A quick scroll through makeup artist Frankie Boyd’s Instagram account will convey his love of drama, full-throttle glamour, and no-holds-barred color. As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Georgia in the '80s, he was inspired by women like Madonna, Wonder Woman, and his southern grandmother who never left the house without wearing makeup. “My grandmother was one of the first people I saw who had a beauty ritual. She would sit down at her vanity every morning and put her rouge on,” he says. “I remember sneaking into her room to see what she was doing and using.” Naturally, “shockingly bright” red lipstick was involved — this was the '80s after all. “Everything was very maximum,” he says, recalling the “in-your-face” heroines of his childhood. “As far as makeup goes, there’s not really much I would leave back in that time. There was something very free about makeup. It didn’t have to make sense — it was just glamorous and fun.”
From the makeup he’s created for the red carpet (like Scarlett Johansson’s look at the Avengers: Infinity War premiere) to high-fashion editorials, he clearly hasn’t forgotten the beauty lessons he learned during the era of excess. That said, he believes the “next obvious step after the recent tidal wave of Instagram makeup” is a more “minimal approach” that encourages “individualistic beauty looks” and “natural skin.” Here, he shares his best-kept beauty secrets and explains how a boy from the 'burbs rose to the top of the industry using a combination of old-fashioned manners, serious skill, and a bit of southern charm.
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Boyd with his big sister Helen
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Lesson #1: The road to the top includes twists and turns.
There is no right way to carve out a successful career. “I flunked out of traditional high school because it was such an unpleasant experience,” said Boyd. He went on to graduate from a night program that offered a more “understanding” and “grown-up” environment for students who marched to beat of their own drums. Instead of going to college, he followed in his older sister’s footsteps and took a position at a microbiology lab to “fill the void.” In the meantime, he explored the scene in Atlanta, a city he described as the “melting pot of the south for diversity.” It was while dressing in drag that a friend and fellow makeup artist, James Grow, suggested he join him at the M.A.C. counter — a brand that was the epitome of glamour in 1998. “I started as a cashier and [James] said to me, ‘You don’t have to do makeup or even understand, you’re just going to ring people up.’” It was the customers, however, that encouraged Boyd to venture out of his comfort zone and away from the register. “They didn’t care if I had experience or not, they just wanted someone to put makeup on them,” he explained. Asked if his nights dressing in drag gave him a leg up when it came to painting others’ faces, Boyd responded, “I would like to say yes, but I don’t think I was very good at the time. I was a work in progress! Doing makeup on different kinds of people is a skill that takes a long time to learn. I didn’t go to college, but there is a huge amount of education that goes into something that may not seem that difficult.”
Lesson #2: Soak up experience like a sponge.
“Asking questions, being comfortable with my co-workers, and working with open-minded customers” is how Boyd “manifested” his stellar makeup career. “I worked with really amazing people who didn’t feel like they had to hide anything. Everyone was sharing information. Everyone was trying to outdo each other with how artistic they could be, but it was very comfortable,” he said of his experience at the M.A.C. counter. “It was the best way to learn because you did makeup on the youngest to the oldest to the darkest to the lightest skin — you’re embracing everything.”
After five years of honing his skills in Atlanta, the pro transferred to the Big Apple with M.A.C. In addition to training new hires, Boyd got his first taste of backstage during New York fashion week where he interacted with makeup legends like Diane Kendal, Val Garland, Pat McGrath, Aaron de Mey, and Charlotte Tilbury. Working alongside beauty icons is what pushed him to take a leap of faith and walk away from the safety net that was his decade-long job at M.A.C. “Life is not about regrets. I’m not an impulsive person, but I’m also not afraid to challenge myself personally and professionally or do things outside of my comfort zone. It’s the only way you grow,” Boyd said. He paid his way to Milan and Paris, and the rest, as they say, is history. “You work your way up through assisting if you do it correctly. You’re living a fashion fantasy,” he said of the often-thankless job. “You get to experience every element and understand a makeup artist’s unique finesse. It was a very inspiring time of my life to witness all those people behind the scenes, look into their makeup kits, and spend time with amazing artists.”
