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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Living

Billy B co-hosts a workshop during Milwaukee Fashion Week with hairdresser Syd Curry on Oct. 6.

Makeup artist to the stars Billy B. hits Fashion Week


Go to Billy B's Web site and you'll see a list of Hollywood heavyweights the professional makeup artist has worked with -- Beyonce, Sharon Stone, Pink, Mary J. Blige, the Dixie Chicks, Anna Kournikov -- to name a few. His lush looks range from au naturale beauty to straight-up sexy.

Billy B co-hosts a workshop during Milwaukee Fashion Week with hairdresser Syd Curry on Monday, Oct. 6 and crafting the look for the Gilles Montezin runway show that same night (alongside Curry).

OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you been in the industry?

Billy B: About 20 years.

OMC: How did you get your start?

Billy B: I am from a tiny town in Mississippi, and I literally got out of there as fast as I possibly could. I had gone to New York on a school trip, and I just wanted to reinvent myself. I was running from myself like a lot of young people do, which of course didn't work! I (went to New York) and didn't have any friends or family there.

The only thing I had ever done was retail, so I went into Macy's and said, "I want a job in display," which was ridiculous of course. I had the worst accent; like "Hee Haw." The women asked if I could do makeup, and I said yes. So, I sold makeup on the main floor and taught myself how to do makeup on real women.

I was so naïve and green. My town in Mississippi had 3,000 people. There wasn't even a department store! I had no point of view or direction whatsoever. I had no idea that (being a makeup artist) existed as a career. I clearly had an innate talent and was lucky enough to discover it.

A woman came up to the counter one day and asked her if I could do her eyes. And she was this fabulous light skinned African American woman. I had never seen other cultures in Mississippi. I was fascinated by this woman. I did her makeup and when she looked at herself when I was done she said, "You're way too talented to be in Macy's." And I looked at her and I said, "What else is there?"

Later I found out that this girl worked at Vogue. It certainly opened the door to the rest of my life. And I have no idea who she was! So, I worked at Macy's and tried to make enough money to put a portfolio together.

OMC: What is your lifestyle like now?

Billy B: I have done tons of celebrities, and I still do. The problem I have is when people reduce (my job) to just that; there's so much more: Fashion Week, music, magazines. The great thing about this career is that it's something different every day. Next week I might do a music video or album cover; the next week I might do an ad for Bloomingdale's.

I'm based in New York -- that's the core of fashion. I have a home in Los Angeles. The only thing in L.A. are celebrities! I'm very lucky to have the best of both worlds.

The thing about this job is it's not a job, it's a lifestyle. I have been successful and very lucky. It requires tons of travel. You have to really, really love what you do or you can't do this.

OMC: How are you involved in Milwaukee Fashion Week?

Billy B: I will be holding a workshop on the last day (Monday, Oct. 6.) The day will culminate with myself and Syd Curry who are speaking together, and (we are also) designing the look for the Gilles Montezin show.

OMC: How do you collaborate with a fashion designer to design a "look" for the show?

Billy B: It sounds funny to say, but I've been doing this for so many years so I've paid my dues, and it affords me a lot of creative freedom. But it's my job, so it's not about me when you're creating a look. You're there to provide a service. It depends on the star, artist or director. If you're really lucky, it's a collaboration.

With Pat (Field), I've known her for a while, and sometimes you're lucky and have that organic connection with someone. You're operating on the same wavelength and you just click.

With the designers I really love working with, it's bizarre; I'll have an idea in my head and I won't tell them what it is. In that first creative conversation, they will literally say what they had in my head.

OMC: What is the Billy B "look"?

Billy B: People say to me (not friends) that they can tell (a look is) mine before they see the photo credit. I don't know how I would describe my work. I feel that I'm versatile and I love a little of everything. I love eyes.

OMC: What products do you love?

Billy B: I'm not married to any particular brand. I like to work with things that work well and are easy. As a consumer, you know what you love. I like combinations of things. My color tends to be in palettes. There's not one color that stands out. When I do someone's blush, it might be six colors and I don't know what color it is and I don't look at it like that. I do like really saturated colors, things that are rich in pigment. For a makeup artist, it's more abstract.

When I do a smoky eye, it's the way southern women cook; you ask them for the recipe and they say, "I don't know how the hell I made that." But they'll make it the same every time. I'm the same way (with makeup).

A great eyelash curler is imperative for everybody. Certain things aren't all the same; there's a huge difference. There are only two other (eyelash curlers) that I know of that are great eyelash curlers. Most are crap. You can go to Rite Aid and spend $8 or spend $15 on one that's great. Every woman should curl her eyelashes every day.

L'oreal Voluminous mascara is great. I don't understand someone spending $30 on mascara.

I like clear lip gloss. I'm a huge fan. You can go to the drugstore and buy Wet 'n Wild and pay $2.99 or pay $30. At the end of the day clear lip gloss is clear lip gloss. Then it comes down to if you like it sticky, etc. I choose makeup solely for the way I can work with it. For consumers it's different because it's how it feels, tastes and all that. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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