Val Garland’s New Book Proves She’s the Most Badass Makeup Artist in the Business

Before “life got in the way,” Val Garland thought she might become a journalist who interviewed interesting people all over the world. Instead, she was a “dreamer” destined to create her own cast of characters as a makeup artist — many of which you’ll see spotlighted in Validated, a new book that chronicles various chapters of Garland’s extraordinary career.

Nick Knight. Tim Walker. Sølve Sundsbø. Steven Klein. John Galliano. Lee McQueen. Sam McKnight. Marian Newman. Kate Moss. You’ll find iconic work from these fashion superstars (and many more!) gracing the pages of Garland’s new coffee table tome. “We all came up together,” she said. “I think we created a moment.” And making moments — not merely applying makeup — is what makes Garland such a monumental force in the beauty business.

When she’s creating a look — whether it be “poetic” and pretty (like the pressed flowers she applied to models’ faces at Preen’s Spring 2017 show), or “raw” and arresting (like Angela Lindvall covered in dirt for a Dior ad) — one question continually comes to Garland’s mind: “Would I want to hang that image on my wall?” In fact, many of the photographs found in the book are hanging on the walls of her London home — a former banana factory.

For those of us who don’t consider supermodels and superstar photographers among our closest collaborators and friends, there’s Validated. In addition to the glossy photos you’ll be tempted to rip out and frame, there are insider tips, never-before-seen snaps from behind the scenes, and stories about Garland’s (sometimes bumpy) journey to the top. While it’s tough to choose just one, our favorite chapter might be the one detailing all of the out-of-the-box materials the face painter has employed over the past three decades to create exquisite and unexpected looks. From potatoes to pencil shavings to pantyhose, you’ll discover how this beauty legend spins everyday materials into makeup gold.

In the opening pages of your book, you note that you never wanted to be a makeup artist. Instead, you started your beauty career as a hairdresser in Australia. How did you ultimately transition to painting faces?

"I became a hairdresser because whilst I was thinking about what I was going to be and how I was going to travel the world, I thought, Well, I better get a job to see me through till I decide what I'm going to be, so I started hairdressing and I loved it. I really, really loved it. And I had a really good career. I went on to salons and all the while, little did I know, I was in training. I guess I was an Insta-makeup artist before there ever was an Insta-makeup artist. Although I was doing hair in the salon, every day I would come in with these weird and wonderful makeups on my face. People would always ask, 'Who are you today?' And I'd be like, 'Well, I don't know!' I remember seeing this look in Blitz magazine on one of the London club kids — I think it was Trojan from Taboo — and I wanted to copy it. My lips were not on my lips, instead, they were halfway across my face. Everything was a little bit wonky. People would say to me, 'You're always doing makeup on yourself, you should be a makeup artist.' I was like, 'No, I couldn't be a makeup artist.' Through friends who would come to the salon — photographers, fashion editors, and models — I all of a sudden found myself doing hair on shoots. Everyone was sort of saying, 'Do the makeup.' I always said no until one day the makeup artist rang in sick, so it was like, 'Right Val, you've got to do it.' That's really how it started."

How did you end up working in salons down under after growing up in England?

"I grew up in Bristol and met a guy — he was a drummer in a band. Thought that was a good idea. We got married pretty quickly. And then he said, 'Let's go and live somewhere else.' I thought he was going to say London or Paris, but he said, 'Let's go to Australia.' I was like, 'Yeah, okay, why not? We're young.' I think I was 18 at the time and off we popped to Australia. I did four years in Perth and ten in Sydney."

Do you think having that experience as a hairstylist made you a stronger makeup artist?

"Yes, I think I got a bit of insight into the etiquette on a shoot. As a hairdresser, you are also getting in someone's face. You're getting up-close and personal, and it's the same for a makeup artist. What that teaches you is confidence and how to gain people's confidence to trust you. So yes, I do think hairdressing helped me feel more confident about being that close to somebody and doing something — especially in the beginning when perhaps I was a bit nervous."

Over the years, you’ve worked with everyone from celebrities like Lady Gaga to supermodels. How do you gain their trust?

"I think you have to make people feel comfortable. You need to talk and communicate. If you’ve got a famous actress or a very famous model in your chair and you haven't done their makeup before, you communicate with them and ask, 'How do you like to look? What's your thing that you like?' You have to be able to read what someone is saying. Sometimes, somebody might say, 'Oh, I don't really wear any makeup.' They might ask you to put a bit of concealer here or add a bit of sculpting there, and before you know it, you realize they were perhaps too frightened to say, 'Make me look beautiful.' Everybody can look better. Everybody can look more empowered. Everybody can look more beautiful thanks to the power of makeup. I mean, it's a fact."

I read in your book that even Kate Moss requested mascara at a mascara-free McQueen show.

"In the early '90s, we were doing a lot of cloning. Every model had to look the same, so all the makeup had to look the same. But in the real world, things don’t always work like that. Sometimes, you do have to tweak it. Backstage, Kate was like, 'So, what's the makeup?' And I said, 'Well, you know we're bleaching brows and it's all sort of ethereal and pale. We're pushing the features back in the face.' She was like 'Oh no, I need mascara. I need base.' I said, well that's what Lee [McQueen] said.' She called him over and that's when he used some expletives and finally let her have the mascara. Kate got what she wanted and so she should, she's Kate Moss! At the end of the day, everybody has to feel beautiful. It's a bit different now. Today, thank god, we don’t put people into boxes or try to clone people into certain looks. Today, we celebrate diversity and being an individual — finally.