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Boyd (right) with fellow makeup artist James Grow (left)
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Lesson #3: Common courtesy goes a long way.
Raised as a true “southern gentleman,” Boyd believes his upbringing was key to his success in a notoriously cutthroat business. “There are a lot of rules to the game, but as long as you understand decency and how to hold yourself as professional, you’ll be fine,” he said. “Don’t say no to anything. Do everything. Be respectful. Pay attention. Be engaged in the moment. Take everything in. Be nice. Smile!” While it sounds fairly simple, the pro noted: “These old-fashioned values that many people have lost touch with are what really set you apart when you work in fashion.”
Lesson #4: Kindness counts — especially if you’re the boss.
Before Boyd was a big shot and painting the faces of supermodels like Joan Smalls and Adriana Lima, he assisted makeup artist Aaron de Mey for a little over four years. While he’s worked with pros who are as difficult and mean as they are talented, he said that De Mey’s “giving and generous” demeanor is what made him a great leader — a quality Boyd emulates now that he’s the boss. “[Aaron] always treated me with respect. He always introduced me as a friend,” said Boyd. “He would never say, ‘This is my assistant.’ That is something that I learned from him. He treats his assistants as his equal.”
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Makeup by Boyd for Joan Smalls and W magazine in Cuba
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Lesson #5: Give back and get more in return.
While Boyd works with top models, editors, and photographers in exotic locales like Cuba (seen above and below) on the regular, it was volunteering with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, an organization that supports at-risk LGBTQ youth, that he noted as one of his biggest career highlights. “They host mini balls where they have vogueing competitions. They bring people in to do hair and makeup for the kids and you speak to them about your career and growing up gay,” he explained. “Doing makeup isn’t necessarily an easy job to commit to, but you don’t need a formal education to succeed. Plus, it’s fabulous and empowering!” He finds the “gender explosion” that’s happening with the next generation to be a bright spot in an increasingly tumultuous America. “Growing up in the south in the '80s you either had to fit inside a box or leave — there weren’t a lot of in-betweens,” he said. “Now, there is a huge spectrum. You see boys with facial and body hair wearing makeup and looking very glamorous or wearing a wig… It’s very interesting. I don’t know where it ends up, but I like where things are going so far!”
Lesson #6: Be meticulous with mascara.
“I find every single lash and exaggerate it,” Boyd said. He always starts with a “severe curl,” which he achieves by “pumping” his Japonesque Power Curl Eyelash Curler. He follows with a drugstore favorite: L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Mascara in Carbon Black (an Allure Best of Beauty winner). While he’s not opposed to fake eyelashes, the kind he often sees on the streets and social media are “exaggerated and out of hand.” For “something not so in your face,” he suggests M.A.C.’s 33 Lash for a “wispy and spiky” effect that looks like your lashes but better, or Ardell’s 110 Lash for fringe that is “natural but still enhanced.
Other beauty trends he’d like to see take center stage: “a lighter approach to skin, more individualistic beauty looks, and orange lips.” He finds shades like “saffron, fruit punch, and Hi-C orange” to be a “more flattering world to explore.” In place of mask-like foundation and a contour roadmap, his secret to flawless skin that allows “freckles and texture” to shine through involves a mask (like the viral Hanacure All-in-One Facial) followed by La Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream or the more budget-friendly Cetaphil Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15. He spends the majority of his time “waking up skin” through a five-minute massage to promote lymphatic drainage and relies on Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage (another Best of Beauty winner) and Givenchy Mister Bright Touch of Light Pen for buildable coverage that never looks heavy. “It’s cooler and more unexpected if you play everything up, but keep the skin to a minimum,” he added.
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Makeup by Boyd for Adriana Lima and W magazine in Cuba
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Lesson #7: Share the spotlight.
“Be thirsty, but don’t be desperate,” warned Boyd. “Go after your opportunity and be aggressive, but don’t pester or be an opportunist. I’ve seen so many people ruin their careers by being too aggressive, thinking that they know everything, or not realizing the environment they are in and being too much.” In short, being “so extra” on the job isn’t how you get ahead. “You have to know when it’s your time to shine — you can’t always steal the show!” he said.
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