From her punk aesthetic to working with Alexander McQueen, we speak to the make-up artist about her illustrious career
With her radical creativity and wildly experimental approach to make-up, Val Garland has always been the rebel of the beauty world. From the early, groundbreaking collections of Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, to new radicals such as Gareth Pugh and Lady Gaga, Garland’s punk spirit and rule-breaking style have led her to work with the industry’s most boundary-pushing artists.
What you may not know, however, is that Garland’s now illustrious career started off not in make-up but in hair. As a teen in hometown Bristol, Garland worked as a hairdresser before moving to Australia to open her own salon. It wasn’t until 1994 when, bored of hair, Garland moved to London to do make-up and the rest, as they say, is history.
In May 2017, L'Oréal Paris named Garland its global make-up director, a role which sees her working on everything from product innovation to make-up artistry. In the same year, Edward Enninful announced Garland as one of British Vogue’s new contributing beauty editors, alongside beauty big dogs Charlotte Tilbury, Sam McKnight and Guido Palau. And just last month, it was announced Val would be teaming up with MAC Global Senior Artist Dominic Skinner as judges for BBC3’s new make-up talent show Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star.
Running the gamut from avant-garde to punk, pressed flowers on faces at Preen for SS17 to layered bandaids at Gareth Pugh SS19, and the creation of the “just-snogged” lips trend (see Preen AW17), Garland’s work is extensive, vibrant and always interesting. Here we speak to the make-up artist herself about her long career, her inspirations and her favourite looks from over the years.
You grew up in Bristol, how did that shape your understanding of beauty and the world you saw around you? Was there a specific beauty identity you saw around you there?
Val Garland: I think you draw a lot from your past to inspire you. I was influenced by anything to do with the music, my porn was Debbie Harry, Toyah, Siouxsie Sioux, Lena Lovich, Annie Lennox and obsessed by Bowie and Bowery.
What were you like as kid, were you an outsider? A voyeur? Someone who seamlessly blended in?
Val Garland: I guess I was an outsider, always trying to break the rules. Even now. I think I was always a show off from a very young age. My mum was very into fashion so she would always have us in the latest laundry from the likes of C&A.
Growing up what informed your sense of beauty?
Val Garland: Growing up it was always about the music, it was Motown, Ska, Disco, Reggae, Punk, Hip Hop, Dance, Trance, basically, we were all clubbing, for me it was Area, Palladium, paradise Garage in New York, in London, it was Ministry of Sound, the Gardening Club, Subterrania and Trade. Steve Strange, Leigh Bowery, Kate Bush, Blitz magazine, i-D and The Face were the magazines I was devouring. Later on, Lee Scratch Perry and Soul to Soul were my music musts. Punk, New Romanticism, Seditionaries, Westwood, Body Map, Pam Hogg, Boy, films like Liquid Sky, The Hunger, Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch etc, kind of tell you where I was coming from.
My beauty icons growing up were Debra Harry, Madonna, Annie Lenox, strong women, nice.
In what ways did you experiment with makeup and beauty when you were younger?
Val Garland: Whereas my sister would give herself a beautiful red lip, I was inclined to take that red lipstick and draw all over my face and body. I was never afraid to look ugly.
What’s your earliest beauty related memory?
Val Garland: Watching my mom delve into her Revlon’s Toasty Beige compact, she loved it so much invariably she was down to the pan.
Where did your interest in make-up come from?
Val Garland: It was the 80s, putting loads of makeup on was just normal, we were all doing it, it was par for the course to night-out clubbing, to see and be seen, to stand out from the crowd.
You started your career as a hairdresser, how did that come about?
Val Garland: I didn’t want to stay at school at that time nor did I want to sit all day in an office. There was a hair salon near home and they were hiring so I was like, okay, let’s be a hairdresser! I moved to Sydney and set up my own salon. Life back then was lots of odd haircuts, both on myself and my clients. But you know, you could do that then, it’s what we all wanted, to look different, be noticed. The transition from hair to makeup just happened really and it was exciting, lots of travelling to exotic destinations, I think I felt I was done with hair.
You started working in London in the 90s, how would you describe the industry back then?
Val Garland: It was phenomenal, it was an iconic time especially when working with Alexander McQueen.
What is about make-up and painting people’s faces that appeals to you, even today?
Val Garland: I guess it’s always more than just doing makeup or painting people’s faces. What is appealing to me is the interactions and emotions involved when you are working so closely and intimately on another human being. I like to know what makes people tick, to get inside their head a little bit. The first time I painted someone’s face
Can you tell us a bit about the first time you painted someone’s face?
Val Garland: It was quite stressful. I was very scared to look in the person’s eyes in case they could see my fear, and I could also see perhaps, that they didn’t like what I was doing, completely terrifying!
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
Val Garland: Attention to detail, it’s all about great looking skin with occasional outbursts of madness.
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
Val Garland: Everything with Alexander McQueen, the 2012 London Olympics, being L’Oreal Paris Global Makeup Director and I just published a book, Validated: The Make up of Val Garland!
Have there been any moments where you wished you’d done something
Val Garland: Never look back, only look forward.
What have been some of your favourite looks that you’ve done?
Val Garland: Alexander McQueen No. 13 Shalom Harlow being spray-painted by robots. It was just epic.
Alexander McQueen Voss. This has always been one of my favourite McQueen moments especially Karen Elson wearing the Shaune Lean jewellery, as she came off stage she almost tripped but we caught her. Phew!
Good Kate Bad Kate by Steven Klein, a cover for W Magazine. This won a photographic award for Steven.
Vivienne Westwood Gold Label SS11 Horses. At the time, the look was incredibly strong, there was one moment when it appeared like the model had been eating coal. I wasn’t sure if Vivienne was going to like the makeup, but she later said in her book that this particular show is her all-time favourite makeup that I have done for her.
Gareth Pugh SS16. This is the first time I worked with Gareth and I wanted to create a neon-by-night plastic fantastic mannequin moment to the tribe of girls. I put pantyhose over the models’ faces aka Mr. Bowery and proceeded to paint a character onto the mesh. All the girls look like living AIs.
Who has been the most influential force on your career?
Val Garland: Lee McQueen and John Galliano definitely, warped my mind in the greatest of ways.
How do you stay constantly inspired?
Val Garland: I’m like a sponge soaking up things around me. How to stay constantly inspired? Always stay hungry.
What is it you’re trying to convey in your work?
Val Garland: I guess I always like to create characters, to tell stories, hopefully, some interesting ones. I don’t like to follow rules or trends.
You’ve worked with some of the industry’s most iconic models. Comparing models then to now, how do you think the face of beauty has changed?
Val Garland: I think because of the popularity of social media where information becomes viral in seconds, it’s more and more important to have your own unique point of view. Be real, be you and have a good game plan.
How has the industry changed since you first started out?
Val Garland: There was no social media back then and it was not that easy to take photos like you can do with your phone these days. Everyone can be a make-up artist now. That also pushes us to the creative edge. These days beauty trends spread at a sonic speed that we don’t have trends anymore. It’s more like how to create your own character that makes you stand out of the norm. There’s nothing called normal now. It’s all about individuality.
What do you think we will look like in 30 years from now?
Val Garland: Need to ask the crystal ball!