Speaking of today, what is inspiring you right now?

"What inspires me right now are the young millennials. The gusto confidence of the social media generation is astounding. They have so much more confidence and self-belief than we ever had. This is the new anarchy that’s pushing [people] forward to try and create new things. Everything is so much faster. Today, it feels like you've got to shout the loudest, otherwise, you won't be heard. You need to have a presence on social media and you have to keep that presence up. Through all of this, I think we are creating a new way of thinking, seeing, and feeling beauty. I also think change and disruption can only be interesting. If we carry on the same old way life gets really boring. I want these kids to come in and totally disrupt the way we view beauty. Why not? We've got to move on."

Over the course of your career, you’ve certainly managed to disrupt the status quo — one of those moments being when you painted Kate Moss black for The Independent, which you included in your book. In a world where cultural appropriation is such a hot topic, would you still take this risk today? Is there a way to successfully balance creativity with respect?

"When we did that shot, we were looking at color. I was looking at the color black the same way I would look at the color yellow or red. It was a color on skin. We weren't turning Kate African American. I could have easily have painted her yellow, or white, or green. Though green might not have looked very good. When we were doing this shoot, we weren't looking at what we were doing as a risk. It was only a color. Today, one does have to balance creativity with respect. It's a different world that we live in — and thank god it's a different world that we live in. I probably would still do that to Kate today if Nick [Knight] asked me because it is a color. Would I take somebody like Joan Smalls and paint her white? Probably not. It wouldn't be appropriate. I didn't set out to make Kate look like an African American girl. It was always an artistic [statement]. It was never anything else. We didn't understand all the controversy around it and I put it in the book for that reason. It's a beautiful shot done by Nick Knight. There is no controversy around it. It's a color. The thing is, we don't want to turn ourselves off to creativity or stick ourselves in holes. As long as we respect creativity, we should be allowed a sense of freedom."

There's also a Tim Walker image of Scarlett Johansson in the book and next to it you write that “super-perfection is boring.” In your opinion why is imperfection such a key component of true beauty?

"First and foremost, we're all slightly imperfect. It's natural to have an eyebrow a little bit higher than the other. Or maybe your bottom lip is slightly bigger on one side than it is on the top. It's what makes you interesting. It's what makes you an individual. I think when everything is very symmetrical you sort of like look at it and you're like, Okay, that's great. But when something is a little bit off, a little bit unexpected, I think it makes it more interesting."

You've gotten up-close and personal with so many famous faces over the years, so what you're saying is that even supermodels have “flaws”?

"You've only got to take a Polaroid of a beautiful model and then cut the Polaroid in half. No face is symmetrical. There's always something a little bit off. Always."

In Validated, you reveal a few jobs that didn’t exactly go as planned. From designers changing their minds at the last minute before a major runway show to models begging for mascara backstage, how do you manage to work so brilliantly with intense people under pressure?

"I think you've got to be the calming influence. Instead of being defensive or trying to sell the makeup that you've done, you've got to work out a solution. You have to look at the problem as an opportunity to turn things around…There's no point in getting yourself worked up, you've just got to make it work."

There is also a chapter devoted entirely to unconventional materials and tools. Was there ever an out-of-the-box idea that didn’t work?

"It might have had something to do with food because food is unpredictable. When food contacts with the heat of the skin it starts to melt, so you'd better get [the shot] quick. Otherwise, that moment is gone. I can't really pinpoint something that hasn't worked, but it might have had something to do with candy floss. If you hold that in your hands it stops being cotton candy and becomes a much darker chewing gum."

Were you ever nervous to try an unorthodox material on set? For example, there is an image in the book of a model’s face coated in honey. How did you know that would work?

"I didn't know — that’s the thing! It was either going to look amazing or it was going to look like a mess. But if it looked like a mess, we'd take it off and either do it again or try something else. I think I've always been a bit of a risk taker. It is only makeup, but I do like putting myself under that pressure. It’s like, Oh my god, we've got to get it in the next five seconds! I love that energy."

A true beauty adrenaline seeker! Vivienne Westwood is even quoted in your book saying that she suspects that you are crazier than she is. What do you think?

"Well, I think we're probably about the same! I think she's bonkers and I'm bonkers, so that's why it's always been a good match. We think the same. She’s an amazing woman and the grand dame of fashion. We’ve certainly had one hell of a ride."

You’ve managed to capture a lot, but was there anything left on the cutting room floor that you wish had made it into the book?

"I wish I could have kept going, but my publishers were saying that I couldn’t put anything else forward. There were so many things that ended up on the cutting room floor…Hopefully, it's an ongoing story. You never know, there might be enough images for something else."

While you have 259 pages worth of incredible memories and have received countless accolades for your work, you note in the first few pages of the book that you never saw yourself as “worthy” or “good enough.” Have you ever reached a point where you felt fully confident in your abilities as a makeup artist?

"The moment you start going, 'Okay, I've made it,' is the worst thing you can do. You’ve got to keep going because you're only as good as your last makeup. You can't sit back on your laurels. You can't say, 'All right, yep, I'm one of the best makeup artists in the world. Super, now I can relax.' No, you can never relax because there's always a new trend, there's always a new idea or a new product. If you want to stay at the forefront of your industry, you have to keep pushing yourself. It might sound silly, but I don't think I've gotten there yet. Maybe I'll get there when they're putting that last nail in the coffin!"

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