Katie Mellinger is a New York-based makeup artist who primarily works within the fashion industry. As a mentee of prestigious makeup artist Dick Page, Mellinger has crafted editorial looks for publications such as W, NYLON and Elle Singapore and worked on the team that created runway looks for brands such as Narciso Rodriguez, Michael Kors, and Band of Outsiders backstage at New York Fashion Week.
When moving to New York from the Midwest, did you originally intend to pursue a career in the makeup industry?
I hadn’t originally planned on being a makeup artist. Fashion wasn’t exactly under my radar. I remember seeing editorials from Vogue as a child at grocery stores in Texas and being really confused as to why people would take pictures dressed that way! Granted, that was the early ’90s, and what I was seeing in magazines wasn’t exactly the picture of preppy suburbia that I was used to. After college in Missouri, I had a bit of a quarter-life crises, freaking out about what I wanted to do with my life. A good friend of mine with a degree from F.I.T. said to me, “Why don’t you do makeup? You’re good at it.” He basically opened up my eyes to the world of fashion. I had never considered something like that. At the time, living in the South, the Midwest, makeup artistry was just not something you thought of as a “real” job.
What were the most significant challenges you cam up against while navigating this part of the fashion industry?
Originally, I thought I was going to be an actress, so when I made the switch over to makeup, I thought it would be a lot less competitive than acting. And I was completely wrong. There are so many talented makeup artists out there, many of which I’m lucky to call my friends. You really have to hustle. You have to work a lot for free. You can’t lie around when you’re not working and bitch about how you’re not working – you have to go out and meet people and contact people and shoot constantly and be willing to put yourself out there. You have to drag a heavy suitcase with you everywhere, up and down the subway steps. You have to be willing to be dirt poor sometimes because sometimes the work isn’t always coming in. And most of all, you have be able to stay positive and not let the bad times get you down, because otherwise you’ll drown in all that negativity.
How did you meet famous makeup artist Dick Page?
I met Dick in a fairly standard way: I dropped off my portfolio at his agency and told his agents that I was interested in assisting him. The next season I did my first show with him at Narciso Rodriguez. The following season I was on all his shows for NYFW. Some friends of mine on his team had recommended me. I was very lucky in that regard. I’ve been working with him for over five years now. He’s an amazing mentor.
What’s it like working with him? What are the most influential makeup tricks he’s taught you?
As I said, Dick is an amazing mentor. After I started working with him, my approach to makeup and individual faces did a complete 180. He taught me to focus more on what works rather than what the standard idea is for makeup application. Because of him, I now use mostly fluffy brushes – I rarely, if ever, use a flat synthetic brush. Fluffy brushes are so much better for lips! I also pay more attention to the way a face moves before I begin an application. I learned that from him. And especially, above all, do not bring concealer too close to the lower lash line. Try it, and you’ll see a huge difference.
My favorite thing about Dick is that we mostly talk about his dog and what he’s making for dinner. He’s taught me so many ways to make fish!
How do you decide which shows to work on during Fashion Week? Do you have a favorite to date?
I don’t really get the final decision on what shows I work on during Fashion Week – it all depends on who books me. Obviously, I do as many of Dick’s shows as I can, unless I’m booked on my own shows that I’m keying. I also like to help out my other makeup artist friends who are on the up and up with the shows that they’re keying. If they need me to assist, and I’m available, I have no ego about helping them out. It’s good to be supportive of other artists. After that, if I have any free time, I look to assist other established artists I admire. Every artist is different, and it’s always good to learn new techniques. Fashion Week is a great time to do that. But honestly, with Dick’s schedule and my own, I cap out on the amount of shows I’m able to commit to in a week.
There have been so many Fashion Weeks in my career this far, it’s hard to remember them all! If the team I’m working with is good (and we’re a well-oiled machine on Dick’s team) and there’s a good energy, I always end up loving the look. In particular, we always get to do something interesting and different for Band of Outsiders and Z + Maria Cornejo. Narciso is always gorgeous in its simplicity. And the season at Michael Kors with the flushed cheek and red berry lips – that was one of my faves.
As an artist, you must want to create new and different makeup looks. Is it boring for you when clients want a natural look?
There are hundreds of different ways to create the same look. Makeup has no rules, so even if I’m doing the same natural look over and over, it’s different every time, because my application is different because each face is different.
Is there a current makeup trend you wish would disappear?
Trends aren’t really my thing. I either like something or I don’t. What I find tedious about trends is some people become a slave to them, because they do a shoot, it works on one person once, and that’s their answer for every makeup look ever. “Just put a (insert current trend here) on her.” It gets old. Sometimes I wish people would think outside of the box.
What are the most essential makeup products or tools every woman should have?
Get a good foundation. Make sure it matches your skin tone in natural daylight. Grab a few bold lip colors to punch up your look quickly and easily. Get some fluffy brushes and clean them regularly. And if Shiseido ever discontinues their Luminizing Satin Face Color in High Beam White or Soft Beam Gold, I will cry a million times. They are the most amazing highlighters: perfect for cheek or under the eye.
Products have become more readily available on sites like Barneys and Net-a-Porter. Where do you shop online?
It’s difficult to shop for makeup online, so usually, if I have to do that, I go straight to the brand’s website. Luckily, I live in New York, so if I feel the need to shop at Barneys, I can just go over there. I would say always buy your foundation or concealer in person, that way you can see if it matches your skin tone in natural light before you purchase it.
What’s been the most non-glamorous part of your job?
Definitely, without a doubt, using airbrush makeup on a bikini line while the model was wearing a thong. That, and covering up butt acne. Ultra glamorous!