Killarney is a town in the southwest County Kerry, Ireland. It has idyllic lakes and verdant national parks popular among tourists who flock to the town annually to delight in the various attractions. It is also where make-up artist Kathryn O’Neill is based.
But O’Neill’s Instagram would bely this fact. She’s often backstage at top fashion shows working on teams alongside industry greats such as Pat McGrath, Val Garland and Tom Pecheux. Recently, she was in Arles, France for the Gucci Resort 2019 show. She also worked on incredible Gucci show in February where models toted their own heads and some had a third eye. Gucci is just one name on an extensive list of brands that she's worked with during the womenswear and menswear fashion seasons. Other brands include Off-White, J.W. Anderson, Haider Ackermann, and Balenciaga.
I interviewed Kathryn about her career as a make-up artist and the advice she has for those who might wish to pursue make-up artistry as a career. She shared some of her experiences including her beginnings and the time she had her kit searched by French police.
I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Kathryn O’Neill
From Co. Kerry to global fashion weeks: How did you become a make-up artist?
My career has taken many twists and turns. I fell into it by accident. I worked away happily in Ireland never dreaming that I would end up where I did. A few years ago an amazing opportunity came my way via Instagram. A New York makeup artist that I admire hugely, Alice Lane, was working on a shoot in Kerry. I contacted her and the next day I was assisting her on a campaign for J.Crew. She then invited me to assist her in New York which was a life changing opportunity. After that I started doing shows, starting slowly, only getting one or two shows if I was lucky. Every season builds on the last. I'm really lucky now to be busy, but there is always more to achieve. Many amazing people have supported me, booked me, mentored me.
What project are you most proud of working on?
I'm proud to work on Pat Mc Grath’s team. She is one of the top artists in the world. I still pinch myself after every show. She is very encouraging and supportive and makes me realise how much I can achieve. It's an absolute honour to be there and I know how lucky I am.
I have worked on teams of some incredible makeup artists such as Issamaya French, Val Garland, Tom Pecheux and Mark Carrasquillo, and at amazing shows like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada.
What advice do you have for young people wishing to pursue a career in makeup artistry?
Work hard, refine your skills. In this industry you are always learning, that never ends. Be professional. Always be on time. Be nice and collaborate. This is a very tough industry: resilience is key.
What are the things you wish you knew at the beginning?
All things are possible. The only thing standing in your way is yourself. Don’t be afraid, go for it.
What are the best and worst things about fashion weeks?
The best things about fashion week: being chosen for teams, working alongside talented people, meeting artists from all over the world and making great show. The train from the Milan show to Paris Fashion Week—stress-free travel and incredible scenery, especially in January when everything is covered in snow and being transferred between shows in Paris by motorbike: terrifying and exhilarating.
The worst things are not being chosen for teams; keeping to a tight budget—fashion weeks are self-funded and you don’t get paid for shows for a few months. I could write a book about questionable Airbnb apartments.
My worst moment was ending up at the wrong address in Paris during men's fashion week on the day of Paris Pride with no metro or bus running. I had to run in the crazy heat, hauling my kit to the Jardin des Tuileries against the crowd and a policeman stopped me and searched my kit. I was an hour late and the stress levels were through the roof.
Images: Kathryn O'Neill, Vogue, Le21ème, Business Insider