Bob Scott on the Secrets to Celebrity Makeup

Bob Scott on the Secrets to Celebrity Makeup

by Rose Dommu

With a roster of clients that includes Mj Rodriguez, Barbie Ferreira, Rachel Brosnahan and Karlie Kloss, Bob Scott knows how to beat a famous face. And while the global pandemic has kept Scott's clients out of their makeup chair, they've still had their work airing on TV every week courtesy of Padma Lakshmi, who Scott worked with for the entirety of the most recent installment of Top Chef: All Stars. If you watched the season (I didn't, but my roommate assures me it "slapped"), you've seen Scott's impeccable skills on Lakshmi's already impeccable face.

When I ask if there are any challenges to doing makeup for someone who has to constantly eat on camera, Scott assures me that Lakshmi "knows very well how to eat like a professional" but that they are "more choosy with when we want to do a bright lip color for a day of filming, but if both she and I are careful," which means Scott not overloading her lip with products and Lakshmi taking small bites, "then a colorful lip is no more maintenance than a nude lip would be on set." I guess that means I have no excuse for looking like Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart after eating a sandwich.

When they're not maintaining Padma's perfect pout, Scott also makes house calls to snatch the eyebrows of less high profile (but still fabulous) queer customers. The 28-year-old artist — who is Afro-Latinx and identifies as nonbinary — grew up with three sisters, and while they weren't necessarily barred from playing with makeup as a child, it wasn't encouraged. "It was all the coded barriers of like, 'You shouldn't really do that,' or 'Maybe you should play with this [instead].'"

Since then, Scott has prepared models for fashion shows around the world, painted celebrity faces in the back of sprinter vans on the way to red carpets and assisted none other than living legend Pat McGrath. Over a mid-morning Zoom call, Scott and I spoke about their path to makeup artistry, how the Black Lives Matter movement might impact beauty and why flirting is the thing they miss most about normal life.

Was the impulse for you always putting makeup on other people rather than yourself?

I think so. I never thought I could put makeup on myself, so I just don't think that idea ever occurred to me. My mom is the oldest of eight siblings; she has three sisters as well as all of my uncles' wives, and I have three sisters and all of their friends. So I always saw the girls playing with makeup and I was like, I want to do that too. I can do it for you. When I did start to practice doing makeup, as a hobby I would practice on myself obviously because that was the only canvas I had. But no, I never thought of it. At a young age, I didn't take it and try it on myself because that's not what I was mirroring. I wasn't really seeing that as a possibility.

When was the earliest time that you were actually doing someone's makeup after you had gotten a sense of how to actually do it?

High school. I was probably 17 and I had two best friends, and they would get ready for whatever party we were going to go over the weekend. I just slowly said, "Let me do this for you," when they were doing their hair. "Oh, what color are you using?" And I'd say, "Oh, let me try it." And then I'd squirrel away some of my sister's products.

And with your family was it always a no?

By then my parents were separated and my dad was always trying to steer me in this scholarly and sport direction, but he didn't outright tell me I couldn't do any artistic creative endeavors. He was always trying to pull me in the other direction. My mom was very busy with work, raising all four of us and working two jobs, so she was content that I was occupied and supportive. She's never been homophobic, she's never been trying to steer me away from anything that I love. But she was like, "Yeah, go do it. Have fun." But my sisters who I would want to practice on were always like, "Don't touch me. I have things to do. Get out of my face. I'm not going to let you take my makeup." It was more of an invasion of space thing rather than dissuading me from doing it. I had to beg people to let me do their makeup.

When did you realize that this was something you wanted to do as a career?

I was trying to work retail and figure out what I wanted to do, but I still didn't see makeup as a possible career path, mostly because of fear, imposter syndrome and not knowing how to enter that career field. I didn't want to go to cosmetology school because I thought that would cost too much money and it would be a lot of time that I wasn't really doing anything with...I found my way [to New York in 2013] and I knew that I wanted to assist, but I still didn't know what it really looked like or meant to have a career as a makeup became apparent that you assist somebody and you apprentice under them for several years, and then eventually you go on and start creating your own client list and you get an agent. I was still 18 or 19 before I felt that I could do this for work for the rest of my life.

What was your first assisting gig?

I did a bit of hair and makeup and I bounced around assisting people at that time until I met Vincent Oquendo around 2015 and started assisting him full time. I got a better idea of his path, which was via the retail makeup world, working behind the counter and then eventually working with MAC on their shows and meeting other artists who do the [fashion] shows and editorial world.

