When Lucky Smyler first began working with makeup he had one goal: to transfer departments in the store where he worked. It wasn’t long before others began to notice his talent. Almost fourteen years later Smyler is a celebrity-makeup artist working with artist like Mary J. Blige, Viola Davis and Fantasia. Some might say that’s destiny, but Smyler calls it passion and hard work. ”When I go to work, I know that I’m doing what I was meant to do. I love it.”
Smyler can’t hide his enthusiasm. He did the makeup for Ebony’s natural hair makeover shoot. As I watched him, one word kept coming to mind: transformation. It didn’t take long before we were talking about makeup products, beauty problems and what it feels like to do what you love. We continued the discussion in an interview, that went something like this.
RDD: How long have you been doing makeup and how did you get started?
LS: Since 1997. I always wanted to be a designer. I was a fashion illustration major at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I wanted to design couture gowns, instead my first job was designing A-line dresses for housewives. So I took a job as a fragrance model in a department store. Then I made the transition to the makeup counter.
Eventually I decided to pursue makeup as a career and find an agent. I didn’t have experience or a portfolio. There was no Internet. I had to knock on doors. The first fifteen agents I approached laughed at me. Finally one agent said yes. His name was Ken Barboza. He knew a makeup artist that needed an assistant-Jay Manuel. A lot of people don’t know it, but Jay is a brilliant makeup artist. I assisted him for three years.
RDD: What is your approach to makeup?
LS: When someone sits in my chair I don’t have to think about it. I don’t pause. I want to enhance what is already there. I want the skin to be flawless, the lips to be demure and subtle, and the eyes defined. Makeup is about definition and detail, not color. I don’t want people to say look at the green eyeshadow. I’d rather them say, “wow, she got a lot of sleep.”
When I first started there were certain things I couldn’t do. I had to conquer Asian eyes, matching skin. If the brows are wrong or the foundation doesn’t match, you haven’t done your job.
RDD: I was so inspired by your passion on the set of the shoot. I will never forget the expression on your face. It was as if you were sending your child off to school. What do you love most about being a makeup artist?
LS: I love working with real people, everyday people. Like on the day of the Ebony shoot. Being able to naturally enhance or transform someone is the best part. I love that I built my business and no one can take it from me. Things were hard a few years ago and some artist left the business. But I continued to build. I sacrificed a lot.
RDD: What is your favorite look?
LS: Smokey eye! But for the average woman, it’s flawless skin. If you want to be flawless, get the skin flawless first.
RDD: What’s your advice for women in their 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, etc?
LS: Never leave the house without mascara, at any age. A lot of women spend so much time on liner and shadow, then forget mascara.
RDD: Where do you get your inspiration?
LS: It’s my job to follow trends and shows but I get inspired by the person-their personality. It’s my job to find out their routine. For celebrity clients I pull up pictures of what their makeup has been. I’m a celebrity makeup artist, but I’m not the celebrity. I get inspired by their story. It’s not about me.
RDD: What celebrities or projects have you been involved with that readers might recognize?
LS: I worked with Mary J. Blige on her My Life campaign and I travel with her as well. I did Fantasia’s Bittersweet album cover and video. I did the makeup for the Ambi commercials and print ads. I also work with celebrities for the red carpet.
RDD: What products are we sleeping on?
LS: Iman. She is an industry secret that people sleep on. I use her powders. Women don’t realize that they have instant access to the products that celebrity makeup artist use. MAC’s Strobe Cream is another sleeper. People don’t know what to do with it. I add it wherever I want to spotlight. It melts the colors into the skin and gives a nice sheen without any lines of demarcation. I use it over eyeshadow.
RDD: What did you use on the day of the shoot and what are some tips you can share with readers?
LS: For you, I used a bronzer by Iman. Laguna blush by Cargo for cheeks and for lips I used Amalfi. As for a tip, sometimes people will get too shiny. If you use Milk of Magnesia under your foundation it takes care of that problem. First moisturize your skin. Then blot with a tissue. Using a sponge, apply Milk of Magnesia to your face. You will be ashy, that’s expected. Then cover with foundation.
RDD: What do you want women to know?
LS: Makeup should be an enhancement, not a requirement. Some women won’t leave the house without it. Some are afraid of it. Makeup is like putting on a special outfit. I want women to never be afraid of makeup or take it for granted.
To see more of Lucky’s work, view his beauty portfolio here.