A daytime and evening look for a woman who wants to look radiant and natural without much effort.
Lately everyone seems to be a makeup artist.
On Instagram there are countless people showing off their skills at contouring their cheekbones and seamlessly blending four colors of eye shadow on their lids. Men do it. Children do it. Rihanna does it.
And yet I have never figured out how to apply makeup. College in the late 1990s was probably my makeup peak, but it mostly involved generously swathing myself in glitter and the occasional experiment with purple lipstick. Skill wasn’t really the point.
It isn’t from lack of maternal attention to the matter. My mother is the kind of woman who applies a full face first thing in the morning and wears it wherever she goes.
She bought me very 1980s gifts, like a light-up makeup mirror that replicated daylight or candlelight with just the turn of a knob, and the “Color Me Beautiful” book so I could learn my season. (I am a “summer” and should wear a cool but muted palette in clothes and makeup.) Much of the makeup I currently own are her castoffs.
A minimalist wants to learn more
Most of the time I don’t wear any makeup at all. I get my eyelashes dyed black about once a month and trim my eyebrows, which feels like enough of an effort day to day. For parties I’ll swipe on something sheer like Lipstick Queen’s Medieval ($24 at lipstickqueen.com), which looks like you just messily ate a few raspberries. Any further effort and I panic.
A few months ago, I went as a friend’s date to a New York City Ballet gala and was almost late because I decided to wear a red lip, specifically Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Stunna Lip Paint ($24 at fentybeauty.com). How did I not know where my lips began and ended? I went through a lot of makeup remover and still thought I looked slightly clownish in photos from the night.
So I booked a makeup lesson with Lara Kaiser at Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, New York. She is the one I already entrust with dyeing my eyelashes, and she is always fresh faced and put together without looking as if she is wearing much of anything.
She had asked me to bring what makeup I already had. Shen carries several smaller cosmetic lines with cult followings — Kosas, RMS, Kjaer Weis, Ilia and By Terry — in case I was open to suggestions.
“You’re starting out with good products,” she said as she rifled through my pouch, inspecting Chanel eye shadows (“this is so old and dried out, you might need to get rid of it”) and Charlotte Tilbury nude lipsticks. I told her what I wanted was a look I could do in five minutes tops, one that looked like a slightly better version of me. And then I wanted a couple ways to upgrade it for nighttime.
A natural look for daytime
She got to work with RMS Un Cover-Up in Shade 22 ($36 at rmsbeauty.com) and a foundation brush from the same brand. I was hesitant at the sight of a brush — I had previously adhered to a hands-only rule — but when Kaiser began lightly brushing the concealer along my T zone and blending out, the result was lighter and less makeup-y than anything I could have done with my fingers.
She didn’t bother with makeup on the dark circles under my eyes. “Everything settles into the skin so you’re better off using an illuminating eye cream,” she said, and grabbed a bottle of Amanda Lacey Illuminating Eye Gel ($142 at shen-beauty.com), which has an opalescent tone. She patted it under my eyes.
“I don’t ever want to be contoured,” I said with a lot of conviction as she moved on to my cheeks. We started with a very light Victoria Beckham bronzer I bought a few months ago after seeing a similarly pale friend raving about it online. The trouble was that I didn’t really know where to put it.
“We’ll use it as a blush, applying it directly on the cheekbone and sweeping out at the temple,” Kaiser said. She demonstrated one cheek, and I managed the other. She blended some Kosas illuminating cream that I already owned in a C shape around the eye and temple and blended it down to meet the blush as a low-key highlighter.
“The goal is for you not to be able to tell where one begins and the other ends,” she said. Finally we brushed on Glossier Boy Brow in Blonde ($16 at glossier.com) to tame my curly eyebrows and swept Kosas Rosewater ($28 at kosas.com) on my lips.
I studied the results in a hand mirror. I could still see my freckles but had a slightly more defined cheek, with color in my face, as if I had just done a round of jumping jacks in a field at dawn. I looked like Meghan Markle on her wedding day, minus probably a pound of makeup and a redheaded prince.
An evening look with pop
For night, Kaiser chose Eyeko Me & My Shadow ($25 at eyeko.com), an eye shadow stick, in a charcoal shade. She dotted some on my lid and, using a brush, blended up toward the crease for a subtle smoky eye. For lips, she chose Kosas Electra ($28 at kosas.com), an emphatic blue-red, and used a lip brush to carefully apply it. Not using a lip brush turned out to be my problem with the Fenty Beauty lip paint.
There was no hard sell in the end, but I did buy the RMS foundation brush, the Eyeko shadow and the Electra lipstick. The best part was Kaiser’s pep talk.
“I think you know what to do more than you give yourself credit for,” she said. “You just need more confidence.”
Was she talking about makeup or my whole life?