He'd made his way up by working with Pat McGrath, and then he jumped from there and started working on his own. I modeled my possible trajectory off his, which was to do shows and more editorial stuff. We were doing a lot of that for four years. While I was assisting him as his first assistant, I did shows with Kabuki, Lucia Pieroni and François NARS. And then very luckily around the end of my time with him, I started working with Pat McGrath.

What were some of the most important things that you learned assisting people?

Assisting people teaches you how to recreate that artist's hand — how to recreate their technical ability. If they're a good teacher, you can learn everything they know and apply it to your own expression of how you want to create your image or how you want to paint your canvas. It will teach you professional skills; on set it will teach what your kit should look like and how to meet the needs of every single client. It'll give you stamina for the job because as an assistant, you have to do all the groundwork. And you have to make sure that the person you're assisting, that their ship stays steady. They're doing their thing, they're being purely creative, and you as an assistant are there to make sure that they have all the means to do everything they want to do and that they also get it done.

What was working with Pat McGrath like?

She is one of the most impressive, professional people I've ever seen. She's a complete master of her job in every single way. Yes, she's an amazing artist and you can look at her work and her portfolio and see that she is incredibly skilled, but everything that she does on the other side of that is equally skillful. So there's so many different ways that anybody could learn from Pat McGrath, working on her team. It's impeccable.

Having worked with her, what's it like now seeing the transformation she's made from makeup artist to brand owner?

Mogul! That's what she's been working toward her entire career. She deserves it and may God bless her. More power to her. She is one of the most knowledgeable people, and she's a Gemini so she knows everything. I'm thankful as an artist that she's been putting products out there because that means my work will be a little bit closer to what her work can be.

What was your next move after assisting?

Around the same time that I started working with Pat, I also signed up at The Wall Group. I was taking on my own clients and doing shows with Pat, continuing to learn as much as I could and while still doing the work I needed to do with my clients. My first celebrity client was Padma Lakshmi, and that blew my mind because obviously we all know who Padma is and I was like, I can't believe I'm in your house, touching your face. That was in the first year I was working with my agent and then it grew from there. Now I've been with them for three and a half years.

What's the most important part of working on a celebrity client?

It depends on the celebrity. To get rehired you need to be two out of three things: You need to be punctual and/or good at your job and/or extremely likable, but you don't need to be all three. You have to figure out what that means to the individual you're working with so that you can confirm you're getting rehired every time.

"Every person who works with a celebrity in the beauty world is going to have to figure out how to work quickly and uncomfortably."

You've become known for your brow mastery. What are the secrets to getting a perfect brow on a client?

Working quickly, especially if you have a moving target. And that's also a subjective thing, every brow is a little bit different. I just try to maximize their brow without changing it too much, unless they want a drastic change to their brow and a drastic change can be something minute. For brows you really need to be precise and a little bit restrained so it's not overdone. Generally that's my approach to many different aspects of makeup: a little bit less is more.

Doing makeup on clients, especially celebrity clients, I'm sure you've had a lot of crazy time crunches. What's the quickest you've ever had to do someone's makeup or the most insane circumstances you've ever had to do someone's makeup in?

I mean, literally everywhere from the strange plywood back corridor of a warehouse building to having to do make up in the back of a van to having to do it in 30 minutes in their office to having to just use the little water closet in their apartment, and with no light, like everywhere. If it's not on set with two hours minimum for each artist to work on uninterrupted with plenty of space and perfect light, it's been difficult.

And how do you solve for that? Is that just from being really skilled and having put in the time?

You just make it work. We bring our own lights, you demand a table, you demand a chair and you work quickly. You get it done because that's what it has to be and you learn from doing shows, because even though you have a six-hour call time, the models trickle in whenever they do, but inevitably you're going to have to do somebody's entire look in about 20 minutes with three people asking you, "Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you done yet?" So working under pressure is part of the job. You have to make sure that you get them done quickly. Even if you're working with a celebrity, their schedule changes last minute because if they're in demand, then they have to make sure that they meet all those demands and makeup. You need to get it done and get out of the way so they can actually do their job. Every person who works with a celebrity in the beauty world is going to have to figure out how to work quickly and uncomfortably.

What's your favorite part of doing someone's face?

