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How Daniel Martin Went From Working at a MAC Counter to Doing Meghan Markle's Wedding-Day Makeup

With some other pretty epic accomplishments in between.
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, on her wedding day (with makeup by Daniel Martin). Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, on her wedding day (with makeup by Daniel Martin). Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.

On May 19, 2018, the entire world turned its attention to one event: Meghan Markle's wedding to Prince Harry. It was momentous, emotional, beautiful — the stuff of fairytales. Thanks to social media, it was also among the most widely viewed and closely scrutinized of any such occasion in history (after all, Instagram was still in its relative infancy back in 2011 when Prince William married Kate Middleton). On that day, the responsibility of getting the soon-to-be Duchess of Sussex's makeup just right fell to one person: Daniel Martin, her longtime friend and makeup artist.

Being a part of the royal wedding was certainly a career highlight for Martin — as it would be for any beauty professional — but it was hardly the first time his work had been in the spotlight. With a decades-long career in the industry, he is among the most respected makeup artists working today. His work spans editorial, backstage and celebrity projects; he regularly partners with brands such as Dior Beauty, Tatcha and Honest Beauty. He has worked with Bella Hadid, Chloë Sevigny, Gemma Chan, Priyanka Chopra, Nicole Richie, Greta Gerwig, Saiorse Ronan and Julianne Moore, to name only a small selection of his mind-boggling list of celebrity clients. 

And yet, there's a reason those outside of the industry may not have known Martin's name before he was catapulted to international prominence via the royal wedding. In some ways, he is the antithesis of so many makeup artists working today, whose rise to success coincided with that of Instagram. He's laid-back, humble and not attention-seeking in the slightest. He has a unique reverence for his peers and and gives off the impression that he genuinely still can't believe he's had the opportunities that have come his way. 

Known for melding carefully honed skill with a grounded approach to makeup, Martin pushes creative boundaries while also putting out looks that translate in real life — unfiltered and unedited. So it's not exactly surprising that he was the one Markle wanted to have around on her wedding day.

Martin recently took some time to chat with Fashionista about his career path — which began with a stint working at a MAC makeup counter — as well as how the industry has changed and whether he has plans to launch a beauty brand of his own. Oh, and of course, we pressed him for details about the royal wedding and Markle's skin-care routine (honestly, how is any human being so damn glow-y all the time?). Read on for the highlights.

Daniel Martin. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Martin

Daniel Martin. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Martin

Tell me about your background and how you first got interested in beauty.

I always wanted to be in New York. I have three sisters. Fashion has always been a passion. Growing up in Seattle, especially in the '90s and late '80s, that was so far removed.

I think it wasn't until in high school, being exposed [to fashion]. There was a magazine store at Pike Place Market that sold Interview and Paper and The Face. I would take the bus there the first Saturday of every month with some friends. We'd stock up on all the international magazines. That's when I fell in love with fashion.

When did you start to pursue a career as a makeup artist?

I got a job working at the MAC counter at Nordstrom in college. That was when I was like, I think I really want to get into makeup. It wasn't until the mid-'90s that I moved to the East Coast. That's when I really honed in on makeup, and I got a job working at an Aveda concept salon in Virginia. At Aveda, they did both hair and makeup. They were sponsoring shows for New York Fashion Week then as well, so that's how I got into [working backstage].

What was it like working backstage back then?

Well, it was through Aveda that I met Pat McGrath because she was consulting with the brand in '97. Then, when I got to New York, I was assisting on her show team.

That's such a coveted opportunity to get at such a young age.

I was definitely low on the totem pole. I just really lucked out. Even to this day, I wonder if she knows who I am. At that point, I was like, I'm just fortunate to even be on her radar. I was also freelancing, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and doing the struggle like everybody else.

Did you sign with an agency?

When I moved to New York, I was working in a corporate position with Aveda. Then after 9/11, it was a wakeup call: I didn't move to New York to do a corporate job, I came here to be a makeup artist. It was a total reset and realization that you don't know what the next day brings you, so try to be as happy and fulfilled as you can in that moment. It's already hard living in New York City. I feel like if it weren't for that trigger, I wouldn't be where I'm at now. So in 2004 I went out on my own, full-time. 

When you decided you were going to make that jump and really pursue makeup artistry, what were your first steps?

I networked as much as I could. It was really Kerry Diamond, who used to be the beauty director at Harper's Bazaar and then worked with Lancôme, [who helped me]. She took me under her wing. At the time, Gucci Westman has head of creative for Lancôme and Carrie introduced me to Jack [McCollough] and Lazaro [Hernandez] at Proenza Schouler. Carrie introduced me to Thakoon [Panichgul]. She introduced me to Richard Chai. That's kind of how I got into the fashion fold. Through Jack and Lazaro, I met Chloë Sevigny, and it just snowballed.

You were working with both fashion clients and celebrity clients — was that rare at the time?

Yeah, in the early 2000s, it was very divided. A lot of the celebrity makeup artists were based in LA, and then the fashion kids were in New York. But it was starting to hit that moment when celebrities were sitting front row at the fashion shows. The designers picked up that cost, and they had a vision of what they wanted them to look like. Jack and Lazaro had me do a lot of celebrities that came to their shows. That's how I got into that mix. Even though I was based here in New York, I would do a lot of the LA girls that were coming here.

So a lot of your early success hinged on building relationships with the right people. 

