Billy B. at the San Francisco Stop of The American Beauty Tour
A few days ago I did a post on the opening session of The American Beauty Tour in San Francisco, featuring celebrity makeup artist Billy B.
Billy was really fun to talk to and just plain nice, like that cool older cousin you looked up to in eighth grade who always let you borrow her expensive Clinique lipstick. And even though he was on a tight schedule he was still kind enough to squeeze in some time with Makeup and Beauty Blog to dish on his upcoming projects, the makeup industry, and on creating success in life.
Makeup and Beauty Blog: Tell me about your upcoming show.
The show is not really about makeup. I’m from a tiny town in Mississippi, and like every small town in America it’s struggling to survive. It was very rich in the 1800s. It produced these beautiful houses that are now on the National Register of Historic Places. The houses were being lost just from neglect because people don’t have the money to keep them and restore them, so I started buying them and doing them on my own. I now have 17 [houses].
The name of the show, “The Beauty Foundation” is a play on words. I’m fascinated with transformation. It’s my other passion – transforming these houses that would otherwise be torn down and lost.
It’s my life, a reality show, doing what I do in New York and Hollywood with celebrities and stars and models and then going to Mississippi and saving these houses with my 74-year old mother and my ex-convict hillbilly contractor. And then the hilarity ensues!
MBB: What’s the skinny on your upcoming book?
The book is a dream. From the time that I became a makeup artist, even before I had my success, it was the ultimate fantasy to be able to have my work in a book that’s going to live forever.
MBB: Are you going to write it yourself?
I am. The book is going to be really personal, and it’s the way that I am always – really honest. I call it a “non-makeup” makeup book because it’s all about there are no rules. I have some tricks up my sleeve!
A beautiful example of Billy B.’s use of layering and sheen. Photo credit: www.billybbeauty.com.
MBB: Will the book feature the celebrities you work with?
It’s not going to be completely celebrity-driven. Although some of my favorite celebrity clients will be in it, but treated as real women with real issues, not as “this person who has no problems.”
There will be a lot of transformation, which I love, and a lot of real women, which I love.
We’ve done a disservice to women – trying to put everybody [up] to this ideal that’s unattainable. Women should really celebrate their face. And if they don’t want to wear makeup they shouldn’t wear makeup. It doesn’t mean that you’re not okay.
MBB: Who is the publisher?
Palace Press, who did Kevyn Aucoin’s books! It’s such an amazing thing to follow in the footsteps of an iconic person. I shared a lot of similarities with him. I was self-taught, I was from a small, southern town and I feel like he’s a kindered spirit.
… He was honest and real and passionate and not pretentious. It’s easy in this business for people to get so caught up in their own bullshit that they are not friendly, nice, accessible or compassionate people anymore.
MBB: What is the most challenging aspect about your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job is not makeup. It’s all the politics that goes along with it. It’s really a tough business. You are judged by so many things other than your craft. It’s too bad, but it’s the way the world is.
And that’s what I try to talk about in these classes and on The American Beauty tour. For [makeup artists] to stay passionate don’t let anybody kill your dream. And don’t get discouraged. I’m telling you – if I can do it, anybody can do it. That’s the honest to God truth.
MBB: On the flip side, what do you love about your job?
It’s different every day. I love that I’m my own boss. I love that it’s creative, obviously. But I love that it’s a different challenge every day. Obviously the key element that ties it all together is makeup, but it’s different every day what is required of me.
MBB: Do you have a favorite feature to work on?
It’s definitely eyes. It sounds totally corny, but that’s what everybody focuses on. When they’re speaking to you, when they are talking to you it’s the most expressive part of your face.
For makeup it has the most different elements to work with – with what you have to take into consideration – so it’s an adventure of the choices you are going to make and what you’re going to emphasize and how you’re going to do it. It’s just the most fun for me for sure and I think that’s what I’m known for.
A burst of color! Billy B. is known in the makeup industry for his detailed eye work. Photo credit: www.billybbeauty.com.
MBB: Which one is you’re go-to, can’t-live-without, you’d absolutely die if you didn’t have it brush?
Number 13. I call it the finishing brush and the highlight brush. That’s why I designed them! I did them for me, because they were hard to find. What I needed the brush to do is not easy to find. So I was just like, well, fuck it. I’ll make my own so that I’ll always have it.
MBB: What makes your brushes different from those out on the market already?
Well, it’s funny. I don’t think I reinvented the wheel. I [created] a brush that is functional, that does what I need to do, and I promise that is going to do the same for everybody that uses it. I tried to make them multi-purposed so you’re not going to have twenty different brushes to do what you need to do.
It’s bleached, varnished wood, it’s gorgeous but it’s lightweight. It’s not really heavy because I travel so much, weight is an issue with everything as it is for everybody that’s traveling. They fit well in a man’s hand and a woman’s hand. They’re just really personal to me. It’s funny, I haven’t told my clients that they’re mine. And it’s amazing they don’t notice it.
MBB: Why don’t you tell them?
Because I don’t want them to know! And every single one of them has said, “What is that brush?” which is the ultimate complement.
[I worked on] Rita Moreno, who has been in the business for years and won every award on the planet and worked with thousands of makeup artists. I didn’t say to her, “Oh my god you have to try my new brushes,” I just used them on her, and she said all the right things.
Billy B.’s celebrity clientele includes Mary J. Blidge, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Beyonce. Photo credit: www.billybbeauty.com
MBB: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I have no idea. It’s funny because I never saw myself coming out with products. And I surely never saw myself with a show. And I never saw myself with a book. It was a dream. But, it’s just what I said about the choices you make in makeup – just wait and let it show you. So I don’t know. I don’t have goals of “I have to do this by then.” I think you get in your own way if you do that.
MBB: You mentioned earlier that the makeup industry is tough. Have you found that you had to change who you are?
I thought I did … that’s why I left Mississippi – to leave who I was and to find somebody new. But the reality of it is, who we are is what makes us great. I know it sounds corny and mushy, but it is. And if somebody doesn’t like you for it, fuck ‘em. It’s as simple as that.
You know what I say to people all the time is, “I cannot tap dance for you.” I cannot be who you want me to be. And what I’ve learned in my life. If you choose a spouse or somebody to date or whatever because you think they’re going to eventually become the person you need them to be you’re wrong. It’s never going to happen.
So what I like is for clients to book me not because I’m funny, not because I’m handsome (or not!), not because I can hook them up with free Botox… I want them to book me because of what I do and my talent. And if they like the other stuff that’s great. But I can’t change. I can’t be who I’m not. And I think when you do that you’re never going to be successful.