Mascara is probably the most satisfying step in makeup.If you're doing an eye look that you think looks kind of odd the entire time you're doing it but you're feeling the inspiration to get it done, by the time you get some mascara and put it on, it just pulls everything together.

What's it been like since the pandemic started for you? Because obviously as a makeup artist you really can't do your job.

It's quiet and I haven't tried to change the situation. I'm not looking for work, so I'm not getting exasperated because I'm without work. I'm very lucky that I have a huge savings that I can wait for this to end until work starts up again. And I know that my clients aren't hiring other people in the meantime. So I don't feel bad about it. It is what it is. I'm not working, I'm going to do what I can to stay sane in the meantime and to hopefully not be super rusty when I do come back.

What kind of impact do you think the pandemic is going to have on the beauty business going forward?

Sanitary guidelines for artists are going to be a lot stricter. I think we're going to see a lot of clients being a lot more scrutinizing about how clean people's kits are, which is perfectly understandable. I think it's going to change how and where people gather, so it's definitely going to change the events that people will be going to red carpets for. That's going to be something I'm going to have to adjust with. I don't know how busy that kind of work is going to be, but I know that there will be a way for certain jobs to still happen.

It's going to be a bit more restrictive, and probably fewer and further in between. But honestly, other than that, I don't know, time will tell you. I don't know what fashion shows are going to look like anymore because those are huge clusters of people that are not six feet apart. Is that going to happen this season? Probably not. Next season? I hope so. But other jobs will still be there. I think people are going to be really gunning for those jobs because they need to make money.

We're in a huge moment of social upheaval, reckoning with systemic racism. What impact do you think that's going to have on the beauty industry as an Afro-Latinx artist?

I think we can hope that we'll see better and more honest representation of people, and more honest representation of diversity. I hope that this moment specifically will encourage white artists to really get into learning how to do Black or brown skin better. There's never been an excuse, but there were so many more superficial excuses before. And, luckily, there are initiatives like the 50% pledge where Sephora is pledging to give 50% more retail space to Black cosmetic lines. So they'll have more access to the products that are better suited for these communities that have never been valued or looked at as a priority in the beauty space.

So hopefully it'll give white artists more access to the products that we've always been using for these people. Maybe quarantine will give them the space and time to learn how to work with these products, nd it'll kick people in the butt to better understand Black beauty, brown beauty and everything that is beautiful about us. I think it'll have more of an effect on the way that we view hair than makeup, because makeup is something that translates very easily across people other than skin tone. A red lip is always a red lip, and anybody of any skin tone can wear that, but I think the implication surrounding the way we treat hair and the way we view our hairstyles will definitely change a lot more. Hair is a language in itself, and it's a personal and expensive thing. It's also been policed a lot more.

How have you experienced racism in the beauty industry?

The coating of racism in the beauty industry is different. I've been lucky enough that I haven't had to encounter very many bold racists who will be microaggressive or macroaggressive to my face. I think that's because I'm a tall male-presenting person in the industry, so I haven't had to deal with that. My experience with racism deals more with fetishizing and with erasure in my experience, so it feels different. I have never been angered by anybody being racist for me, I'm always being hurt. I leave certain days feeling demoralized and I didn't realize it, and now looking back I'm like, Oh, that was racism.

Are you hopeful that you're going to have less experiences like that?

I think so. People are aware of how these microaggressions affect each other, and how that small stone ripples into such a larger effect and how they accumulate. So I think people will be more sensitive, I hope people will be more sensitive. I hope people will actually do the work to learn about how they can get rid of their racism. Everybody's a little bit racist, unfortunately, because that's how the system works. They abuse us all with a tiny bit of racism that grows. But now that we're seeing people talking about anti-racism and forcing people to learn about what it means to be actively anti-racist, people will be a lot more accountable for how they affect the people around them.

Now that we're entering the next phase of post-quarantine life, whatever that means, what are you looking forward to doing the most once life is like back to normal?

Flirting in public with the stranger. I cannot wait. That's the one thing that Grindr won't do, Tinder won't do it. I talk to my friends all the time, so yes I miss them, but I still see them often enough, but where are the strangers? Where's that new person? I haven't flirted with anyone yet.

Welcome to "You've Been Served,"Rose Dommu's alternately irreverent and incisive look at beauty, ranging from the deeply personal to pop cultural — essays, product guides, interviews with artists/influencers/specialists and deep dives into the beauty industry's impact on internet culture.

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