I think what we forget as artists are the people and the relationships because it's such a fleeting industry. Fashion and beauty can be so egotistical. You forget that there's a lot of great relationships in this business. I would definitely say that 80 percent of my success has been because of fostering those relationships and really understanding the business, and knowing that the next day could be your last, unfortunately.

As an artist, I feel like you also need to understand all the aspects of what we do, rather than just showing up on set and doing your job. You have to look at the bigger picture, rather than just focusing on what you do.

Are you able to identify one moment in your career that really felt like your big break?

I was able to participate in the all-Black issue of Italian Vogue. That editorial got my introduction to The Wall Group, which still represents me now. That basically signed me to the agency; from that, it was them getting the LA agent that introduced me to a lot of the LA girls. So I would say that, and then working with Jessica Alba because from that relationship, I started consulting for her brand, Honest Beauty. I also had my Dior Beauty contract before that. 

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Given that you do work with so many brands, how do you choose which ones you want to align with? And how do you maintain authenticity?

I was introduced to Dior right after Peter Philips signed on. At the time, it wasn't a creative director role, but more of a brand ambassador role, something that a lot of the fashion beauty brands hadn't done.

I keep it really down-to-earth and really real. I'm really bad at "fakeness" and bullshit. If I love your brand, I love your brand. I'm just not someone that's going to be paid off to talk about it.

How has the industry changed most since you first got your start?

I think for a makeup artist, you have to really understand the business. We work in an industry where we're working six months out. You have to keep an eye on the business aspect as well as the artistry. Right now, especially with social media, it's created a whole other dimension of how people see your work, how people reach out to you. It's created almost this segregation between people who work in fashion and people who work with celebrities and people who only work in that Instagram medium. It's not to say that one trumps the other; it's just that you have to be more aware of how your work is viewed and if it translates in those mediums.

What advice would you have for someone who is coming up in this era and trying to start their career as a makeup artist?

Try to get your feet wet in as many avenues as you can and really understand what it is to be a makeup artist. One thing that a lot of people haven't realized is that what you shoot on your phone and edit in an app doesn't necessarily translate once you're shooting on set with someone who's using film. You have to understand lighting. You have to understand skin texture. You have to understand longevity. 

With Meghan [Markle]'s wedding, I had to think about her in the car, her outside, her in the church and how that translated photographs and on camera. You have to really understand the situation and the scenario, and how long that makeup's going to be on that skin for such a long period of time.

Since you brought it up, I want to hear much more about that! Can you tell me about how your relationship with Meghan came about in the first place and how it led to being her makeup artist for her wedding day?

We've been friends for almost 10 years. I already had three other friends get married that same year — to be honest, to me, this was just another wedding. The weekend after her wedding, my best friend got married in Tuscany. So it was just a series of weddings to me at that point. 

But it was exciting to have been asked, because I wasn't expecting it, and to also be asked to attend was a whole other thing. It's a blur. It definitely brought my visibility up and it's been really weird, but at the end of the day, we're still great friends. Her profile's on a much more global level, but — it's weird to say — it's still kind of the same.

What was your approach to her wedding-day makeup look?

For me and her, it was about her looking and feeling her best. I honestly didn't know the magnitude of what was going to happen. I didn't even know what her dress was. I didn't know who was doing her hair. The day of the wedding was when I found all of that out. All I knew was that this is the kind of makeup she's most comfortable in and that was that. There was no stress at all the morning of. I did what I had to do, and just hoped that it lasted for 12 hours because that was such a long day.

My intention was to make her feel as beautiful and as comfortable as possible, because it was about them. It wasn't about us. It wasn't about Serge [Normant] and I. She was comfortable in it and then that was it.

I know one thing a lot of people reacted to was that she looked so natural — you could see her skin and her freckles. 

It was crazy because I did get dragged for that; I had people coming after me like, 'She didn't have enough makeup. Where was her contour?' She had all of that, but it was done in a way that was subtle so you didn't notice it. You don't want to see a noticeable contour, especially on someone's wedding day. Especially at 12 o'clock in the afternoon. I had a lot of moms reach out to me on Instagram thanking me that they were able to show their 14-year-old daughters that they didn't have to go to school with so much makeup on.

How is her skin that glow-y all the time? Is it purely genetics or all your makeup skill? 

She has great skin and it's really balanced. If anything, so much of it is about hydration. She's good about drinking lots of water and taking care of herself. That day in particular, the Gods were on our side. I don't do anything different with her than I do with any of my other clients. 

She just takes great care of her skin. You can't get that with anything that's too emollient, meaning too oil-based. A lot of [her favorite moisturizers] are a water-based, like hyaluronic acid moisturizers.

How did that day change your career, if at all? Was it mainly just attention on social media? 

I had my phone off the whole day of the wedding. But right after, I went from 17,000 [Instagram followers] to 70,000 in one day. It was bonkers. Then I panicked because it brought up so much performance anxiety. That wedding put me in a whole other stratosphere on social media that I can't understand. I'm lucky that I had a career prior. If anything, it's just my profile is up, but I still have the same clients. I still work with the same people. My day-to-day hasn't really changed. I'm just lucky that I have job that I love doing and that I have great friends that I get to work with.

Are there any goals you're still working toward in your career?

I'd like to get back into education because I feel like when people reach out to me on Instagram, so much of it is about [that]. I want to do a book — not necessarily on artistry, but just sharing the journey.

I've been fortunate to work with all these brands — I've been asked to do my own line, but [the market] is so saturated. If anything, I could see working with a brand that's a bit cleaner. I think people want to know what's in their makeup right now. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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