hour? It became so famous backstage – it was then known as 'secret cream' – that make-up artists, celebrities and models all wanted it. When I launched my YouTube channel, I realised I couldn't do it without my Magic Cream. When we went on sale in Selfridges, we had about 200 people queuing to buy it, and it's still one of our bestsellers."
Having spent years developing tricks and shortcuts, Tilbury is now keen to share her knowledge. Aware that many women feel intimidated by the sheer range of make-up products available on the market, her aim is simply to help women feel more confident. "All of my products come from me wanting to steal a celebrity's DNA and put it a bottle," Tilbury explains. "My WonderGlow Skin Care Primer is like shrinking Gisele Bündchen and putting her in a jar. She looks lit from within, glowing and gorgeous. So I wanted something that would do good for your skin, and make you look very glowy. Jennifer Lopez is the contouring queen. It's an old Hollywood trick, and when I worked with her, it was all about cheekbones, highlighter and facial architecture. Filmstar Bronze & Glow is something I wanted to give to women in an easy format. The whole thing is about democratising make-up and coming up with a solution. This was all about taking my tips and tricks from the runways and red carpets, and giving it to real women."
Aside from working on countless fashion editorials, creating red-carpet looks for celebrities – Kerr, Kardashian, Nicole Kidman and Sienna Miller are all devotees – and doing the make-up for both Moss and Amal Clooney's nuptials, Tilbury is also the brain behind the launch of make-up lines for Helena Rubinstein, Giorgio Armani, Alexander McQueen and MAC. "I created the whole Tom Ford line with Tom Ford," she confides.
The UAE's first stand-alone Charlotte Tilbury store is due to arrive in The Dubai Mall early next year. Opening alongside stores in Kuwait and Bahrain, it promises to offer the same experience as her London flagship. "We are creating a Beauty Wonderland," she says. "I wanted to create an old-school theatre that's fun. You can come in and get a quick feline flick, or a five-minute smoky eye. I wanted to create different areas, a juice bar and a boudoir area, which is like Marilyn Monroe's dressing area. There will be amazing artists and private sessions for VIPs."
The Dubai store may be new, but Tilbury is no stranger to the UAE. She tells the tale of her first-ever visit to the country – and like most of the make-up maestro's stories, it's a good one. "I came here 13 years ago, when Dubai was just emerging. It was Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Mert and Marcus, Karen Elson, Amber Valletta and me, in the middle of the desert, shooting the Louis Vuitton spring campaign. There was nothing here then. It was like the Wild West."